Urban Salvage

The Drum


      SEPTEMBER 2010

  • Into The Woods: The Battle For Tasmania's Forests
  • What's New?

Into The Woods: The Battle For Tasmania's Forests

AUTHOR: Anna Krien
Published by Black Inc 27/08/10
ISBN-13: 9781863954877

Anna Krien's review of Tasmania's forest wars avoids big city pomposity and intellectual hauteur. For a St Kilda girl, Krien comes across as agreeably bogan. She appears to drift with immunity from her encounters with key players, forest ferals and spluttering polemicists to pubs populated with defensive, testy fluoro-jacketed drinkers. Even the truly undeserving get a break - but not much chance at redemption. If they present badly, it wasn't for the want of an opportunity to speak and to convince us.

Readers will welcome this public bar, sleeping bag and kitchen table approach to a polarised debate. Whoops - I almost said 'grassroots'. The very type of slogan, media-speak or jargon that adds to the fog of contention. Krien artlessly avoids it. Her concern for individuals over issues sustains the central themes of 'Into the Woods' - social divisions within small communities, the ability to participate in the democratic process, ferment, apprehension, coercion and the impact of violence. 

Fear and its old mate anger are abroad in small Tasmanian towns and both are profoundly inarticulate. There's a bit of woman-hate happening too. Krien has no time for it and good for her. In Maydena, the publican and his weak-as-piss logger houseguests ride roughshod over a good woman's feelings. I'm glad she found space to document this. It's important. It's the silent foreboding and the subtleties in human rituals that Krien is best skilled to portray.

I'll betray these men and the ratbags too, not because I'm choosing sides but because loyalties run too deep here. No one will give an inch, let alone stand up for a woman with two kids and a smile for everyone. (p93)

Corrupt governments are nothing new and the sinister face of big business monopolies is a recognisable face. The obvious tragedy - the logging of pristine old-growth forests in the Styx, the Weld and the Florentine valleys is less comprehensible. In this age, most Australians would not support such clearfelling. It seems incredible that any government would allow it. The battle for the Franklin River has already been won and the people have spoken. The broader timber community beyond Big Business is probably content to leave slow-growing cool-climate forests largely in place. High valley Mountain Ash is a defining part of Tasmanian landscape - but not a highly-prized appearance-grade species as timber. Other species such as Sassafras and Myrtle are highly-prized as specialty timbers, but not mainstream products on merchant shelves. It hurts to think they were chipped.


On some of this essential detail Krien is a bit weak. She relies heavily on Wilderness Society briefs and on ANU's Judith Adjani. There are echoes of Adjani in the claim that hardwood is losing the structural battle to softwood plantation product. But there is no battle. The shift to appearance-grade products away from structural products was made in the early 1990s when RFAs determined log supply would be both progressively diminished and dependent upon investment in kilns and drymill technology. Does anyone cut green hardwood scantling nowadays? In housing it's all plantation softwood framing and native hardwood floors. Adjani refers constantly to the 'displacement of native forest resource by plantations' - never specifying that this is for the paper industry and has no relevance to the timber industry.

Mainland media feed voraciously from this trough of nonsense - forever seeking simple truths and highly newsworthy ingredients. In recognition of news values so prized by media, the defenders of Tasmania's woodchip logging offer a grotesque parody of rural quietude. Called Timber Communities of Australia, they seem in lockstep with Gunns. True battlers? Mercenaries? Or a burlesque of rural solidarity? Activists wearing tuckshop lady lippie, dropping the kids off at crèche, and packing apples to pay for hubby's Kubota tree harvester. The media surely get the photo opportunities they deserve.

Fairfax environment guru Paddy Manning writes that 'Australia now has no more need for native forest logging. We have two million hectares of forest plantation - sufficient to meet domestic needs for sawn timber'. Wrong. One hectare of Paddy's plantation nirvana would not supply enough suitable timber for a small coffee table. It's pulplog. Not sawlog. That misunderstanding got Tasmania into this mess in the first place. E. nitens and E. globulous are pulplog species. Gunns are a pulplog company. They operate behind a sawmill in the same way SP betting shops operate behind a laundry on the High Street.

In Tasmania everything seems different. Time has stood still. Sawmilling volumes died before 2001 but no one went to the funeral. Woodchip took over - and where woodchip went, pulplog plantations followed. A financier will tell you that if any investment scheme has a return on investment beyond 10 years, it will either fail - or fail to return a dividend. For a risky investment like pulplog, 12 to 15 year rotations are a tad long. For 50-80 year rotation sawlog - no chance! The media have access to this type of information, but failed to differentiate these two forestry models or offer genuine scrutiny of investment schemes until after the collapse of Timbercorp, Great Southern, Willmot Forests and FEA.

Had the clearfelled forest been left for regrowth, indigenous seed and lignotuber could have provided a natural forest in coming years. Trees would have regenerated in characteristic and idiomatic patterns that favoured each species by soil type, terrain and aspect. By seeding with a monoculture and suppressing regrowth, this outcome is lost forever. In the age when other states were moving towards sustainable forestry, Tasmania lost a swathe of its old-growth forests behind the fog of a flawed national policy initiative. Not, Krien would say, due to incompetence. Put it down to mendacity, to a craven greed, to a culture of corruption and a climate of fear, to desperation as well.

There have been successful activist models for saving high conservation value forests. One instance is more than a decade old. The Otways Ranges Environmental Network (OREN) brokered a deal with both community and state government to cease clearfelling in the Otways and phase out all logging by 2008. There was plenty of argie-bargie over the years, but OREN's core approach was both scientific and surgical. Woodchippers, sawmills and the logging interest were clearly defined, the economics were held up to scrutiny and the community interest was argued in terms of - forgive me my jargon this once - non-forestry values. Newsworthy images like napalm were not mentioned, I don't think - but we still have to gaze dismally over Adjani's beloved pine plantations covering the high ridges on the road to Apollo Bay. Just because it predates 1994, doesn't make it less of a lost opportunity. If it were a native hardwood regrowth forest, it would have its own winsome asymmetry even without old-growth trees.

Read Anna Krien's book - if only to lose the anxiety of not knowing what to believe of what you read in the newspapers. If you find your way to the online website of the Tasmanian Times, it will be worth the journey.

What's New?

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