Opening image: This is lutruwita. Photos by Ula Majewski


At the end of the summer I venture south, like some strange and wingless migratory bird with a busted internal compass. Jam the rusty Corolla full of surfboards, gumboots, woollies and a few kilos of camera gear, roll on and off the ferry and then fang it down the length of the island to a sleepy little wharf, jump onto a cray boat with a bunch of salty sea dogs and steam west, off again on my favourite annual holiday to the very edge of everything.


Lutruwita/Tasmania's southwest coast is home to the most extraordinary beaches. It’s a place that exists beyond the limits of language, with the power to grow your eyes to the size of awestruck dinner plates in a single instant. It’s off the tap. But this remote ecological wonderland is getting thrashed by a wave of polluting plastic that chokes up the ocean and washes onto the sand, causing all sorts of unfortunate havoc. And so every year, give or take, a volunteer crew of extreme beach cleaners (my mates and I) steam west on an epic expedition to remove tens of thousands of items of rubbish from the most beautiful place on earth.


I’m a very lucky human — this year was my tenth Southwest Marine Debris Cleanup. Over the past decade or so, the experience of traversing the beautiful southwest Country of the Palawa people, of removing literally hundreds of thousands of items of rubbish from this special corner of the world and of listening carefully to all the intrepid wisdom and wild (and ever-growing) tales of my cleanup family has leant me a bunch of navigational cues. A haphazard collection of barnacled observations that have shaped my understanding of the world. Here are a few bits of flotsam I’ve picked up along the way.

Everything is connected, including us. You and I are an integral part of our ecosystem, not separate from it. We may be miniscule, little specks in the greater scheme of things, but when we act collectively, we are powerful. The choices we make together, right now, can actually change the world. We walk on the unceded Country of an extraordinary culture that is over 65,000 years old.

A whale vertebrae is bigger than your head. It stops you in your tracks — compels you to consider the larger, more profound questions.

Everything ends up somewhere. Plastic pollution is terrible news for our ocean, coastlines and the health of everyone who lives here, including us humans. Small pieces of plastic are particularly horrible — just search for “plastic + bird stomach”.

A whale vertebrae should never have to share the beach with a dirty pile of rubbish.

In the face of 50,167 pieces of rubbish, a 65-metre length of dirty industrial salmon farm hose and other horrible things, it is advisable to cultivate a refined sense of humour. Laughter, adversity — all that gear. Or in the immortal words of Jimmy Westley, “just fish nets and chill”. Stu Williams tunes in.

Some stuff never gets old. If you pull a toothbrush from the rubbish pile in the middle of the count, stop everything and pretend to brush. If you find a rubber glove, stare into the middle distance and wave it around in the air. And so on. We will all laugh a lot, every single time. Oscar Wyatt upholds an ancient cleanup tradition, along with the nuanced levels of sophistication required to be invited on the boat.

There is a time for speed and accuracy in movement — when leaping off a dinghy onto diabolically slippery rocks or navigating your green-faced self from inside the wheelhouse and out to the deck during a big old roll around Southwest Cape (aka the spew zone). That tricky space before your sea legs come good on the first day. Grace is often an aspirational state in these circumstances.

But when picking up rubbish, moving slowly is everything. You never know what you might find and if you move too quickly, you’ll miss stuff. Every few steps, remember to turn yourself around. Consider the path you’ve taken from a completely different perspective. You’ll notice a whole bunch of things that weren’t visible before.

Walk in the places where there are no footprints. Pause often and get your eye in. Look up at the ocean and the sky. Consider the mountains. Breathe out.

Surfboards need holidays too and the curious path is always more fun. Take them to the most extraordinary places you can. Avoid resorts and chlorine. Hold them close and leap off the stern into a shining sea. Paddle them into a perfect glassy setup at dawn. Hear the sounds of your mates hooting, watch those ancient ridgelines flying past. ‘Bianca’ – the twinnie of glory – kicks back on deck after a session she’ll remember forever, even when she’s really old and all dinged up. She was shaped by Corey Graham and prefers remote marine ecosystems. Treat your boards, and everything else too, with love and care. Don’t be a dick. Get in the ocean every day, even if the onshore of doom is upon you, even if it’s only three waves. It’s always more fun than a shower.

Pay attention to detail. Dial in your focus or you’ll definitely lose count. Classifying thousands of pieces of dirty rubbish at speed is a strangely fulfilling act. Work together and help your crew (don’t be a slacker). When calling out your 300 pieces of short rope, 1200 pieces of plastic, 15 bait savers, or one baby pink shotgun shell, be patient — wait for Harbs to lift his eyes from the clipboard and give you the big nod.

Photo Oscar Wyatt.

Surround yourself with a crew of the most excellent, eccentric and big-hearted humans you can find. Go on big adventures to beautiful places. Celebrate community. Remember that a whole lot of small things can sometimes turn into something profound. Do good stuff. Prioritise snort giggles. Change the world.

Read more about the South West Marine Debris Cleanup here and check their blog here and socials here.

Opening image: This is lutruwita. Photos by Ula Majewski


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