I am the character wearing the red gaiters. The others are the folk that joined me presenting an introductory bushwalking course for adults from 1980 through to the 2005. I am still very friendly with many of the people who took part in those courses.
To begin with, I had no idea how important the social dimension of the courses would be. Following the first two or three courses, “graduates” were sent their separate ways to link up with other bushwalking groups if they wanted to. But in 1982, a number of the graduates came to me with an unexpected request. They wanted to establish their own bushwalking club in order to retain the friendships and the camaraderie they had experienced in the course. And so the Yarrawood Bushwalking Club, the “friendly club” as members still call it, was born.
That experience helped me to realise that sharing activities in nature generated a distinctive interpersonal chemistry. When people are together in nature, what they have in common matters far more than what makes them different. As the nature writer, Quentin Chester, writes, “There’s nothing quite like being in the middle of nowhere for putting a different spin on how people interact. Thankfully, many of the social niceties simply don’t amount to much in the wild”.
This is because nature is impartial. Nature is the great leveller, the great disregarder of social status and pretensions. In natural settings, therefore, people are freer to be themselves and more able to be accepting of others and to relate empathically and generously. Bonding of this kind can be very powerful. Following a five day canoe trip in a wilderness area, the women who took part were asked to reflect on the experience. This is what one woman had to say:
The strongest part, the thing that I remember the most is just the interaction with all the other women which to me was equally important as being in this beautiful setting. You know, the natural setting was a wonderful place, but it was the interaction with all of these women that was truly inspirational to me. I have just never encountered that kind of cooperation in such a gentle manner. Maybe, it was the place, the setting itself washed away all the other stuff, all the artificial barriers that get in the way of first just being comfortable with yourself and then being with a group of people you haven’t met before.