Slow Down, Discover and Connect

nature view - lake lyell near lithgow

Sunset over Lake Lyell (Photo: Mikayla Chadwick)

Story by Tracie McMahon with volunteer writers Maddy McLean and Mikayla Chadwick

“At first, I thought this wouldn’t have been my thing but that one day changed that. I encourage everyone to seriously give this a go and see what the outcome is.” Mikayla Chadwick


Key Points:

  • The pace of everyday life can lead to a feeling of disconnection with people and place.
  • Nature journaling involves observing nature and recording personal observations, questions and connections using words and pictures, either hand drawn or photographed.
  • The activity is accessible to all. You do not need to be an artist. All you need is something to write and draw with and a natural setting

In late 2023, I had the privilege of sharing nature journaling with the women and girls from Barrinang: a Lithgow and district Wiradjuri corporation, working to promote and support wellbeing.  The possibility of writing a story was discussed, as nature journaling is about creating awareness of the natural places we see every day.

As the group sat and yarned, it became clear that this was not a story of an event, but an experience, particularly for the younger women. I’ve been journaling for almost five years, and I’ve got a lot of years between me and a twenty-something, so I asked if they would like to contribute, sharing their experiences directly, rather than through my slightly hard-of-hearing old-person filter.  Two young cousins agreed to meet with me and share their thoughts.

When we met a few weeks later, I was surprised to find not only were they interested, they were keen. This new ‘thing’ had not been replaced with the next big thing, in their busy lives. They wanted to encourage others to give it a go. 

As we chatted, we came up with a few questions and they decided they would each write about their experience, imagining yarning with a mate. The questions are mine, but the responses are the unedited work of two very talented volunteer writers.

Q: What do you want to tell people about nature journaling?

Mikayla: Gurll, you wouldn’t believe it. I tried nature journaling the other day and it’s changing the way I see everything. The land and nature are not just a background anymore. I see them. I notice them. I’m connecting to them. I notice the little things and I wonder about them.

Like trees: have you ever thought about how long they’ve been around? How many things they’ve seen? Imagine the stories they could tell. I see the beauty around me, I don’t just think of everything as a background anymore.

Yeah, I did see the pretty sunsets and the amazing views, but I never noticed the things I do now. Gurll, I’m telling you the nature journaling stuff is a real flip on a point of view.

Maddy: The biggest take away for me is the feeling of connection to not only the women around me but also culture, nature and myself. The most important aspect is that we are doing something we all never thought we could do or would ever try.

nature journaling

Participants journaling on the yarning mat outside Hermitage Hall (Photo: Tracie McMahon)

Q: Can you explain what you did and what was involved?

Maddy: We walked out of the hall in the direction of the park, and I noticed it wasn’t quiet as usual. I began to see the bigger picture, a vast collection of books, paintings, pictures, paint brushes, watercolour paint, watercolour journals and everything we would need to bring out our inner artist. We sat down, introduced ourselves then went on walkabout to get our heads in the zone and to gain inspiration for our artworks.

We came together to share our experiences, what we saw, what we felt, what we saw that was interesting and what we learnt on our walk, then we just jumped straight into our journaling and bringing out the inner artists that many of us never knew were inside us.

Mikayla : We started with a lovely walk through the park to see what we wanted to draw. Before we even started, I knew I wanted to draw and write about a tree. Some of us sat on the ground in a circle all laughing, talking and learning. We shared our thoughts about everything around us and memories we had from being outside, from our childhood. It opened my eyes, as it did for our whole group.

barrinang nature journalling

Participants taking a walk on the Farmers Creek shared pathway. First stop waterways. (Photo: Mikayla Chadwick)

Q: Did you finish the pieces you started on the day and have you kept going with it?

nature journalling

Left: Maddy (front) intently working on her journal piece. Right: Mikayla’s finished piece (Photos: Tracie McMahon)

Mikayla:  A couple of days after I tried it, I was overthinking, so I decided I should have a wander and do some nature journaling. One minute I was nearly bawling with how overwhelmed I was and the next I found myself drawing on a bench and three hours flew by. Being out in nature can expand the mind and release anger. There are so many positives to it. It helped me escape the highway in my head.

Maddy: Many of us found that we were actually really good at water colour painting, such as me. To go into something with no idea and to finish with my own artwork and a newfound hobby, was really uplifting and a surprise. The best part of it all is there is no skill set required. All you need is a keen mindset and you.

Q: What made it different to other things you have tried?

Mikayla:  Nature journaling is more than just pen, paper and looking at nature. You can get some good vitamin D and some exercise. You may even meet new people. Maybe even meet a community of people who do nature journaling.

We are all so busy 24/7 it’s so hard to find the time for the simple things. Such as a simple walk in the bush. You don’t even have to go bush, you can always stroll throughout the park or sit at a window and try to notice things you normally wouldn’t even think of. You can start small and work your way up if bushwalking isn’t your thing. The best thing about nature journaling is you do not have to run off anyone else’s time except yours. You can choose to do this whenever you’re free. 

You can learn heaps from trying this. Learn about nature and the land that surrounds us every day. It can make you wonder about plants and flowers. Then you can learn what they do for the environment and their names. You could also learn about birds, lizards and all sorts of animals and insects. And the purpose of why they are here. You can learn about how the food chain works and why it works in different ways. Did you know that dolphins use pufferfish to get high? Did you know crocodiles can’t stick their tongues out? And that octopus punch fish to beat them to food but sometimes they just do it for fun? Slugs have four noses and only female mosquitoes bite?

Maddy: Nature journaling is part journaling and part nature. Many people use journaling to help them in many ways in their life but doing that in nature is also recreating the beauty of nature that surrounds you.

This helps connect us to the land and our ancestors by taking the time to give honour and to go slowly in our lives. Being in nature and being able to connect to other people in mob by yarning, bringing us back to our roots. It is one of the best ways to ground, express yourselves and release energy. 

nature journals

Finished journals from the day. (Photo: Tracie McMahon)

Meet the Journalers

Mikayla Chadwick

Mikayla is a proud Wiradjuri woman. She loves to create beautiful portraits that show their stories with culture, history and personality.  She’s had three exhibitions and has won many awards for her images in local competitions.

Maddy McLean

Maddy McLean is a proud Wiradjuri woman who works on Wiradjuri land. Maddy enjoys and is passionate about spirituality, storytelling, creating art and anything to do with getting into nature or getting in touch with her ancestry. Her work involves helping the community and learning about diverse cultures.


Take Action:

  • You can learn more about Nature Journaling at https://johnmuirlaws.com/. The site includes several free downloadable resources for journalers and teachers.
  • The Australian Nature Journal Association has a Facebook page, where members share their journal pieces.
  • Take a slow walk in your local area, with a pencil, paints, paper and sit down to record what you see, describe it, wonder what else you would like to know and then record what it reminds you of: it may be a song, a memory, a childhood game. Write it down or record it visually.

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Tracie McMahon

Tracie lives, writes and walks on the unceded lands of the Dharug, Gundungurra and Wiradjuri people. Born in Lithgow, she and her family have spent most of their lives living and working with the people and places of the Lithgow area. Her passions are nature and community, which she pursues through story, art, and volunteering in Lithgow and the Blue Mountains.

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