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Lee Trew rewilds families
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"At the heart of rewilding is the reawakening and empowering of our internal authority, which is the authority of the heart, of sensitivity, of the body. It’s the ability to know by feeling."
Conversations
4 October 2018

Lee Trew rewilds families

Interview by Jessica Raschke
Photographer: Bluegum Bushcraft/Gina Chick

Jessica Raschke on Lee Trew

I first encountered Lee Trew while searching for a bush immersion program for families in 2016. Like so many overwhelmed, digitised, and fatigued modern parents, my husband and I were feeling a burning yearning to connect our children—and reconnect ourselves—with the simplicity of nature in a bush environment. We asked around and were directed to Bluegum Bushcraft’s Rewild Tribe camps.

Together with the indomitable and huge-hearted Gina Chick, Lee founded Bluegum Bushcraft in 2011. Among several other programs, Bluegum Bushcraft facilitates its Rewild Tribe bush camps for families on the pristine upper Clyde River in New South Wales. The experience is like no other. The camps are transformative weeks of mucking about with other families, where adults share whimsical and intimate conversations around the campfire while kids wander and run barefoot, almost always absorbed in natural, playful fun without screens, sugar or helicopter parenting.

Bluegum’s leadership has been central to its success. Lee and Gina actively train and support mentors to step up and co-create the Rewild Tribe experience. For four days of the camp, kids go on an adventure with the mentors each day, coming back with hunter-gatherer life skills—finding shelter, food and water, making fire, spears and ochre face paint—and a surplus of animated stories to share.

Incisively intelligent, spirited and skilful, Lee’s youth was spent at Forest School camps in the United Kingdom and studying primitive survival skills from leading world experts. He once spent a year in the bush fending for himself, an experience that led him to discover a radically new experience of what it means to be human. He later appeared totally starkers on the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid. Supporting people to re-remember their inherent capacity for gentle and disarming connection is paramount to his repertoire: he also works as a psychotherapist, counsellor, and Rapport Based Relating facilitator.

 At one significant level, the Rewild Tribe camps are an ongoing honouring of Lee and Gina’s story. They were once married and had a daughter called Blaise. When Blaise died in 2013, they experienced deep, tumultuous grief. Yet Lee and Gina’s elevating worldliness and wisdom inspire those around them (whether this is intentional, or not). The Rewild Tribe camps are founded on love, heart and soul.

I spoke with Lee several months before the birth of Taiga, to whom he and his new partner Hannah are proud mother and father. As Lee and I walked and talked among the sprawling and unassuming trees of the Morton National Park, I was gladly reminded of the preciousness of it all.

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

JESSICA RASCHKE: How do you think this rewilding bush camp is going?

LEE TREW: I think it’s going beautifully. I’m always amazed. Sometimes it seems so improbable that people from different walks of life, and lots of people who are strangers at first, can come together and make a community that feels safe and meaningful, and has an agreement to create a new paradigm of relationship. It can be new and quite radically different compared to how people live. It’s improbable that we could come together from the modern, crazy, over-exhausted, wounded, confused world as very different humans and then make something together. Find the place in the middle where we can all meet, and then find where we all overlap and focus on that.

And it’s also completely understandable and almost inexorable because we’re humans, and because we want connection, and this kind of tribe experience of sleeping on the same land and sharing food together, and sharing games and activities and conversation in a natural setting, is what we’re hardwired for, and what we’re all expecting at some level.

So no wonder that it feels good and no wonder that we can come back to it even if it’s not what we know in our daily lives. This rewilding process that we talk about, I’m not even wedded to that word, I think it’s problematic in some ways, but

it’s a process of coming together to do this thing, to do this magical, alchemical thing, this ceremony of people, place and relationship, from which emerges something ineffable and even greater than the sum of its parts.

That process sometimes feels like leading fish back to water, fish who have been used to living on dry land. We don’t know anything different other than dry land. And so we think that there must be something wrong with us for having scales that always seem a bit dry, or having a heart that is always aching a little bit existentially, or emotional systems that are always feeling a little bit overwhelmed and lonely.

Do you witness initial resistance from people who come to the camps? I imagine there is a yearning within them, they’re coming here because they recognise there is a need to reconnect to something deeper within themselves, but to what extent can you see the resistance happening?

Mostly there’s just a lot of fear, a lot of contraction, a sort of rigidity and armouring which I think is, at some level, functional in lots of modern environments that people find themselves in. It’s functional to armour a little bit from all of the emotional stimulation, it’s about being rigid and battening down the hatches, gritting your teeth and just getting through it because it’s so difficult. We would just crumble and fall apart if we weren’t holding this whole wobbly thing together with a bit of tension. That’s how it feels to me. But my practice in holding space for this process is just getting good at looking beneath the surface. One of my mantras is that we speak with many voices. So, what I might be seeing in people at first is the voice of resistance, the voices saying, “I don’t really know about this, it’s been exhausting to get here and oh my god, it’s taken so much to pack the car and the kids have been screaming at me all the time, and now there’s all these weird people all over the place, I’m not sure I need to be here, I’m not sure I even like people, and maybe nature is overrated” [laughs]. And that voice is up. So my job is to say, “Ok yes that voice is there, yes to that voice, and what are the other voices and look deeper.” Because I know that they are humans, we are humans, and I know that there are other voices that are seeking connection, that are seeking community and are able to have deep and meaningful empathy, intimacy, vulnerability. I know that that’s not the whole story, what is first presented.

Just taking a few steps back then, what did it take for you to have that knowingness? What is it about you? In your background, your upbringing?

There’s lots of ways to answer that. One is that I went through an interesting rewilding experience. I grew up in an apartment block with my mum and dad. Not much contact with other kids other than at arm’s length in the playground until I was four. My memory of that time is, I can feel the texture of that life, the isolation, the sterility, the loneliness, the existential horror, in a way. But the interesting thing is that I can only see that in retrospect because at the time that was all I knew, Oh, this is life. And the pain that I was feeling in that life only became apparent to me when at the age of four when my sister was born we moved to a co-housing community where five houses shared a couple of acres of land. It was a really unusual situation in North London.

I remember the moment when we walked out of the house, onto the balcony, and I saw an incredible garden in front of me. There was an orchard and a veggie patch and beautiful flowers, kids running around. This little Garden of Eden, Paradise.

I went down these stairs and saw this group of kids intensely absorbed in discussion and play with each other. I remember my first response was of anxiety, Oh my god, can I belong here? Do I fit in? Do I know how to do this with these guys? Deep within there was this other yearning of, I have to! This feels so right, this is what I want, oh my god, I’ve just discovered Paradise. Alongside the fear. I remember hesitating on the step for a moment, then one of them looked up and saw me and said “Hi.” And then that was it, suddenly I was moving forward and I was part of the group and didn’t really look back. I had to be dragged out of there kicking and screaming because I didn’t want to leave when the house inspection was done.

So, this is different to the allotments in London, where people have communal garden space, this was in the ’80s?

The mid-’80s, yes.

So what led your parents to make the decision to move there? The mid-’80s was at the back end of the hippie movement.

It’s funny because my parents were on the back end of their own hippie movement, and they met at university both studying Chinese. My mum because she wanted to get closer to her father who spoke Chinese and had never spoken English very well, and my dad because, although he was a blue-eyed Caucasian, he wanted to be an I Ching fortune teller. He wanted to read the Tao de Ching in the original language. So, they were lefties and Buddhists and Taoists at uni, but were just coming out the back of that. My dad now is a rationalist materialist. He likes the poetry of religious texts, but for him God is nature. Both of them have really happy memories living in communities. I was actually conceived in a community in China that they lived in for a year.

That was clearly a really formative experience for you. Moving from the apartment block box into communal living.

Yes, and feeling like a sponge that was being rehydrated. I hadn’t even known that it was possible to feel that way.

Was it a case of, “Look out everybody, here comes Lee and he’s going for broke”?

Kind of. I think, looking back, I was a lot more aware of the dynamics of that situation. All of the other kids have grown up to have amazingly interesting and wonderful lives, but none of them were as completely obsessed by the group dynamics of our interactions and of the community as I was. I was just watching how, what makes the older kids cool? How is it that we so want to be like them, and where do they get all of their amazing ideas for the games? And feeling what it meant to me when they gave me their full attention and when they were being inclusive to me and helping me through difficulties, and how could I do that for the younger kids too? How could I pass on this service to the younger kids? And how cool is it that there’s always these emotionally available adults, and how much safer does it feel out in this garden when we’re having communal work weekends, and having celebrations around a little campfire which we used to do when it was a birthday or work weekend. Looking around, saying this feels so amazing, this feels so right. This woman is like a grandmother to me, this man is like an uncle to me, and then going back into my house and feeling very unsafe. My parents’ marriage was struggling and then failing. It was just so stark. I got to see the stark contrast between apartment blocks and communal living, and then outside of the house and inside of the house.

So it was like a refuge, an oasis.

Yep, totally a sanctuary, a Paradise. And also going to school; I was coming from a thriving community life and feeling alive and in my body and then seeing other kids in my primary school whose faces were a bit mask-like. We lived just on the boundary between middle class families who had comfortable lives and kids living in council houses with drug addicted parents and prostitute mothers with horrifying stories and seeing the look on their faces and getting this feeling of what they expect from the world and how they feel the world is. And that really contrasting with what my world was.

It sounds like all of that exposure lends you to a worldliness, where you have been exposed to diverse ways of living, diverse ways of being, but not every child living in that communal setting, I imagine, responded in quite the same way that you did.

No, others went on to become cabinetmakers or lawyers or artists.

So how did all of this lead to where you are now? Being a survivalist, Bluegum Bushcraft, being a counsellor, a psychotherapist? Maybe we’ll just start with whatever came first and then move on from there!

My dad’s emotional wounding meant he was very mistrusting of human communities, ironically. He wanted to be part of communities but he was never actually able to. So for him real safety was in understanding nature and nature for him was a fickle bitch, and if you turned your back on her she would kick you in the arse and you deserved it. So, safety lay in hypervigilance and independence, skilful independence. He would buy me books about nature, about bushcraft, and I could just feel that he really valued that, and I took on some of those values. Then skilfulness in nature and awareness of connection to nature became a way to transcend his fear story that I felt I was always trying to run out from the shadow of. That the world is dangerous and hostile. Nature connection became a way to prove him wrong and to find a way to be in the world that could be abundant and safe. And rich and fun. It served two purposes. At first it was getting approval from my dad and later on, as I became a teenager, it was proving him wrong, just when I needed to [laughs].

That’s often the case! Have you come full circle with him now?

Yes, we’re in a great place now. I have a lot of love and respect for him, and he has softened a lot. We’re good friends. And my mum was always very people orientated. She was the helper and a healer and so from her I got a love of people. Well from both parents a fascination with people, and a fascination for systems from my dad, and a fascination or a drive to improve and fix broken things from my mum. I always wanted to do some work that could help people in some way. At first I thought I wanted to be a doctor but what I was really interested in was the psychotherapy aspect of it and being someone who could help. One thing that really struck me about both of my parents was that I saw that they were struggling. They were quite young when they had me. They were 24 and a lot of the time when they were parenting me I would look at them and say, “You don’t know how to do this, huh?” And I would see them having horrible arguments with each other and think, “Why are you wounding each other?” I would see the remorse afterwards. Sometimes I would see that dad was upset but he didn’t know how to ask for forgiveness, or he didn’t know how to come and apologise. Mum felt wounded and in need of holding but she didn’t know how to ask for that holding. And for whatever reason I was able to see those dynamics and I wasn’t really able to articulate them in my head in that way but I could just feel that they were struggling and that they weren’t really coping and feeling like I wanted to understand these dynamics. I wanted to be able to help people.

There was one really formative experience for me, I must have been about six or seven, that encapsulates this. I was sitting on the bed in my bedroom and I just had a blazing argument with my dad. He had just been viciously judgmental towards me and I’d been defensive and rude and disrespectful back to him and I cried it out. I got to this place where I just saw really clearly how neither of us wanted to hurt each other, and it was like we had been taken over by something that had driven us to hurt each other, and it all seemed like such a waste. It all seemed so sad that people who love each other could hurt each other. It was so deeply troubling to me that this was going on in the world. And I think in that moment I made a non-verbal commitment to myself that I wanted to understand this a little bit better, this whole dynamic.

And that led to studying counselling and psychotherapy, and I imagine the Rapport Based Relating model as well?

Yes, it led me into being really interested in psychology, English literature, which was part of my degree. And acting and theatre, anything that seemed to shed some light or have some wisdom about this weird enigma of humans and how we can go wrong and how we can we can find our way back again. How we can be who we are without getting trapped or diverted.

That year in which you spent in the bush, were you on your own for all that time?

I was in a relationship at the start of it and that relationship failed quite quickly. For most of it I was on my own. There were times when I was going into Tom’s school to help with his workshops, but the vast majority of my days were just me waking up on my own. My commitment for that year was to follow my heart’s bliss from the Joseph Campbell quote and realising that I’d never had the freedom to do absolutely that, to do just purely that. So I got to really embrace just being a mammal. If I was hungry I’d eat, if I was tired I could sleep, and everyday I could go on adventures and learn or practice the skills of being a human in a wild environment.

I’ve read that your experience in the bush led to a radical understanding of what it means to be human.

For the first three months it was great. It was, “Hooray!” An amazing adventure, learning all of these things and doing all of this stuff is very active. Around the end of that time the relationship started to show cracks and Maeve ended up going to John Young’s Wilderness Awareness School. In the middle of that year in the bush was a time of what I think was emotional detox. I just started going into personality and ego disintegration and I just started my psychotherapy course before that, so I was able to look at myself and go, Whoah, this looks scarily like schizophrenia because I’m having the voices in my head, my mental chatter is so loud and chaotic. I can’t even begin to pretend that I have control over my thoughts and I’m having surging, irrational, disproportionate emotions, grief and terror and shame and rage and reliving vividly experiences from the past, particularly ones where I had wounded other people or where I felt wounded. I read all these books about people spending time with the wilderness and having transcendent experiences and seeing spirit guides and angels and I thought I was just doing it wrong somehow. I must be a lesser being in some way and I was just fucking it up.

So, you were expecting it to be pleasant?

Yeah! More flowy and lovely and plinky plonky [laughs].

Instead it was dinky donky! [Laughs.]

Yes, it was really into the belly of the beast, the collapse of so many internal structures and really the digestion of lots of undigested emotional material in me, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. It just felt like I was crazy and in an emotional washing machine.

Then in the final three months of that year, I emerged from the storm into blue sky and suddenly my baseline became massive expanse of silence inside and feeling of flow and exquisite sensitivity to my environment.

And lots of serendipity, synchronicity, looking up from something that I was doing for no reason I could discern just to catch the eye of a deer who had just come around the corner of a path, or looking up to see an eagle cresting over the hill at exactly the right moment, or realising that I needed a particular plant to make string, for instance. Walking off in a more or less straight line into an area of the bush where I hadn’t been to before and finding that plant and then walking back sometimes before I realised, Whoah, what just happened, what did I do just then? And feeling like I was really in touch with my intuition. Just a feeling of rightness and peace about everything. And real appreciation and joy, and so many incredible animal encounters. And every time I had these animal encounters I would feel so in love and appreciative of this animal.

How did you manage the transition out of that space and back into the modern environment?

It was tough. Looking back, I think it took me a couple of years to readjust from that. I met Gina in the final month or two of that year and she said, “Come to Australia,” and I said “Okay.” When I arrived in Bondi everything felt so fast and so intense, so much activity. I had been in such a receptive place in the bush. Survival and success depends on receptivity. There would be days where I would get up and say, “What do I want to do today, what’s my heart’s bliss?” and often it was just to sit for hours and drink in this incredible show that was happening. And every time I did that amazing things would happen. A hawk would take a sparrow off a branch or mating weasels would come running past me, or sometimes just the way that the wind would surge through the trees was somehow profoundly moving and poetic. And then trying to fit into this world where there wasn’t space for that kind of poetry or receptivity. And everyone seems so profligate with their energy. They’re like teenage animals, they just run around all over the place, and they’re not very aware. Teenage deer are the ones that get shot most by hunters, fledgling songbird are the ones that carry on singing even though a bird of prey is around and all the other birds have stopped singing. They’re kind of oblivious and spending the lots of energy and they’re just caught up in themselves being teenage animals. People marching along, talking really animatedly into their phones.

Even those in their fifties, sixties or seventies are rushing around, teenager like.

Yes, rushing, rushing, rushing, doing this, this, this and that, posturing, posturing, posturing, expending lots of energy and really in bubbles of their own. It felt very lonely, very overwhelming, and it started another detox process where I’d gone through all the stuff that I had in relation to myself, and now I was having to go through all the stuff that I had in relation to civilisation and this modern culture.

And all of my resistance to that, and my grief around that, and this feeling that a part of me had come into the world expecting a stone age existence.

R. D. Laing’s image of the newborn baby as a stone age creature and a part of that expectation had been in large part been disappointed and I was having to reconcile that inside myself. So for a long time I was having massive surges of emotion and I was just trying to feel it. In order for me to digest and process this, I just had to feel it, I couldn’t think it too much. Every time I thought I would just think myself around in circles, I would write reams of crazy nonsense in my journals. But every time I was actually able to feel something all the way through. Gabrielle Roth has that beautiful quote, leaning into the sharp places, if I could lean into the sharp places and be pierced right to the core, then that was when I could find a shift, so some flow could come and be reinstated. Some release would happen, and that felt like real healing. I would lock myself in a room and scream into a pillow or cry or thrash around and move my body in ways that most felt like it could express what I was feeling. I would often have burst blood vessels under my eyes because of the intensity of screaming into pillows and things…but it worked [laughs].

Better that then picking fights out the backs of pubs!

I couldn’t even interact with people very well. Every time I tried to have a conversation with someone I was always half a beat behind. I would realise what I was supposed to have said, I should have responded at that point, I was just a little bit too late, so I just seemed really aloof or confused or just a bit of an introvert. But really it was I had forgotten how to dance this dance, and it was all just a bit overwhelming, frenetic.

So, you would have found some understanding in Gina, I imagine?

Yes, she was really helpful and she was kind of my guide and support through that. She’d offer to sit with me and hold me when I was going through that stuff but it felt really important that I do it on my own. Even though she was there and she was amazing, it also felt like a lonely and solo journey that I was going through.

A kind of a rite of passage? The hero’s journey at work.

Yeah, although hero sounds a lot more glamorous than it felt!

[Laughs.] Yes, I’m sure! Given today’s modern common model of toxic masculinity it is probably a heroic act to face those emotions without being destructive towards others with them.

I agree, it’s a radical act as well. Because all of our models about how to process our own pain, at least the models in the media are to do with fighting wars. It’s all about fighting battles and overcoming them. Success is often called “killing it,” you know how people say “you killed it.”

Yes. So true. Is it okay to ask about Blaise?

Of course, you can ask me about anything.

You and Gina had a little girl called Blaise together, and Gina had her cancer experience while she was pregnant with Blaise.

Yes, she found out just a few days after she realised she was pregnant that she had breast cancer.

And Blaise was born, and roughly three years later she had cancer as well.

And she died, yes.

This question might sound a bit trite, but how was that grief experience for you? How did you process that grief and what lessons could you offer to others based on your experience?

It’s a very timely question. It’s hard to answer that in an objective way because I’m feeling right in it at the moment because tomorrow is the anniversary of her death. It’s always striking to me how much the anniversary memory is a bodily feeling. There’s a part of my body that remembers, Oh yeah, this is the time of year that she died. I think that all of my experiences in the bush and

that practice of feeling and expressing was really what helped me to get through it, and still is.

And any time I wanted to cry I would cry, every time I felt like I wanted to rage and curse God and the universe I would let myself do that. I would do that as much as I could when it happened. So, if I was in the car I might just turn up some music and start screaming and raging and saying what I wanted to say. Giving voice to whatever voice was up, was most present. With the understanding that I wasn’t trying to spread it around everywhere, I wasn’t just trying to vomit it back into the world, I was doing that because I felt like that was the pure and deep and profound way to actually feel it to heal it. And it works, and it still does work. And that’s how I can get up in the morning and walk around on two feet, and that’s how come I wasn’t crushed ultimately by the experience losing her.

It’s interesting here on the camp, it’s common knowledge to everybody that this is the experience that you and Gina went through together. I wonder, if I were in your position, even if I had processed the grief in my own time and in my own way, does it sometimes feel very exposing to have your story and your vulnerabilities known quite thoroughly by a mix of people, some who know you very well, some who don’t know you so well? I feel for you, because I feel like sometimes you’ve got to carry a lot of other people’s grief because it’s like a magnet, I guess. Does it have that effect? How is it to be vulnerable like that? If indeed it feels like vulnerability to you?

It feels good to be vulnerable. It feels great to be in a community where it can be common knowledge and we can talk about it and sometimes I can even ask for a hug if I need it. I feel a little bit torn sometimes. There is facilitator self that says, “Well it’s not about me in this moment,” then there is English me where no one really wants to hear about emotional stuff, that’s not cricket. I think it really landed for me when I was reading Love’s Executioner by Irvin Yalom and seeing how emotional transparency and vulnerability, the honesty with which he writes as a therapist talking about his responses to his clients and seeing how he was still able to give incredible therapeutic sessions, make therapeutic interventions, even while he’s having the shit triggered out of him, and even while he was completely neurotic behind his therapist’s mask. And that there was such beauty in that. Beauty in the heart that can feel the neurosis, feel needy and feel afraid and still put that to one side somehow and transcend just long enough to see another person purely and reach out to them in a way that is going to be of use to them. He gave me a respect and appreciation for vulnerability and a faith in its power.

So it’s the model of the wounded healer, it’s only one who is wounded who can truly understand the wound of another.

Even further than the wounded healer is the real healer. Because

we’re all wounded, that’s the truth. No one makes it to adulthood in our culture without experiencing some form of emotional or psychological violence.

Very few of us have the experiences or the mentors of the modelling that enable us to move through that in a way that doesn’t leave a lasting trace.

Maybe it’s a modern problem that’s been exacerbated by the knowledge most of us have of basic psychology through self-help books and pop psychology. It’s like there’s this broad-scale recognition of the wounds and the traumas and the challenges that we all face but simultaneously it’s like the degrees of empathy have decreased when you think about the current state of global politics, for example. I’m interested in how you see the work that you’re doing and how that will feed into the way things could change for humanity? If that’s not too enormous a question? [Laughs.] It’s all on your shoulders, Lee!

I feel like what you’re saying is that in some ways there is a bit more sophistication, bit more awareness, but in other ways there is even less empathy and even less connection than there has been.

There seems to be. For example, there’s a lot of psychological language that gets thrown around, like the word ‘triggered,’—it gets expressed in common everyday parlance. So, there is this knowingness, but I don’t know that it necessarily has the effect…

One thing I keep bumping into is how in our culture we bow down and kiss the ground before concepts and intellect and we denigrate and ignore embodied knowledge which is sub-verbal or preverbal or more than verbal. There are so many people who can talk a good talk and people are listening to them and if you feel what’s actually going on in their body, what you can feel is terror, numbness, denial, stuff that is really at odds with the talk that they’re putting out into the world. The only reason that they can get away with that is that our culture ignores the body and worships the mind, we’re taught not to be sensitive to the body. If something someone says is at odds with how we feel when we’re in their presence often our cultural conditioning tells us to just ignore that, it must be rubbish, because their beautiful words make so much sense and are spoken with so much conviction.

At the heart of rewilding is the reawakening and empowering of our internal authority, which is the authority of the heart, of sensitivity, of the body. It’s the ability to know by feeling, having a feeling of rightness.

And you can’t always explain that feeling of rightness and you can’t always justify it, you can’t always prove it through clinical trials. We’re worshipping randomised clinical trials and you have to have a study to prove anything, it’s all external authority. It’s useful, it’s one way of getting information about the world. But if I’m eating broccoli because a study has told me that it is good for me, it’s such a pernicious phrase. I saw a book about the five healthiest things that you can do for yourself and one of them was to drink coffee because all of these studies have shown that coffee has all of these incredible benefits. But I know that what happens in my body when I drink coffee is that none of it is good. It feels like a cup of pure terror. If I was just to read the studies and be overawed by them I would find myself drinking coffee and I would feel jittery and I would feel terror, but no it must be good for me so I’m just going to push on anyhow.

That’s interesting because it’s not always denial of the body, the presentation of the body gets emphasised, doesn’t it?

It’s the external surface, it’s not the internal experience of the body.

It’s the size of this bit or that bit. The body has just been subsumed.

In many ways, it’s just been taken away from us and put into the realm of the external, my body doesn’t really belong to me, I have to make it look like ways in which it’s going to be acceptable to other people, dress it in ways that are going to be approved by other people, rather than actually being in it and getting to know what its wisdom is, getting to feel what the rightness is, getting to feel safe and empowered in my body.

It strongly overpowers any potential there is for us to just be with our body.

To be in our sovereignty and to be in our knowing. To know what is right for my body, rather than eating according to an ideology. Or working out according to a program or a concept. It’s complete madness to think that some program that someone else has written down is going to be right for my body. Any ideology whether it’s vegetarianism… I don’t know if we should open this can of worms! But I know that some bodies need to eat meat to be healthy and other bodies can thrive on a vegetarian diet, and that eating according to an ideology is just nonsense to me. Maybe I’ll get some hate mail. Maybe I’ll get some death threats for that. But one thing we know is that people will go to war and are ready to commit violence and atrocities to support their concepts and to protect the positions that they have identified with.

You’re now expecting a daughter, and you’ve recently developed the Rapport Based Relating model. How do you feel that model is going to take effect in your parenting?

To me the model is secondary to my knowing. The model is just me trying to encode what I experienced from the best mentors that I had as a kid in the forest school camps and in the community that I grew up in, and what I know in my body from those experiences. It’s me trying to articulate them in a way that is going to be useful to other people. That has been my whole process in making this model. What is it that I just know intuitively in my interactions with kids and people and how can I explain that? It never occurred to me that I would ever need or want to explain that but I had some experiences in outdoor education, in taking people out into the bush through other organisations, where I saw how the culture was so different to what I had experienced and it was horrifying. So much shouting and shaming and unsafety and smothering didacticism. You’re going to do this because we tell you to in ways that were just crushing and snuffing out the internal authority of these kids, disempowering them and their ability to question the world and investigate, follow desires, even have desires. Have inspiration and pursue it and troubleshoot, all of that stuff I saw was getting crushed.

And when I started talking about what I value and how I try to put those values into practice, I’d often find that people were really interested in it and open to it, even the people that were exhibiting different values, their actions were showing different values. But when I started talking about it they would say that sounds awesome, I want to see how to do that. And then I realised that in practice that they were just unable to because they were overwhelmed by the demands of the outcomes of the schedule, or by the ratio of how many kids there were to how many adults there were. There were things that were inherent to the structures that were making it difficult for them.

Which would just compound the guilt that they were already feeling.

And it was making it difficult for me as well, because I had such clarity and I had such experience of a different paradigm, I was able to bring that paradigm even into those environments. So I was wanting to help people to do that too.

So, what is the long-term vision for Bluegum Bushcraft and for the work that you do outside of Bluegum?

To be honest, I have no real idea and I’m a little bit suspicious of any impulse to fix the world or even to institute broad-scale change because I think there is something inherent to that which is a little bit arrogant. It’s basically a one-size-fits-all idea. If Bluegum works here in this situation with these people in this ecosystem with these communities, then we should make everyone do it as well. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

I think part of this paradigm shift that we will all have to go through is about letting go of one-size-fits-all, it’s letting go of mass scale in favour of more localised perspectives. More organic perspectives.

Bluegum grew out of my desire to have some kind of a project that would feel fulfilling, and me asking the question. I had these incredible experiences in camp, how can I replicate them for myself and my children how can I turn that into something that other people could be a part of? How can we do that in a way that expends the least effort for the most reward? To begin with, that was about inviting friends over to the bush and their friends started inviting friends. After every camp, Gina and I would sit down and we would say this worked, that didn’t work, that didn’t feel good. At first it wasn’t paid and it was, Well that didn’t feel good because we were mostly doing all of the activities and we want some kind of an exchange. So, we started charging this amount. Does that feel good? No, that doesn’t feel sufficient. So we increase the amount to a place that felt right and every camp there are new bits that drop into place. It feels like it’s a creature that’s evolving and developing and for now it’s just a pleasure being in the service of this creature we’re calling community, this tribe of people that are gathering around this thing that we do. This ceremony of family and education.

So who knows where it’s going to go. In a way, I don’t even like to think about it too much because it’s just too much fun watching the mystery unfold and seeing how the community is going to mature even more deeply. How are things going to land? How are certain members of our community going to step forward even more into supporting roles? And my barometer is, “Does this feel good? Does this feel right?” The minute I start to think, “Oh god, camp is coming up, I’ve got to gird my loins for that,” then I know that I need to change something. I need to step back and do less, hand stuff over more to other people, if it feels too boring because we’re always following the same structure then let’s change it up, let’s make the structure more fluid or let’s try out a different thing. It’s not that I’m on a mission to rewild all children, it’s not that I’m on a mission to create a model of community that’s going to work for everyone, it’s kind of enlightened self-interest. It just feels so good. And part of what feels so good is being connected to other people and being in service to other people and developing strong healthy relationships with people and place. I think that anything more than that feels a little bit arrogant in me. It feels a little bit concept based and not really large enough for the richness and mystery of life, and the simplicity of life.

And the same with Rapport Based Relating. At the moment, I want to share something that I feel I don’t see other people instinctively grasping, or having clarity about, and it feels good and fulfilling when I share that. It’s nourishing, and if that stops being nourishing then I will stop too. It’s not like I’m on a mission to try and save all of the children or try and empower all of the parents. That’s not how I approach life.I think the idea that the world is broken and that we need to fix it is problematic. It’s not one that I share.

It’s a view that I’m reckoning with myself at the moment. It’s about having to accept that human existence is part of a great, great story about the universe, the multiverse.

Yeah, and there will be some people that will feel extremely challenged and outraged by the assertion that we don’t need to fix life, that we don’t need to respond to all of the terrible horrible atrocities and injustices that are going on in the world. I’m not saying that we don’t respond to the things that we feel moved to respond to, but I’m saying that I think that we can bring about changes and we can make a difference in the world better when we respond from a pure place rather than coming from an intellectual externally driven place of “In order for me to feel good about myself and get my emotional meal ticket I have to feel like I’m doing something good.” If that’s the inroad, then fine. But if it’s coming from a place of concept, if it’s coming from a place of external shoulds, if it’s coming from a place of wanting to change or manipulate or enforce things on a large scale, I think very often it ends up creating more mischief than other ways. Because it can’t come from a place of love, it’s coming from a place of mind and usually judgement. “I judge this to be wrong, I feel outraged about this”, so I’m acting in the world motivated by judgement and outrage rather than acting in the world from a place of sensitivity, desire and the spontaneous response of the human heart.

Many people are disconnected or out of touch from their heart space, the sensitivity gets beaten out or nullified through addictions, often from very young ages.

I think addictions are the symptoms of the original causes, which is to do with this whole rewilding idea. A lot of the problem goes back to England, this poor little island that was conquered and invaded by so many different people, layer upon layer of invasion, violation, violence, conquering and oppression, and the Romans explicitly encouraged this idea of divide and conquer. They came up with his idea of divide and conquer. They were the first to articulate it. The idea of pitting people against each other. And I think the natural expression of that is nuclear families who feel like they’re in competition with their neighbours. They feel like they each have to have all of the appliances, all of the cars and all of the successful children, they want their children competing against the other children. The divide and conquer agenda was really successful in a terrible way.

What impulse is that appealing to, though? Is it territorialism of some sort, the survival instinct?

Yes, exactly. Us humans have a vulnerability. We get caught in trances, there are mental traps and when we fall into those traps it can be hard to get out of them. Addiction is one of those traps. Any kind of agitated state can be a trap. A lot of people are living lives where their baseline is experiencing the world from the mental trap of agitation, anxiety and fear. In one way, we’re all learning how to do peace. The agitation and fear and alarm response, the fight-or-flight adrenal state is what happens when warfare comes along and we stop being able to think about the future, we stop being able to really make plans, we stop being able to really be present with each other. New rules come into effect during wartime. Often men are in charge is one of them. My personal opinion is that I feel safest in matriarchal communities and that patriarchal communities often become that way through a time of warfare then the men cling on to power and say we need to stay in power. They’re not going to hand it back.

Our culture is orientated around war, we’re very good at war, when you have a hammer everything is a nail, when you’re good at war everyone is an enemy, and we are learning about peace and what peace is and how to do the peace thing. And that means peace internally as well as externally. War internally is that state where I’m trying to crush down the voices of sensitivity, of vulnerability who are saying hang on a second this doesn’t feel right and in my wartime state I say shut up there is no time for this we just need to knuckle down and push on through and just do do do, I need to kill this thing, I need to get this job, I need to bring back the money and I feel like I’m at war in this incredibly unsafe world so no wonder it’s hard for me to form connections, no wonder it’s hard for me to feel like my life is meaningful. And to feel like a human. And that’s another way to look at it is that we are learning how to be deeply and fully human and we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

History keeps repeating itself because intergenerational knowledge doesn’t get handed down. So, everybody has to start from scratch.

It does get handed down in secret ways. Most people have one or two good mentors in their life. It might be a grandparent, a teacher, or someone. It might even be a figure in a story, in fiction, but

there are strands of wisdom, we catch glimpses of wise people, powerful people, and for me we get glimpses of how to be human.

They are still there, they might be in seed form a lot of them but they are still there just waiting for us to unpack them. I’m profoundly hopeful and I can only find that hope when I look into deep time. In the long-term future, it doesn’t matter how many despotic presidents we have, it doesn’t matter how many wars there are, or how many cataclysmic event or diseases even zombie apocalypses. There is nothing rational that I can pin this on, but my bodily knowing is that we will fulfil our fullest potential as humans because we can’t do otherwise, in the end. So much energy, so much effort has gone into wounding us the way that we have and keeping us in the shapes that we are holding we continually have to keep ourselves in those shapes we continually have to rerun our victim stories, we continually have to revisit the story of our wounding, we continually have to re-evoke traumas from the past in order to keep them there, we continually have to keep concreting the wilderness to keep it that way, but you stop for a few decades and the wilderness comes back and essentially we are still that wildness, we are still that naturalness, and it’s inexorable and given enough time it will triumph and become the norm.

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