Les Cope remembers looking up from under the water of the Ovens River and thinking how beautiful the light appeared as it filtered through the overhanging weeping willows.
Pulled unconscious from the water at age five, the graphic designer could never have imagined how big a role the natural environment would play in his life.
A Scout at age 14, Les took a major overnight hike from Upper Gully, past Kalista, to Emerald and along Cardinia Creek.
“That hike really impacted on me as an individual because I was on my own and totally immersed in the surroundings. The biggest thing I remember is that you could actually drink the water from the creeks in the area – beautiful crystal clear drinking water. But that was 1963 – you’d be taking your life into your own hands if you tried drinking it these days,’’ he laughs. “You wouldn’t even consider it.’’
With the birth of their first child Adam 34 years ago, Les and wife Peta moved to Menzies Creek to “get back to our roots’’. After soon becoming aware that Adam had a disability they used their leafy setting to advance his physical and mental capabilities.
“We literally had to teach him to walk when he was two years old because his brain wasn’t allowing those motor skills to be processed. If we lived in the suburbs he probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity of going into the bush, which has greatly assisted him to develop and grow. He wouldn’t be as mobile as he is now without the encouragement of getting out and walking.’’
Les says Adam loves nature because “it’s one of the few things that he can enjoy’’.
“If he wants a bit of time out he’ll often go wander around the garden and enjoy the surroundings. He can’t get into too much trouble out there. He might fall over and graze his knee but that’s all part of him being there – he’s learned to cope with that.’’
It was the discovery of Adam’s skill for writing poetry as a teenager that surprised his family the most. Les often takes Adam to nearby Menzies Creek, a tributary of Woori Yallock Creek, to gather inspiration.
“He’s non-verbal in the sense that he can’t talk but he’s got a way with words. His language development is different to ours because everything is internalised but you get these very inspiring poems about nature and the creek.
Les, a former teacher, runs his graphic design service out of a studio in Menzies Creek and expresses his love of nature through his own paintings.
“You can’t help but be absorbed in this area and its beauty and I try to express that through my art. I’ve done a lot of art on disability but I try and get away from that when I can because it’s already a 24 hour thing for me.’’
Written by Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, May 2008