Red Sand Green Heart: Ecological adventures in the Outback

Red Sand Green Heart: Ecological Adventures in the Outback offers an insight into a rarely seen part of Australia. The non-fiction book follows John L Read’s journey into the outback after he was employed in 1989 by a uranium mining company as an ecologist.

Read offers his thoughts and experiences candidly throughout the book, sharing his adventures with both flora and fauna as well as a variety of characters from the bush. He reveals to us that what may appear as a barren desert is actually a vibrant ecosystem of life that booms and busts, while remaining equal parts mysterious, surprising and spectacular. The secrets of the bush can be found if you are willing to be patient and take a closer look.

Rain is one of the first phenomena Read discusses, explaining how city-dwellers can more or less ignore the rain as a mild inconvenience, forgetting about it the day after it happens. However, in the bush, Read explains that rain is ‘never convenient, always needed and perennially topical’. With no storm drains or peaks to run down, water more or less stays where it lands, leading to significant changes in the landscape while giving rise to extraordinary animal life.

I personally grew up in the country but moved to the city at 18 years of age and I have always wondered about my parents’ obsession with the weather and rain. Every call I have made home since leaving has included a question about the rain and weather wherever I might be. My parents’ interest in the rain is starting to make more sense after reading Red Sand Green Heart.

While Read is a scientist by trade, the book is not academic. Instead it feels more like an adventure into discovering how the outback works. For instance, Read stumbles across the body of a rare inland taipan (one of the most venomous snakes in the world) after the snake’s body is handed in as road kill to a local pub. This becomes an investigation for Read to uncover how an inland taipan made it to his area of the outback and whether there were any others around. It turns into an exciting adventure which is just one of many he goes on.

There’s no doubt Read will make you want to pack up the four-wheel drive and head for the centre of Australia whether you have ever been there or not. Much like the front cover of the book, when you look at the red sand from a distance it looks plain and boring but when you know where to look the outback really is teeming with life and energy.

One of Read’s finer qualities as an author is his balanced view of the competing interests in the bush between animals and mining companies. His honesty makes compelling reading, rather than attacking one side or the other, and readers will gain a new appreciation for the complexities of the outback.

The book concludes by detailing the establishment of ‘Arid Recovery’, a fenced-off reserve helping to restore the arid zone ecosystems through on-ground works and applied research. Centring on a 123sqkm reserve which is cat, rabbit and fox-proof, the project is a testament to people who saw something that needed to be done to preserve something special and are willing to do it.

As a revised edition, this new print offers updates for many of the issues covered in the first edition with new science and fresh experiments. In particular, innovative material covers the Arid Recovery conservation project and a frank assessment of the real environmental performance and potential of the modern Australian mining industry.

Red Sand Green Heart is essential reading for not only everyone interested in the outback but also for politicians and policy makers, voters and shareholders who hold the future of the outback in their hands,’ writes Arthur Whyte, in the preface to the Revised Edition 2013.

Red Sand Green Heart: Ecological adventures in the Outback is available through our Shop for $34.95 delivered, Australia-wide.