Safety crusade in Harper’s honour

Harper loved his animals and the environment. Picture: SUPPLIED

The face of an inspirational young boy, who was killed by a large falling tree, has gone global, as his family make it their mission to honour his noble quest.

Harper Wilson, 10, died in a freak accident alongside his father Matt as they drove through the Dandenong Ranges on 14 July 2019.

Harper’s mother Jacinda was home alone at 10pm when she received the tragic news that both her son and his father had passed away.

She recalled the “outpouring of support” she received from the community in the days, weeks and months following the heartbreaking accident.

Jacinda Erich, who grew up in Emerald and now lives in Cockatoo, said the Hills community saw her through the most difficult period of her life.

“My community rallied around me to raise nearly $30,000. There was an absolute outpouring of support,” she said.

“Community is something that was bred in me and the Hills are my home, so it felt like a really big family. There were people everywhere just helping me where they could, and there was nothing left for me to do. It was actually quite an overwhelming feeling.”

While the grief will never truly leave Jacinda, she’s turned her heartbreak into passion in order to ensure her beloved young boy is remembered, and his inspiring message is heard.

Harper was a popular boy who achieved more than many in his short life, and is remembered as a “passionate little bunny” with a love for animals and the environment.

His journey to conservation came from a childhood filled with “wonder and curiosity”.

He became aware of global issues such as whaling, climate change and deforestation at a young age, and instead of feeling defeated, Harper used his knowledge to make a lasting change.

“Of course our kids, to ourselves, are the best things ever, but I knew Harper was amazing even before he was here,” Jacinda explained.

“He had a thirst and an energy for life that seemed unparalleled. He was an incredibly active baby and a terrible sleeper, and his father was the same, it was almost like they both knew they didn’t have long here.

“Harper’s eagerness to learn, to teach others and take action was very clear. He shone brightly volunteering at community events and festivals where he proudly educated children and adults about ways to protect the environment.”

In his short life, he organised for Sea Shepherd to present at Cockatoo Primary School. He later joined a conservation group, attended the School Strike for Climate March and became an ambassador for the platypus.

He also helped to plant over 1000 trees, clean up over 2000 items of litter, build native wildlife nest boxes and advocate for the successful ban of Opera House Nets in Victoria.

“He appreciated the natural world. Harper had a thirst for it and we just encouraged him,” Jacinda said.

“If we were going to a market, he wasn’t looking for a lucky dip or lollies, he was looking for plants.”

Before he passed, Harper had three fish tanks in his room, which housed fish and a turtle. His room was also filled with various plants, from Bonsai to Cacti and succulents.

“He was always wanting pets and said he wanted to have his own zoo when he grew up,” Jacinda laughed.

“He said when he grew up that he wanted to go to the Galapagos and save all the baby turtles.

“He was so sure of himself and it wasn’t hard for me to support him. Harper could have done whatever he put his mind to me.”

Jacinda wants her boy remembered as someone who was “full of heart” and cared about people and the world.

“Those of us who knew and loved him not only lost a wonderful, funny, kind-hearted friend, but we also knew that the world had lost someone who was going to make a big difference,” she said.

“We all knew that Harper was going to live a life of action and change. We knew he was going to make a positive impact on a planet that desperately needs strong voices and so now, we need to work together to fill the void that he has left.”

In honour of his 12th birthday on 24 September, Jacinda and her daughter Kiah have been promoting Harper’s Army, a project aiming to dedicate 12 days to the environment.

What originally started as a plan to ask friends and family to pick up rubbish for Harper on his birthday has spread globally – reaching the United States, Portugal, Germany and the Seychelles.

A former colleague shared Jacinda’s original plans to her son, Jackson Irwin, who has been working on a passion project to collect one million pieces of rubbish.

Closing in on his one million goal, Jackson, who lives in Portugal, was so inspired by Harper’s story, he teamed up with Jacinda to launch Harper’s Army in a final push to collect the remaining 100,000 pieces of rubbish.

Within a week, the initiative grew legs and Harper’s story started to spread across the globe.

“I never expected it to blow up,” Jacinda laughed.

“Part of it strangely brings Harper back to life for me. It brings him back to the present and it celebrates the real essence of what Harper was and if he was here, this is exactly what he’d be doing.”

Jacinda said it was her “greatest dream” to see her son’s vision for a healthier planet come true.

“I reckon he’s dancing up there. He would be blown away by it all and he’d be completely chuffed that this many people cared about what he cared about,” she said.

“I have no doubt he’s up in the universe watching on.”

To help Harper’s family achieve his mission, search ‘Harper’s Army’ on Facebook.