‘Something in the air’: Father of the Greens Bob Brown hopes The Giants inspires next generation

Watch the trailer for Bob Brown's 'The Giants'

Sitting in his home in the Huon Valley south of Hobart, passionate environmental folk hero and former senator Dr Bob Brown reaches for a little painting he just bought at a local art show.

On a blue canvas background, the words ‘Hope Defies Reality’ resonated, and when he discovered it was painted by a 14-year-old girl, the man who has spent the past 50 years campaigning on environmental issues knew there was still work to be done in trying to save the planet.

“When I catch up with her … I’ll just say we’ve got to change reality,” the 78-year-old so-called Father of the Greens tells The New Daily.

The Giants

Dr Bob Brown knows how to get a message across about saving old-growth forests and rivers everywhere, he’s been doing it ever since he fought to successfully stop the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam project in south-west Tasmania in the 1980s.

It put him and Tasmania on the map, and the former medical doctor from Oberon in NSW found his calling, taking Green politics to the centre of power in Canberra.

Now new feature-length documentaryThe Giants explains the inter-reliance of people and trees, forests and species through the story of Dr Brown and his connection to the natural world.

From filmmakers Laurence Billiet and Rachael Antony, who made the Cathy Freeman documentary Freeman in 2020, it is indeed about defending the world’s forests.

Billiet and Antony had their fair share of challenges in bringing the trees to life, opting for 3D scans and coloured schematics to illustrate how trees trap carbon and create the oxygen we breathe.

“We wanted to do something quite poetic and impressionistic,” Billiet told InDaily.

“We didn’t want to do something that was scientific looking, like a David Attenborough show, which are beautiful in themselves but don’t have a kind of hyper-realistic aesthetic.”

It’s visually stunning, evocative and emotional, and instead delivers scenes reminiscent of the threatened Tree of Souls in Avatar, of which Hollywood director James Cameron would be proud.

It’s also very personal, as Dr Brown shares for the first time the journey of his life throughout the decades, sharing details of his struggle with homosexuality, his political campaigns, his family and, ultimately, finding his life companion in Paul Thomas.

Throughout it all, he has one message: Hope.

“If only this film can inspire one or two young people to become active instead of being depressed it will be worthwhile,” he says.

“It is an odd feeling to watch a film about yourself, but I am quite dispassionate about that too … I am always listening to how the existential crisis that we’re in on this planet as human beings is being conveyed, so I am grateful for the opportunity for that to come across through the film.

“The magnificent way the film shows – like human society – forests are not individuals … they are communities [so it] is hopefully is going to engage people to recognise that we’re all in this together … and what we do to them we are doing to ourselves.

“I hope it gives people a cause to get active about our planet,” says the author of a dozen books, and a few more.

“We were hopeful that things were changing in the Franklin days … so many people I run into now don’t have that hope … one of the greatest crimes in all of this is depriving young people of their right to hope.”

Dr Bob Brown.

Dr Bob Brown as a campaigner in Tasmania in the late 1970s. Photo: Instagram/thegiantsfilm

‘Something in the air’

Dr Brown is a strong believer in the future, and hopes with all his heart that humanity and our spirit to survive as a species beyond the next century will compel us to continue to be active.

He tells TND that people including Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who is known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action, global civil disobedience group Extinction Rebellion, and the next generation continue to fight for the causes that matter.

And even though he’s been out of federal politics since 2012, he still has much to say and much to fight for.

“Instead of putting our foot on the brake, we have the Albanese government in Tasmania, the [Tasmanian] Rockliff government putting their foot on the accelerator of environmental destruction,” he said.

“You just can’t be, in this world, licensing more coal mines, gas fracking, and logging of forests, burning of forests … massive tonnages of carbon going into the atmosphere and destroying species.

“Everything dies in those forests … they’re adding to the burden of global warming which our kids are going to have to look after.”

The Giants, he hopes, will strike a chord.

“We want people to take action … our logo is ‘Don’t get depressed, get active’ … if you’re angry and you don’t act on it, you will get depressed.

“Of course I support people who take peaceful direct action .. these bright-eyed young people, Greta Thunberg, thousands of people in Australia. There’s a new mood in the air of defiance and rebellion and we’re not going to put up with this. You can see the Greens vote go up nationally last year for the first time in a decade.

“There’s something in the air, and I like it and I support it … seeing these young men and women, and I think, isn’t this fantastic?

“I am getting off the moving footpath at this end of life and they’re coming on. I find it inspiring.”

The moment in Dr Brown’s life that saved him

He’s drawn the ire of Canberra and had his detractors and haters [think back to his interruption to US President George W Bush’s speech to Parliament in 2003] and also developed a global audience … and a family.

Former prime minister John Howard told Sydney radio host John Laws it was “something of an embarrassment to the country when an invited guest is treated like that” after Dr Brown’s moment in the chamber.

“But on the other hand, we are a democracy, Bob Brown did it quite deliberately … it was a politically contrived stunt.”

“But he’s really only interested in servicing his niche in the Australian political market and that is what he did yesterday.”

Closer to home, struggling with his own destiny of maybe growing old alone, meeting partner Mr Thomas (together since 1996) saved him.

“I know myself well enough to know that having such a marvellous companion is everything to me in where I am in life now. I would not have made it without him. He’s just my great fortune in life.

“I had great parents but meeting Paul when I did has been everything. Without him, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing.”

He also says, in some ways, he’s the Son of the Greens, landing in Tasmania and meeting the “formative Greens who had been campaigning to save Lake Pedder [the United Tasmania Group]”.

“There I was, at home, philosophically, with this environment movement which was just hitting its straps in the 1970s and I’ve followed through ever since, and been in what I think is very good company.”

And he hopes that continues.

“I think giving young people the right to take action to save this planet is beholding on every one of us … they are the hope of the future.

“This documentary is really saying to young people, go for it.”

The Giants opens in cinemas nationally on April 20 with Q&A screenings at select cinemas from April 15

Topics: Environment
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