Sixty Metres Up

For the past month, Miranda Gibson has been sitting 60 metres up a tree in Tasmania’s southwest in protest at old-growth logging, and blogging as she goes. With the coupe around her about to be logged, her campaign is increasingly urgent. But the campaign to protect Tasmania’s forests has never been anything but urgent; for as long as I’ve been aware of them, they’ve been under threat, being chipped away at, and literally chipped, even as most Australians complacently think of them as “protected” and regard yesterday’s conservation battles as an end to it.

I grew up in southern Tasmania not far from a logging area, and know exactly what sort of mindset she’s up against. Too many Tasmanians would still agree with 1980s state premier Robin Gray’s assessment of the Franklin River (which is near her tree) as “nothing but a brown ditch, leech-ridden, unattractive to the majority of people”. Too many Tasmanians have never ventured out of the state, or rarely, and have no idea how unique a place they live in. I’ve visited a fair few temperate forests around the world, and rainforests, and none are quite the same as Tassie’s—not even in the rest of Australia.

Fortunately, the state had an influx of new blood several years ago when mainland Australians visited in droves after 9/11—many fell in love with it and moved there. Those newcomers, and many born and raised Tasmanians, don’t want to see any more old-growth forests logged. But they’re up against entrenched resistance, built on the belief that the only proper way for a man to earn a crust (and it’s always men) is to dig something up, chop something down or build a bloody great dam. The political landscape is shifting as voter attitudes do, but not fast enough, and the forestry industry still has too strong a grip. And for an industry that always bleats about the jobs that will be lost, it employs a relative handful of people. Never any thought for the tourist industry jobs that will be lost if the forests are destroyed, of course; let alone the rest.

It’s the kind of story that makes me homesick and heartsick. Well done, Miranda, and good luck.

[Cross-posted from Metafilter.]

17 January 2012 · Politics