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10 Questions with Paul ‘Basil’ O’Halloran

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Paul O’Halloran’s heart belongs to Tasmania’s north-west. Before he was a former Greens MP for Braddon, Basil (who earned his nickname, as many north-west Tasmanian men do, from his father’s name), was a former schoolteacher and administrator. Later his passion for education and the land combined when he managed a UTAS agricultural industry project aimed at linking educator providers with industry.

Paul ‘Basil’ O’Halloran with his daughter Claire on the walk to Anniversary Bay between Rocky Cape and Sisters Beach.

He’s been a champion for young people and education and a more socially just and environmentally sustainable future and … Tasmania’s rocks. With teaching and politics behind him, Basil is currently exploring geo-trail tourism opportunities. But it’s Tasmania’s Tarkine (or takayna) that stirs his deep passion. It’s a perennial favourite destination and his deep connection to the unique and iconic takayna is evident.

“I just cannot understand why any political party would want to clear fell and fragment the Tarkine, the largest remaining intact rainforest in the southern hemisphere and log it at a loss to taxpayers,” he said.

“Its value as a carbon store, a tourist destination, as a place to harvest high value honey, as an educational and research site, or as a sanctuary for a myriad of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet surely have more value than as a burnt, smouldering ruin converted to a nitens plantation.”

1 What does a perfect day in the Cradle Coast look like to you?

Riding  a bike along the completed Coastal Pathway between Port Sorell and Smithton. Stopping off at La Mar and the Berry Patch in Turners Beach, spending time in Penguin and Burnie and a coffee at Bruce’s in Wynyard before a detour to Fossil Bluff. Then another detour to walk into Anniversary Bay at Sisters Beach, a diversion to the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge at Meunna and a rainforest bushwalk, a trip into Stanley and especially to the western end of Godfreys Beach with a finish in Smithton. Bit more than a day but this would include many of elements that make the north-west special.

Godfrey’s Beach at Stanley.

 2 What do we do best on the North-West corner of the island?

In the last few weeks I have worked with groups of students and teachers from Don and Hellyer Colleges and Burnie and Ulverstone High Schools. I have always thought there are many things we do well in schools and these recent experiences have confirmed this view. Kids are inspirational and give me hope for the future. Our local schools have produced outstanding graduates across all fields, many of whom are active at local, state, national and international levels and some of whom are literally changing the world and making it a better place for future generations. I would like to see us celebrate and recognise these successes rather than bag out kids, teachers and schools.

We do community well in the NW and at the community level we have  hundreds of selfless volunteers giving up their time to support others, whether it be in sporting, cultural or service clubs or in looking after our children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents or those less well off than we are.

Many of our primary producers and manufacturers are producing goods of high quality that are sold into global markets. The future for a small island state such as ours is not in the production of bulk commodities but in the production and sale of high-value, niche products.

Fossil Bluff, Wynyard.

3 Where can we improve?

There are more things that unite than divide us and I have always felt we should work more together, particularly at the political level.

I feel sad that my generation has left a sad legacy for the next and future generations. Two such areas are environmental degradation and climate change, the huge costs of which will have to be borne by our kids and grandkids, and the longer we leave action the more expensive will be the burden.

We have clever and innovative people, companies and organisations in the north-west and it has always upset me that so much of our potential in employing people and improving our economy is being exported as unprocessed materials. Nowhere is this more apparent than the timber industry where even greater volumes than ever of raw materials, now even including whole logs, are being exported at great expense to create jobs elsewhere only for us to buy back the finished products.

Education is so critical to our future and as a community we need to stop blaming schools, teachers and kids and roll our sleeves up and accept that we all have a responsibility in improving our educational attainment levels and in encouraging our young people to reach their potential and to lead happy and fulfilling lives. It’s only when we do this that we will go some way to break the cycles of generational disadvantage that we see in our community.

We need to recognise that colonial occupation of Tasmania was a disaster for indigenous Tasmanians. They were dispossessed of not only their land but also their wives and children. We need to work with the Indigenous community to repair the ongoing disadvantage and we need to better value, protect and embrace  Aboriginal heritage and culture.

4 What would you like to see more of? And less of?

If we are able to look after, nurture and protect those things which are special and set us apart from the sameness of the rest of the world, we are on the cusp of an economic and social revolution. We need to make sure we have the structures and safeguards in place to deal with this renaissance and we need to invest in education and training to support this new future.

The north-west also has great potential in delivering education, training and health services to the rest of the world, but to maximise this potential we need to make sure our NBN speeds are world class instead of the dog’s breakfast we have at the moment. This digital divide will hold back communities and countries that do not have world-class data speeds, because they are critical to progress in so many areas, including business, health and education.

I would like us to be more accepting of difference and take a less adversarial approach to decision making, particularly at the political level. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and they should be nurtured and embraced regardless of whom or what party proposes them.

I feel strongly that decision making needs to be collaborative and based on data and evidence. Too often our decision making is based on populism and prejudice, and is even determined by the size of political donations, and this needs to change if we are to make decisions that are sustainable and in the long-term interests of the north-west community. Policies with regard to energy, climate, refugees, drugs, health and education are some areas in which we need to take a more evidenced based approach.

I just cannot understand why any political party would want to clear fell and fragment the Tarkine, the largest remaining intact rainforest in the southern hemisphere and log it at a loss to taxpayers. Its value as a carbon store, a tourist destination, as a place to harvest high value honey, as an educational and research site, or as a sanctuary for a myriad of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet surely have more value than as a burnt, smouldering ruin converted to a nitens plantation.

The exposed rock at Anniversary Bay (the oldest on the planet!) proves our country’s geographical connection to North America.

5 If you could swap your life for a day, who would you switch it with?

When I was young I used to dream of swapping places with an AFL football player or an Australian cricketer, but now I don’t know that I would swap with anyone. Life is pretty good for me as I am active and healthy, live in the best part of the world, have a loving and supportive family, great friends and lots of interests. There are lots of principled and ethical people I admire such as Bob Brown, but I do not know that I would swap my life for a day because he is so incredibly busy. If I were able to make some executive decisions in my day, then I would love to be the Prime Minister of Australia or the President of the USA.

The majestic Black Bluff in view from Basil and Angela O’Halloran’s home.

6 Where is the Cradle Coast’s most romantic location?

Standing in untouched  rainforest after a walk across the Arthur River to the west of Meunna would have to be my most romantic (and spiritual) location. These places provide me with sensory overload – the smells, sounds and sights, from the spongy mossy carpet beneath the feet to the bubbling tannin coloured streams and the myriad of beautifully coloured fungi, and the flora and fauna with close links to a time when we were joined to Antarctica and South America millions of years ago.

The now-collapsed Hilders Bridge on the Arthur River at Meunna in the Tarkine.

7 Would you like to share any hidden gems?

There are so many, where do I start. From my deck at North Motton I look out over the Black Bluff and Leven Canyon area, two little gems of the NW Coast. I grew up on the edge of the Tarkine at Meunna and have always derived pleasure from walking in rainforest and just knowing it is there for others to enjoy. I love Fossil Bluff at Wynyard, such an educational and beautiful location.  Rocky Cape National Park just down the road is another spectacularly beautiful spot. Being an old surfer, the wild coastline of the Tarkine with its wild surf and world class indigenous history is also a very special place. Lake Plimsoll road on the west coast rivals any in the world for spectacular and wild scenary.

King Island is a treasure. A day spent beach combing and surfing at Porky Beach on the west coast and Martha Lavinia in the north-east is hard to beat.

Martha Lavinia beach, on King Island.

8 What makes you most proud of being a Tasmanian?

I am encouraged and inspired by young people and every time I get to visit schools and UTAS and work with students I feel proud to be from Tasmania. I feel proud in the knowledge that some of these young people will become influential on the global stage.

I am also proud that Tasmania is the birthplace of the Greens. Green influence has led to the protection of many special places in Tasmania, places that have since become so well visited and places that are creating sustainable jobs and opportunities for thousands of Tasmanians. Greens are now in government all around the world and have policies which look to create a more socially just and environmentally sustainable future.

9 What do you miss most when you are away from home?

The wide open, uncrowded spaces, spectacular scenery, and the forests and wilderness that is on everyone’s doorstep, and the slower pace of life. I also miss my family and friends if I am travelling alone. The temperate climate is also something that I miss when I am away.

Basil and Angela O’Halloran and their daughter Claire at the Leven Canyon Lookout.

10 You’re marketing the Cradle Coast in 30 seconds, what’s your elevator pitch?

Would you like to visit a little gem of an island, an island that has everything the rest of the world wants to see but is losing at a rapid rate from environmental degradation and people pressure? Then give Tasmania a go. It has wild coastlines, gorgeous beaches, outstanding indigenous history, large tracks of intact native forest and rainforest, truly unique endemic plants and animals like the Tasmanian Devil and Giant Freshwater  Lobster, wonderful natural spaces and landscapes, a terrific mild climate, some of the best agricultural land in the world and some of the finest food and beverages on the planet. All capped off with warm, open and friendly people who embrace tourists. Why would you consider anywhere else?

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