- Standing Strong
- Edited by Sharon Moore, Karen Brown and Tyler Jordan,
- Self Published
- Into the Woods
- By Anna Krien
- Black Inc
Tasmania is at a crossroads. After many years of impassioned conflict
over the islands forests, conservationists and timber industry insiders have agreed
to lay down the hatchet, and possibly even bury it for good. Just as a bushfire leaves its
mark in the growth ring of a tree, from now on conversations about the identity, economy,
social and natural ecology of Tasmania will mark time by these efforts to resolve the
issue of how to use, protect or restore forests.
Standing Strong, edited by
Sharon Moore, Karen Brown and Tyler Jordan and Into
the Woods by Anna Krien, published in the second half of 2010, have just snuck in on
the closing days of the recent history of the forest conflict, and for that reason are
very important books. Both spotlight activists, their methods, their motives and how the
public and establishment receive them.
Standing Strong is a
collection of transcripts arising from a series of activists stories events held in
Hobart between 2006 and 2007. On these nights, stories were told by people who have given
their time to causes, (chiefly conservation with a few exceptions), and from those, ten
accounts were published. By working with transcripts this book borders on an oral history,
so some editing may have been justified for the sake of making reading easier. However,
this would have risked tampering with the authenticity of the voices one of the
strengths of the publication.
Spanning several generations, such as Jack Lomax (in his
eighties) and Neil Smith, through to then sixteen-year-old Hannah Aulby, the book is a
valuable collection, not least for offering a little insight into how Tasmania is home to
people with a profound wealth of life experiences amongst them. From Lomaxs chilling
anecdote of being arrested in Francos Spain, to Peter Jones explanation of the
evolution of the globally-recognised peace symbol at the Aldermaston peace march in 1958
and his description of hiding in a toilet in Ramalla while Israel bombed the West Bank
during the Six Day War in 1967, some accounts read like a travelogue of political
hotspots. This is neatly balanced by tales of regular people compelled to do extraordinary
things in response to social or environmental injustice.
Most of the raconteurs have fallen foul of the law and a
consistent theme throughout these stories is the individuals rollercoaster ride
between feelings of determination and a sense of righteousness at doing something that
seemed just, and the absolute fear of stepping outside of their own social and legal
The discomforting subplot of Standing Strong is the impact of incarceration
on those whose actions led them over the line of the law, landing them in the prison for
varying degrees of time. Descriptions of institutionalised dehumanisation were consistent
amongst those imprisoned. This effect was not peculiar to Tasmania, with a similar feeling
experienced by Stuart Lennox in the US prison system when arrested in California
protesting with Greenpeace against the Bush governments Star Wars programme. Yet
both Karen Weldrick and Christine Milne extol, if not the virtues, then the camaraderie of
the Risdon Womens prison, which is in clear contrast to the experiences of
Rodney Croome, Bob Brown, Jack Lomax in the mens quarters.
Standing Strong is
dominated by the stories of environmental activists, which is to be expected given the
story nights were organised by and for environmental activists. The inclusion of Rodney Croome and his involvement
in the campaign for gay rights in Tasmania makes for a welcome variety in subject matter,
even though Croome makes the point that the gay rights campaign was largely the product of
skills learnt from environmental campaigns of the 1980s.
Lindsay Tuffin, despite not comfortably wearing the tag of activist, is also
a worthy inclusion given his role in inviting Tasmanians to engage as citizen
journalists and commentators through the Tasmanian
Times website. The absence of any stories
by Aboriginal activists is disappointing a lost opportunity to celebrate Aboriginal
resistance and renewal in Tasmania.
Into the Woods, by
Melbourne journalist Anna Krien, is also a journey into one of the most vexing issues in
Tasmania, and into the personalities that frequently feature. Krien admits her inclination to support the cause
of forest conservation through friendships, philosophy and her research around the
issue so the book does not pretend to be impartial. She is openly skeptical of
information and perspectives of familiar figures such as Barry Chipman (Tasmanian state
coordinator of Timber Communities Tasmania) and Bob Gordon (Managing Director of Forestry
Tasmania). Kriens relative distance from the subject (simply by not living here
makes her slightly less immersed) has allowed more freedom to converse with loggers in
pubs, and consequently offers more empathy for people who usual only sit on the other side
of the great philosophical divide. As an outsiders view, Krien makes
some attempt at even-handedness in expressing the thoughts of people on the industry side,
such as their feelings of betrayal by the media and greenies, making for a far more
substantial telling of this story.
For those of us who have lived the Tasmanian forest conflict
either through involvement, or simply by watching it play out on the pages of the
newspapers every day, Kriens book does not offer great revelations or startling new
information, (although I had never heard the story of Peter Cundall receiving a beseeching
call from Jim Bacon close to the end of his life). By studying the last ten years of the
forest conflict, Krien has tried to digest figures, processes, to-and-fro arguments by
activists and industry people, and make them into a readable narrative that will go a long
way to inform interstate Australians about just what the hell is going on in
Tasmanias forests. It is, however, important that Into the Woods be recognised as subjective
commentary, rather than incontrovertible fact, if indeed such a thing can ever exist in
relation to an issue that has been so fiercely contested.
The conservationists case is now well represented in
print in Helen Gees chronicle of conflict For the Forests, through to more recent releases by
Geoff Law, Greg Buckman and the photography/poetry collaboration of Matthew Newton and
Pete Hay. The greenies definitely have the edge in the telling of their story,
simply by counting among their own some of Tasmanias premier writers and intellects,
such as Richard Flanagan, scientist Peter McQuillan and film-maker Scott Millwood.
But what the conservation community might enjoy in talent and
intellectual cache, they lack in resources. The industry can enjoy access to information
that is withheld from others through commercial-in-confidence embargos, access to a large
constituency via a powerful union that disseminates information to its members, and a
healthy advertising budget (in some cases tax-payer funded) that can place ads in
prime-time commercial television and print advertisements that run outside of the election
season, which is when green groups commit scarce coin to advertising.
Anna Krien shows that there is a story that is largely untold
in Tasmania; the story of the small saw-miller and timber operator. Some of her interview
subjects left school early to work in the industry and their stories are largely lost in
the deluge of press releases and commentary emanating from big companies and industry
umbrella groups. Just as smaller industry
players have been swallowed financially, so, too are their stories fading from view.
Green groups come across as cyber-savvy at home with
social networking tools and sites that act as storehouses of stories and opinions.
However, it is not easy to find a representative match from individuals and small groups
in the small-scale industry sector, apart from comments on The Mercury online or Tasmanian Times.
A brief search of the State Library of Tasmanias Online Catalogue offers a list of
nearly 200 government-run information sites, industry URLS and anti-forestry and
pro-conservation websites and blogs, hosted either by established environment
organisations such as the Wilderness Society or community groups. The online presence of
the non-organised industry is sparse, limited to the likes of Chips Chum and the didactic Forests Now Tasmania blog, or Mark Poynter, a
forestry communications professional, writing for Online
Opinion. The blog People of Forestry Tasmania features
thoughts and opinions from those working within Forestry Tasmania; a quasi-government
department. When researchers, writers and analysts come to study the story of
Tasmanias protracted forest dispute, it will be the press releases of industry
professionals that dominate the timber industrys perspective.
It is for this reason that Kriens forays into the Maydena
pub are so valuable, even if she does go in with a pre-held opinion. She offers a scrutiny
of people beyond the few column inches and stereotypes that newspapers peddle; from
out-of-control loggers viciously assaulting activists, to dirty ratbags messing with some
poor blokes working day.
2009 was the International Year of Astronomy. 2010, the Year of
Biodiversity, has unofficially become the year of co-operation, with new inter-party
love-ins happening in Tasmania, at a federal government level, and in England and Sweden,
just to name a few. In the late 1990s there was graffiti on a Barrack Street wall, daubed
there by the late Joe Harries: There is no justice, there is just us. With complex negotiations beginning and a genuine
hope for reinvention of the relationship between conservation and the timber industry, in
Tasmanias future there may not be quite so much need for us and them. Just