No happy travels here


A RARE Tasmanian plant was found to be the fourth oldest living thing in the world by US artist Rachel Sussman, who travelled the globe for a decade to document the oldest living things.

Sussman scaled mountains, learnt to scuba dive, broke her wrist and crossed seven continents to take photographs for her book, The Oldest Living Things in the World, but viewing the Tasmanian plant proved to be one of her greatest challenges.

Sussman said her mission to document the Tasmanian Lomatia, as well as the Huon pine, was made impossible by government red tape.

"From what I've come to understand, the Tasmanian Parks Department has an agenda of its own ... and decided to thwart my efforts," Sussman wrote in the book.

"I was in no way prepared for the veritable briar patch of red tape I encountered ... for six months. I wended my way through multiple layers of bureaucracy in hope of convincing the powers that be to grant me access, gathering letters of support and verifying my abilities to follow all protective protocols."

Sussman decided to research, visit and photograph the "oldest unitary organisms and clonal colonies" that had lived for 2000 years or more.

She visited things such as the 3000-year-old Llareta shrub in South America, the 5500-year-old Antarctic moss and the 80,000-year-old self-propagating Pando tree in the US.

Sussman said Tasmania was the only place in the world where she could not visit her ancient subjects in the wild.

While photographs of the two species are included in the book, Sussman saw only propagated clippings of the original Lomatia at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, and photographed Huon pines from a great distance.

Sussman said her guarded 2011 experience in Tasmania had prevented her from sharing images of Tasmania's oldest inhabitants with people who were unlikely to ever lay eyes on them in person.

"I made the most of what I was able to see and photograph, however, by being denied access to these ancient subjects in the wild was a loss to the work," she said.

"[This] project was filled with many, many challenges, but it was especially frustrating not to be able to share [these things] within the framework of their ancient cousins elsewhere on the planet."

Sussman said environmentalism played a major role in her book, which combines art, science and the philosophical theme of deep time.

She said she also wanted to raise awareness of climate change.

"The ancient survivors I've photographed have weathered thousands of years in some of the harshest environments on Earth but are now threatened by the climate crisis," she said.


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