Story and photos Melissa Hargraves
The controversial logging on a property at Whian Whian in what locals says is habitat for endangered species continued apace at the weekend as a contingent of police stood guard over the operation and arrested one man for trespassing.
Locals and environmental protectors say they are appalled to see police being used to protect what they consider an illegal logging operation.
But the state’s environment watchdog has given the operation the green light.
The group of 30-plus blockaders now known as the Whian Whian Forest Alliance have made a stand against the logging on a private property near the Nightcap National Park for the past fortnight.
A survey of the area that they commissioned and sent to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) identified many threatened endangered plant and animal species, such as rare Bopplenut Trees.
Several locals upset at the continued logging have been arrested in the past week, with one man arrested over the weekend for trespassing on private property.
Sue James, the police liaison officer at the Whian Whian action, told Echonetdaily the man lives in the surrounding community and the property being logged directly affects all of the surrounding areas.
‘We had an agreement with Forestry Corporation who told us how far they were going along the ridge, yet a truck has pushed right along the ridge which is at the top of a waterfall and has huge canopy trees on the ridge that are coming down,’ Ms James said.
‘These impacts do make the community emotional. The gentleman who was arrested was aware of the arrangement and after witnessing the ridgeline coming down walked up to a large log about to come down the snig track and sat on it peacefully.’
After being taken away by police Ms James said was unable to communicate with police over the arrest.
‘I phoned Lismore police station later that night after he had been there for about four hours at this point and was told that there was no knowledge of his being held,’ she said.
‘They refused to give me any information at all, which is unacceptable for this role as a police liaison officer. So at almost midnight he arrived back at the community in an emotional state as the police would not let him make a call for someone to collect him.’
‘These operations are pushing neighbours to the brink. Our waterways, which are home to many creatures including platypus, are muddied. Neighbours have experienced provocative actions from the loggers including revving up loud chainsaws at six in the morning, right near houses.’
Echonetdaily witnessed further provocative actions from Forestry Corporation including large spraypainted smiley faces on beautiful old blackbutts being dragged down the illegal snig track as they passed by the protectors, taking out other trees and habitat on the way down.
Huge numbers of old blackbutt trees, which are primarily destined for floorboards, are coming out of the property.
‘More than 60 mature blackbutts went out over two days so you can imagine what the total numbers will be,’ said Ms James.
Another neighbour of the property described to protectors and police how these old trees play a vital part in the ecosystem in the forest, particularly koalas that are protected from the sun by these canopy trees.
At the time of publication the Whian Whian Forest Alliance are still trying to negotiate with the landowner for mediation.
One of the two young people seized and held down for 45 minutes by loggers in a controversial vigilante action last Tuesday before being arrested by police spoke to Echonetdaily about the traumatic experience.
‘I was here on holidays and heard about the threat of loss to native species and habitat,’ he said.
‘I have been involved in non-violent peaceful action over eight years so know not to put myself in arrestable situations.
‘I was keeping a peaceful watch on the logging activities on neighbouring private property where there was to be no vehicle access by the Forestry Corporation,’ he said.
‘There was also not meant to be any machinery using the snig track because of the threatened species identified in reports.
‘So we went to lunch for almost an hour when we heard chainsaws going so we went back up with the paperwork for the Forestry Corporation to advise them that arrangements were in place and they were not permitted to undergo tree felling that day.
‘The other person with me who walked with me was jumped on by three or four logging contractors and started yelling. At no point did they identify themselves or show us authorisation that they were allowed to be there.
‘I went to try to stop them assaulting him and, during that time, they abused and threatened me.
‘At this stage there was nothing I could do to help him as he was being held in a headlock so I went to leave and a contractor chased me.
‘He went to throw a punch at me and I tried to get away and at that point he kicked my back leg and tripped me over and then dived on top of me.
‘I struggled to get up for a while but he was twice my size, he had one arm behind my back and one in front of me.
‘At that point two more contractors came up and grabbed my legs and pinned me to the ground for around 45 minutes while threatening violence,’ he said.
The man maintained he remained non-violent and requested that they get off him while they waited for police.
‘I believe I wasn’t in the wrong; we were pulling them up non-violently for their actions,’ he said.
When the police arrived he was told to basically ‘sit down and shut up’ while they interviewed the contractors.
‘Three plain-clothed cops did not identify themselves to me but were carrying weapons. They were aggressive and tried to be intimidating. They put me in an armlock on the way to the paddy van, which I was walking toward anyway.
‘They tipped my tobacco on the floor,’ he said, ‘just general bully and thuggery behaviour like that.’
He was taken to Lismore police station and charged with trespassing and ordered to report to the police station three times a week until he faces Lismore Court on Monday October 14.
Apart from the physical injuries, he said the experience was ‘very traumatic considering I am non-violent’.
‘I don’t feel I was at fault but obviously wish the events didn’t happen,’ he said.
Songs from the woods
Longtime environmental and social activist and elder songman to the region Paul Joseph recalled some of the previous devastation of old forests in the northern rivers when he visited the Whian Whian blockade to play some of his traditional forest songs at the weekend.
Ironically, it came as a surprise to protectors at the blockade who just earlier that morning were looking for the words of his protest songs to sing.
Back in the 1970s, Mr Joseph saw beautiful old native trees such as coachwood being cut down locally for banana boxes and became passionate about saving these resources against devastation.
‘At that time I saw complete hillsides of what was then state forest and is now national park, stripped bare to be made into boxes that are used once for bananas,’ Mr Joseph told Echonetdaily. ‘These are ancient forests, and are worth more than that,’ he said.
‘This was when I woke up to the destruction of forest; this was the last of the Big Scrub.’
‘This destruction that is going on today is part of that same forest,’ said Mr Joseph.
Mr Joseph gave hope to the protectors at Whian Whian as he told them about the simple beginning of the Terania Native Forest Action Group where only 20 people showed up at the first meeting and resulted in the first ever rescue of rainforest in history, where the state government brought in the first ever laws to protect rainforest.
It also spawned the very first action of that movement, a film that was played regularly by the ABC, Save the Trees – Terania. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaSCBqC7MRE)
The music and soundtrack was the first song ever recorded by Music Farm Studios from Coorabel, the first studio on the north coast.
‘The result from this is that it not only was this creative action able to protect rainforest, it inspired others to see music as a core integral part of protesting,’ he said.
‘That was our greatest strength at Terania; there was music always going at the frontline.’
‘It was our weapon, but it is a weapon of peace.’