GOOLENGOOK JOURNALJames Travers-Murison
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PART 1 FIELDWORK
"You can't eat money,” the sign said depicting the little businessman wearing a facemask with a uranium sign and a grey suit. He held a credit card in his left hand and green dollar notes in his right. The canvas sign was stitched lopsided onto the log, the small tree trunk that rested on cross poles. Large dead eucalyptus branches were pinned on the far side of the road and leaned diagonally across the blockade. This was the first barrier we met as I drove the Landcruiser up to the GECO (Goongerah Environment Centre Office) forest blockade in Australia's plateau country in the far east of the state of Victoria. It was a few days from winter in 1997.
The car was spattered in mud and tiny leaves. We had driven from the petrol station in Bonang across the logging trails to here using a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 1:100 000 scale map. Earlier that day, we had been at the remote place of Goongerah, "Egg Mountain" in the Koori tongue, 70 kilometres North of Orbost. In the organised chaos of GECO headquarters, Noons had handed me a map and drawn his finger across the trails to follow through the forest.
"You'll have to get petrol, Bonang's the closest. I'll ring to see if they've got any,” he said.
From Bonang we drove back to the turn-off to Bendoc and took the Errinundra road into the National Park. Large Mohawk like gums lined the way overflowing onto the solid gravel road. At GECO I had picked up a scrawny Glaswegian economics graduate with glasses called Mike. He, like myself, wanted to see what a ‘forest blockade’ looked like. At Mount Morris high on the Errinundra plateau I stopped to take a photograph of the monolithic gums. Vines thick like an umbrella encompassed a gum where the canopy had been broken. We turned down Greens Road and hidden away down a siding was the Ada Divide Track. The road continued twisting up the range, but the Ada Track dropped almost vertically into the valley.
"Shall we do it?" I looked at Mike.
"It's up to you". He was staring out the window at the sea of eucalypts beneath us.
The rain slowly fell, I thought of winter mud and being stuck, having to desert the car and waiting for dry weather. We skidded down the track, which was partially overgrown; two wheel tracks covered in crushed leaves and bark. There were humps across the path to block erosion and prevent two wheel drive vehicles passing. Eventually we came to a scattering of tracks leading to various logging coupes that seemed to have illegally crossed over into the Errinundra National Park which this road bordered. We guessed that one track was the Ada track and continued through a falling valley of tall eucalypts and huge leafy ferns edging through the afternoon mist. The track rose steeply up another range, a log was partially across the path and as we edged round the car slid back onto a large gum. Unable to reverse and not being able to get any grip, the wheels spinning off the track on to ferns that were not giving any traction, Mike pushed us out. Swiping branches we slid down a hill to another trunk across the road. We tried pushing, nudging with the car, chopping using a tomahawk, finally pulling a rope attached and reversing. It shifted a few feet before wheels started to spin, not enough. Half an hour and we gave up, turned back and hoped to find another trail.
Back at the logging coupe the thick rutted mud gave way to an alternative route, Barling's Road parallel to the Ada Divide Track, a proper gravel road. Around one corner stretched a wasteland like a nuclear holocaust had hit it, against dark mist stumps and logs lay askew, ripped up earth and left between the bulldozer's tracks a few skinny eucalypts -"clear felling". At the next corner a fallen tree blocked the way, huge branches and leaves cascading across the road. There was no way through, so we reversed and hoped somehow a path further back would get us through.
II. The Blockade and the Green Movement
It was night when we arrived and six protestors were huddled round a fire under a huge tarp. Pumpkin soup, brown rice and pan flat bread were being served up. The mood was jovial. A photographer, an economist, a biologist, a student, an artist and Bear were there. Bear was a woolly solidly framed man who looked as if he'd grown up in a gum tree. He had that rough Australian bush manner, he could have been a logger, but instead he spoke about stopping the logging of 'old growth'.
"That wilderness has been here for a bloody long time." He munched on the pan bread.
"I can't see any big trees?" I stared at the meatless stew and they offered me a joint. I declined.
"Some of these trees you can join five people round." He looked at the others and then at me, I looked away. "They take hundreds of years to grow." His words were muffled and he covered his eye with a hand wrapped in rough wool gloves, fingerless gloves. "They can't be just regenerated overnight."
James was a biologist working for the Department of Conservation near Bega's Wetlands, here for a few nights, his eyes smiled like shining balloons. He told me of biodiversity and natural habitats of fauna damaged by logging.
"Why blockade this site?" I asked.
"It is a site of significant biodiversity" he replied. "Goolengook river is listed under the Heritage Rivers Act," he slurped soup onto his old woollen jumper, "however because the area is 'robust'," he took a mouthful of organic stew, "meaning it is considered that there are many such areas," he looked round, "has anyone got the honey". He turned back to me, "forestry has decided it is acceptable to log."
Bear looked worried, "the wide road," he put in a potato and offered more stew, "the clearing..."
James interrupted, "at its end suggests forestry intends a large scale operation, probably clear felling." The joint was passed round and I went for a walk.
I asked them if they thought their tiny barricade would have any real impact on the logging of three or four hundred thousand hectares of native forest here.
"Is it anything more than a symbolic gesture?"
"To protect one area is better than none." James said.
The whole camp and blockade was on a gentle slope and stretched for almost a kilometre. It was made up of barbed wire barricades, tripod tree poles, trenches and rock piles placed like tank traps. Tents and even a tepee lined the road.
The next morning we took a look at the forest, clambered through the thick undergrowth, the photographer rushing ahead like a pixie. And he was dressed like a pixie, pointy boots, hacked off trousers over tights. I asked him about the forestry agreements. "The regional agreements allow logging of 40% of old growth forest." He paused and turned smiling. "They will be removing export licences, opening up the market to increase overseas buyers of woodchips." He spoke like it was all so obvious. The student pulled his chequered jacket tight against the cold. We marched upwards to the 'egg rocks'.
"The East Gippsland Regional Forests Agreement emphasises sustainable logging through the protection of biodiversity, old growth and wilderness," we were caught in waist high grass and ferns steeply stretching up the valley, "but it is being ignored in spirit, man." I was barely keeping up with him in my clean city trousers. They were wet and muddy now. "They're logging the big old trees through clear felling. They call it by another name, but all they leave are a few tiny seed trees." He turned to me. I was gasping for breath. "Almost everything’s knocked down so only a wasteland remains. Erosion results wiping out the variety of microorganisms, plants and trees. A fraction regenerate. The rarest species often never survive."
A battered forestry leaflet they handed me showed statistics that most Australian wood is chipped for export to be processed into pulp, then paper. I checked these figures later in Melbourne examining the Regional Forests Agreement and Jill Redwood's 'Environmental Paper to the Democrats'. Jill, a mature woman who has been fighting to protect "old growth" forest for about 18 years, accuses the loggers of chipping saw logs. Thus according to her good quality timber is not turned into high quality "value added" products. She states the residual timber turned into wood chips earns the government very little in royalties, up to $5 a tonne in East Gippsland, but wastage goes for as little as 20c.
Jill states that the big old and very precious trees are so hollow from decomposition they are considered wastage by the mills. They are knocked down to allow maximum regrowth in a coupe. 650,000 to 800,000 tonnes of these and other wastage trees are trying to be sold by the Government for wood chips. She states that these big old hollow trees provide the perfect habitat for endangered species. Up to 300 species are considered rare or threatened in the East Gippsland area alone. This includes a rare carnivorous marsupial called the Tiger Quoll. Although unlikely, extinction is a possibility if there is extensive logging of 'old growth'. For all this in infrastructure the Government, the Australian taxpayer, pays $18 a tonne for replanting, administration, roads, etc. to log the East Gippsland areas and it is considered to be a government operation that barely makes a profit.
III. Conversations with the DNRE and Melbourne University
Andrew Maclean, a forestry manager at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) in Melbourne, was in his thirties, had a broad smile and a congeniality of the country. We shook hands and he walked off with his compatriot. I followed. In the conference room we talked about Special Protection Zones for the Powerful Owl. He assured me that only 15% of 'old growth' forest would be logged. That any significant "old growth" would be protected. I was given a fact sheet that stated 45% of Goolengook was formally protected. Only 800 hectares of this 8,876 hectares is proposed to be harvested, 20 hectares in 1997. Half the block had been disturbed by fires, harvesting, mining or clear felling in the past so could not adequately be called "old growth".
Of the 1.2 million hectares of forest in the East Gippsland Forest Management Area, one quarter will be used for timber harvesting. Of the one quarter million hectares that is "old growth", 70,000 hectares is available for logging. Each year 5,000 to 7,000 hectares of old and regrowth will be harvested in East Gippsland.
I put it to him why log any "old growth" when we have at least 300,000 hectares of regrowth. Andrew replied with his affable smile "Where does it all end. The environment groups would then start arguing about the classification of the remaining areas. Somewhere a balance has to be met if we are to have a logging industry in this country... And the logging industry turns over 10 billion dollars per year in Australia."
Later on the telephone he informed me that a small amount of old growth has to be logged, until the other parts of the forest are sufficiently mature to harvest. To harvest these trees earlier would actually be wasting a resource and be environmentally unsound. Trees would be being cut down prior to their greatest time of growth. He assured me all logging of old growth would end by early next century and in fact some areas of regrowth forest would be allowed to return to 'protected', in affect, 'old growth' status.
Gary Featherston in Orbost DNRE told me that the area was being well managed. In fact of the 70,000 hectares of "old growth" allowed to be harvested only 13,000 hectares were planned to be harvested and that adequate protected areas should safeguard all endangered species. So 95% of 'old growth' will effectively remain untouched in East Gippsland. That after logging the diversity of species was maintained by using seed from the original coupe. Of the 300 species mentioned as rare or threatened none are in danger of extinction, most are simply rare, infrequently seen. The threatened species are carefully monitored.
The 650,000 tonnes of wastage trees would be burnt anyway, so chipping them would actually be saving resources. He agreed that spending billions of dollars importing paper from third world countries that were devastating their forests, not only undermined our forest industry, but also was environmentally irresponsible on a global scale. Yet a pulp plant for Australian paper, which had been planned for Orbost, had been opposed by the environmental movement. Australian industry, jobs and the reduction of imported paper would have resulted. Reliance on economies of scale prevented it being viable, but the environment movement had not helped. However, a few months later he told me that it was 26,000 hectares of “old growth” to be logged and only 88% would be protected.
It was early spring of 1997 when I was assured by Jacinta at Orbost DNRE, who did not wish to give her full name, that no trees from Goolengook were to be chipped. She said that any questions relating to "protest actions" were to be directed to Gary Squires, the Regional Forest Manager in Traralgon. So I rang him... several times and finally was directed to Don Thomson, the Manager of Commercial Forestry for East Gippsland. He clearly stated that 85% of East Gippsland timber ends up as waste. That most of it is burnt unused and Forestry was trying hard to save it and use it to produce paper by the most sensible means - chipping it. He asked when would the Green movement wake up and realise they were actually acting against the environment and not conserving resources. He believed that once these areas had been properly clear felled and replanted, that straight and good quality trees could be produced so that a much higher proportion of timber logged could be sawn and so markedly increase profits.
Jill's remarks about saw logs being chipped were just fallacious and illogical according to him. Why would millers chip logs when they could receive a much greater income by sawing them?
Jill Redwood who I spoke to on the phone at her farm not far from Goolengook was in a rush to fax an article off. She assured me it is pristine "old growth" at the top end of the block that is being harvested now the barricades are down.
In Melbourne I managed to get hold of the DNRE's Wood Utilisation Plan for East Gippsland. It suggested at least 70% of logs end up as woodchips and if the environment groups are correct and 'D+ Grade sawlogs' are being wastefully cut, then the figure could be much higher. Speaking to Kendra Dean, Acting Manager Sales Operations Forests DNRE, was a bit like trying to move a very large mountain. She did not want to answer any questions particularly on saw millers productivity, although she let slip that the DNRE had such figures and that up to 55% of sawlogs by volume ended up as waste.
Whether Banjo Paterson used to stride through 'the forest wilds' of East Gippsland or never left his Sydney office, one thing is for sure, he existed before the advent of a computerised bureaucracy and Japanese woodchippers. He may have watched old bullock teams, and huge hand held saws chop down the trees. Nowadays it takes minutes for a ‘tree feller’ to slice through a tree. Some of those trees are probably in the huge reports guiding Victoria's Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) as they now implement the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement, that is unless they use Indonesian paper. This Federal Agreement was supposedly created to make ecologically sustainable forest management. This in laymans terms means sensibly log the forest. But this became known as ‘resource security’ of timber harvesting within the Department.
The report's words say “ensuring the protection of Australia's biodiversity, old growth and wilderness”. The fine print tells another story. It says 40% of 'old growth' is open to be logged. How protected is "old growth" and how sustainable is the whole RFA process? At Environment Victoria, Geraldine Ryan showed me the thousand page Forest Management Plan (FMP) and I wondered if I had not fallen into the pit out of the movie ‘Brazil’. Mathew Farren at Environment Victoria cynically pointed out ‘The East Gippsland Resource and Economics Report 1996’, doubts whether its own logging operations are sustainable. It questions its own methodology to determine the logging yield. The report states:
“..the principal operational concern is that of an overestimate of volume, leading to an inability to sustain production (in logging)... of the order of 20%”.
The report dismisses this overestimate, saying that even if it occurs Forestry can reduce logging by 14.5%, after 2001. But even for this they say, "This is of some comfort, although not directly verifiable for the methodology under review in this report". Sustainability is not looking too secure despite the RFA's glossy words.
The study questions its own methodology to determine the logging yield, due to the lack of accurate information on the volumes of timber each block can produce. The report states that even if it has overestimated volume by 20% till 2001, that because of the long term nature of logging it could spread the necessary reduction over the next couple of decades. Sustainability is not looking absolutely secure despite the RFA's words. Bruce Kilgour of DNRE Melbourne said that this is of no great concern as there could just as well be an underestimation of volume of the same order and far more accurate statistics in the process of being introduced suggest a 1% underestimation of volume of timber produced from each block.
INTENDED GROSS TONNES OF WOODCHIPS IN EAST GIPPSLAND IN 1996/7 - [110% OF ALLOCATED YIELD} -
End up as Woodchip
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An additional 500,00 tonnes of residual is burnt each year
How much can East Gippsland take? The unsustainable volume of logged native forest, over 70% which end up as wood chips.
Nevertheless, Mathew Farren at Environment Victoria put into question overall forest management by what he pointed out to me in the FMP. The fact is the DNRE doubt their own figures of the sustainable yield due to inaccuracies in their method of determining standard volumes within the blocks. Bruce Kilgour did not convince me by saying there was nothing to worry about as the latest figures were showing the sustainable yield had been marginally underestimated. Furthermore out of the intended 574,000 tonnes to be logged in East Gippsland, which is already 110% of the allocated sustainable amount, the majority of the timber appears to be going into woodchips, which confirmed Jill Redwood’s fears.
I conversed with Dr Mark Burgman, Environment Co-ordinator of The Faculty of Science at Melbourne University. I asked him if it is generally considered that delicately balanced and rare species of trees, plants, animals and micro organisms that are unique to very localised areas, may ever regenerate after logging. In his opinion this was neither a true nor false statement for Goolengook, but that research had shown that potential values of National significance exist and that a prima facie case exists to scientifically investigate this further before logging can be justified.
However Professor Ian Ferguson, also from Melbourne University and author of part of the Regional Forest Assessment, said East Gippsland had a well balanced system of sustainable logging. He reiterated, "one has to look at the totality, not bit by bit, where interest groups can always argue their needs are not being fulfilled".
I re-contacted Don Thomson to ask him about the sustainable yield estimates. Flustered he got hold of the report and was of the opinion that the figures were perfectly acceptable. He reiterated that Goolengook was of less significance than many other blocks that were researched afterwards. He said the Block Report stating that it was of potential National significance did not take into account those other areas, overall forest management (which requires old growth to be logged until regrowth is sufficiently mature) and was the opinion of only one of the department's researchers. The Green movement he said had one forest agenda, "to end all logging of native forest". He then accused me of not being a journalist and working for the lobby group Environment Victoria. “Fair suck of the sausage..” was his final comment.
From September onwards I tried to get the article published in the Age, Australian, Sun, Wild Magazine, all with no success. At the end of 97 a new woman’s magazine Claudia was starting up and I made contact with a sub editor Anne Marie. I sent her the article and photos. She was very positive and I attempted to get a professional photographer involved who had produced a calendar on Goolengook with absolutely no luck. I visited his St Kilda flat, but he did not like the article and was just about to ‘shoot’ a couple of scantily clad models. Anne Marie was sacked then refused to send the material back. I threatened to sue, but the magazine folded in June 98. I even sent a pro-DNRE version into the Department in the hope that their Outdoor Magazine would publish it.
Poverty stricken I looked for a job back in law and met a recruit consultant called Michelle McCann who liked my photography. She also was sacked just after I showed her my portfolio. She started working for a teen magazine called Groovine and tried to help get the article in there, however I refused to shorten the article below 1,500 words and she fell out with the editor who she claimed was addicted to cocaine. In the meantime she was asked to leave her sharehouse and in the process of leaving lost the photographic negatives and only copies I had of Goolengook, the originals being in the possession of Anne Marie. I had been evicted from my flat in Malvern, having sold my landcruiser too late to stop the police coming with the enforcement order and was now living in a dingy tiny studio on Flinders Street that September of 1998 and had pretty much given up on Goolengook.
PART 2 THE SCIENTISTS vs THE ADMINISTRATORS
IV. The DNRE’s leak
One of the authors of the Goolengook block report and the rainforest survey rang me up one day in October. He was still a DNRE scientist. David Cameron did not want to be named, because he felt his job would be on the line. He told me a tale of political intrigue, which reached the highest levels of government. He was convinced that Goolengook is not of potential national significance, but was of demonstrable national significance. He said the assessment of rainforest values has gone through three sets of scientific and government procedures within the DNRE that confirm beyond doubt that it is of national significance. He said that it was just a formality before it will be listed on the Commonwealth Register of the National Estates. He believed this process was being slowed down by the current government.
He laughed at the comments Don Thomson made about the Goolengook Block Report being only the opinion of one scientist. He told me that not only the entire zoological and botanical survey team had confirmed that up to 60% of Goolengook should be protected, but also the Victorian rainforest survey team of which he was a member confirmed this. A larger proportion of the Goolengook Block had been considered significant than any other surveyed forest block in the state. The catchment area around the Goolengook River was rated as unique in having an ‘undisturbed’ overlap of warm and cool temperate rainforest in pristine condition. The report demonstrating that it was of National Significance was officially agreed upon and published by the Department.
He could not understand how Don Thomson could have come to the conclusion that it was only one researcher’s opinion. He was perplexed by Don’s assertion that other areas had later been surveyed that were of greater significance. 13 subsequent Forest Block surveys though also revealing high ratings of National Significance had not been as extensive as Goolengook. Minimal additional protection have been granted to these subsequent blocks by the government, in fact the surveys were shelved. Unlike earlier surveys, recommendations for the protection of sites of significance in these Blocks were not implemented. Environmental legislation had required these surveys’ reports before logging “old growth” forest.
However what has to be considered is that it is not only the Greens who are an interest group pushing for their goals. The DNRE has a very close relationship with the logging industry and this may create a more than sympathetic connection. The School of Forestry at Creswick has close association with companies providing research grants to forestry students, DNRE forest managers often work closely in the field with loggers and plan strategies with logging companies. It is not uncommon for DNRE foresters to move directly into high paying lobbying positions in companies such as Amcor. Even such secret societies as the Hoohoo club maintain close relationships between the industry and government departments. Whether ‘kickbacks’ are occurring through such arrangements is unknown, but close affiliations may be influencing DNRE heads to be pushing ‘the yield tonnage’ to an environmentally unsustainable level.
In the early 90s $10 million had been allocated by the Commonwealth to help the state protect National Estate forests and some of the money had been spent on these detailed scientific ground surveys in East Gippsland. They involved detailed scientific investigation as well as long negotiations with hardwood planners. The survey teams recommended large tracts of forest be protected from logging. When made available to the state government the hard work and millions of dollars of federally funded scientific research to protect the environment were effectively wasted and with held from public scrutiny. David Cameron was disappointed at the result as logger’s trucks replaced environmental accountability. I briefly talked to Graeme Gillespie, a DNRE zoologist on the Goolengook Block Report, and he confirmed Goolengook’s National Significance and the insanity of logging it.
Mysteriously the DNRE changed its entire methodology of surveying the region. Detailed on site block reports that had already been carried out were replaced with large scale modelling to determine conservation values. A system that required no scientists working in the area and that could be easily manipulated to give a desired result. Not surprisingly it gave the go-ahead for large scale logging of not just Goolengook, but 26,000 hectares of pristine “old growth” as well. Large areas of little disturbed forest, which according to David Cameron is not classified as “old growth” though as good as it, were also earmarked for the loggers. He was convinced that the logging quotas for East Gippsland were ecologically unsustainable. ‘Sustainability according to the RFA is about maintaining timber supply volume and has nothing to do with ‘ecological sustainability’ in a biological sense,’ he said. This is despite its misleading preamble and the context it has been presented to the public, though the potential remains to alter the way the RFA is currently administered.
The DNRE’s argument that the regrowth forest is not sufficiently mature, therefore “old growth” had to be logged was simply absurd to David. He was convinced that not only the 300,000 hectares of regrowth was capable of being logged economically, but that logging operations could be restricted to around Orbost and meet all industry needs. To him this meant that many of the less disturbed “regrowth” areas could then be returned to the wild. He saw it as simple greed that loggers and the DNRE were clear felling pristine “old growth” forest, and so going for the largest trees.
The belief that biodiversity was maintained after a clear felling operation, David believed to be another deluded opinion held by some members of the department. He was convinced that clear felling threatened some rare and even ‘widespread’ species and that DNRE reseeding was only of the eucalypts, therefore other species could be lost from clear felled areas. The burning off operations after the felling he said decreased the chances of ‘hollow dependent’ animal species surviving as any fallen logs or hollows would be destroyed.
The greatest crime, he believed, in logging the “old growth” area in Goolengook was that this represented one of the least disturbed wet forest catchments in Victoria. He believed even small amounts of logging or roads into the area would damage its integrity. He said logging dries the soil, allows large amounts of flammable undergrowth to grow at ground level and opens the area up to high winds. This increases fire risk. When the fires come, instead of jumping over the rainforest valleys and only burning the crowns of the trees, in a logged area the fire burns much lower and at higher temperatures. This means that, as in the case at Goolengook, once the logging operations get near the headwater, even the protected rainforest will burn up when the next bushfires go through. The buffer zones surrounding rainforest in the subcatchments would not stop the fire. He had no doubt the logging operations would irreparably alter the ecology of the area and risk the loss of the unique wet forest environment in the Goolengook catchment.
He said after logging operations understorey tree fern and shrub cover is wiped out, in particular Sassafras, and this will not regenerate. Mountain Geebung and Podocarp in the understorey are sometimes three times the age of the eucalypts, possibly up to a thousand years old. The consequence is that keystone species necessary for regeneration of the original biodiversity are eliminated. He said this is the first step towards species extinction when logging operations target consecutive coupes over a large area. To this extent he believed the Slender Tree Fern was in danger of extinction in Goolengook (as was the Pencil Cedar in other areas of Gippsland). David said it was misleading to say 51% of Goolengook was protected. He believed a significant proportion of the Block (15-20%), was simply buffer zones and corridors, but most critically he reiterated was that once over 30% of Goolengook was logged that fire risk would put at risk the remaining protected areas in Goolengook. He said Australia had one of the worst records in the world for mammal extinction and soil loss through unsustainable land use practices. Given the consideration of World Heritage status for the region under the proposal for a ‘Southern Eucalyptus Forest’ he found the government’s actions even more disappointing.
V. The ‘Hybrid Australis’ Solution
He could not believe the government was still subsidising logging operations in East Gippsland when they admitted to an 85% wastage of logs and an inability to even sell up to a million tonnes of wastage as pulp. The East Gippsland Resource and Economics Report, which had questioned sustainability, David said, was further flawed because he believed the researchers had not taken into account potential losses due to wild fire, disease, regeneration failure and economically inaccessible parts of Blocks. David said that Jill Redwood was correct about the inefficiency in milling the sawlogs. He said small companies with more efficient techniques such as radial sawing and secondary mills to clean up coupe waste were rumoured to have been refused licenses. He believed large companies with vested interests in the government were profiting.
David confirmed Jill’s view of the narrow definition of rainforest in Victorian legislation. He said that he had actually been involved as an advisor to a technical committee in 1986 which broadened the definition of rainforest to include eucalyptus in the canopy. This had been rejected for political reasons, despite all the scientific evidence supporting it.
It was a cold Saturday in October 1998 as I talked to David Cameron on the phone. He was worried about losing his job if I revealed his name. The hours passed as he gradually persuaded me that it was not the Greens who were deceiving the public, but the government. The plot began to thicken when he revealed that he had been almost sacked and instead sidelined to a regional office, after becoming involved in an alternative technology project to mass-produce hardwood on plantations. Genetically engineered hydroponic trees that would grow to maturity in six years and stand so densely together that a mere 1,500 hectares could provide sufficient quantity hardwood fibre to equal the total current production of hardwood from Victorian native forests, both old growth and regrowth, as well as all Victorian hardwood plantations. I began to think I was hearing something out of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction best sellers.
According to David not only would this end the necessity to log any “old growth” in Australia, but also it could put an end to the need to log any native forest at all. I listened perplexed as he told me of one Australian’s invention of an artificial tree that would grow so packed together that it would seem like a solid structure. On top of this the tree could absorb almost any toxic industrial effluent and in large quantities, and it would help its tree growth. In one swath industry pollution could be reduced as well. He told me how a North American company got involved, the World Bank and even the United Nations environment program headed by Dr Neil Brown. The project was so revolutionary that it could provide enough hardwood to fill the world market and so help prevent the deforestation of the third world and so retard global warming. Jeff Kennet actually supported it when he was in opposition in 1991. It made a centre spread in the Herald Sun. Pilot plantations were secretly grown and destroyed. Then the whole project disappeared into obscurity.
The North American partners had tried to take over the project and the whole thing had ended up frozen in the Supreme Court of New York. Investors had lost confidence and David was caught in one of the North American Company’s promotional videos inadvertently representing the DNRE. David had been acting privately, but the DNRE did not want to have their name associated with the controversy. Hence he was almost sacked. ‘Hybrid Australis’ is now in delicate negotiations to reactivate according to David. I put down the phone after a marathon 11 hours of discussion.
VI. Red Tape
At 8 AM on the 20th November 1998 I spoke to John Fraser(?) from GECO. He confirmed that Senator Bob Brown had been falsely arrested, because the logging operations had been within 200m of the heritage protected Goolengook River. The logging had actually been illegal. The Liberal government almost immediately retrospectively changed the legislation so that operations could occur up to 100m from the river. The protests continued throughout the summer of 97-98 and the government then imposed regulations requiring a permit for anyone to go into a forest logging operation zone with a $2,000 penalty for breach. TV commercials even appeared for snack bars with actors chained to trees.
John told me that the previous month some protestors were almost killed during “a regen burn”. The department had told the protestors about the burn and the Greenies at their base camp told the officials that there were people in that area. The official ignored him and “the regen” went ahead. A helicopter dropped chemicals similar to napalm on the 160 hectares of coupes to create an explosively high temperature. One protestor was stuck the night there in amongst spot fires, he even saw the river in flames. GECO had tried to inform the press but there had been little interest. That week Kennet went ahead with the privatisation of the Victorian Forest Plantations.
February 1999 and it was another meeting with the DNRE, after months of trying to arrange to speak to DNRE scientists officially, going through Minister Marie Tehan’s office, then Michonne Van Rees. I had been told by Michonne it would be more appropriate not to speak to the DNRE scientists who had worked on the Goolengook Block Report or even the East Gippsland Rainforest Survey. Richard Lyons was a manager of zoology at the Howard Florey Institute. Ian Miles was a forest manager. I had come with Michelle McCann, who was working with me. I had thought the appointment was on Monday. I realised the oversight half an hour before we were to be there. Rushing across the city, we ended up on the 14th floor of the wrong building. 15 minutes late we were directed into the conference room.
Ian had a mop of a moustache and dominated the conversation. Richard remained quite occasionally interrupting with chirpy bursts. Documents lay spread in front of us. Closely held, on their side, were two copies of the Goolengook Block Report. I asked why if their scientists had said Goolengook was of National Significance was logging continuing. A map was taken out. The usual arguments were presented. All sites of biological significance were protected within Goolengook. A Special Management Zone would allow logging and still protect the Sooty Owl. A Special Protection Zone would ensure the unique rainforest overlap would remain undisturbed. Logging near the rainforest would not open it up to fire risk, as the dense regrowth that would spring up would keep it protected. Some small shaded areas of significance would be logged, but these were unimportant, as subsequent surveys had shown these values adequately represented elsewhere. The whole protest was a non sequitur.
Back at my flat I closely read the Block Report. I kept pacing over the words, “what is clear however, is that nationally significant rainforest values and considerable State and Regional fauna values occur in a large proportion of the sub-catchments within the Goolengook Forest Block and … protection… (is) a high priority.” Something did not seem to be right. I went over to the significant sites listed. As they had pointed out to me most sites were protected apart from two. I counted up the hectares protected. It was 3,300 hectares. The total area of significant sites came to 5,000 hectares. A third was to be logged. The two sites only partially protected were the largest and most important sites. In site two the Slender and Skirted Tree Fern, now protected by the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act as endangered species, were recorded as having the best developed population in East Gippsland in pristine undisturbed Wet Sclerophyll Forest. They were unknown to otherwise occur in warm temperate rainforest and this was considered to be of State significance. The report went on to say, “the high levels of significance and vulnerability attached to these phenomena, necessitate the protection of the group of three sub-catchments, rather than smaller fragmented sites which are much more vulnerable to disturbance.” Despite this Site Two has been earmarked for logging apart from the third in the Errundara National Park. Two out of three sub-catchments are to be logged with only a narrow 100m strip left around the creeks where the rainforest exists and where Slender Tree Ferns were located.
Site Four which is two thirds protected by the Special Protection Zone was rated by David Cameron, a DNRE scientist, as unique and of National Significance, because of a rare overlap of cool and warm temperate rainforest in “pristine undisturbed condition”. The entire site was considered necessary to protect its untouched integrity. Now logging will occur in the southern third right to the buffer’s edge of the Heritage protected Little Goolengook River and all along the western slope of the Goolengook River. This means that although the cool temperate rainforest is being protected, most of the warm temperate rainforest areas will have logging occur immediately around it. In effect the unique overlap will not be protected, because only one section of the overlap is in the SPZ.
The report went on to say at page 48 that warm temperate rainforests “have clearly underlined their national and international significance” and is “only a relict of its former distribution”. It went on to say “Pristine warm temperate rainforest, or sites which have suffered only a marginal amount of damage are therefore particular significant in East Gippsland. Inaccessibility due to steep topography of the Goolengook Forest Block is probably responsible for the intact and highly significant nature of most of the remaining patches of warm temperate rainforest in the study area.” Its closed canopy has enabled it to maintain an internal microclimate where dependent species flourish and excludes adventive sclerophyllus species. It is the most species rich of all sub-communities in the area, where complex interdependence relationships between various strata of species can occur because of its maturity. The report goes on to say on page 49, “Considering the linear shape of these examples of rainforest and the large proportion of their area made up of rainforest margin or ecotone… the importance in maintaining the species richness of these communities becomes particularly relevant.” Linear reserves have a high ratio of length to area and are therefore more exposed to external influences. This higher risk of damage in effect explains why the surrounding catchments should not be logged in sites two and four.
“On biological values alone, pristine tall eucalypt forests in Victoria are an increasingly rare and threatened resource whose values and extent have yet to be thoroughly catalogued by biologists… Wet Sclerophyll Forest is a particularly good example of a pristine wet forest in a relatively mature stage of development… [where] the overstorey eucalypts represent in themselves an unique and threatened genetic resource”.
Page 52 of the report states, “Overlap of cool and temperate rainforest is a particular rare phenomenon in Victoria”. The floristic and physiognomic characteristics intermediate between cool and warm temperate rainforest are particularly biologically significant in Goolengook, because of the mix of species which are normally regarded as cool. Microsorium diversifolium, Parsonia brownii, Pittosporum bicolor and Tasmania lanceolata are mixed with typically warm temperate species, Cissus hypoglauca and Microsorium scandens. Particularly emphasised was the rarity of undisturbed forest in East Gippsland, which Goolengook represents.
However the DNRE has included Freddy Creek within a special protection buffer, which was strangely ignored in the Block Report. The percentage of old growth forest to be logged in Goolengook when compared to the amount already protected in East Gippsland may be such an insignificant quantity as to make one ask why the fuss. But the issue to the Greenies is twofold, firstly this is the thin edge of the wedge on the 29,000 hectares of old growth to be logged and secondly, and possibly more importantly this particular type of warm wet old growth rainforest found in Goolengook is not represented adequately anywhere else in the National Reserve.
I persisted in asking for an interview with the scientists directly involved with Goolengook and Michonne finally agreed on condition I submitted a list of questions. This I did and after further months of delay and many phone calls I received a letter in May from Michonne briefly answering some of the questions and saying that “wider views” were necessary than could be given by those scientists and this should be sufficient. Ironically some of the scientific information seemed to confirm the inadequate protection being given to Goolengook in particular in relation to forest ecotone, regeneration and fire risk. As was typical with the government then, there was no indication as to who the scientist(s) was or were that had answered the questions.
The answers in writing seemed different to what I had heard at that earlier meeting. There was an admission that logging beside a protected area could have ‘edge effects’, however this was considered transitory and manageable. There was a direct admission that the linear nature of the forest ecotone made it more exposed and therefore needed greater protection. I noted that this was protection which particularly in site two the department did not seem to be giving. A further admission was made that it would take several hundred years for the rainforest to reach a state of equilibrium for species to fully exploit. They admitted that the Slender tree fern was endangered. The department refused to comment on whether logging could be restricted to immediately around Orbost and meet all industry needs. The bulk of my later questions were only glibly answered and in direct contradiction to the DNRE scientists I had spoken to. Some answers were simply ridiculous like denying that animals could not survive in a “regen burnt coupe”, saying that regenerating only with eucalypts simply accelerates a process that would occur naturally, and justifying the change of methodology from block reports to large scale modeling by saying there was no legislative requirement preventing this. There were no answers provided to my questions to the Minister (see appendix one).
Fed up, I decided to let the whole matter rest and at that time I had gone to live in an ashram, so secluded myself from the rest of the world. It was not till I returned to the world in September 1999 that I revisited the red tape and politics of Goolengook. Kennett had just called an election and was miles ahead in the popularity polls. I wanted to make this issue public before the election.
Three weeks before the 1999 State election I recontacted David Cameron who was still afraid to inform the media. He suggested I contact the scientists who had left the department. I was in a rush now to beat the election date.
David sent me alterations to my article that I had sent him months back. It did not arrive. He sent it through the DNRE mail.
He put me on to Steve Mueck, a former manager and botanist in the DNRE, now in Biosis Research. I phoned him on the 7th September at about 10 am. When the Goolengook report was being researched he was Manager of Forest Flora at Arthur Rilah in 1988. He took a package in 1994 on his insistence. He had not worked directly on Goolengook, but at the time it had been a “hot” issue. He told me that David was wrong about the surveys being required by legislation. It was a policy statement made by Labor in the 80s that where less than half the estimated saw log volume had been removed a survey would be required. He explained that it was more the result of the RFA process that required a minimum of 15% of “old growth pre 1750” to be conserved rather than state politics that had put an end to the Block Reports.
The millions David had talked about were only partially being used for the reports. It was Federal money and with it the Block reports were shifted from Arthur Rylah to Regional offices. In 1993-4 the Forest Management Plan with the RFA subsumed the Block Reports, which were for the later reports, left unpublished. He confirmed that the methodology was changed so that large scale modeling took preference. Much of the recommendations of the reports were then ignored or toned down. He was not sure if logging the 300,000 hectares of regrowth was viable as an alternative to logging ‘the old growth’, but felt this should at least be checked by an independent auditor. His Forest Flora Unit had been particularly concerned about the very long living tree ferns in the undergrowth, in which in some instances 95% would not regenerate after clear felling. He said the DNRE’s belief that burning off gave rise to better regrowth and prevented biomass accumulating for future bushfires was not true. Scientific studies had shown regrowth was not improved and the new growth was just as great fire risk. Furthermore the burning meant any chance of habitat or flora speicies survival was reduced to almost zero – “functionally eliminated”.
Randall Robinson was the next former DNRE scientist I spoke to. His contract as a botanist had not been renewed in 1993 after disputes over the doctoring of reports by his head, Roger Smith, altering the lists of recommended special sites. These centred around the definition of rainforest, which Randall felt was too narrow. He had ended up on the 7.30 report airing his disappointment. He had not worked on Goolengook, but had focused more on the Central Highlands where he believed there were even greater problems. He confirmed what David had told me.
I got hold of David again and still had not received his envelope, so we went through his changes over the phone. He was worried because he thought the phone may have been bugged. The changes he read through clarified and reduced his previous assertions or at least what I thought he had told me bringing his comments in line with Steve Mueck. He now said Goolengook was only of “demonstrable” National Significance, only a couple of million out of the $10 million had been spent on the block reports and there had been no public or industry consultation in the process, instead internal discussions within the DNRE with forest managers. He was worried about me using information on ‘Hybrid Australis’ and gave me Sandy Chambers number.
I finally spoke to Sandy on his car phone. He told me to get on the net and find out about Floragen. He said Toyota, Bunnings, Shell, Colonia and other multinationals were trying to gain carbon credits to reduce their net surplus. They were therefore going into timber plantations in a big way. He told me to get hold of Roger Holloway at Tree Bank Carbon Services. He thought clear felling was madness and selective logging to be far less damaging to the environment. He cited Germany’s monoculture disaster in the 19th century, where disease and low productivity forced them to change back to selective logging. Sandy told me ‘Australis’ was in delicate negotiations to start another experimental plantation and he would have to contact his partners before he could say more.
I tried to contact Ross Peacock in NSW forestry. After ringing all day I finally got hold of his wife at home. She made it clear he did not want to talk. The next day I finally got hold of him at work. He said he did not want to be interviewed. I asked him if he was afraid to speak because of the repercussions on his position. He refused to answer and said he had to go. I asked him if he thought Goolengook should be logged. He replied, “thankyou, goodbye.”
Two days before the election I rang Claire Miller at the Age, environmental reporter, she did not think I would have a chance of getting published by Saturday.
At 6.45 PM on Thursday I got hold of Bill Peel in Lakes Entrance. Another former DNRE botanist, he again had not been directly involved in Goolengook. He worked for a catchment authority and was guarded about speaking to the media. I asked him about forest practices. He said, “they are unsustainable ecologically, firstly because of changes to the overstorey, by favouring eucalypts in replanting and secondly, the rotation periods of logging are too short for hollows too develop in the trees. These are necessary for habitat survival.” He believed the rotation period needed tobe increased from 80 years to 250.
I asked him about DNRE pressure to reduce areas of ecological significance. “Many reports never saw the light of day,” was his reply. “The Block Reports were very intensive studies. The RFA process changed the focus from blocks to regions.” I asked him why the block reports were made of less importance. “It was providing information that was too difficult to deal with. Too much of significance was being found.” Were scientists over-exaggerating the sites? “No.”
The next day I emailed my story to Claire. The server rejected it the following day and I had a rethink about sending it. The election came that Saturday and parliament hung in the balance as the results showed a massive swing against the Liberals. Two independents, one in East Gippsland seemed to know hold the balance of power. Country Victoria had rejected the Government at the polls. The death the night before of the Liberal member in East Frankston, a marginal seat, would mean the outcome of the election would be postponed until this seat was voted for in October. I sent copies to David and my mother to review.
VII. ELECTIONS, THE ABC and THE EZINE
On 22nd of September I got hold of Ian Lunt, a senior lecturer in Vegetation Management at Charles Sturt University. He had been a botanist on the Goolengook Report doing field work and back up editing. He had left the DNRE four years ago to do a PHD and said “there was not a sense of well-being there”. He had not written any sections of the report. I asked him why entire sub-catchments were recommended as protecting and whether this may have been an exaggeration in order to prevent forestry’s attempts to open up areas for logging. He agreed that ‘the foresters’ in the DNRE did have that disposition, but replied that Goolengook, “had a whole list of attributes that made it worth saving. It was unusual in having so many outstanding values in one place, therefore it was decided taking into account the big picture that certain of the sub-catchments should not be logged. It is an amazing forest.” He did not seem to think that the linear nature of the forest ecotone was crucial, but the combination of rare flora and fauna, such as the Long Footed Pootoroo, and the undisturbed nature of the area as a whole meant its entirety needed protection. He went on to say that, ecologically there was no need to log ‘old growth’ anywhere in East Gippsland, but the RFA process which replaced the Block Reports, committed Victoria to more license agreements to log than there were available and sustainable timber resources.
At 12.10 PM I tried to get hold of Catherine Handerside in the Department of Zoology in Melbourne University, who Graham Gillespie had just told me might know where Bert Lobart was. According to Ian Lunt he had tied together most of the Report and was now living in Central Victoria. She was not there. Bert Lobart appeared to be the missing link. For the next two weeks I tried to get hold of her and she was on holidays or down at Philip Island Penguin Reserve. In the meantime I chased up Sherryl Garbutt as the East Frankston election loomed and Kennet desperately tried to woo the independents and offered payments to Frankston’s hospital.
Sherryl Garbutt, the Shadow Minister for the Environment sounded firm, good natured and down to earth, but unaware of the details of Goolengook. She stressed the secrecy of the Liberal government. I asked her about whether the Labor party would allow the logging of sites of significance and she replied that she was committed to the RFA process, but that Labor would investigate Goolengook as well as other areas and review the scientific evidence collected in an open forum. She later emailed me these responses saying, “much of what has been going on in our forests has been kept secret by this Government, despite constant criticism of its management, policies and figures. If we become the government we look forward to lifting the veil of secrecy which the Kennett Government have used to hide their operations.”
She said that she does not support Regional Forest Agreements which do not include participation of all the relevant parties, and which are not open and accountable. She did not support RFA’s that do not “properly resolve competing uses in the forest based on the best available scientific evidence. Nor does Labor support RFA’s which do not properly take into account social, economic, environmental and indigenous heritage issues.” On Goolengook she said, “Until we become Government and have further information we cannot make further decisions on specific issues. We have put forward a range of policies which we will implement.” I was at a loss to pin point exactly what Labor intended for Victoria’s forests and its use of scientific evidence, so I emailed her my article to the Age for further comment. She responded, “Could I just add that I am concerned about logging in Goolengook, which is a precious area that should be given adequate environmental protection, and that I will be looking at this issue closely in the context of the RFA which covers the region.”
My next step was Marie Tehan’s office to see which way she would swing given the election results. I emailed my article to Jackie Dettman and this eventually got to the Premier’s press secretary. John Richards rang me and I convinced him that it may be worth the now caretaker Minister’s time to speak to me. He never got back to me.
The next time I returned to the file was Saturday the 9th of October, a week before the East Frankston election. I tidied up both articles and scanned in the Block map, colourising the sites to be logged. Part of my alterations to the wording finishing the article got deleted. It was not till Wednesday that I got back to the article and the next day I emailed it to Claire Miller at the Age. I finally got a message from her a week after the election saying she had not had time to read it. East Frankston was now a Labor seat and the Independents had agreed to form government with Bracks’ Labor party. Sheryl Garbutt was now minister for the Environment.
I was persisting with a rawfoods diet and had gone up to Hepburn Springs to the Continental Guesthouse, when I came back it was November 2 and the Republican Referendum was almost upon us. I finally received David Cameron’s original package in the mail, that had been forwarded from where I was staying then sent to the ashram I had been living in and finally had been forwarded to my mother's house.
On the 4th November in the evening I made contact with the Goolengook Block team leader Bert Lobert. He had been a DNRE zoologist and was currently with Benalla TAFE. He confirmed what I had been told by the other scientists and said Goolengook was of “outstanding quality.. the whole block should be reserved”. The Special Management Zone for the Sooty Owls he thought to be putting the birds at risk. To be ecologically sound studies of habitat effects in logged areas would have to be made and he was not aware of any such research completed in Australia.
In December I finally heard from Claire Miller. I had forwarded her this article as well so she could get the complete picture telling her not to publish it because of David’s name. She then contacted Cameron and told him I had wanted to publish an article using his name. I told her to ring him and tell him the full story. She said she would. I suggested that we do a joint piece on Goolengook, but she declined implying it was not newsworthy as there was a new government in power and they would have a new perspective on the environment. I asked her to forward it onto the Good Weekend Magazine, but she responded by saying they would just come back to her. Nevertheless, late that December, I did forward the article to them, which they also rejected. I was in Sydney then trying to get my magazine investment from the likes of Quinton Jones of Gresham through AVCAL. Fed up I headed up to Cairns to do my rawfood thing, where on the hour of New Years Eve 2000 I met Michael McNamara, Environmental Defender Office solicitor, and old law school collegue at the Reef Casino. He was waitering to make extra money.
I emailed Sheryl to try and arrange the interview with David. There was not much of a response. However when I returned to Melbourne in mid-January I contacted the Ministry as well as sending them another request. By February I was down south and starting to study physics at A.N.U. in Canberra. I received a letter from Sheryl agreeing to the interview, but requiring another set of questions. I emailed the old lot back to them and said I would try and arrange TV coverage, but that things may be delayed due to my location. They probably thought I was working for the press up here. In the meantime I emailed the shortened article to Wild Magazine, who rejected it without reason.
At the end of March I withdrew from my course, went to a Satyananda Yoga Retreat and in mid April endeavoured to get the magazine resurrected sending the business plan to an old school friend Ross Macindoe at Invest Australia. Before I left I contacted the ACT Greens and Groundswell to involve them in resolving the Goolengook mess. Things had hotted up with 30 timber men in Orbost taking the law into their own hands and beating up protestors and rolling two of their cars near Goolengook in February. People were being charged under the Riot Act. Sheryl was beginning to implement Labor policy and reduce logging commitments.
At Groundswell I met one of the co-ordinators and she considered helping get TV coverage, possibly involvement of a documentary crew who were doing something on Goolengook. She gave me one of the organisers mobile number and I gave her the article. He thought I was a crank caller and was quite gruff, said he would get back to me. On about the 19th April I left several messages and a fax for them. They did not reply. On Thursday I rang 7.30 Report at the ABC and talked to Murray, a producer. She asked me if I expected to get paid and told me that they had little money and would have to do their own research as they could not rely on an outsider’s work. She wanted to know my credentials and I lied that I had written for the Age. She told me to send my stuff to them and insisted that if they used it they would pay me. I thought about ringing the commercial channels and debated in my mind the merits and faults of commercials and integrity. I was not impressed with the fact that she had managed to make me lie, as honesty I was now seeing was essential to not just finding the truth, but being able to live with oneself. However so many doors had been closed in my face on pretext of lack of qualification in my few years attempting to make public a few social issues I valued, in my vain attempts to be a freelance journalist, I make this weak excuse for that lie. On the 23rd I collected up all the material in the overflowing file, sorted it out and got ready to send it to the 7.30 Report. I was now attending the Church of Latter Day Saints and was beginning to organise a web page for the magazine so as to put it on the Internet. Strangely enough the file I dropped off at the ACT ABC office was sent to ABC drama in Melbourne as I had used an old envelope from a film I had sent them, and was then sent on to my mother. Finally it was returned to Canberra and I dropped it back at the ABC where a very small fellow in a wheel chair received it and said he would send it up with the courier to the 7.30 Report.
In May I left Canberra and headed up the East Coast to Lismore. I had just quit a NEIS business course to get the magazine going on the Internet. In Lismore I contacted a number of Internet companies, one which was orientated to the green movement. I then went to Cairns and sourced more companies. Had some discussions about getting a tourist magazine going up there, then went to Brisbane where I recontacted the 7.30 Report to hear mixed stories that it was with a researcher called Nicole Boundy. I finally contacted her to discover she had received nothing and so I faxed her an old copy of the story. I went to Sydney to contact the big publishing agencies about the magazine and got an interview with James Parker of Murdoch Magazines.
I was scoured by grass ticks at Manly Point just prior to my meeting with Mr Parker. He took a good look at the business plan, contacted me a few days later wishing me well. I returned to Canberra, then left again for Lismore and had a shortened version of this placed in the Big Scrub Newsletter. In Brisbane I attempted to get the Magazine up on the Internet, a mock edition was produced. The ABC were not interested and could not locate the file I had sent them. I faxed Sixty Minutes and then A Current Affair, both shows declined. I left for Cairns again and tried to link up with Cairns Connect and met a young environmental journalist working at the radio station in Port Douglas. I fell out with the Internet Company in Brisbane and returned to Canberra.
I was busy trying to get the magazine, now an Ezine, going. I completed a NEIS course, but the business plan got rejected. The government loan I was applying for was frozen. After hassling the 7.30 Report for months to return the file and as I wrote a letter threatening them with legal action, I saw my father's address on the copy letter I had sent them. They had returned it to him and he had not informed me. I sent an email to the DNRE trying to co-ordinate a telephone interview at last with David Cameron, but there was no response. I started doing some work experience in the Canberra Times, then just after Xmas 2000 began the web design of the ezine from scratch with a Tamil, called Kuhananthan Krishnamoorthy.
PART 3. CONCLUSION – OUR YOUTH, OUR FUTURE
VIII. The environmental balance
Mr Frazer of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries said up to 40% of local employment comes from logging. However in notes prepared by the DNRE it stated the local timber industry only employed 500 people out of a population of 10,000, or 5%. Tourism employed over 2,000 and this figure did not include any other local jobs. The local logging industry turns over $50 million and provides 14% of Victoria’s sawn logs, however it is questionable how much of that money goes back into the local economy.
If people's right to livelihood is at stake then this should be protected, unless it is contrary to the will of the majority, for in a democracy this overriding principle must prevail. There are over 4 million people in Victoria and most like to enjoy nature. If some jobs have to go for the sake of a heritage that belongs to four million then perhaps this is a sacrifice that has to be made; fair and adequate compensation being given to those directly affected through loss of livelihood.
The question also has to be asked why the Greenies were left there for six months while nothing to stop or discourage them was done by the authorities. There is a legal term called "usage" where if you fail to act you may be held to have consented to the actions of another. In contract law it implies terms where there was no express agreement, but the parties knew and allowed those conditions to persist. In law this becomes a term of the contract. Allowing protestors to stay at Goolengook for six months would seem to imply agreement to their actions.
Australia has a significant social problem with its youth with one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. Can the government really morally afford to create situations where by inaction it allows something to occur, then expect there to be no consequences. When young people's hearts are affected one must tread very carefully, for the younger generation have a habit of knowing exactly what is the right thing to do, even if their method of expressing this can be extreme. There exists another implied agreement with our youth and that is to make sure that our precious wilderness is protected for them and this they are absolutely aware of. Perhaps this is the more important question than the answers of statistics and economic rationalism of bureaucrats’ reports and politicians.
I still remember a rough night in a swag on the sloping road beside my car in front of the blockade. The stars lit up the sky like exploding apples. Later thick mist and gentle rain pattered down on my canvas. And the trees forever leaning, shading over, beckoning. Dreams of the drive through those rough trails of Errinundra where "Gorillas in the Mist" filmed in Rwanda, and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and its Misty Mountains haunted me. Something of the fairy tale, the mystical past of nature was rekindled by the forest undisturbed since its creation millions of years ago. And now we have the awareness to know that it has been placed into our hands and we have the choice to exploit it or to protect it. This puts us in a very human dilemma. We have to assess our impact on nature. To decide the extent to which we use it for our needs, our creative pursuits and how much we protect as a miracle of creation to be enjoyed and preserved for future generations, for the sake of biodiversity on this planet. In Europe the original native forests are all but extinct. South America, Asia and Africa are fast eradicating their forests. These are the issues about logging 'old growth forest' that we need to make ourselves aware.
Shaking hands and saying goodbye to the four remaining protestors and I remember thinking what a strange world that perhaps the fate of our native forest should rest in this small motley band of pot smoking protesters and a eucalyptus barricade. When I first drafted this article I wrote "I'm glad to know there is a barricade hidden away somewhere in the mountain country surrounding East Gippsland's Errinundra plateau that says, "You can't eat money". " In early June 1997 four days after I left the barricade, after more than six months of its existence, the police were called in to remove it, protestors flooded in from all over Australia including Senator Bob Brown. Many were arrested including the Senator. The barricade is no more.
Over a year later the Greenies are still protesting. After investigating their cause I have changed my mind several times. I believed the DNRE to be telling the truth, but I discovered distorting the facts to achieve their ends seems to be an ethically justified means on the part of the DNRE. Their goal appears to be to continue logging of “old growth” native forest in Australia regardless of the environmental consequences, not because superficially it appears to provide them a small profit, not because some very large timber companies benefit, but because of an internal conflict in the DNRE. Forest managers and biologists can not agree as to a standard of ecological protection for the native forest. As the forest managers hold the balance of power in the DNRE consequently the scientists’ advice has been diminished to a point where the ecological balance in forest management is being compromised and as a result there are serious morale problems in this scientific section of the DNRE. Through these confused lies the public has to work out the truth. Perhaps if the DNRE better informed themselves through their own scientists and told the truth they would actually serve themselves better and could be taken more seriously, and more importantly deliver an efficient profitable and ecologically sustainable environment policy to Victorians.
When one of those huge trees hundreds of years old sits on the back of a semi-trailer like a small ancient tower, a Treant from Lord of the Rings, being taken to a mill there seems to be a kind of sadness coming from such a quick waste of something that has taken so long to grow. In East Gippsland we can say that these ancient trees are being lost at a rate of 3,000 to 4,000 hectares a year. That at this rate 12% will be gone by the year 2037. We all know that %s often remain as a diminishing constant until very little of the original amount remains. The greater crime is that not one of these trees need be logged. It seems to almost all of the DNRE scientists I spoke to that not only could Goolengook be saved, but also all “old growth” logging could cease now and forever in Victoria. The local timber industry could remain just as profitable. And we would be protecting our heritage, which the DNRE’s own scientists insist is of National Significance.
When all ‘old growth’ logging has ceased and only then can we say we are fortunate in Victoria that only several hours drive from Melbourne is a forest worth not only saving and exploring, but that has been "saved" due to the sound environmental policies of the DNRE and the current government. And only then can we thank ourselves that Victorian and Australian Government Forest Policy made the right decisions for us. In fact through ‘Hybrid Australis’ perhaps the whole ecological balance of the world could be changed for the better.
approx. 8500 words
copyright Travers-Murison - bwaeg., for single use
It is the third world countries, particularly Indonesia who are wholesale destroying their rainforest to such an extent a hazy dangerous smog lay over south-east Asia in 1997, who must be persuaded to adopt environmental protection laws similar to our own near achievements of ecological balance. But until we can prove to them that we are absolutely doing everything we can to protect our own heritage we may have trouble persuading them to adopt our laws.