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Reeds, duckshit and wet leather footballs.

The adventures of Gippsland’s backyard explorer Beau Miles.

Jan 20, 2021


Words: Asheda Weekes

Possibly considered a polymath, Beau Miles’ offbeat stories give a curious view of the human condition. He’s a filmmaker, YouTuber, writer, new father and self-considered oddball who’s found unconventional ways to hit the sweet spot for his adventurous spirit both abroad and within his own, rather large, backyard.

With a PhD in Outdoor Education, a love for the wild and a witful curiosity, Beau has cultivated experiences that are rooted in his passion for the Earth’s good stuff. Whether he’s walking to work through the Koo Wee Rup wetlands, or kayaking alongside the African coast on a five-month stint, Beau’s observations serve as a reminder that we need to get wild occasionally, and it can be easier to achieve than you realise.

The adventurer before the man.

Before roughing cold waters offshore, Beau’s childhood was filled with brilliant experiences in Gippsland. With a “kooky-artist-truck-driver” father, and the “nurse-gardener” mother, Beau grew up experiencing eclectic creativity and a passion for community that made for an “electric household, a sense of hard work and strong work ethic”. A liberated yet vulnerable Beau spent school holidays with his Pop: spending countless hours fishing and mastering “the art of silence on a riverbank”.

His final years in VCE at St Paul’s “made him”, uncovering his interests in storytelling and the outdoors. With a new confidence, Beau went off to university. During his time at Monash University, Beau kept his creative streak alive through amateur film, theatre, TV and radio, while also squeezing the odd class in between hikes, kayaking and ski instructing. Soon Beau was turning his adventures into an inkling of employment, as he began conducting seasonal work in the US between 2001–13, and paddling around the world.

A land kid in deep waters.

“I was terrified of the sea. In many aspects it tickled my fancy because it was a new world to me. I learnt more of the technique, bought a kayak and became a sea kayaker.”

Beau didn’t sit in a sea kayak until his first year of uni, but the ebb and flow of the water that first time paddling near Walkerville is a memory he can still vividly recall.

“We paddled around to Bear Gully, into a cave and along an inaccessible beach. It was such a pleasant day. One hundred metres offshore, in Australia, with an amazing panorama. Roll your arms over and you’re in a different town. It was silent, other than the wind and the dip of the paddle.”

The walk to work.

Beau doesn’t just paddle in different directions, he walks them too. In the last eight years, he’s settled back in Gippsland with a new family. His go-getter wife Helen “steadied the Beau Ship” away from moving to America to instead ‘settle’ on a Jindivick farm. At that point, Beau was doing sessional lecturing in Monash, completing his PhD and on the path to becoming the leader of outdoor education there.

“I’m a changed adult because of this experience — you see the place differently.”

Cue Beau driving to work: “I commute these lands I’ve known my whole life but I’m very unfamiliar with them. I don’t know what that road was, don’t know what this place looked like when it was settled.” So he decided to take a different route instead.

With a walk, paddle and basic inventory of equipment, Beau set out on his next adventure “under his nose” … to work.

Paddling through the Koo Wee Rup drain, “I got to see very normalised habitualised places with great intimacy. They’re hard, challenging, beautiful and ugly — everything of a classic adventure. When you smear yourself across a landscape through a paddle or walk somewhere, you are forced to take more, as you’re there for an awful long time.

“It’s an intense experience... It’s coming through your nostrils, through the sun, feet and hands. The mindset was ‘I’m gonna look around and be curious about what it is’... because I get to know the route better at ground level, when mud is in your ears and in your toes.

“It smells like everything farmland is. Everything ends up in the river. Reeds, duckshit and wet leather footballs. Wonderful and horrible things. I’ve got that now. I’m a changed adult because of this experience — you see the place differently.”

The gold mud runs bare.

Beau’s adventuring runs deeper than the adrenaline. He’s showing purpose in his appreciation of the ecologies that often go unnoticed.

“Our river systems are heavily involved in our landscape. I was given a flight over West Gippsland and flew over where I lived and areas I know. It was shocking to see how green and velvety it was — it wasn’t forested, and you see every fold from above. When you see a nude fold in the land where the water runs, you’re robbing the world of ecological diversity.

“Water is life, so when we deforest our creek beds and creek lines — we’re taking life. I would love to see people have more ownership of every fold of the earth here. It’s where things live. It’s where we have great potential, and they’re beautiful.”

Fertiliser for the mind.

Trekking this path further, Beau offers this thought about our celebrated coasts and forgotten rivers. “In Australia, rivers run quite small, but the rain along our densely populated coastlines washes all the crap into them. Our rivers contain more sickness than other continents’, I suppose, because everything gets condensed and exaggerated because we live on top of them. All the badness ends up in the river, and [once purged] — it’s forgotten.

“The coastline is worth much more money. It’s a clean, dilated view that atones for us in a sense. We can’t see its problems either when the seagrasses vanish and you can see clean schools of fish. It’s still shimmery.”

"Can we give back to nature more than we take?"

We have an affinity with natural, wild places. But are taking the shimmer for granted? Could we step back and appreciate the power of fresh air, a breeze or animal chatter more?

“It replenishes our attention, it gives back our capacity to think and gain grounding.”

It’s subtle — the step outside the office, a walk in town and that weekend hike. Beau wants you to get curious again.

“How and where do the world’s resources fit in your ecological and moral compass of what is important and what is worth preserving?”

Can we give back to nature more than we take?

A big gum in danger of the metro migration.

Beau’s latest project involves our big Strzelecki Gums. It started out as a filmed stunt: living in the one next to his house. But it’s led to questioning how Gippsland can handle the surge of migration without bruising our environment.

Across Australia, there are 800 gums with about 100 regarded as endangered. “They rim our towns, so the growth of towns means cutting trees. It’s like killing the last 20 Tasmanian Tigers — it makes my blood boil. I see developments that are not sympathetic to the landscape. It disappoints me, and it must distress the Elders of the Bunurong, Wurundjeri and Gunaikurnai people.”

It might be, ‘just one tree’ here and there, but it adds up.

“Whenever a developer cuts down a large healthy tree, that is a habitat tree for hundreds of birds, a thousand types of insects, [it] provides shade, stops the ground getting warm. Developers need to work around existing habitats.”

“I know we can have people live here. We all love doing it. Wouldn’t it be great if our best friends that don’t live here came to Gippsland?! We need to develop more sympathetically. There are some amazing examples of that — when we see the good developments, it makes the bad ones stick out.”

The innocence of curiosity.

Curiosity is twofold for Beau, and sadly seems like something we can lose with age. As a new father, it’s constantly revived through his young daughter. “I see a lot of newness and wonder through the eyes of May. I’m not able to see as much wonder as she sees… but I want to. You could park her in front of the washing machine for 20 minutes. She thinks it’s amazing!”

“Adults can have the same form of curiosity. We beat it out of ourselves, we don’t allow ourselves to be curious — we layer our commitments up, especially in this middle phase of our lives. The more commitments, the more status, the ‘more important’.”

Capturing the story.

Wisely, Beau has skillfully immortalised his many adventures. Whether it’s written or a video crew tracking along, he utilises storytelling to offer human connection to the landscapes he explores. It’s making the small moments relatable in both his solo and collective travels — the laughter, the mishaps, the subtle dynamics of the environment around him — that Beau so nimbly conveys. As the audience, it whips us into being right by the fire recounting events with him. You can almost smell the smoke.

Tied up in the adrenaline, challenge and the remarkable journeys is that when watching Beau, you see he’s confident in not knowing everything, so you feel as though you’re learning with him. It creates a sense of… shared wonder for our environment, and what we’re actually capable of ourselves. And it frees you to see our backyard with fresh, inquisitive eyes too.

Time to explore!

Watch the backlog of Beau’s adventures on his website and YouTube channel. His upcoming film The Commute series entering Western Port from the Bunyip River mouth will be released in early 2021.

Films & Documentaries: beaumiles.com/films/

YouTube: youtube.com/c/BeauMiles/featured

Instagram: @beauisms

Beau has changed his pace and written a book. Pre-order The Backyard Adventurer here: briobooks.com.au/printbooks/the-backyard-adventurer

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