Written by Ian Hawkins

When I visit my home town of Anglesea, I see green thread everywhere. There’s some wrapped around the bridge, there is some wrapped along the side of a path, at a reveg project we did in primary school, and even up the branches of Angahook – the red Ironbark.

I was 20, living in the concrete jungle of Coburg. I was ‘on the dole for rock’n’roll’, and not much was really happening.

I told the job agency that I liked to cook.

‘Great, we’ve got just the ticket for you.’

It was deep in the cold, dead heart of a meat processing facility, that I saw my green thread for the first time.

The work was graphic and monotonous.

But the thing that I dwelled on the most was the environmental impact. I was vaguely aware that industrialised meat production was really harmful to the environment. I lasted 2 weeks. This was not where good food came from. And how can we have good food without destroying the Earth?

At the same time, by pure coincidence, I was gifted a native Australian mint plant (Mentha australis). Whilst the ravages of a Melbourne summer took its toll on the Vietnamese mint, the native mint thrived. Could native foods be the answer?

I soon found myself back in Anglesea, working a summer job in the brief 30 day tourist season. It was here that my parents, hearing me speak of my experiences, put a book in my hands – the biggest estate on Earth, by Bill Gammage. It was a revolutionary look at Australia’s black history, and the environmental/agricultural management practices of Australia’s first people.

My mind was blown wide open. For the first time, I saw that the bush I grew up playing in, was not as untouched as I had thought. That humans are not simply a negative impact on the environment, but rather- just another part of it. My curiosity in Australia’s ecology had just been amplified, tenfold. I decided I should have a look for some wild, native foods around Anglesea.

As soon as I stopped looking at ‘plants’, and started looking for a plant in particular (Tetragonia implexicoma), I was overwhelmed by the diversity of life I was witnessing. I’d lived here for 18 years, and yet I had never even looked.

I knew then and there, that it was time to study ecology. Whilst I thrived in my TAFE course, it wasn’t until life really challenged me that I found out I had a guiding force in my life, a green thread.

There was one day that just flipped my world upside down. Overnight, my partner vanished from my life. We were about to move interstate, I just had one more term of TAFE to plough through. It was the start of winter, and I had to make sure that I got a good reference out of my first Enviro job.

I was crushed. It was really obvious to everyone that my soul was really hurting. One of the things about depression is that you don’t feel worthy of help. Hard break up? Boo hoo right? There are other people who have it harder than you. But anyone who’s been through it knows that it doesn’t feel like that at the time. Everyone else’s world is not ending. Just yours. It’s important to acknowledge how deep you are in the shit if you want to get out of it.

Breaking up with your partner is pretty sad – but it’s also a great. Time to bloody get out there and party, and mingle right? So at the same time that I needed to knuckle down and perform, I was also playing with fire. Doofs. Parties. Gigs. Girls. And drugzzzzz. Lots of drugs. Good drugs and bad drugs. Depression. Tears. Pressure, and the overwhelming temptation to just turn the lights out for good.

After two months, the snow ball of my mental health collapse had become a blizzard.

The best thing you could hope for in a blizzard, is a rope to safety.

Another cold morning working in the western grasslands, at least far enough out that it was quiet. Hand weeding cacti, my mind was actually quiet. Quiet enough to notice the two wedge tailed eagles watching me very close by.

(Disclaimer – I am not indigenous, and indigenous culture is something I learn from, but not to claim as my own) I was aware that bunjil, the wedge tailed eagle, is the creator spirit. It was as if a deep, ancient and powerful force of the land asked me.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m on my hands and knees pulling out cacti in the freezing cold. And it feels right.’

That’s where I first saw my green thread. It was wrapped around a cactus. And whenever life gets like a blizzard, and I don’t know what to do… Just grab the next bit of that rope, and trust that wherever it takes you, is where you are meant to be.

For more of Ian, check out @fuzzbassian on Instagram or his Facebook pagemagpie ecology