Vale Haydn Washington (1955-2022)

By Rodney Falconer, NPA Member

Haydn Grinling Washington was born on 12th September 1955 and died at 2 am on 10th December 2022. 

Haydn was a formidable and relentless fighter for the environment, for wilderness and for nature in general. He gave his life generously to many great causes. His charismatic and energetic leadership prompted many others to join in. Together we surfed the great wave of conservation, so successful in the days of the Wran government and for some years after. He helped significantly in the lasting protection of other wild areas including many wilderness areas, the rainforests, the south-east forests and the Gardens of Stone. 

Haydn was the energetic force behind many volunteer efforts to save the Northern Blue Mountains in particular, campaigning actively, organising media and held meetings with communities at the edge of what was to become Wollemi National Park. He was joined by a host of bushwalkers, conservationists, public-spirited bureaucrats, politicians and noted adventurer Dick Smith. 

Analysis from experts within the Electricity Commission, passed secretly to Haydn, produced an alternative that ended the folly of a planned gigantic dam across what the media proclaimed as our Grand Canyon, the Colo River Gorge. To the dismay of miners, Environment Minister Paul Landa had Wollemi dedicated to the centre of the earth. 

Latter decades of government environmental antipathy, neglect and destruction were hard to bear and Haydn, while maintaining positions in several conservation organisations, went from scientific researcher in the CSIRO to university academic. He never surrendered to despair during these hard times, even when sequences of raffish charlatans denounced the concept of wilderness and uncaring miners continued to devour the edges of unprotected natural wonders. 

Haydn was also an active member and director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, a Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, an ACF Councillor and an advisor to the local Land Council in the Mutawinji National Park area. He was vexed when David Noble beat him to discovering the Wollemi pine. Days later he went out and found the second and only other population of this rare ancient tree. 

He hand-built a medieval stone keep in the splendid isolation of Nullo Mountain where he lived for decades, hard against the endless tracts of forested mountains and towering cliffs of Wollemi. He was a prolific writer and protagonist, co-authoring what to me was a pivotal paper of anthropocentric hubris as the cause of lasting damage to our planet.  

Haydn was a “great bear of a man” as described by one author, a charismatic and sometimes difficult person, but a staunchly loyal friend. Together and with others we spent very many happy, sometimes gruelling days exploring the wildest remaining lands of NSW. He was often great fun. Not a neat man, he was often given to quoting an unknown German philosopher saying “tidiness is the refuge of the sterile mind”. 

Once, while taking a television crew through Putty into the north-east of the Colo Wilderness, someone illegally locked a gate across a public road behind them thinking they’d be trapped. Haydn, an immensely strong man, pulled the gatepost out of the ground, drove through, then replaced it, no doubt bewildering the offending gate owner. 

He wrote poetry and many books on fighting climate change denial and protecting the environment. His latter years were consumed with ecological economics in attempts to find meaningful, practical ways to attain a sustainable society. He fought a prolonged battle with cancer bravely and with purpose, continuing to write treatises and academic papers on conservation to the last days of his life. 

I and many others will miss this larger than life hero sorely. He will live with us and future generations through his lasting achievements in conservation and his prolific publications. 

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