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King of the Wilderness: The Life of Deny King

Tasmania’s renaissance continues in 2015, with Lonely Planet listing it in their top ten regions of the world to visit this year, the rugged and dramatic south-west coast among its most valued attractions. And yet the conflict over environmental protection and economic development remains a constant challenge for the island state.

King of the Wilderness

King of the Wilderness

Christobel Mattingley

Deny King forged a life in this remote landscape and, in his unassuming way, brought it to the attention of the world. A painter, tin miner, collector and environmentalist he worked tirelessly to gain recognition for its conservation and saw the area around Melaleuca successfully declared a World Heritage site. He identified several new species of plant, and established a recovery program for the endangered orange-bellied parrot. In later life Deny became a much-admired wildlife painter.

King of the Wilderness: The Life of Deny King brings to life one of the great characters of the Australian bush, a man walkers would trek for days to visit, who was as famous for his ability to forecast the weather as he was for his knowledge of birds and animals.

Text Publishing has printed King of the Wilderness twelve times since its first release in 2001. Christobel Mattingley’s remarkable biography of an Australian conservation pioneer is a favourite among environmentalists, hikers and Apple Isle tourists, garnering more enthusiasts for King and Tasmania’s rugged south-west every year.

As Wild magazine said of the book fourteen years ago, ‘Bush legends don’t come any mightier than Deny King...A sensitive and at times vividly detailed celebration of this ingenious bushman.’

Below are the first two pages of this Text Publishing favourite. You can also read a transcript of the author’s radio interview about Deny King with Robyn Williams here.

Deny King made an indelible impression on everyone fortunate enough to know him. Observant blue eyes far-seeing as the horizon and often twinkling with fun gazed from under maned eyebrows. In a weather-brightened face scored by the seasons, from a wide mouth always ready to smile, words came slowly in a distinctive husky drawl, greeting, welcoming. Work-strong square hands stretched out in friendship and help to others. Broad shoulders never shirked a burden. Warmth, wisdom, and disarming humility revealed a man at one with himself, at home in the domain he loved to share.

This was the wild and rugged Tasmanian South-West, and tales of his exploits on land and sea abound. His phenomenal strength and stamina, his ingenuity, humour, kindness, his unparalleled knowledge of the bush and its creatures, and exceptional ability to foretell weather, all combined to make him a legend in his own lifetime.

His sturdy self-reliance in such magnificent isolation stirred the imagination of many and he became affectionately known as King of the South-West. Even people who met him only briefly have an anecdote, always ending, ‘Deny King was an amazing fellow!’

The world came to Deny by land, sea and air—on foot, often blistered; under sail, often seasick; in small aircraft, sometimes airsick. And the world returned later, in envelopes crammed into a canvas mailbag marked in black: D. KING—PORT DAVEY. Deny was friend to everyone and his mailbag’s contents reflected that friendship.

Envelopes addressed DENY KING, PORT DAVEY, TASMANIA always found him, judging by numerous boxes of letters stowed in cupboards. Sometimes hand-decorated, or on cards selected to appeal, they expressed appreciation of his kindness and readiness to welcome and help those who made the effort to discover his realm. People thanked him for so freely ‘sharing his kingdom’ and expressed their hope of returning to ‘his paradise’. Many recalled with gratitude his gifts of homemade bread and jam, homegrown fruit and vegetables, fresh and extra welcome after days on the track had depleted rations.

Sometimes there were gifts in return for hospitality and transport: books signed by their authors, or selected with Deny’s wide-ranging interests in mind; little sketches and paintings; tea or favourite foodstuffs; socks or woollies; even a ticket in a Wilderness Society raffle. A group who had enjoyed substantial hospitality while weatherbound, sent in a side of lamb. Leonard Long inscribed a book of his paintings.

Nevil Shute, who visited in February 1953 later wrote from London. ‘I saw some little gimballed kerosene lamps and remembered Mrs King wanted something like that for the children in Melaleuca. So I ordered a couple to be sent as a souvenir of all your kindness and hospitality when we came in Saona last summer.’

People wanted to show their gratitude for bandaids and bread, fruit and philosophy, but most of all for the pleasure of Deny’s company. One recorded simply, ‘I am a lucky person. I have met Deny King.’

King of the Wilderness: The Life of Deny King by Christobel Mattingley is Text’s deal of the week. Click through to purchase this great story at the special price of $20.


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