I’m not sure I’m ready to make this post but here I am, anyway.
About three weeks ago I, my son and my Dad drove to the end of our road and walked into the forest there. We walked along a new track, made for trucks and heavy machinery. We met neighbours along the way, and strangers. We were stopped by some men in white utes who told us we were trespassing. We asked them for their proof of who they were and what right they had to stop us. They couldn’t provide this. They took photos of us and we walked on, up a steep red-dirt track, past tall red cedars, one of them with its buttress torn off. Up to the top of the ridge where we found devastation. Bent and broken palms, trampled, bare ground, and many, many logs in piles beside two huge machines, one of them with a claw-like appendage on the front of it, that had a chainsaw attached to the side. Not dissimilar to Dr.Seuss’s super axe-hacker.
This was a ‘selective harvest’ conducted by Forestry Corporation (what used to be State Forests) on private land.
What followed was three weeks of hell. Our peaceful home and community was transformed into something like a warzone. Emergency meetings were held, Facebook info pages made, protesting began at the entry gate and on the property. People struggled to get their heads around what was happening, how and why. Huge machinery traveled up and down our road with a noisy roar. People were tense, upset, confused, angry … sometimes taking it out on each other – there was shouting and crying. Police vehicles were in abundance. And those ubiquitous white utes, with men in fluorescent green shirts in stark contrast to the uniform of the ‘black wallabies’ with their dreadlocks and camo gear.
Meanwhile, a small group of people (myself included) were trying to establish communication with the landholders, to convey our community’s distress and confusion, our desire for consultation, for better process. We managed to get a meeting with two of the owners and they agreed to allow experts of our choosing to go on and do threatened species surveys – something that the Code of Practice for private native logging does not require. This was a small but significant win, but it was hampered by the determination of the owners/Forestry to continue with the work over the weekend while these surveys were conducted. The community and other protestors were frustrated by this limited success, and we were even seen as traitors by some, for making this ‘deal’.
The conflict intensified. I felt torn and head-fucked and heartbroken in my efforts to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the situation. I began to see that the landholders, whether it was intentional or not, had in some ways contributed to a ‘divide and conquer’ scenario which seemed to have us all too busy fighting amongst ourselves, while the trees kept falling. People got exhausted, totally stressed out. Every spare waking instant was being given to this thing. Families were fraying (it was school holidays), work and income compromised.
Jinker-load, after jinker-load roared past out home. A tight system of intense felling, followed by a convoy of trucks and intense police presence to move the logs out en-masse, was put in place. The days when this happened were the worst. Twelve huge trucks accompanied by riot squad, paddywagons, police dirt-bikes and many Forestry utes would descend upon our community and it felt and looked exactly like an invasion.
Some amongst us persisted in our pleas to the landholders to look at what was happening, to show some compassion for our distress, to take action to stop the operation so that some kind of resolution could be found. The response was slow and intellectualised and distant, supremely disconnected.
The intensity of the conflict was too much for me. I had participated as much as I could, at the gate, at home, on the phone and internet, but I was getting so worn down, we all were. Madness was around, protestors appearing who had their hearts in the right place but their heads were messed up by the whole warfare way of holding and understanding the situation. The police gave the loggers the right to make citizens’ arrests, which led to abusive situations, which led into a tit for tat endless game of provocation between the extreme ends of the rampantly polarised scenario. Stories were told of protestors/protectors wielding machetes and threatening loggers, and vice versa. Stories were also told of koala scats being removed from the bases of high use trees, and blame was thrown by both sides.
And so it went on. The felling seemed to intensify even further, a huge number of trees coming down in one day, far more than earlier in the operation. And then what felt like the inevitable happened. Someone was injured. Badly injured. A Forestry worker was struck on the head by a falling branch. Locals assisted with getting paramedics to him and he was helicoptered to the Gold Coast. That night, two protectors were assaulted by angry loggers, blaming the protest for the man’s injury. Work continued, despite Work Cover and police being called in to investigate. Two days later the man was pronounced dead.
That was the day before yesterday. That was the same day the remaining logs were pulled out, twelve jinker-loads worth. All in all it is estimated about 35 trucks-worth have been taken from this land, which is about 300 trees. Which will make perhaps a couple of million dollars for sawmillers, who will purchase the wood and turn it into floorboards. What the landholders stand to make is unknown, but from what I understand, their decision to use Forestry is probably the highest impact and lowest return model of logging that they could have chosen (there are smarter, kinder alternatives).
And so now, here we are in Whian Whian, watching the dust settle. Traumatised and shaken, heartbroken and weary. Grateful for what we did manage to protect thanks to the surveys, but deeply saddened by all that has taken place. And fearful of what is still to come. There are properties further up the ridge that Forestry has contracts with, apparently. And then there is the National Park that this property backs onto. If national environmental protections are handed back to the States, as is currently being considered, these protected places could once again be threatened. We won’t be caught napping next time, I just pray that we can learn to work together more effectively and with less internal violence.
And meanwhile … it’s late Spring. The mistletoe is flowering.
The golden whistler has been nudged over by the familiar sweet call of the grey shrike-thrush ( http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Colluricincla-harmonica ) . It’s very dry and we’re praying for some rain, which still feels ironic after the deluge we had for most of the year.