takayna Ultra 2020: takayna forever

Photos: Majell Backhausen

Trail runner and ultra athlete Majell Backhausen explains why takayna Ultra, in north-west Tasmania, is full of heart, connection, and like no other event he has experienced in the world of trail running.

I’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the lands which this event is held, the people of takayna. And pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

As I scan the space in Marrawah Hall, it’s possible to identify WHAT everyone as individuals is doing here in north-west Tasmania on a still and golden Thursday afternoon. Volunteers in the kitchen don aprons and move around with purpose, urgency and a calming smile. Members of the Bob Brown Foundation scurry around with information banners and projector cables ahead of the welcoming formalities, polite and patient members of the registration team pass out t-shirts and the reassuring words; ‘good luck and enjoy your day’ and runners/fundraisers with running packs and numbers in hand walk past with an excited step and a smile full of nerves for the early start and a breathtaking run along this rugged coast, unsure exactly what this year’s predicted storm could truly mean.

As the evening progresses I start to feel and further understand the one collective reason WHY we are all here in North West Tasmania on a still and now dark Thursday evening. It is the same reason which first brought me to takayna Ultra and the reason this event is like no other race I’ve experienced in the world of trail running.

Months previous to this evening, I was contacted by Jess, a friend who’d reached out like many other runners to check the legitimacy of this “race”. My reply has always been, “It’s more than a race.” And when I presented Jess, with my curiosity about why she eventually decided to come, I was moved by her response: “This run is something that is in my heart. After a really difficult summer in Australia, we’re all feeling the impact of how precious the planet is and this is a run about connecting with that and immersing ourselves in something beautiful… for a particular cause at such a critical time in our planet’s history and future.”

takayna is powerful country.

“When I have walked the country of takayna I have been overwhelmed by the strength this place lends to me… I have seen enough to understand the beauty and the significance of what she holds for my people and for the future generations. takayna is a place so rich in heritage, a place that offers up the stories of the old people like nowhere else. takayna gives me a strong cultural connection, a feeling of pride within and fuels a deep and profound need to protect her.” Heather Sculthorpe, takayna country, culture, spirit, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre/The Bob Brown Foundation

takayna/Tarkine region of north-western Tasmania is home to one of the last undisturbed tracks of Gondwanan rainforest in the world, and home to one of the highest concentrations of Aboriginal archeology in the hemisphere.

It is currently under threat by indiscriminate logging, mining and off-road vehicles. For years The Aboriginal community in Tasmania has maintained their responsibilities to Country as best as they can through patrols, management plans, political campaigns and court actions, as well as rekindling spiritual connections and paying respects to country through ceremony. Through the second running of takayna ultra, we now stand side by side in this challenge to effect lasting change. Our collective belief has brought us together for this “important cause and joint quest” as described by Aboriginal community member Chelsea Everett, from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Inc. in her Welcome to Country.

And for the runners who’d spent month fundraising, training and creating awareness of takayna/Tarkine region, it was time to celebrate this joint quest the one way they want to, “Moving through it running, the connection to this old country is totally different,” as Paige, takayna 22 female winner, describes it.

In the face of a classic Tasmanian west coast cold front, takayna Ultra 65km and takayna22 runners embraced the sideways rain and blasting southerly tailwind, surrendered to the soft sand high on the golden beaches as the massive storm swell raised the sea to engulf the normally wide and hardened beaches of the course. The calm drizzle welcoming runners at first light amongst the button grass plains was now a distant memory along with the off-track sections allowing runners to weave their own natural lines through the landscape deepening the connection to Country.

This elemental adversity whilst running simply creates an even greater sense of achievement so starkly evident at the finish line on the exposed nungu/West Point, where runners for this one day in March outnumber surfers at this famous and powerful big wave Tassie surf break.

And for myself and the other non-running participant or this event, with the help of brisk Tasmanian wind cutting through our jackets and rain seeping through our seams, we have felt the energy created at this event connecting us even more to this wild place and inspiring our drive to further protect these venerable, sacred and irreplaceable lands. Because “it’s not until you go out in nature and actually take your time to enjoy it do you realise how special it is,” says Hilary, takayna Ultra Runner and Fundraiser.

Being present at takayna Ultra opens you to a feeling you just don’t get at any other “race”. It connects us as individuals and to Country, providing a call to action for trail runners and so many in our society with a cause to direct our energy towards for real action on climate change and significant movement to further protect the wild places that remain on our home planet.

In the honest words of Sanja, one of the 113 takayna Ultra runners and fundraisers, “The reason why I am out here is for my time to immerse to let it all seep into my pores and potentially to cry out there, eat a lot of sand and get smashed by the wind and that refuels me to fight for the cause of the Tarkine and to protect this magical place.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated “I Have a Dream” and inspired the civil rights movement with the power to change a country. The Bob Brown Foundation has a dream to have takayna/Tarkine protected as a World Heritage-listed National Park, and returned to Aboriginal ownership. As Bob Brown speaks, he fills the air of the Marrawah hall with this dream and now myself, new and old friends of takayna Ultra have been able to help take this dream closer to reality.

As I write this, the collective beliefs and efforts of everyone involved in takayna Ultra 2020 has raised over $180,000 to help support The Bob Brown Foundation continue its courageous campaign.

“It’s not just about running and physical activity right? It’s about running with purpose and passion and… campaigning to save what is special.” – Helena, takayna22 runner and fundraiser

Our need to belong is not rational, but it is a constant that exists across all people in all cultures. It is a feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs. When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe. As humans, we crave the feeling and we seek it. And it’s marrying this train of thought with my feelings as I scan the space in the Marrawah hall that helps me understand why I find myself yet again in north-west Tasmania for another running of takayna Ultra.

As Krissy Moehl, Patagonia Global trail running ambassador and environmental advocate, puts it, “The story of a long-distance runner is not unlike the challenge of the work non-for-profit organisations like The Bob Brown Foundation face,” and I think this is why takayna Ultra is such a success, the shared reason WHY we are here connects us on a very visceral level.

A thought we can always return to for a sense of reassurance and purpose during the times of activism ahead.

Learn more about the event and the campaign to save takayna