GTea Break

Germaine Greer is saving the planet – thank God

"Pythons don't attack me – one came into my room, saw who I was and backed down..."

Germaine Greer held fort last night with a heartfelt slideshow presentation that gave further insight into her latest book White Beech, hosted by her publishers Bloomsbury at their picturesque headquarters in Bedford Square.

"I'm not doing this to save the rain forest" she told her captive audience of signed-up wine-sipping Bloomsbury Institute guests. "I'm not even doing this to protect rare species. I'm doing this to save me."

Because White Beech isn't just an amazing hardback book. White Beech is a newfound lifelong commitment and complete shift in academic focus for Ms Greer, who has spent the last 15 years restoring an area of ancient rain forest in her home continent Australia. And in doing so she is becoming the fully realised embodiment of Mother Earth that has perhaps been her calling from day one.

"Pythons don't attack me" she calmly states in her world-recognised received pronunciation take on Aussie to the chandelier-lit gathering. "One came into my room a while ago, and it reared up to spit venom at me. Then it saw who I was and just backed down and left the room. I don't know why that is, but I think it's because they can sense that I am happy to share my life with them, to just be still and be with them. However, there is definitely something that is getting at the pythons, I just haven't quite worked out what it is yet."

And so Bloomsbury guests last night were given access to this spectacle, to witness the transformation of Germaine Greer, a woman who already holds an unbudgeable place in history, into a new kind of deity. And before anyone accuses her of being an enviromental amateur, she is fully equipped: Her sister is an environmental expert, and behind her Gondwana mission is a team of highly trained conservationists.

"I don't believe in using volunteers. Because the problem with volunteers is they don't know what they're doing. They mean well of course but they're not skilled enough. Would you trust a volunteer with building your house? Then why do we let volunteers handle the revegetation of our much-threatened environment? Even though it challenges our work financially, I am adamant on only using paid workers who are fully educated in what they are doing. It's time that society began to view environmental workers in the way that we would view a doctor, a teacher or an engineer."

Naturally, no pun intended, there are blurred lines between amateurs and professionals. Greer herself has an unlikely background for one who is now dedicated to saving the planet, although perhaps she is an exception thanks to her singular and extraordinary passion, intelligence and celebrity.

And 'celebrity', according to our Germaine, plays an important role in reversing the regimental wrecking of our planet that horrifically now seems to be somehow routine. "There is a real power in fashion" declared Germaine, holding her wine glass by the stem. "If you can make something publicly fashionable then government will follow."

Encapsulating her take on this govermental sabotage of natural habitats Germaine said: "Our planet, as far as we know, is completely unique. So this culture of just trashing it and then thinking we can all live on a tea tray in Mars is completely STUPID."

Moving beyond this, Germaine has a baby hot list of celebrities that she wants to help her on her mission. "I need to talk to Cate Blanchett" she suddenly confesses out of the darkness. "If I could just get onto that damn red carpet. Cate Blanchett owns a plot of land, well, a chunk of land that I'm eager to do a survey of with the assistance of expert botanists. She needs to re-vegetate it before it's too late and I'm sure she would understand. I don't want money, I just need to have a chat with her."

In true Greer style, no real change is won without real conflict, and last night at Bloomsbury our first lady decided to attack Australia's national parks:

"They are the most dangerous places. One of their problems is that they are open 24/7. It's not like in Britain. And so drunk people storm in and make noise, shouting at the top of their voices, scaring animals, throwing objects at animals and littering. It's ghastly. And then people are shocked when tourists die out there. Well let me tell you - if you're going to dive into a waterfall drunk then a thousand tonnes of water are gonna' hold you down!"

Before the ensuing Q&A and book signing Ms. Greer finished on an ethereal note...

"There's too much that we don't know about animals, or shall we say earthlings. We assume we're superior, but we're most probably not. For ten years I had no swallows. They just left. And then one late march I heard the sound of swallows! So I stepped outside to see if they were just passing overhead or coming home, and to my amazement they flew straight into the old garage where they used to live ten years ago. But swallows don't live for ten years. So how did they know they had a home there?"

Having conquered such vast academic terrains such as gender, sexuality and historical perspective, Germaine Greer has now turned her impossibly rare brain to the future of our planet. And manager of the Bloomsbury Institute, Claire Daly, said as she closed the salon: "Let's hope you do start a trend."

White Beech: The Rain Forest Years is available from Bloomsbury now:

Words: Jack Cullen, @jackcullenuk

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