ANNA KRIEN, AMANDA LOHREY IN CONVERSATION
Hobart 17th Sept 2010
Melbourne author Anna Krien’s book Into the Woods, dealing with
the Tasmanian forest industry, was published in 2010. Krien visited
Hobart in September 2010 to promote the book, speaking with Amanda
Lohrey at a public event hosted by Fullers Bookshop in Hobart.
Amanda portrayed Anna as the new phenomenon in Australian writing. ‘I described her at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival as the reincarnation of Hunter S. Thompson. – in female form –’ said Amanda, ‘and she very quickly said “But without all the substance abuse”’. Lohrey suggested Krien had suddenly come out of left-field to almost reinvent Gonzo journalism in Australia, the first attribute of which is fearlessness. ‘There are moments in this book where you will literally hold your breath, for example where she fronts up in the hotel in Maydena in a public bar full of loggers and asks them if they’d like to talk about Tasmania’s forest industry. And all I could think was, oh my God. I’m glad I’m not her mother!’
Krien’s response was that she didn’t feel fronting up to the pub was that fearless. ‘I didn’t really feel that was a brave act, I just felt it was the only way I was going to connect to some people’.
Asked why a Victorian – ‘from St Kilda I believe, not even a bush brat’ – came to write about Tasmania’s native forest industry, why she came and stayed, Krien replied that she’d stayed in order to dig beneath the surface. ‘I discovered that the forestry issue’s something of a false battle ground,’ she said. ‘That’s what the media is mesmerised by, this battleground of loggers versus young activists out in the forests, and I think it’s a worthy aspect to the forestry issue in Tasmania but I also think it’s a decoy, and it’s a very helpful decoy to people who are worthy of more scrutiny’.
Krien said she learnt a lot from the loggers she met; appreciated that they had it hard not just from the environmental movement but from the woodchipping industry. She encountered a sense of sadness and lost pride ‘which is conveniently blamed on the environmental movement but I think a lot of that has got to do with the woodchipping industry. I don’t think that’s been portrayed that well in a lot of the coverage of the issues. It’s been very much “it’s our forests so we can log it” or “those redneck loggers”, it’s never been these guys pummelled from all sides.’
Amanda continued with questions about Krien’s style of writing. ‘Is it part of a conscious decision to write in a particular way, in the new journalism style where the writer is actually an active participant, forming relationships with the main players, or did that evolve?’
‘It’s simply how I write,’ Krien responded, describing herself as an uncertain protagonist – ‘I like to use myself as a guide’ - and positing a view of Tasmanian issues as being ‘very cut and dried’ and needing a narrator. ‘I think it needed an outsider to be that narrator, it needed someone who didn’t have too much of an ego or a swagger about them, who was happy to be proved wrong on more than one occasion’.
Asked about the sort of prejudices and predispositions she brought to the subject, Krien said she was mostly aware of her leanings towards having a great affection for nature – ‘I like creatures, have nothing against fur and feathers and I was aware I was predisposed towards the environment, wanting the trees to still stand as opposed to them coming down’ – but was also aware of being a writer and relying on paper. ‘I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I was also aware of my shadowy hippy past, aware of people being too earnest. I was aware of whose side I could fall on if I didn’t control myself.’
‘Control yourself…. You mean, control yourself in what sense?’ Lohrey asked.
‘To be tolerant and flexible and open,’ Krien replied.
Krien mentioned that it wasn’t meant to be a book. ‘It bullied its way into being a book, it was meant to be an essay but to me it felt like it hadn’t been written. It wanted to be a book’ ... to which Lohrey lamented on being old enough to have seen a number of environmental crises in Tasmania and of waiting and waiting for a book to be written about them, which never arrived. ‘We didn’t get a book like this on Pedder, we didn’t get a book like this on the Franklin, so much has gone undocumented on the ground, that really vital, interesting, emotional dynamic, emotion, frightening…. So good on you. And it took a Victorian!’
Krien suggested that for her generation, Green politics was more of a mainstream issue than it had been for previous generations. There wasn’t such a sense of it being outrageous or radical; that maybe it started with education, in primary school where it was taught and wasn’t an issue. ‘You were taught to recycle. The only thing that was strange about being taught these things at school was when you left school you learnt that it didn’t really happen’.
And maybe this is our fight to fight as well, Krien continued … in the sense that the sexual revolution and human rights were big issues in the sixties and seventies ... maybe this is our generation’s … this is our gris, this is where we’re at.
‘Good. Some of us are tired,’ Lohrey responded.
In conclusion, Lohrey referred to the English critic James Wood‘s proposal that the writer’s true obligation is to map out changes in consciousness at any given moment. ‘I think this book is one of the best attempts at that I’ve ever read’. She referred too to the American critic Lionel Trilling's suggestion that the most exciting thing in politics is to watch the moral life in the process of reinventing itself. ‘The good writers document or chronicle that event in slow motion but more to the point they capture the emotional underbelly of it. And the title Into the Woods is intentionally archetypal and mythic. It is about the innocent abroad in the great issues of the day.’