In his introduction Bob describes his memoir as ‘some anecdotes from a life set for downfall that found its salvation in action,’ the downfall referring to his 20-year-old self’s despair about his life, and action to a life spent in service to conservation, being leader of a political party and a state and federal politician. His advice to other intelligent people: do not become immobilised by indecision but join in and help save our threatened world by political activism.
The 53 chapters of ‘Optimism’ are set in loosely chronological order and vary in style: here a character study or a bush yarn, some autobiography (a childhood in country NSW followed by medical school at Sydney Uni), descriptions of trips into his beloved Tasmanian wilderness, along with strongly-worded accounts of stoushes with political and media figures, and speeches.
Some highlights of ‘Optimism’ are Brown’s solo 1976 hunger-strike on Mt Wellington to protest the arrival in Hobart of a nuclear-powered American warship, and in the same year, an exhilarating raft trip with a friend down the Franklin River which developed into opposition to the building of the Franklin Dam. His writing style is lively: you feel like you too are on that raft shooting down the river.
There were recent stories I didn’t know, like Brown’s role in rescuing an Australian held ransom in Somalia and the support he continues to give to other green activists, such as Miranda Gibson and her 449-day tree sit to save endangered Tassie forest, and the Sea Shepherd whale protectors.
Reading ‘Optimism’ rounds out one’s knowledge of a political figure beyond the Parliament broadcasts and the news, and reveals much about the conservationist’s way of thinking.