It’s a love of and connection with the land that inspires Lalani Hyatt on her solitary beat in a remote conservation area of Tasmania’s north-west.
Story By Tim Dub
The “Empress of the Tarkine” is how local conservationist and beef farmer Geoff King refers to Lalani Hyatt, the ranger in charge of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation area in the remote wilderness of Tasmania’s north-west coast. It's her favourite of the many titles by which she is known, but the one she finds most amusing is “The Lone Ranger”.
“My son is in Sydney now, so I live by myself and work by myself a lot of the time,” she says with a wry grin and the tough-girl humour that characterises much of her conversation. “Occasionally there are guys who want to become Tonto but I explain it’s a part-time job, not a substantive position.”
The description that she takes most seriously is the one about which she is the most reticent – that of “Tasmanian Aborigine”. To prove Aboriginality in Tasmania one must provide a complete documented record of ancestry back to an Aboriginal woman before the arrival of the Europeans. In Lalani’s case this has not been possible. But while the identity tag might be contentious, her feelings for the land are not. “If you love the land and you care for it – like a lot of the people down here do – you can think that the land belongs to you. The difference comes when you feel that you belong to the land. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish”.
The 135,000 hectares of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation area is a place of spectacular natural beauty and great diversity. Buttongrass plains adjoin rainforest, wet eucalypt forest and dry sclerophyll woodland that reaches across the rolling hills. From just beyond Marrawah in the north, the conservation area extends to the Pieman River in the south. Its eastern boundary closely follows the Western Explorer Road (or the “Road to Nowhere” as it was critically dubbed by conservationists when built in the mid-1990s), and the western boundary is the sea. Here magnificent sand dunes meet the Southern Ocean and mighty rollers crash and thump onto the beaches, or explode into countless points of light on sculptured rocks the size of cliffs. Fueled by the Roaring Forties – trade winds that ceaselessly circle the Southern Hemisphere – this is a place of formidable energy. Bull kelp and sea salt add seasoning to the cleanest air in the world. This area is now described as “one of the world’s great archaeological regions”. Many middens remain including the biggest in Australia, evoking a poignant realisation of just how long the Aboriginals lived here, throwing shell on shell until the pile was as big as a house, the piles repeated as an irregular terrace along the coastline.
This story excerpt is from Issue #55
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2007