Over the Australia Day weekend we organised a trip down to East Gippsland, Victoria to visit the 9000 Ha Old Growth rainforest block known as 'Goolengook', about 50 ks west of Cann River. The forest, just below the Errinundra National Park has been identified by conservationist groups and scientists as one of most diverse and important temperate forest regions on earth. East Gippsland contains the largest continuous areas of old growth and undisturbed forest in Victoria. David Bellamy, internationally respected botanist, said that East Gippsland supports "perhaps the most diverse range of temperate forest ecosystems on earth". Over 300 rare and threatened plant and animal species are found within the region's one million hectares of forest. Goolengook forest was first logged on June the 4th 1997 despite Government scientific recommendations, a six month blockade, many city rallies and thousands calling on the government to add Goolengook into the Errinundra National Park.
We camped at Fort Goolengook, a fort built on the forest access road also known as the Goolengook Blockade where over the past 5 years thousands of people have passed through, donating time, equipment and energy to an ongoing campaign to stop the logging of Old Growth forest in Victoria. The Australia Day weekend was the 5 year anniversary of the blockade.
Not only does the blockade community show courage and determination, they were also very warm, friendly and very appreciative of our visit. The news of people coming down from different parts of the country always lifts spirits within the camp.The purpose of our trip was an educational/motivational exercise for ourselves and also to support the blockade. We provided an extra food marquee where we made wholewheat pancakes from Riverina wheat, and some meals + the shelter and meeting space of the marquee during the day. Days were spent at meetings, updates on the campaign, writing letters to politicians, skillsharing workshops on things such as climbing, abseiling, blockade strategy, diffusing confrontational situations, media strategy. There were also workshops formed from camp meetings which had the task of reporting back to main meetings with recommendations. There were speakers and representatives from the independent media, the ACF and The Wilderness Society.
The blockade is designed to bring to the attention of the Australian public that their own governments are selling of our Old Growth Forests for as little as 10 cents a ton, ignoring their own environmental guidelines by changing the definitions of 'what is rainforest' to suit the logging, leaving between 0 & 40 metres of buffer zone on creeks instead of 300 metres, and ignoring independent scientific advice by clearfelling & fragmenting endangered species habitat. 80% of the timber that is removed from these forests ends up at the Eden Chipmill, a 100% Japanese owned export facility. In these old growth areas, where much of the timber is not suited to high quality sawlogs, high volume export woodchipping is propping up the local sawmill industry. Even dense high quality sawlogs are being downgraded and woodchipped, because value adding is not so straight forward and simple as it sounds and the policy of clearfelling encourages waste. Processed timber has higher labour costs, requires drying & storage and most importantly marketing, which is easier said than done in a fluctuating housing market in competition with plantation pine. Woodchips on the other hand are a high volume bulk commodity which is easier to market and has lower labour & storage costs.
Instead of putting resources into restructuring the industry so that it is economically & ecologically sustainable the Victorian government is subsidising the foreign owned export woodchip industry to the tune of $50 million a year while jobs in the local sawn timber industry continue to decline. To make matters worse the DNRE (Department of Natural Resources & Environment) announced last week that they are cutting back timber quotas across Victoria as stated in the RFA by one third. Many local sawmillers and contractors who had borrowed money and invested thousands of $ in plant and equipment in good faith of the Regional Forest Agreement, now face the possibility of bankruptcy. There will certainly be hundreds of job losses in the industry as a result of the quota cutbacks. To add insult to injury, the DNRE and police have attempted to pit the 'greenies' against the sawmillers by this week storming the Goolengook Blockade. The cutbacks have nothing to do with the forest blockade or even pressure from environmentalists. They are a result of the Departments own incompetancy in wood volume estimation. The blockade bust was well timed to avert attention away from themselves and the export woodchipping industry and to let the old 'greeny' versus 'small timber-town logger' contest take all the heat and media attention.
About 50 police officers and DNRE staff entered the blockade at 5 am on Tuesday, March 5 and arrested 2 blockaders while dismantling the camp. There have also been outrageous stories spread around this week through the media which are obviously a tactic to discredit the blockaders who are basically good, honest, articulated and intelligent people. They have the courage most of us wish we had, but often lack when it comes to directly standing up for what is right. There were signs everywhere around the blockade about 'Taking out what you bring in' , reminders of bans on things like chemical insect repellants, and sunscreens when swimming in creek. I did not see a single rubbish item and wastewater was disposed of in a special pit, well away from drainage lines. The non-violence action ethic is constantly is constantly reminded and reinforced at group meetings. Given that the camp is totally open to anyone in the world who wants to walk in (which they do), and there are no leaders or council or police, the fight is such an uphill battle and can be very demoralising, environmental standards are upheld extremely well.
In a strange kind of way we are privileged to have a landscape that so obviously needs so much repair & rehabilitation. We are lucky, unlike the East Gippsland blockaders, that our steps to repair or stop the damage are not actively discouraged with arrests & violence by governments and big industry. We are lucky to have reasonably cooperative local government when it comes to preserving bush on crown land or stock routes, and many of the decisions to preserve, enhance or protect are entirely our own when it comes to private property. In much of our region where up to 98% of the land has been cleared, old trees are dying back and soil has been acidified by decades of agricultural production, no-one will argue with you that Landcare and planting trees is a bad thing. No government will stop you planting trees or fencing remnants on your properties. We understand the value of biodiversity because so much of it is GONE.
Please spare a thought today for anti-woodchipping protesters in East Gippsland who are fighting a political bureaucracy which seems determined to make exactly the same kinds of mistakes with regards to land management policy & decision making as were made by successive governments in our part of the world. We in the Riverina can offer a voice from experience, not only do we understand the impacts of vegetation mismanagement we are also leading the way in offering viable ALTERNATIVES to using wood pulp for high quality paper manufacture. The Rice Growers Association and Deniliquin Shire are currently developing proposals for a pulp mill which uses rice & wheat straw as raw material. The proposal involves new technologies which have low environmental impact, use materials that are otherwise burnt in the field, and should be promoted as alternative to export woodchipping.
There are environmental issues which have national & international importance whereby all people interested in a sustainable future need to unite with one voice. The management or mismanagement of Australia's Old Growth Forests is one of these issues.
Write letters to:
Office of the Premier
1 Treasury Place
Ph (613) 9651 5000
Fax (613) 9651 5054