An Odyssey for a Yarn

9 May 2022

Following the recent ATTA Indigenous & Community Based Tourism Webinar for Oceania, ATTA Ambassador and adventurer Huw Kingston writes about his latest project in Australia.

A wombat* shuffles nonchalantly across the snow and, while it does, a parrot flashes brightly across the marbled, ice-rimed trunk of a snowgum. Steep, cliff lined gullies surprise all those who see or ski them the first time. Yes, Australia does indeed have snow and our alpine country has held me in its thrall for the past 35 years. Australia’s highest land on the world’s flattest continent is a very special place. Covering over 3 million acres, the Australian Alps stretch from a little east of Melbourne to the outskirts of our capital Canberra. A place of our highest mountains and the source of our longest rivers.

But long, long before it nourished me, for countless thousands of years before I carved turns down its flanks or held onto my tent in wild blizzards, our First Nations people gathered, in the alpine summer months, in great corroborees, to trade, to share stories and to feast upon the protein rich Bogong Moths that smothered the high country. Sharing stories, yarning.

Australia, like many colonial-based nations, has a sad and sorry history in its treatment of those who were here first. There is still much work to be done and, whilst our Indigenous brothers and sisters still suffer much injustice, there is an increasing mood for reconciliation, an increasing pride in the oldest continuous culture on earth. For some of us, even a realisation that with everything that was taken away, we more recent Australians might have to lose something to give something back. And that loss might ultimately be our gain. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a good start point.

Storytelling and the passing down of knowledge is important in all cultures. Here in Australia our First Nations people - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders - have a complex and rich vein of stories that link them to the land, the oceans, the sky and to each other. I wouldn’t dare to claim any great knowledge but do know that holding these stories, firstly passing them onto First Nations children, but also to the wider population, is vitally important. These are stories from our First Nations but they are stories that need to be appreciated, if not fully understood, by all of our modern nation.

Literacy is also important in any modern nation for both economic and social wellbeing. So you might imagine how excited I was to come across Our Yarning.

I am fortunate to wear two Ambassador hats, a sunhat for the mighty fine ATTA, and a warm, woollen beanie for the incredible charity Save the Children, who I have worked with for the best part of a decade. Library For All, owned by Save the Children, is an NGO dedicated to lifting literacy rates in dozens of countries across the globe.

Our Yarning is a Library For All project to produce age appropriate books for Indigenous Australian children, written and illustrated by Indigenous authors and illustrators, telling their stories, their way. Ultimately there will be some 500 books, freely available on a digital platform although some will be printed too.

Like linking those ski turns, I need to this link back to the Australian snow country. I have just launched my Alpine Odyssey, a 600-kilometre journey skiing the length of our alpine country, a journey that will also see me skiing at each of the dozen snow resorts en route. My winter traverse will hopefully raise at least $50,000 for Our Yarning. This will help fund the writing, illustration and production of books as well as hosting a workshop for budding Indigenous authors and illustrators.

25 years ago, I did a similar winter journey, but not including the resorts. It was a tough journey in so many ways. Blizzards, rain, thick bush, navigational challenges, river crossings and distance all conspired to stymie progress. Indeed I didn't see another soul for the first three weeks. But then of course, blue-sky days, moonlit nights, snow covered ranges and old mountain huts easily balanced the ledger.

25 years on, I’m certainly older but perhaps no wiser. For sure there is the challenge of pushing my ageing body through it again. But also I want to celebrate the Australian snow country that has been so good to, and for me for so long. To celebrate not only the backcountry, but the resorts and communities that live for the white stuff. Resorts and communities that have suffered much these past couple of years. First our blackest of bushfire summers, fires that totally razed one of these resorts. Then closures from Covid. To celebrate but also to consider the threats to our fragile alpine landscape. From climate change, from feral animals, from us. Those Bogong moths are rarely seen now.

But, most importantly, the success of the Our Yarning fundraising is as important to me as the success of my journey. To do just a little bit to keep those stories alive.

You can contribute to the Our Yarning fundraising here with a direct donation or you can even ‘buy’ one of our highest mountains or one of the dozen ski resorts!

With the support of The North Face, the resorts and many others, I’ll start out at the end of July on an alpine odyssey that I expect will take some 50 days. It will, I hope, make a pretty decent yarn.

I acknowledge that throughout this journey I am travelling on traditional lands, the sovereignty of which has never been ceded. I hugely respect the incredible culture and knowledge of the Gunai-Kurnai, Jaimathang, Taungurung, Dhudhuroa, Monero-Ngarigo, Ngarigu-Currawong, Wongalu and Ngunnawal people whose land I will cross in the Australian alpine country.

*For wombat, just think of a guinea pig on steroids.