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White Beech: The Rainforest Years

White Beech: The Rainforest Years

by Germaine Greer

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For years I had wandered Australia with an aching heart. Everywhere I had ever travelled across the vast expanse of the fabulous country where I was born I had seen devastation, denuded hills, eroded slopes, weeds from all over the world, feral animals, open-cut mines as big as cities, salt rivers, salt earth, abandoned townships, whole beaches made of beer


For years I had wandered Australia with an aching heart. Everywhere I had ever travelled across the vast expanse of the fabulous country where I was born I had seen devastation, denuded hills, eroded slopes, weeds from all over the world, feral animals, open-cut mines as big as cities, salt rivers, salt earth, abandoned townships, whole beaches made of beer cans...

One bright day in December 2001, sixty-two-year-old Germaine Greer found herself confronted by an irresistible challenge in the shape of sixty hectares of dairy farm, one of many in southeast Queensland that, after a century of logging, clearing, and downright devastation, had been abandoned to their fate.

She didn't think for a minute that by restoring the land she was saving the world. She was in search of heart's ease. Beyond the acres of exotic pasture grass and soft weed and the impenetrable curtains of tangled Lantana canes there were Macadamias dangling their strings of unripe nuts, and Black Beans with red and yellow pea flowers growing on their branches … and the few remaining White Beeches, stupendous trees up to120 feet in height, logged out within forty years of the arrival of the first white settlers. To have turned down even a faint chance of bringing them back to their old haunts would have been to succumb to despair.

Once the process of rehabilitation had begun, the chance proved to be a dead certainty. When the first replanting shot up to make a forest and rare caterpillars turned up to feed on the leaves of the new young trees, she knew beyond a doubt that at least here biodepletion could be reversed.

Greer describes herself as an old dog who succeeded in learning a load of new tricks, inspired and rejuvenated by her passionate love of Australia and of Earth, the most exuberant of small planets.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Noted feminist writer Greer (The Female Eunuch) writes of a monumental task that she took on. The rain forest she refers to is on 60 hectares of land she purchased, formerly used as a dairy farm, in Queensland, Australia. The land, logged and abandoned, was classified as rain forest but was replete with invasive species, such as lantana and bamboo. Greer began to restore the property, enlisting the help of environmental allies to remove the unwanted classes and propagate and restore the native species, such as the white beech. Focusing primarily on plants and trees, she also documents the invertebrates and vertebrates that inhabit this ecosystem. Greer writes of attempting to trace who has legitimate rights to this territory. She documents the "whitefellas" who have historically laid claim to the area and the many destructive land use practices they employed. Work continues on this piece of the earth and is now supported in part by the Friends of Gondwana Rainforest, a nonprofit that aims to preserve subtropical and temperate rain forests across the world. VERDICT This is an engaging and erudite memoir rich with historical, cultural, and ecological explorations of Australia and, by extension, any part of the planet that has been influenced by humans. [See Prepub Alert, 1/26/14.]—Diana Hartle, Univ. of Georgia Science Lib., Athens
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/31/2014
Greer (The Female Eunuch) has written a love letter to a rainforest, one that she just happens to own. In her middle years, Greer set out to find a property in her native Australia that she could restore to its state before white colonists imposed clear-cutting and invasive species. After a long search, she settled upon a 60-hectare dairy farm in southeastern Queensland that had suffered all the depredations of human intrusion. Greer began the painstaking process of rehabilitation and found that while the work was difficult, it wasn’t quite Sisyphean. Greer is a scrupulous scholar with a deep interest in botany, and the level of detail in her research is impressive. One of the most interesting devices in the book is her exchanges with her sister, a professional botanist, who pushes her more famous sibling to precision and clarity. There’s a fair amount of tendentious proselytizing, and even worse, Greer lets the narrative focus disappear in endless debates over the minutiae of plant classification. Still, the range of Greer’s knowledge and interests provide fascinating insight into the thoughtless transformation of a continent. (July)
From the Publisher

“An eco-love letter about saving and reviving trees on her farm in Australia.” —The Times

“A powerful account of Greer's attempt to reverse the calamitous environmental impact of Australian history on one patch of land . . . Greer remains a winning, funny, indomitable figure throughout, and it is fascinating to follow her as she works through so much of her messy, complicated relationship with Australia.” —Evie Wyld, Financial Times

“A beautifully written book . . . Simple, effective descriptions of everything from pythons to pademelons, filled with telling detail, and no little amount of love and respect.” —Independent on Sunday

“We love: White Beech . . . Her new book is written not by a passionate young feminist but by a woman in her seventies who has lost none of her energy to speak out for causes . . . I am sure listeners will find her love of her motherland, and for her sister, both touching and revealing.” —Psychologies

“In 2001, the 62-year-old Greer took on the "irresistible" challenge of rehabilitating 60 hectares of a dairy farm in south-east Queensland, which after a century of logging, clearing and downright devastation had been abandoned to its fate. Seduced in particular by the few remaining white beech trees, this is her memoir both of this extraordinary project, and of her love affair with the forest and her native Australia.” —Bookseller

“Searching for somewhere to archive her papers, in 2001, Germaine Greer was taken to an abandoned dairy farm in Queensland. White Beech: The Rainforest Years tells the story of her decade-long battle to rehabilitate the damaged forest of white beeches and other trees she found there. Working with her sister, a botanist, she puts all her remarkable passion and a lot of money into the project.” —Conde Nast Traveller

“An extraordinary travelogue: a love letter to Germaine Greer's birth country and an intense biography of the land.” —Catholic Herald

“A hymn to botany as a discipline and a vehicle of heritage . . . Even when she's lyrical, her botany is rigorous.” —New Statesman

“Wonderfully vivid descriptions of the forest . . . The book is full of lovely lists of the wildlife that has returned.” —Eithne Farry, Sunday Express

“Passionate and eccentric . . . A lifetime of activism, bloody-mindedness, academic punctiliousness, men-baiting and solidarity has produced a wonderfully unexpected book.” —Sunday Times

“A splendid love letter to the recipient of her affections . . . Beautifully crafted descriptions that dot the book like jewels.” —Observer

“There is nothing touchy-feely about Germaine Greer's vision of perfection . . . It is a love affair with nature the real, nature as battleground, beautiful in its violence.” —Evening Standard

“Greer is a talented wordsmith and her vivid descriptions transport readers into a habitat that thrums with noise and movement and life . . . White Beech is a book to be read, considered and discussed.” —Geographical

“She has thrown as much intelligence and energy into her blessed plot as into this lively, loving, rollicking account of her ecological adventure.” —Saga

“Never doubt Greer's brilliant power of language. White Beech drips with lavish, sensual, technically demanding words, used uncompromisingly . . . as maverick and unyielding as its author . . . poetic and moving.” —The Times

“Greer is as enraptured and as protective as a lover when describing the richness of the rainforest.” —Guardian

“Wonderfully idiosyncratic . . . I loved it. It's a tale of a fabulous obsession, and it is maddeningly brilliant.” —Sunday Telegraph

“I love her, even when she says mad things.” —India Knight, Red

“Germaine Greer in one of the cornerstones of feminism and she has a sense of humour, which I think is absolutely essential.” —Jo Brand, Red

“I can't overstate the impact that Greer's work has had on my own writing. Her weaving together of personal narrative, pop culture analysis and rigorous academic scholarship has been tremendously influential.” —Naomi Wolf, Red

“Germaine is a one-off. I haven't always agreed with her but she has consistently fought for women. We owe her a tremendous amount. Best of all, she never cares about being popular. She's fearless.” —Janet Street-Porter, Red

“Germaine Greer helped ignite the touchpaper of women's liberation. She's an intellectual force, often great fun, and a firecracker--whose sparks fly in many, sometimes unpredictable, directions.” —Kirsty Wark, Red

“A much-anticipated memoir . . . four decades after her controversial ideas first started shaking things up, she is still going strong . . . few thinkers have had such an impact on women's lives.” —Viv Groskop, Red

Kirkus Reviews
A controversial scholar/journalist’s quasi-academic account of how she helped transform Australian land dedicated to dairy farming back into rain forest.Though based for much of her career in England, Greer (Shakespeare’s Wife, 2008, etc.) had always intended to return to her native Australia. For 20 years, she roved across the continent’s desert interior “hunting for [her] own patch of ground.” The land she would eventually buy was in southeast Queensland, not far from the Gold Coast and near areas overrun by tourists. Partly inspired by her botanist sister, Greer decided to rehabilitate the remains of a rain forest growing on her property, “[b]attered by clearing, by logging, by spraying and worse.” Not only did she seek to heal a small piece of her beloved Australia; she also wanted to demonstrate that restoring the land to itself was the work of “dedicated individuals.” Government efforts at environmental conservation had been a failure. The little money delegated to preservation had been used to “protect the tourists from themselves.” None had been spent on restoring Australian flora threatened by plant species brought to the continent by early settlers with the “civilizing” aim of making their new home look more like Britain. With seemingly limitless vigor, Greer documents her rain forest finds—including Australian white beech trees nearly logged out of existence—and the indigenous and post-colonial histories of the land she would call the Cave Creek Rainforest Rehabilitation Scheme. Her late-life foray into environmentalism and the establishment of a charity that would preserve the land on which she cheerfully spent her life savings are nothing short of extraordinary. At the same time, her enthusiasm for spreading the gospel of biodiversity is also a source of narrative weakness. The scholarly presentation of textual material and lack of more personal details regarding her Australian rain forest venture will strike readers as overly fastidious and tiresome.Passionate and well-intended but not especially accessible.

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Bloomsbury USA
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Meet the Author

Germaine Greer is an Australian academic and journalist, and a major feminist voice of the mid-twentieth century. She earned her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1967. She is Professor Emerita of English Literature and Comparative Studies at the University of Warwick. Greer's ideas have created controversy ever since The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller in 1970. She is the author of many other books including Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984); The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause (1991); Shakespeare's Wife (2007); and The Whole Woman (1999).
Germaine Greer gained her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1967 with a thesis on Shakespeare's early comedies and has taught Shakespeare at universities in Australia, Britain and the US. In 1986 she was invited to contribute the volume on Shakespeare to the prestigious Past Masters series. In 1989 she set up her own publishing imprint, Stump Cross Books, and went on to publish scholarly editions of Katherine Philips, Anne Wharton and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. She lives on three acres by a motorway exit in north-west Essex, with two dogs, thirteen geese and a fluctuating number of doves. Shakespeare's Wife has also been shortlisted for The Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

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