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John Büsst

Bohemian artist and saviour of reef and rainforest

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A rich biography of artist-turned-environmental campaigner John Büsst.

Known to his enemies as ‘The Bingil Bay Bastard’, John Büsst, a Bendigo-born Melbourne bohemian artist, moved to tropical Bedarra Island in North Queensland and underwent an extraordinary transformation to become one of Australia’s most successful conservationists. In the 1960s and early 70s Büsst led campaigns to protect two of Australia’s most important and endangered environments — saving lowland rainforests from destruction and the Great Barrier Reef from reckless resource mining for oil, gas, cement and fertiliser. A plan Büsst likened to ‘bulldozing the Taj Mahal to make road gravel’. Along the way Büsst obtained the active support of five current or future prime ministers — Holt, Whitlam, Gorton, Hawke and Fraser.

This inspiring biography, from award-winning historian Iain McCalman, is a timely reminder that the passionate commitment of ordinary citizens is crucial to achieving truly transformative environmental change.

‘John Büsst’s love of beauty and reverence for science combined to leave two awesome, interconnected but still tragically vulnerable legacies: the conservation of both the North Queensland rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. Iain McCalman, among the country’s finest historians, brings to life one man’s journey from art to activism, locating the roots of modern environmental consciousness in a highly creative and productive partnership of aesthetics, humanitarianism, science and politics.’ — Frank Bongiorno

‘In John Büsst, Iain McCalman turns his attention to the artist, architect, naturalist and environmental campaigner who helped save the Great Barrier Reef from destruction in the 1960s with hugely impressive results. Vivid, expansive and richly intelligent, it is both a tribute to a remarkable life and a fascinating and timely study of how an unlikely group of activists transformed the way Australians understand the environment.’ — James Bradley

‘Iain McCalman’s rich and incisive history of John Büsst’s resolute and brilliant fight to save the Great Barrier Reef affords us a desperately needed exemplar of what authentic love and commitment to the Earth, combined with persuasive strategy and formidable collaborations can do. The book is a shot in the arm for anyone who doubts our capacity to protect Earth’s others and a reminder that it is the wonderous nature of the Earth itself that makes ecological warriors of ordinary people.’ — Danielle Celermajer

‘This inspiring story of John Büsst’s life is as rich in character and charm as the reef and rainforest ecosystems he fought so hard to protect. It’s a captivating account of the battleground for Australian conservation, fought on the beaches and forests of North Queensland. Fabulous!’ — Danielle Clode

‘We are all in debt to John Büsst, pioneer defender of the environment. Here Iain McCalman brilliantly charts his life and his successful crusade to save Queensland’s reef and adjacent rainforest — one of the world’s great ecosystems.’ — Bill Gammage

‘Eye-opening and inspiring. The unforgettable story of one man’s struggle to save two of Australia’s most treasured world heritage environments — Queensland’s Wet Tropics rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.’ — Mark McKenna

'McCalman’s book is a fine homage to a dedicated life. It’s also a portrait of the kind of person who makes a difference. Busst was clever, charming, thoughtful and, perhaps above all, a good, strategic communicator.' — Rosemary Sorensen, Independent Australia