Kirra, Coolangatta and Tweed Heads

Nitya Ellemor Rolfe
Saturday 09 August 2014

Bob Brown

A Man of Optimism Wows the Byron Bay Writers Festival Crowds

It was one of those rare confluences of events: a perfect warm and sunny winter’s day, an eager crowd of people seeking and exploring life, and the presence of one of the most inspiring of all Australians, Bob Brown.
I am at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. One of the tents set up amongst the trees has standing room only; people have spilled out onto the grass, standing on tippy toes, listening intently. Bob Brown is speaking and there is an air of awe. Inspiration ripples through the crowd. Bob Brown, a man who has witnessed some of the greatest destruction to our environment and social fabric, a man who has worked tirelessly to effect positive change as an Australian Senator, is launching his latest book, “Optimism”. 

Subtitled “Reflections on a Life of Action”, Optimism is a collection of vinaigrettes and insights gleaned from a life of deep wisdom and service.  It’s a delightful meander through pivotal events, both political and personal, that have shaped this extraordinary man’s life. Along with well-known stories from his campaign trail, the book contains frank insight and personal history. Today, at the Writers festival, Bob is speaking about the endemic homophobia he faced as a young man growing up in the 60s, and the struggle to find a cure for this illegal, and what was then considered to be arrestable, affliction. He talks of undergoing electric shock therapy at the urging of the medical profession, before, as society’s mores changed, finding acceptance and becoming openly gay.
With clarity and honesty, Bob also shared stories about his early struggle with depression - brought on by reflections on the state of the world - and his subsequent awakening into action and optimism. I listened with admiration as Bob expressed the hope that if from reading the stories in this book, even a few people managed to fast-track through the decade of mental anguish and struggle that he endured before turning to activism, he would be satisfied.

Optimism is a key ingredient for any successful human endeavour and isn’t keeping the Earth viable the greatest Endeavour we can ever undertake?"

From inside the tent, someone asked Bob to talk about how nature in particular had inspired him. He paused, and looking a little perplexed, gently replied that nature inspires us all, as we are all deeply bonded to this Earth, our home. And further, that problems arise when we ignore this reality. He expands on this topic in the book: “The sheer immensity of the Universe, with its billions of stars like our sun, is beyond the comprehension of our humble human brains. Yet, evolved in the fertile little valleys of this tiny life-covered planet, we draw certainty from our own locality and our own upbringing”.
As well as urging the audience to take action on the causes that matter, Bob encouraged us to spend time revelling in the natural world and even lightly suggested reviving the tradition of a Sunday picnic amongst nature. Bob said that the older he gets, the more optimistic he becomes - a conscious choice he makes over the alternative of dwelling in a state of stifling pessimism over the world’s problems.  Inside the front cover, the book contains this revealing statement, “Optimism is a key ingredient for any successful human endeavour and isn’t keeping the Earth viable the greatest Endeavour we can ever undertake? It is a fortunate life if a person feels more optimistic than ever before. That’s me”.
As he wrapped up his talk in the writer’s festival tent, Bob Brown, one of Australia’s living treasures, received a standing ovation from an enlivened and inspired audience.  His message and actions will continue to make our world a richer, wiser and better place for all.

The recent Byron Bay Writers Festival featured talks by a number of Australian luminaries including Missy Higgins, Malcolm Fraser and Julian Burnside.