Beatrice Jeavons and Matthew Wright-Simon started running to stay fit and mentally well, but this year they joined 160 other physically active environmentalists to run and raise money for Tasmania's takayna Tarkine rainforest, which is threatened by logging and mining.
Running to a better world
This story begins with CityMag short on breath.
At about 8:30am on a Saturday morning, Matthew Wright-Simon, a keen runner and ‘philanthropreneur’ (as we described him in 2020), approached us as we collected our breath beside Karrawirra Parri River Torrens after a Parkrun.
Matthew and Beatrice’s takayna Trail fundraising page is still live.
Make a contribution here.
Matthew had jogged in from the eastern suburbs to the Torrens Parkrun starting site, completed the run, managed a better time than us, and still maintained the lung capacity to carry a conversation. We were impressed and mildly (but politely) envious.
Even more incredibly, this would not be Matthew’s longest run this week. He told us he would chart 62 kilometres through Australia’s largest temperate rainforest, takayna Tarkine, in north-west Tasmania, the following Saturday, as part of the annual takayna Trail, an ultramarathon trail-running event.
Takayna Trail was founded in 2019 by Simon Harris and was inspired by the Patagonia-funded short documentary takayna. The event has the dual aim of raising funds for the Bob Brown Foundation and protecting takayna Tarkine from deforestation and harms associated with international mining company MMG’s nearby operations. It also brings more than 100 runners each year into direct contact with the soil and waters of takayna Tarkine.
The event aligns with many of Matthew’s interests outside of running. He’s been an activist since he was a kid. “I started a Greenpeace group when I was in primary school, and… maybe it raised $5,” he laughs, “but it was an animal welfare thing, baby harp seals, and it was a really iconic campaign.”
As a primary-school-aged activist, Matthew looked up to Bob Brown, who, at that time, was in the midst of an ultimately successful campaign against the construction of a dam in Tasmania’s Gordon River. “I didn’t know anything about politics, so that was my introduction to politics,” says Matthew, who now runs social enterprise and for-purpose business consultancy EcoCreative and co-directs Newday Leadership. Bob has been a hero to him ever since.
Matthew signed up to takayna Trail as part of a two-person team, alongside the similarly entrepreneurial Beatrice Jeavons, who registered for the 22-kilometre run. Beatrice is a sustainability consultant and runs Creative Climate Action, through which she works with arts and music industry organisations to mitigate the impacts of touring and running events. Sometimes this involves bringing musicians and crews out to plant trees, as she did with Tim Minchin last year.
Beatrice and Matthew were first introduced a little over a year ago, when EcoCaddy founder Daniels Langeberg saw them sitting on nearby tables at East End coffee shop Exchange. “He was, like, ‘Oh, you two need to meet’,” Matthew says with a grin. “Exchange always lives up to its name.” The two ended up working together on Beatrice’s 2022 Adelaide Festival event, Climate Crisis and the Arts, held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens.
Since that event, Matthew has become an “unofficial mentor” to Beatrice, she says, with the two bonding not only over their activism, but also running. “Matt and I now have running meetings,” she laughs. “Just go for a trail run.”
Beatrice, who grew up in Mparntwe in Alice Springs, has always been a runner. She played soccer as a young person, with a fair amount of success. “I got into soccer nationals when I was 14, which isn’t hard in the NT,” she jokes. “I was midfield, and my coach was, like, ‘You need to be fit’, so I just started running. And I was in Eastside in Alice Springs, so right close to just complete expansive bush, so I started trail running, and just completely fell in love with it.
“I think then it just became a good way to stay fit, and I liked it and it felt good in my body. I found it relatively easy, once you build up a bit of fitness. But then it’s the whole wellbeing thing – it’s headspace, it’s breathing, it’s moving your body, getting out into nature, spending time with friends.”
Matthew came to the sport much later in life. “I hit 40 and went, ‘I’m going to be a sad dad. I’m going to be some horrible slob. If there’s some remote possibility my kids might want to do something active with me, I won’t be up for it’,” he says. “I started running then, over a decade ago, and funnily enough, I am very active with my teenagers. That’s a nice consequence of it.”
Once he’d picked up some pace, Matthew also discovered the wellbeing benefits – even if, at the time, he didn’t realise they were there.
“I am often dealing with quite challenging subjects, and I am a pretty emotional person, so… it turned out that that’s been a major benefit for me,” he says.
“If you’d asked me at the time, I wouldn’t have thought I’d needed it, necessarily. But through that time, I’ve had some of the most challenging times in my life, and… if I didn’t have running, I’m not so sure I would have got through them the way that I did.”
Major lifestyle changes also followed. “I’m now vegan, I don’t drink alcohol – all these things have extended from running because I want to get more healthy so I like my running more,” Matthew says.
Because of the wellbeing benefits, Matthew was wary of merging running with his professional life or activism.
“Trail running’s been an escape in many ways,” he says. “I’m in nature, I’m not plugged into technology – apart from my watch – and it just gives me time to switch off and just be one with nature. Whereas my work and my volunteering is very cerebral at times, so it can be a bit full-on.”
The takayna Trail event, which involves fundraising and communication about the threats to the forest, would be a merging of his professional and activism skills with the sport that has brought him peace. “Bringing them together was a bit, like, ‘Ooh, is it oil and water?’ but it’s fine. It’s actually got more joy in it, which is great,” he says.
CityMag catches up with Beatrice and Matthew a few days out from their run. Matthew went to the physio for a “tune up” the day before, and Beatrice says she’s working to “curtail” her natural competitive streak, so as to maintain a steady pace and not burn out too early. This was advice from her friend, Toby Sparkes, who finished on the takayna Trail podium last year.
Competition is not the point, though. Neither, to some extent, is finishing the race. Both runners speak excitedly about meeting the “160 likeminded individuals who share a passion for the rainforest” and contributing to the national raising of funds and awareness for takayna Tarkine.
“We know what that money’s paying for, it’s paying for climbing equipment for people to get up into trees for the blockade, it’s paying for their food, it’s helping bail people out of prison and pay for lawyers to fight for unjust anti-protest laws. It’s helping fund a lobbyist in Canberra, one person to go up against lobbyists in mining and forestry,” Matthew says.
“We’re supporting an organisation that can actually make a real difference in a country that’s so wealthy and privileged. And we’re fortunate enough that we can find the time to fund our own trip down there and spend some time fundraising and running around.”
They’re also just excited to experience takayna Tarkine in person.
“What is special about this is it’s about immersion,” Matthew says. “The most important thing is that you visit the Tarkine and you spend time in it. And once you’ve done that, the very solid belief is it will never leave you and you will never set it aside. You will always have that in you and will always want to fight for the Tarkine, because it’s inside of you.
“I think that’s a very deeply spiritual thing that’s at the base of it.”
“There’s a reason there’s a slogan: ‘keep Tassie wild’, because it is wild and it is rugged,” Beatrice says. “It’s this magical, green, lush, flowing river kind of paradise. I just so strongly believe if you take anyone there who’s got a heart and soul, they’re just going to be, ‘Yep, alright, I’m on board’.”
Beatrice and Matthew completed their collective 80-plus kilometres on 25 February. The duo has raised more than $14,000 so far, which is their piece of the $390,000 raised by all 160 takayna Trail runners. (Their donation page is still live, if you feel like contributing.)
When we asked what success would look like to Beatrice and Matthew ahead of the race, they say they hope to see more people talking about and engaging politically with the threat to takayna Tarkine.
Mining company MMG has proposed to build a tailings dam and pipeline infrastructure in rainforest in Tasmania’s north-west, which would require the sign-off from federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek.
In November last year, Bob Brown criticised the minister’s visit to north-west Tasmania, saying she had given preference to industry over organisations with environmental concerns, like the Bob Brown Foundation – though she did tour through takayna Tarkine on that trip.
“I know it’s not just her decision, but if there was recognition of that cultural and biodiversity and habitat all of that significance and it’s put into World Heritage or conservation provenance, that would be incredible,” Beatrice says.
“There’s a real action piece linked to it, which is either writing to your MP or Tanya [Plibersek] to talk about it, or donating to the campaign.
“If that’s what comes out of this, great. I think connecting with likeminded people and getting a boost for nature, that’d be a win. And I think as well, bringing more people into the conversation.”
As we wrap up our chat, Matt bids us farewell by cheekily promising to see CityMag at next year’s event.