22/08/2015 10:21 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Putting The Wild In Wilderness

'Rewilding' is an invitation for us to inhabit our bodies, and this ancient continent, without apology; to sink our roots deep into the red dirt and the rainforests, healing ourselves as we heal the land.

Australian Geographic

Koa sits on a wooden stool under a grass-thatched lean-to tending a small fire. Lean as a lizard and brown, he wears a vest stitched from animal hide. Despite a life spent mostly outdoors, his eyes sparkle with a youthfulness that belies his 66 years.

Metres away, rendered in the same deep red as the earth, Koa's tipi-shaped clay home is almost indistinguishable from one of the many large termite mounds dotted through the north Queensland savannah.

His assistant in this three-day 'Wild Living' workshop, I fill the billy for tea as the 20 or so students gather for the last morning. Koa starts with a story: this one about a red-bellied black snake, a resident at one of his camps. One morning it slithered up beside him, revealing a scaly back pockmarked with ticks. Accepting its request, Koa bent down and carefully removed them.

"The old ways are coming back," Koa says nodding sagely, the students wide-eyed and reverent.


The old ways are indeed new again for the many now seeking to (re)learn the skills, practices and mindsets that our caveman bodies are programmed for -- everything from our food to our fucking.

It's a movement that's become known as 'Rewilding;' a return to a more wild or natural state; a process of 'undomestication,' a reclamation of our 'animal selves'.

In the US, everyone seems to be doing it -- following 'Paleo' and '5 by 2' diets, getting handy with a bow and arrow, and foraging for wild edibles.

Yet despite our wild and outdoorsy image, Australians are anything but. Amongst one of the most urbanised nations, our children are screen-dependent and suffering from obesity and diabetes.

Now, Rewilders are seeking to put the Wild back into Wild Australia.

Facebook groups dedicated to 'primitive' skills, foraging, 'natural' movement, wild medicinals, nature connection and bushcraft are thriving. Paleo Australia has 14,000 plus followers, while the Paleo café franchise launched in Cairns in 2013 now offers caveman diets in 13 locations around the country.

'Nature connection' schools for kids are sprouting like Rocket seeds. Rather than traditional environmental education, these are immersions in the wild, with nature as the teacher, the apprentices mud-covered and bright-eyed.

Bigger kids are similarly rolling up for intensives in 'Wild 101,' 'Wild at Heart,' 'Wild Eros', 'Awakening the Wild,' 'Ancestral Movement,' 'Tribalism and Survivalism,' and multi-day solo 'vision fasts'.

In contrast to the 'back to the land' movement of the 70's, Rewilding is as much urban as it is rural. Tom, a 32-year-old office worker, runs barefoot laps around Centennial park in his lunch hour. Shelley, a teacher, can often be seen by the Merri creek collecting wild edibles in baskets woven in her Brunswick apartment.

"We were all once wild," says Lee Trew, founder of Bluegum Bushcraft and 'Rewild your Child' camps held on the south coast of NSW, "Only starting to farm 10,000 years ago compared to hunting and gathering for the last 200,000. Part of Rewilding is recognising that in our genes, our brains, our bodies and bones, we are essentially wild."

Tired and burnt out from my environmental campaigning office job with The Wilderness Society, the desire to rediscover my own 'inner wildness' is what propelled me to leave the city and embark on a year of self-discovery and healing while living in the bush studying wilderness survival skills during Australia's first "Independent Wilderness Studies Program" in 2010.

Having come to understand that the root cause of the ecological crisis is a fundamental disconnection from the earth, the solution needed to start with me, saving first, as poet Mary Oliver urged, the 'only life I could save'.

Building a shelter from natural materials, lighting fires with sticks, tanning hides, weaving rope and baskets, hunting and gathering, tracking animals and befriending birds, I came to know the forest, and myself, not filtered by society's boundaries and buffers, but through the raw truth of soot and ash, prickle and scratch.

After four full seasons I felt stripped back to a purity of being, my senses alive, full of vision and hope for a shift to a life affirming society.

Rather than mastering the 'hard' skills of survival or attempting to turn back the clock to some idyllic state, Rewilding for me is more about waking up our instinctive awareness and our heart's passions, so that we can expand more fully into our human potential.

Since sharing my story, I have heard from many a similar longing; a hunger for intimacy with the wilds, both inside and out.

Rewilding is an invitation for us to inhabit our bodies, and this ancient continent, without apology; to sink our roots deep into the red dirt and the rainforests, healing ourselves as we heal the land.

Because a wild earth needs wild people.


Claire Wren Dunn is a journalist, rewilding facilitator, barefoot explorer and author of My Year Without Matches: Escaping the City in Search of the Wild. Visit her website here.