This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

David Pocock Will Spend His Sabbatical Saving The World

You've got to admire this guy, whose latest commitment is the conservation group Wild Ark.
Park ranger khaki is definitely his colour.
Wild Ark
Park ranger khaki is definitely his colour.

If you're a regular reader of The Huffington Post Australia, then we guarantee David Pocock is your sort of person. Not into rugby or sport at all? You'll like him all the more.

Pocock, 28, made his name as a rugby union player. He has played 61 matches for our national team, the Wallabies, and is regarded as one of the world's best. But it's off the field he's really made his mark in contemporary Australian life.

Pocock is a doer. Unlike many high profile types, he doesn't become an "ambassador" for some cause or charity just for the cash or feelgood profile. David Pocock doesn't merely lend his support for causes through a Facebook like here and an Instagram post there.

The man is an activist. He has been arrested in forest protests against logging, and refuses to marry his long-term partner Emma until gay people earn equal marriage rights.

It's not just about David. Emma is into conservation too.
Wild Ark
It's not just about David. Emma is into conservation too.

Pocock is also heavily involved in a hands-on way with several environmental causes, the latest of which is Wild Ark -- an organisation dedicated to protecting and conserving the world's wild places.

In 2017, Pocock will have his much-publicised six month sabbatical. That's exactly the sort of thing professional sportspeople do NOT do at the peak of their careers. After all, they've only got so long to earn the big money. But David Pocock is David Pocock. He's got things to achieve out there in the wider world. Those things can't wait. And number one on the list is conservation.

Huffpost Australia caught up with David this week, and started by asking him the ridiculous question we've been asking athletes all year -- with a twist.

Ant: Hi David. So I've been asking people this all year and even I'm not sure why. Feels a bit funny putting it to an animal lover too, but anyway. Who would win a fight between a kangaroo and an emu?

David: I'd say definitely the kangaroo. It would have more power, and if it got one really good kick at the emu's legs or torso, it'd probably break one of those skinny little legs.

Ant: Brutal. OK, and since you play for the Wallabies, what about a fight between a wallaby and an emu?

David: Probably the wallaby, even though they're a bit smaller.

Ant: You get a lot of praise for the causes to which you dedicate your time, and deservedly so. But I wonder if I might probe deeper and ask if it's because you're a bit of a restless soul?

David: You'd probably get a better answer from my partner!

Ant: Well we'll be sure to ask her some time.

David: I guess I'm someone who loves to work towards goals and I feel energised and inspired by being around people who are doing things that they love, things that make them truly come alive. I think that's quite rare these days. You don't meet a whole lot of people who are totally pumped about their line of work and what they're involved in. So for me, stuff around the environment and conservation is something that really excites me. It was a big part of my life as a kid growing up, something I've stayed involved with. I guess I feel a certain urgency with where the world seems to be heading.

Ant: We'll talk more about your childhood in a moment, but tell me about your latest environmental commitment through Wild Ark.

David: Wild Ark's mission is to protect and conserve the world's wild places through securing land and working with people on the ground, and that's something that really interests me. To be on the road with someone like Mick Fanning [who's also on board], and see where the relationship leads. I'll be in Southern Africa next year for four or five months

Ant: As part of your sabbatical?

David: Right, and I'll hopefully be looking at some of the places they're looking at buying. I'll do a couple of Wild Ark's courses on ecology and human interaction with the environment. They have immersion experiences where you go and spend seven or 14 days in the bush. It's a lot more valuable than a safari experience where all you do is look at animals all day.

Ant: We need to understand the environment, not just vaguely appreciate it, right?

David: So many people connect with conservation. Look at the uproar around Cecil the Lion [who was trophy hunted by an American]. What's happening to all these iconic animals is symptomatic of what is happening to the environment as a whole, and I really feel the need to be involved.

(Which he has been, especially with saving the rhinos.)

Ant: As someone who grew up in Zimbabwe and lived on the land until your farm was forcibly removed from your family when you were 14, I'm guessing you still love the African landscape.

David: Politics and all the rest aside, there's something there that really connects with me and I think that's where I feel most at home. Carl Jung, the father of psychoanalysis, talked about how we don't come into the world with a clean slate. We come with a million years of evolution, and I think something in the bush really connects with people on a deep level. Obviously it doesn't have to be the African bush.

Ant: See, I just don't think your average footy player quotes Carl Jung in their interviews.

David: Well, my experience has been that professional sportspeople have huge amounts of stuff going on in their lives outside of sport, but we as a society like to turn them into modern gladiators where all that matters is their performances on the weekend.

Ant: We won't make that mistake with you. So apart from rugby, what else have you been up to lately? You're definitely a man who always has huge amounts of stuff going on outside of sport.

David: Actually I just had an exam.

Ant: Of course you did. What was the exam?

David: The exam was in livestock production systems. I'm interested in farming, I'm studying ecological agriculture just to keep the brain ticking over and not become too much of a boofhead.

We thought this pic was funny so we threw it in.
Getty Images
We thought this pic was funny so we threw it in.

Ant: Is that something that scares you? Being too much of a boofhead? A lot of people think all professional sportsmen are boofheads.

David: I think professional sport requires a certain amount of selfishness to be able to succeed at that level. But when you sit in the locker room and you look around, there is a often a cross section of society with all sorts of political and religious views and outlooks on life. That's one of the things I really enjoy. You get spend a lot more time than you probably would with work colleagues in other jobs, and you get to talk about things.

Ant: Before we let you go, one question on a different topic. No kangaroos or emus in this one, It's about a quote I read in a blog of yours about the essence of strength, and how boys and young men misunderstand it. You wrote:

[Men's] lives are shaped by our patriarchal culture that privileges 'rational thinking' and 'achievement' over other things like caring, making ourselves vulnerable, articulating our feelings, and really connecting with our fellow human beings. I know this has been true in my own life. While I grew up in a home where crying was never frowned upon, and I was encouraged to share my feelings, there is no escaping the cultural messages that surround us as kids.

Ant: I just find that stuff so fascinating. Big tough rugby player telling boys it's OK to feel vulnerable. What would be one piece of advice you'd give to a young men or boys to help them start off in life?

David: It's OK not to have everything together. We live in a culture where a man being perceived as weak is the number one thing to be avoided. But that doesn't have to be the case.

Ant: Well you've been a tower of strength today. Thanks for talking to The Huffington Post Australia and we look forward to following your work in Africa closely.

David: Cheers Ant, and thanks for the interview.

You can follow David's new passion Wild Ark on Instagram and Facebook.

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