One morning the gathering had Ruth from the Wilderness Society visit for a talk on Lapoinya forest, these old growth native trees in the Northern part of Tasmania were being clear felled, wood chipped and sent to China. The remainder of the land was to be chemically burnt and reseeded with three eucalypt species producing a monoculture forest for a future harvest. Naturally most of the hippies at the gathering were keen to help stop the destruction – I think I wanted to help for a different reason, my passion lay in the people and I wanted to support them, I put my hand up to go, part of me was also excited with the possibility of running through the forest with a squad of police officers in hot pursuit – the mind played this over in a black and white Benny Hill film.
Like some town runs on other days my van was host to a handful of hippies for the journey West to Lapoinya, I followed Cabe in his white sedan and after a winding dusty hill road we arrived at a farm house in lush orchard surrounds. Stewart and Barbara met us in the driveway with brief introductions and gratitude, we then had time to relax and explore.
I wandered the orchard, bountiful fruit trees, flowers, light soft grass, it felt like a spring day in paradise as I lay in the shade chewing on an apple with a handful of blackberries in wait. There were about fourty trees in all and more up the hill behind the house – a food forest – it WAS paradise! Through the trees I found another blackberry patch and a dozen or so chickens, beyond this was a vegetable patch – more food – leafy greens, rhubarb, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, corn – an inch of soil was not to be found as the edible delights covered the ground in abundance.
I walked through the grapevine covered verandah, its ripening fruit hanging from the rafters and found another vegetable patch, colourful flowers adorned the outskirts of this fenced off food production area. Beyond this was a beautiful silver birch tree, its soft leafy branches hanging low in line with the earth, on a branch swinging tenderly in the breeze was a tire swing – a marker of safe homely bliss.
I had just returned to the house when Stewart called an introductory meeting, we all went to the birch tree and gathered in circle, attentively like children lingering for a story around an elder. Stewart gave a history on Lapoinya and what action is being done to protect it. The outline was that the police presence here were all locals who like us did not want to see the forest destroyed however like many enforcers of injustice they would be just doing their job. Those felling and processing the trees were under work safety law to shut down all machinery if our presence in the coupe (area marked for felling) was realised so to ensure the halt of operation the main protest action was to keep protesters in the coupe for as long as possible. Unfortunately there was also a police presence and they had the power to remove people from the area thus allowing work to continue. Our counter for this was to ensure the police spent as much time as possible discovering and processing us – this did not mean running away for that would be an arrestable offence, however we could spread ourselves out enough for them to spend hours finding us and taking our information – without arrest. Around the circle went questions and answers until after some time we closed off and went back to the house for dinner.
In the warm light of the kitchen Flo, Ollie, Jake and I prepared dinner, singing songs through the tears of chopped onions and under the guidance of head chef Flo and Barbara we created stews, bakes and luscious deserts mostly harvested from the garden. Laid out on the long dinner table we all sat and supped for hours, the clank of glasses and cutlery amidst joyous talk went well into the night and after the longest meal I have in long time we all went to bed, bellies replete and bodies nourished.
The next morning we planned the action. Stewart lay out a blank sheet of paper and preceded to draw a map of the area, the coupe we would go into was only a five minute walk from the farm, concreting the passion behind these actions – the logging was in their back yard. We piled in the back of Stewart’s station wagon and drove to the neighbour’s property which would be our ingress to the coupe.
We snuck through the forest and came close to the border mark where the logging company owned the land, a little too close, we were spotted by a patrolling worker which meant that they would most probably alert the police, spoiling our operation. Stewart called a return to base and we walked back to replan.
I put my hand up to organise the next action and took hold of some local maps back at the house, we had about a dozen people at our disposal so I split us into four teams, the first a group of two would walk down the main road straight to the previously sighted police vehicle, the intention was for the two to be escorted out of the area and allow the rest to get in unrestricted. Of the rest were the runners who would burst from the bush and run straight down the road as the police left, the ninjas who would do the same but stealthily through the forest and the causal walkers who would enter from the other side of the coupe where we were spotted this morning. The timing had to be right and we had no way to communicate with the teams, the first two would leave the house when we were all in position which would set off the operation clock. First to go were the Ninjas and Runners, down a secret path, I joined the casual team shortly after and we were dropped off by Stewart.
We waited at our location until the predicted time for the first two to arrive at the police car then head toward the logging road. We then spread out parallel with the road and as silently as possible through dry sloping bushland moved inward – to my joy as I neared the orange yellow outline of the graded road I saw three hippies running past shouting and laughing, tumbling in cartwheels and handstands. I slipped down the final slope and stood on the road so happy that we succeeded, the machines had stopped and everyone spread themselves as thin as possible along the roadway so to prevent ourselves being herded and addressed as a group by the law.
I saw an opportunity to hide in the bush amongst a pile of logs and branches so amidst the confusion I climbed the slope, lay against a log and pulled a few branches over me, I could still afford to take photos without being seen as the police who had now arrived on location were one by one addressing the protesters and instructing them to go to the patrol car back down the hill. I stayed in my spot for around thirty minutes until I could see only the visiting police commissioner through the leaves, he was talking to the foreman, workers walked by in defeat, tools slung over shoulders, leaving for home, machines were being parked – I felt the rumble of the giants as their metal tracks slid over the earth like invading tanks. The workers were gathered below me and the commissioner had gotten in his vehicle to do some paperwork, I slipped from concealment and stood on a log overlooking the group, no-one saw me, I stood with my arm against a (living) tree and my foot crossed over the other in confident jest for a very long time, the unaware workers and officer not ten metres from me. Eventually one looked up and frantic fingers pointed at the police car then at me, I was nicked – finally.
I gave my real name and drivers licence then the commissioner took me the ten minute drive out of the coupe where from the passenger seat of the police car I saw all my friends arms raised, dancing and singing on the road – we all walked back to the farm triumphantly.
This was my first protest and I rather enjoyed it, there was no aggression, no blame, just open hearted people grouping together to protect the land against wanton destruction.
The group I worked with are called FLAG (Forests of Lapoinya Action Group) and they have a blog on the Tasmanian Times.