When the Bendigo Campus blog checks in with Leigh Redding, he’s at a turning point. He’s sitting on the high side of the riverbank above the Goulburn, north of Shepparton. He’s surrounded by River Red Gum forest and frog-filled billabongs, contemplating.
“At first it felt like good timing in a way,” says the Outdoor Education alumnus, of his plans to paddle from Yea to the sea. “My industry was closing down, so I wouldn’t be able to work anyway. It felt good to be taking time out on the river and to be self-sufficient.”
At this point, last Friday, Leigh had been two-weeks into a planned three-month journey to discover the environments, ecosystems, communities, food supplies and people of the Murry Darling Basin. A trip that’s been four-years in the making.
“I was trying to push on as much as I could, while keeping an ear to the ground,” he says. “I’d been waiting for a point where it was not appropriate to continue.
“On one hand, I’m out here and I’m not interacting with anyone. But on the other hand, there’s that social responsibility to stay home. If everyone is doing that, I don’t really have the right to stay out here. I’d been contemplating that for the past two days. Do I risk fines? Is this essential travel?”
The answer to that last question is a big one. No, he decided, the trip can be stopped, paused for now, but yes, it is also essential.
Leigh’s plan is to share his personal experience with the communities he passes through, and beyond, through his website Nature Euphoria. He aims to promote what we have in our own backyard, with the purpose of saving it.
“The Murray Darling Basin is an amazing river system,” he says. “It covers a third of the continent and is the heart of our food system. It has so much cultural history as well that people just don’t realise. If people open their eyes to that they’re more likely to respect it, care about it and live sustainably.”
Through the trip Leigh plans to demonstrate how society’s actions impact the water, the river systems and our food supply.
A life by the Yea River
“I was very privileged growing up having the Yea River flow past my backyard,” he says. “It was where I hung out after school with my brother, swimming, climbing trees, mucking around. Those very early experiences inspired me to want to share my love of the natural world more broadly. Studying Outdoor Education gave me the knowledge to do that.”
Leigh started off studying exercise science and recreation management at a different uni after high school, but soon realised that wasn’t where his passion was.
He took a gap year to travel. He went to America and worked at a summer camp for three months, then backpacked around the US and Europe; rock climbing, surfing, hiking. When he returned to Australia, he enrolled in the Bendigo course.
“The community around the Outdoor Education course is amazing, it’s full of like-minded people and I made a lot of really good friends,” he says. “It enabled me to experience environments in Victoria and Australia that are now some of my favourite places. Like the Franklin River.”
Leigh graduated in 2018 and spent last year working with school groups at Lake Eildon and with adults in Tasmania, paddling the Franklin and hiking the Overland Track.
“The whole time my intention was to come back and start this paddling journey,” he says. “I wanted to see where it would take me and what communities I could connect with.”
Today, Leigh is back home in Yea, reflecting on his short time on the Goulburn and thinking about what he’ll do differently when he resumes his journey after Australia’s COVID-19 lockdown measures cease.
He says being on the water is a process of slowing down and living in the moment. Perhaps something many of us are now experiencing for the first time, in our own homes.
“After a few days of paddling you start to sink into a place and your days don’t revolve around time anymore,” he says. “You become part of the place. Which has been beautiful, especially with what’s going on in the world. To be outside, among nature, with a simple purity and purpose; for me this is what it means to be here.
“I’ll take lessons from this time. I don’t feel like it’s a loss. It’s a hurdle. It’s going to be really good to overcome this and see what comes from it.”