Karri Forest III - Protest and Conflict
I never intended to become the photographer documenting forest defence, it happened around me. I saw that it was crucial to record the struggle to defend the karri, marri and southern jarrah forests from unsustainable logging. As I have stated elsewhere, I moved to the forest for quiet work, then the forest protests happened.
The forest protests of that time failed to stop the logging of what were already only remnants of ancient south west forest. Despite widespread public support for these remnants to be saved, and the 2001state election being partly fought over this issue, the new WA Gallop Labor Government’s lies and chicanery ensured that logging continued then and subsequent Western Australian governments have ensured it continues.
Now, in 2021 there is a growing push to preserve what tiny tattered remnants of forest remain. This new forest movement is in loose alliance with smaller groups trying to prevent the general ecocide we are both witnessing and causing.
Pictures and Stories
This documentation is unique. I live in the forest and was able to photograph the major campaigns throughout the forest protest period. The images document Western Australian activists and protestors fighting against ancient forest logging from 1994 to 2003 and a visit to Challar State Forest in 2013. The images show some of the means used to delay logging operations and gain media coverage for the forest they loved. The protesters who lived in the forest camps tolerated primitive conditions, winter cold, summer march flies, mud, smokey fires, burnt raw food and fines.
The principle forest campaigns documented are Lane, Wattle, Gardner, Boorara, Swarbrick, Dombakup and Nairn State Forests as well as rallies in Perth and Fremantle.
Living in the area of the action I had opportunity to respond to developing situations very quickly.
I would get a ‘phone call at two o’clock in the morning saying “John! It’s on at Wattle, Boodanoo Road. Four o’clock.” So I’d grab a couple of Nikons and drive down to Boodanoo Road, on to Wattle Number One Road, then wait 'til dawn when the logging industry arrived and I had enough light to start work.
My allegiances and communication tended to be with local groups with local engagement rather than the Perth based peak organisations, who I found to be self-appointed, hierarchical, metro-centric and autocratic.
The ability to document events was reduced when new regulations were introduced to provide the timber industry, Dept of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), and their police with Temporary Exclusion Zones. When TEZs were used there was little chance of support for people in lock-ons and platforms, let alone photographic documentation of the action.
There were two kinds of forest protesters, those that went up into tree platforms and tripods, and those that went down into road dragons and lock-ons. This is an over simplistic view, but does hold some truth. The methods of preventing timber industry activity described here were based on the legal requirement for duty of care to protect people from physical injury in a logging coupe. However, as the protests progressed there was an increasing desire to harm protestors.
This all sounds serious, but for young people using old cars, concrete, ropes, tree platforms and rough camping it was often a fun tempered with pain at seeing the forest they had come to love continue to fall despite their efforts.
(For specific means see the glossary.)
Following the 2001 election the new Gallop Labor government’s lies stopped forest defence in its tracks. Gallop had promised to end all old growth logging and to declare huge new areas of national park. What Gallop actually did was to allow CALM to alter the definition of old growth forest to allow the continued felling of ancient forest under the falsehood of Two Tier Forest designations.
The new national parks consist largely of coastal heathlands, immature stands of forest and other areas. While the coastal plain, especially the peatland, is crucial and needs to be protected we also needed the final remnants of ancient forest to be saved to help a large and complex ecosystem survive. (Currently the vegetative assembly of D’Entrecasteaux NP and the peatlands of the coastal plain are under threat from hot burns by Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, but fire. Peat is the subject of a separate essay.)
Sadly the public believed and still believes the Gallop successive government lies over the last twenty years. Even in the forest areas some people believe that old growth logging has finished. It never finished and is continuing.
This tragedy is compounded by the promotion of even aged “regenerated forest” as forest. To be a functioning ecosystem a forest must have a broad vegetative assembly and tree ages from saplings to senescence and dead trees slowly rotting back to compost. These “dead” trees are home to a vast array of life; fungi, arthropods and orchids live in and on these dead trees; these organisms are crucial to the health of the whole forest ecosystem.
Government agencies, Forest Industries Federation of Western Australia (FIFWA) and Tourist organisations now promote even aged monocultural “regenerated” areas like Boranup Forest near Margaret River and the Pemberton Hundred Year Forest as “forest”. Boranup and the Hundred Year Forest may be pretty, but they not functioning forest and have the visual excitement of striped wallpaper. The tragedy is that while tourists are diverted to these meagre offerings ancient forest in the south west continues to be destroyed.
Renewed Forest Interest
Now, in 2021, there is renewed public interest in forest and in the survival of life in general. The work of Save our Donnelly River, Forests for Life, Nannas for Native Forest and Extinction Rebellion needs to be documented. This is being done by a few dedicated photographers and videographers and the great plethora of mobile ‘phone users. To me the most interesting are two videographers with GoPro Hero cameras who run around in camouflage clothes making video recordings of active logging coupes with bits of tree and machinery flying around. Their video recordings have immediacy and engagement.
This forest story started with the need to document the work being done to save our native forests. Now, twenty years later Western Australian Government lies continue and people are again trying to save the last few stands of forest. We cannot allow anything or anyone to thwart us this time.
Documenting the forest destruction and defence, followed by the success of The Gallop Government’s lies, took a bigger personal and emotional toll than I realised, in March 2003 I stopped all forest photography. The steady stream of log trucks on the South West Highway and the obscene piles of wood chips at the Port of Bunbury still fills me with a sense of loss and a deep sadness, it always will.
My photography of forest issues is over. I now have other mills to tilt against.
John Austin Quinninup 2021
- Karri Forest III - Protest and Conflict (Archive)