Neighbours of the property at Whian Whian where a logging contractor died two days after he was hit by a falling branch have spoken out against what they say was a provocatively false claim by police that they hindered an ambulance carrying him.
Loggers and Forestry Corporation contractors formed a guard of honour on Friday for their colleague, a 60-year-old man from Kyogle, who died as a result of head injuries received after the accident last Wednesday.
He had been airlifted out of the rugged terrain after initial treatment by ambulance paramedics.
Around a dozen logging trucks laden with felled blackbutt trees drove honking their horns past workers lined up on the road outside the property, signalling the end of the logging operation after several weeks.
Protesters dismantled their camp near the entrance to the property and also wore black armbands as a mark of respect for the logger who died.
During the protest at the site, police arrested five protesters. Police are also investigating an alleged assault by several men on one of the protesters in his tent only hours after the accident.
The two couples who own the property near the Nightcap National Park which was logged (Michael Edrich and Laura Helle, and Mikko and Jodi Helle) made no public comment about the situation as it developed over the weeks, despite calls for mediation over claims the logging was destroying endangered wildlife and plant habitat.
The operation was approved by the NSW Forestry Corporation and the Environment Protection Authority.
A neighbouring property owner said the claim by police in the aftermath of the accident that protesters had hindered an ambulance was particularly hurtful, especially as he drove the paramedics to the injured logger on a rough track and the ambulance followed behind.
Martin Novak, whose property is next to the logging site, has been involved in farm forestry for years. He told Echonetdaily that the claims the rescue services were hindered were ‘totally inaccurate’, and that the environmental protectors actually helped access and were in sympathy for the injured logger.
He said today he and others would make a statement to police complaining about the ‘misleading comments’.
Mr Novak detailed the events surrounding the tragedy.
‘We were sitting at a neighbour’s house waiting for council staff to come and check the road when we heard the helicopter approaching the emergency landing spot near the gate,’ he said.
‘I raced over there but the paramedics had no means of getting up to the ridge. They jumped in my car and we started racing up.
‘As soon as the accident happened, the protectors opened all accesses on surrounding private properties so access was easier.
‘The three paramedics and I were in my car and we were met by the police and forestry, following us was the ambulance.
‘We drove past the blockade on a neighbouring property which was all open for us, up to where the accident had occurred, followed by the other police and rescue cars.
‘The paramedics attended him straight away so there was definitely no hindrance there.
Bystanders at gate
‘They took a while to stabilise him and stretchered him into the ambulance. I followed them in my car and there was no obstruction whatsoever.
‘When we got to the gate there were a few bystanders, not just protectors.
‘The policeman in charge was there and the ambulance pulled up as close to the helicopter site as they could and it took a while before they could move him.
‘People were very respectful and there was no interference. Some people had to leave because they were so upset about the accident. We were all upset.’
Mr Novak said that all the protectors he has spoken to were deeply upset over the tragedy.
‘I have rung the Forestry Corporation officer in charge and have asked him to pass on our condolences to the family.
‘I have also rung another officer in charge and done the same.
‘I know how they must be feeling as this is one of their mates.’
Mr Novak said he supported farm forestry, but not the way this operation was undertaken.
‘This whole process has been rushed, and the police have been there to enforce the logging, not as peace officers or for safety,’ he said.
‘Apparently the police cars have been hit by limbs twice,’ said Mr Novak.
He said that there was ‘a lot of anger among the Forestry Corporation and the loggers which is understandable, and the plain-clothes police were not exactly friendly to me either.
‘This whole operation has been a sorry state of affairs. It has done farm forestry a dis-service. I am hoping that the only good that could ever come out of this is that the process is improved and the attitude is more balanced,’ he said.
Mr Novak said that within 200 metres of the logging site another neighbour is milling and harvesting timber, but doing so in a ‘totally different way’.
‘To do industrial type logging on a small area of forest is obviously going to upset people. They haven’t done proper surveys.’
Mr Novak said the threatened Marsdenia Longiloba vine was an example of an endangered plant species that had been destroyed in the process.
‘The saddest thing is that this forest will take at least 200 years to re-establish itself, in the meantime lantana and other weeds will infiltrate an area that was already in perfect balance.’
Meanwhile, police claims that a threatening voicemail message to the Whian Whian police liaison officer by a logger was not ‘considered offensive under the circumstances’, has also upset the community.
Sue James, who had been the police liaison officer during the protest, said she received what she described as a threatening voicemail message from one of the logging contractors.
The message was replayed to Echonetdaily:
‘Hi Sue it’s (name withheld), you seem to be pretty happy about what is going on, we might just need to have a bit of a talk.
‘Anyway you won’t ring back because you are not up for the truth, only lying and bullshit.
‘The hide of you to think that you protectors helped the ambulances in there, if that bloke dies tonight, the blood is on your hands, trust me I will bring it out in the media that the last house you sell will be the fucking one you are living in. Seeya.’