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Monday, 30 August 2010

Sunday, 29 August 2010

John Béchervaise


As I sat in his lounge room in Geelong on a winter’s day twenty years ago, sunlight streamed feebly in through the large windows. John Béchervaise was showing me some of his magnificent photographs. He was telling of the time he discovered the Prince Charles Range in Antarctica:
We skied for nine days over featureless snow plain. Then one day, as a result of the effects of refraction, we could see mountains high in the sky.
He looked at me. I was willing myself to be there.
It was as if we had created those mountains out of our own minds.
The peak that he first saw is now called Mt Béchervaise. It is twice the height of Kosciuszko.
Explorers are of an age gone by, and today there are adventurers. But Béchervaise went to new places. He led three ANARE expeditions to Antarctica, and it was during the 1953 tour that he discovered the Prince Charles range.
As a 17 year old boy living in Murrumbeena he had never seen snow which featured in so many of the books he read. One day he walked out the door and headed east, determined to continue until he got to snow. He eventually found it at Mt Torbreck.
What did he think of it? “After having imagined snow for so long it seemed familiar even then.”
The following year he was chosen as a teenager to join a party going in to Tali Karng with the governor, Lord Somers. In those days it was a major undertaking. The group included people like Hoadley (who accompanied Mawson to the Antarctic), Bill Waters, Crosbie Morrison, and Alan Moorehead - later a famous writer. John showed me a photograph of a biscuit on which all the participants had carved their names.
Here in Australia he is particularly well known for being the first person to climb Federation Peak in South West Tasmania, taking a party of schoolboys in 1949 to claim the coveted summit. The plateau around the peak is named Béchervaise Plateau.
But there are many other feats. In 1947, using half track army surplus vehicles, he took a group of Geelong College students to Uluru (Ayers Rock). It was the first time vehicles had travelled there. The road now follows the route he took on that trip, their tracks being scooped out when the road was fashioned shortly afterwards. During that trip he climbed Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) a difficult climb which may not now be done. He did it unroped and it was a climb which took almost all day. He thought he would be the first to have reached the summit but he found a bottle with a note in it from a Katherine policeman who had made the climb in the early 1930s. He subsequently met the policeman.
He learnt his rock climbing in England. John Béchervaise (the name is from the channel islands) was a conscientious objector during World War II, a position readily accepted in England, where he happened to be, and which was received much less sympathetically in Australia. During the war he worked in ambulance activities, and was able to pursue rock climbing, a sport which had not really begun to develop in Australia.
For some years John Béchervaise was the editor of Walkabout, a marvellous Australian magazine of the 1940s to 1960s.
There were many other trips. He landed a group of students on Rodondo Island, the visually striking granite outcrop off Wilson’s Promontory - the first people recorded to have been there. They lived there for a week surveying the island and even distilling their own water.
The trip he remembered most fondly was a month on the D’Entrecasteaux Islands off Western Australia, during which the group landed on many pristine islands and discovered a new species of plant.
He showed me a photograph of a group of students at Mt Ellery in East Gippsland. He told me it was a three week walk to Mt Ellery from the nearest road when the photograph was taken in the early 1950s. Now it is half an hour from a logging road.
I went walking with John Béchervaise when he was 80 years old, but still active. He took me along the river on which he lived in Geelong, showing active interest in certain favourite trees, in small leaves, and in memories of places he used to camp at with students.
The Béchervaise legacy has been significant. Many students he introduced to the bush and especially to climbing were inspired by his example. A notable example is my late friend Chris Baxter, the founder of Wild magazine with Mike Collie and myself, who, as a student at Geelong Grammar, was introduced to rock climbing by John Béchervaise in the first ascent of Tower Hill at the Grampians.
His life saw many changes. As a boy he remembered hansom cabs at Flinders Street Station, and in the end he lived in an age of space travel. An inquisitive, adventurous, disciplined person, he helped to seek out those places no one had been to before, and was forever drawn to blank spots on maps.

Greens FUNRaiser for the Melbourne campaign




Date: 14 September · 19:00 - 23:00
Location: The Comic's Lounge, 26 Errol St North Melbourne
Time:  7pm for dinner, or 8pm for just the show

As the state elections draw closer, show your support for The Greens and Brian Walters, the Melbourne candidate, by raising some FUN!

The Greens invite you to a fundraiser starring Rod Quantock, Claire Hooper (Good News Week) and a feast of great talent including award-winning illusionist Simon Taylor and comedians Fox Klein, Doug Chappel and Matt Kenneally (Best Comedy, Melbourne Fringe 2007) and the rich vocal harmonies of The Nymphs. There will also be a bizarre range of items up for auction.

For more details and bookings see Events

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Land ho!





For most of us, land is our largest financial investment. All that effort looking at the real estate pages. Going along to auctions. Working out how to get an edge in the bidding. Or cowering inside while some agent you’re not too sure about sells your house. All those years paying off the mortgage.
It is a very modern idea that we own land. In the middle ages it was held from one’s lord, who held it from the king, who held it from God. In old testament times, the jubilee every fifty years required returning any land you had acquired, so that there was a constant evenness of distribution.
Forty years ago in the infamous Milirrpum v Nabalco case, concerning the ownership of Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, it was held by the courts, (before Mabo) that Aborigines could not be said to have owned land because they could not alienate it. They could not sell it. Remarkably, judges held that if your attachment to the land was so great that you had no concept of getting rid of it, you did not own the land.
But does anyone own land? Can we take it anywhere? Did we make it?

The land has been here for ages before we were born – indeed for ages before any human existed. We will, whether buried or cremated, end up resting in the land – not the other way round. Our so-called ownership will be a mere shrug in the memory of the land.
To speak of owning land does not honour those who will use the land after us. We are but the custodians of our land – whether it be our suburban block or the country as a whole.
Many spiritual traditions refer to "Mother Earth". If we are not parents we still have a stake in the generations to come. And all of us are children of parents. If we are disconnected from our parents we can pay a price all our lives, and it is the same if we are disconnected from the land. And the disconnectedness of the community affects each one of us as members of that community.
To claim ownership of land is to claim something more than the reality. We may look after land. Other people may acknowledge certain rights we can exercise in relation to land. But in the end, whatever our rights, we are merely trustees. We depend on the land - not the other way around.


Friday, 27 August 2010

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)


Gustav Mahler
This year it is 150 years since Mahler was born. Next year it will be a century since he died at the age of 50.
When Gustav Mahler died, the Great War was just three years away. Vienna, after that war, would no longer be the cultural capital of Europe, but a large city in a tiny country, like an empty emporium in a district whose residents have moved away.
Mahler came in the long line of great Viennese symphonists – JC Bach (son of JS), Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner - but Mahler would be the last.
In the course of this progression, orchestras became larger and larger, and Mahler's music is written for large late romantic orchestras - sometimes even immense orchestras, as with the 8th symphony ("the symphony of a thousand").

In his own day he was renowned as the world’s greatest conductor (he was chief conductor of both the Vienna Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic). In that capacity he conducted the New York Philharmonic when the young pianist Sergei Rachmaninov played the solo part in his new piano concerto no 2.
But in his summer holidays Mahler composed. He completed nine symphonies, and left his 10th symphony able to be realised by others after his death. He also wrote several song cycles, including "Das Lied von der Erde" ("the Song of the Earth") which is almost a symphony in its own right.
For me, Mahler’s music is the culmination of the entire classical tradition. It is music of immense spiritual depth, enormous technical facility, and reaches new dimensions of emotion. It is as if the whole classical tradition were striving to this fulfilment.
It is true that great composers continued to write after he had gone (and after the Great War) but wonderful though their work was, they were outlying islands from the lands’ end reached with Mahler. With the Great War, the rise of African music, mediated through North America, led to the new musical forms of jazz, the blues, rock and pop.
Mahler’s music is not background music. But it is music that can transport the soul.
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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Being Forest Friendly


Alan Gray
My journey in relation to SLAPP suits began in 1999 when my friend Alan Gray rang me. It was the Thursday before Easter, and I was about to go on holidays. I could hear the fear in his voice. He sounded devastated. “Brian,” he said, “I’m not feeling good – all I have worked to build for my family – my house and my business – could go down the drain.”
Alan was then, and still is, the editor of Earth Garden magazine. He had written a book called “Forest-Friendly Building Timbers”. It was a consumers' guide to the ethical purchase of timber for various building needs - timber not sourced from native forests. BBC Hardware had agreed to stock the book throughout Australia.
Just before the close of business for the Easter holidays, when Alan was in Sydney for a launch of the book, the solicitors for the National Association of Forest Industries sent him a letter threatening to take him to court for deceptive and misleading conduct under the Trade Practices Act, because the book made a number of statements about the logging industry which they disputed.
The statements were all sourced and quoted from government reports. They were indisputable. And there were good statutory defences under the TPA anyway. But this would not matter – Alan Gray could not afford to bankrupt himself in order to prove he was right. Even a few days in court would be crippling.
NAFI demanded the shredding of all copies of the book, and an undertaking not to repeat any of these statements. Otherwise, off to the Federal Court. Alan, unable to face the prospect of even a short Federal Court hearing, was at the point of capitulation.
The irony was that the Trade Practices Act is meant to be about consumer protection, and the logging industry wanted to keep information from consumers to protect its own interests.
It was the modern equivalent of a mediaeval book burning.
I arranged for Alan to send the letter and the book immediately so I could look over them.
I rang back. Sometimes you have to have the courage of your convictions when you give legal advice. I said to him that he should not worry: the letter meant the book would enjoy greatly increased sales. We prepared a legal reply telling NAFI to "go jump" and then sent the correspondence to every journalist we could think of.
It got a run in every paper, and in many cases on the front page. Terry Lane on Radio National's "National Interest" interviewed Professor Allan Fels (head of ACCC) who offered the opinion that the NAFI letter itself may well amount to deceptive and misleading conduct, because anyone who knew the workings of the TPA would know that the threat they made was empty.
We dared NAFI to bring proceedings. They didn’t. The book was at the top of the non-fiction best seller list for months.
There was one dark aspect of the outcome. BBC Hardwares issued a press release which said:
BBC Hardware Limited today withdrew from sale in its stores a booklet titled “Forest-Friendly Building Timbers”.
This follows a threat of legal action against BBC Hardware by the National Association of Forest Industries, which took exception to the publication.[1]
NAFI’s threat of legal action was baseless. They did not even issue any proceedings. But still their threat pushed “Forest-Friendly Building Timbers” off the shelves of the major hardware chain which had supported it.
It’s a good example of the way some big business operators misuse the court system – frequently without even having to take proceedings. In this case we called their bluff, and that’s a good lesson in how to deal with SLAPP suits – stick together, go public, and don’t let them get away with it.

[1] BBC Hardware Media Statement 8 April 1999
External Links

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Raiding the Kurds

AFP officers raid the Kurdish Association of Victoria - Age photograph

Police have raided Kurdish groups across Australia. In what appears to be a re-run of the farcical and highly embarrassing Tamil terror trial, the current allegations against the Kurdish community are that they "funnelled as much as $1 million to the Turkish separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)".

The power to ban organisations as "terrorist" is a key plank of the repressive terror laws passed over recent years.

In the 1950s there was a protracted national debate over whether the Communist Party would be banned. Prominent people from all political persuasions argued against this – not to defend communism, but to defend our own traditions of political debate. In the end, after the High Court had struck down the legislation, the subsequent referendum to ban the Communist Party failed.

Today, however, we have reached the point, with remarkably little discussion, where the Attorney-General of the day - a politician - can ban a political party as terrorist with very little opportunity for judicial oversight of that decision.

On 15 December 2005, a week after the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan visited Australia, the then Attorney-General, Mr Ruddock, listed the PKK – the Kurdish Workers Party - as a terrorist organisation.

In his media release announcing the decision, Mr Ruddock said:

The Government will not tolerate involvement with groups or activities that threaten the safety and security of Australia

But there has never been any suggestion that the PKK threatens the safety and security of Australia or Australians.

The PKK has been involved in an internal armed conflict with Turkey since the 1980s. There is fault on both sides. Human Rights Watch has certainly criticised both sides.

The proscription power is supposed to be in aid of preventing politically motivated violence - particularly in Australia - but instead it has been used to aid a government which is engaged in political conflict with the Kurdish minority.

For Australian Kurdish refugees who fled political persecution for their PKK allegiances, or who where imputed to be PKK sympathizers by the Turkish government, proscription presents specific dangers. They are open to prosecution for the same reasons they were granted asylum – supporting the PKK.

And under these bizarre terror laws, a commitment to non-violence would be no defence.

No one can in practice challenge the proscription in court. To do so the Kurdish groups in question would have to state that they were affected because they were aligned to the PKK - thus exposing themselves to prosecution.

Senator Bob Brown moved in August 2006 a motion to disallow the listing of the PKK. Labor senators voted with the coalition in support of Mr Ruddock's listing. The listing undermines negotiations for peace, and criminalizes any Australian dialogue with the PKK on solutions for the resolution of conflict.

In Turkey, the political party representing the Kurds has been banned, the human rights activist acting for repressed Kurds has been arrested, and there has been a string of incidents involving police shootings and violence.

Once again our own security services are being used to aid a repressive foreign regime with a ghastly human rights record. In the name of fighting terrorism, we have allied ourselves with injustice.

External Links

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Saving the Franklin

Peter Dombrovskis's "Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend" became the iconic image of the Franklin Campaign

In February 1976 Bob Brown (then a Launceston GP) accepted forester Paul Smith’s invitation to raft the Franklin River using inflatable rubber rafts. It had been canoed once before in 1958 (that party having come to grief in two previous attempts), and had been descended (a hair-raising and near-fatal trip) in lashed timber and inner tube rafts in 1971, but the 1976 trip was the first time anyone had used inflatable rafts on the river.

During the trip, Brown and Smith came across evidence confirming that the hydro was planning to dam the river.

Determined to pre-empt the hydro’s plans, Paul Smith prepared to make a film about the river and to publicise its beauty.

In June 1976 at Bob Brown’s home in Liffey a meeting of conservationists changed the name of the South West Tasmania Action Committee to the Tasmanian Wilderness Society.

Kevin Kiernan, who had been a key figure in the struggle for Pedder, initially headed the organisation. In 1979 Bob Brown took over as director.

By this time, it was clear that the hydro wanted to flood the Franklin – the last major wild river in Tasmania. Campaigning was under way in earnest, with Paul Smith’s film being made and shown on Tasmanian television, and with public meetings and stalls being held to publicise the issue.

In October 1979 the Hydro Electric Commission formally and publicly recommended the flooding of the Franklin River by the building of a dam on the Gordon River below its confluence with the Franklin. There were covert plans for further dams right up the Franklin and on the Davey and King Rivers.

The decision did not make sense. As so often is the case when projects like this are mooted, the destruction of this priceless area of wilderness was to take place without any demonstrably defined economic benefit.

There was a strong reaction. Large public meetings were held which some thousands of people attended. The campaign was developing a momentum.

Bob Brown, in countless meetings and media interviews, articulated a vision of a better Tasmania which valued things more important than money and which did not need the dam. He inspired people all over Australia and beyond.

In 1980, a public opinion poll was commissioned by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, and it showed that most Tasmanians were opposed to the construction of the dam. It received front page coverage in the Launceston Examiner.

On 11th July 1980 the Labor government under Premier Doug Lowe reached a compromise decision: a dam would be built on the Gordon River above the Franklin confluence (the “Gordon-above-Olga dam”), thus saving the Franklin River itself.

It was the first time any government had taken on the all-powerful "hydro" and refused to follow its recommendation.

It appeared the Franklin had been saved.

In November 1980 Tasmania’s Legislative Assembly passed the legislation for the Gordon-above-Olga dam to proceed.

However, the following month a Legislative Council (upper house) Select Committee recommended construction of the Gordon below Franklin dam. The chairman of that committee, Harry Braid, had accepted an invitation from Bob Brown to raft the Franklin, and had appeared genuinely impressed by what he saw, but, after a return visit to the area courtesy of the Hydro Electric Commission, came out in favour of the dam.

The Legislative Council wanted to flood the Franklin, and amended the legislation to permit the Gordon below Franklin dam to proceed.

Tasmania’s two houses of parliament were deadlocked.

In February 1981 a further dimension to the issue came to light when Kevin Kiernan discovered the archaeological significance of the Kutikina Cave (then called Fraser Cave) on the lower Franklin River. The cave had been occupied by humans from 21,000 years ago until 14,000 years ago. The fireplaces and even the bones picked clean by the early occupants were still readily visible. The dam would flood this heritage forever.

Impatient with the obstruction of the upper house, Premier Doug Lowe proclaimed the Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.

In June 1981, the union-led majority at the ALP state conference pushed through a motion calling for a referendum to settle the Franklin issue. This was tantamount to a back-down to the Legislative Council’s refusal to support the government’s position.

That August the first secret meetings occurred of a few people in the Wilderness Society preparing for an eventuality they hoped would not be needed – a non-violent blockade of the dam works.

In September the ALP caucus voted to hold the referendum. When Premier Lowe announced the decision, he was asked whether the referendum would have a “No Dams” option, and answered “Yes”.

The State President of the Labor Party then wrote to all members requiring them to remove the “No Dams” option, and the Premier was forced to hold a press conference announcing that this option would be removed. The lack of logic in this position outraged many in the community.

That month, in Canberra, the Senate voted to establish a select committee to examine the issue: the first Federal involvement.

Back in Tasmania, the referendum detail was put in place and the campaign got under way for a vote on 12th December 1981. The only options offered to the people of Tasmania were the two dam projects – it was the first referendum in Australian history without “No” as an option.

The Tasmanian Wilderness Society adopted a risky strategy: voters would be urged not to mark either option, but to write “No Dams” across their ballot papers.

Soon cars began sporting green triangular stickers with the words “NO DAMS”. This became one of the enduring images of the campaign - and the source of today's Greens triangle.

On 10th November 1981 Robin Gray, a hard-liner for the dam, was elected Tasmanian opposition leader.

Late that day, Doug Lowe, following years of lobbying from Geoff Mosley, director of the ACF, and others, signed the nomination of the area for inscription under the World Heritage Convention. He did not pass the nomination through Cabinet. He was about to put the letter through the normal out tray, but an official offered to post it personally and immediately.

The following morning, 11th November 1981, Doug Lowe was defeated in Caucus and resigned as Premier of Tasmania in favour of Harry Holgate, a former journalist who had been working to replace Lowe for some time.

At question time that afternoon Doug Lowe entered the chamber but instead of moving to the back bench he shocked the parliament by walking quietly to the cross benches to sit as an independent.

The following week, with the referendum campaign well under way, Mary Willey (now Dalyell), the government whip and a fervent opponent of the dam, crossed the floor to join Doug Lowe on the cross benches. The Franklin issue was creating havoc in Tasmanian politics.

When the referendum was held, the informal vote was 45% - the highest in Australian history. The vote for the Gordon-below-Franklin was 47% (still not a majority) and the vote for the Gordon-above-Olga dam was 8%.

The result created further trouble for the doomed Labor government. In January 1982 the Holgate government moved to change policy and support the flooding of the Franklin – a project not supported by the majority of Tasmanians at the referendum.

That month the first secret reconnaissance missions into the area for the purpose of preparing for the non-violent blockade of the dam-building works took place. The key people engaged in blockade planning were Pam Waud, Cathie Plowman and Ian Skinner.

There was, at that time, only limited history of non-violent blockades in Australia – now reasonably commonplace in logging disputes. It had occurred at Terania Creek and Nightcap, but was little known in the wider conservation movement. It seemed a risky strategy, and many were afraid of the prospect of violence. To avoid this, careful preparation and training in non-violent action were undertaken over a long time.

The blockade planners had three goals in view: to generate enormous publicity with a view to placing pressure on the politicians; to make a show of commitment, strength and determination – by having many people arrested and jailed; and to slow down and even stop work.

In an attempt to sell the dam, the government announced the appointment of TV naturalist Harry Butler to advise on conservation issues with the dam. Harry Butler had already appeared on an ACF ad opposed to the dam.

On 26th March 1982 Parliament was recalled. A motion of no confidence in the government over its handling of the dams dispute was moved, and the government fell. An election was called for 15th May. The dams legislation had still not been passed, but opposition leader Robin Gray promised to do so as soon as he won the election.

At this election, Bob Brown stood as an independent candidate in the Hobart seat of Denison. He had to endure a sustained and vindictive smear campaign by those supporting the dam because he was gay. The Pro-dam Opponents launched balloons carrying the slogan “Brown is a Green Queen” and letter-boxed every house in the city.

The result of the election was a landslide to the pro-dam Liberals led by Robin Gray. Bob Brown narrowly failed to win a seat (probably just as well – he was needed elsewhere now), but his preferences ensured that Norm Sanders, the only Democrat in the Tasmanian parliament, and a strong force against the dam, was re-elected.

The Gray government’s first legislative initiative was the bill for the Gordon below Franklin dam. It passed on 16th June 1982.

The next day, the Wilderness Society applied to the High Court to prevent funding to Tasmania for the dam via the Loans Council, but Justice Mason dismissed the arguments. This was interpreted as a green light for the dam.

Big business and the hydro had finally won control in Tasmania, and the only hope for the Franklin – a slim one - was intervention by the Federal government.

Bob Brown went to Canberra and met the Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, hoping for Federal intervention. Fraser had quite a good environmental record, and already had taken the hard decision to end whaling in Australia.

Fraser was preoccupied, and told Brown that people with lost causes in Tasmania should not come to Canberra expecting rescue. The meeting lasted only minutes.

It looked like the dam would be built.

In July 1982, the national ALP conference was held in Canberra. A strong conservation contingent, led by Bob Brown, attended and lobbied each delegate. After considerable manoeuvring, the conference passed, by a slim majority, the following motion: “A Labor government will oppose the construction of a hydro-electric power scheme on the Gordon and Franklin Rivers.”

This meant that the dam would be an issue at the Federal election.

On 17th July 1982, in secrecy and under cover of darkness, the first bulldozers were moved onto the Kelly Basin Road and the trucks commenced running.

Work on the dam had finally commenced.

Soon after, the Wilderness Society announced plans to blockade the dam-building works.

Plans for the blockade had been carefully made. A prefabricated communications centre had been constructed in Hobart, and food was being stockpiled. Tourist Operator and former Huon Piner, Reg Morrison, of Strahan, allowed his ferry, the Jay-Lee-M, to be at the disposal of the Wilderness Society. An aircraft was made available also. Non-violent workshops were conducted around the country.

Bob Brown said that conservationists would oppose the construction of the dam “to the last bucket of cement”.

On 2nd September 1982, the Robin Gray government revoked the reserve status of large parts of the Wild Rivers National Park, and vested the land in the HEC. That day a “Redeclaration Party” was held on the Gordon River. An advance party there pledged to preserve the area and declared it, on behalf of all people “an inviolable national park for all time”.

The heat built up over the issue. In Parliament Robin Gray described the Franklin as “nothing but a brown ditch, leech-ridden, unattractive to the majority of people”.

On 16 September 1982 Robin Gray threatened that Tasmania would secede from the Commonwealth if the Federal government intervened to stop work on the dam.

It was made illegal to enter lands vested in the HEC without a written permit.

On 9th October 1982, in pouring rain, 4000 people attended a Sydney rally opposing the dam. Momentum was beginning to build on the mainland.

With work under way on the dam, Robin Gray issued a press statement referring to “Dr Brown and his cronies”:

Conservationists training for the south-west blockade are like guerrilla forces in third world countries.

The Tasmanian people have spoken. Only one isolated group, determined to get its way through misinformation, obstruction and, if need be, violence, has not come to terms with the reality of the situation in this state.

But Robin Gray did not hold all the cards. On 14th November in Melbourne a “Walk for Wilderness” rally was held with self-professed “Pommie Botanist” and TV celebrity Professor David Bellamy. Well over 15,000 people walked, making this the largest conservation gathering in Australian history.

Bob Brown spoke, along with representatives of both the Labor and Liberal Parties. Malcolm Fraser was in hospital, and a huge “get well” card was prepared for him, asking him to come back and save the Franklin.

On 23rd November 1982 the Senate Select Committee presented an interim report on power in Tasmania: it found that no new power scheme was needed in Tasmania for at least three years, if ever. The decision to build the dam was now nationally exposed as economic nonsense.

The next day the Tasmanian government amended the Police Offences Act to make trespass (which carried a maximum penalty of $100) an arrestable offence.

On 4th December 1982 a by-election was held in Flinders in Victoria. 40.4% of voters wrote “No Dams” on their ballot papers.

The by-election over, the Fraser government announced that it would not intervene to save the Franklin.

The blockade was due to commence in less than a week.

Day One of the Blockade was 14th December 1982, the day that South West Tasmania became a World Heritage Area. The World Heritage Committee expressed its concern about the prospects of a dam and recommended that Australian authorities take all possible measures to protect the integrity of the property.

That day the Senate passed the Democrats’ World Heritage Protection Bill.

On the river, rubber duckies trailed out to make a blockade across the Gordon River at Warner’s Landing. Ross Scott suggested that everyone hold up their paddles vertically, and the resultant striking image was seen across the country.

There were also actions at the adit site and on drill rigs, as well as other actions further upstream on the Franklin.

In all, 54 people were arrested that day. The media coverage was extraordinary and unprecedented. Spontaneous rallies, with thousands attending, occurred at Sydney, Canberra, Bendigo, Hobart and Launceston.

The first person processed in court was Bob Burton (winner of the Wild Environmentalist of the Year Award in 1999), who had been working on the Franklin campaign for some years already. When asked whether he would accept the bail condition that he would not “lurk, loiter, hide or secrete” himself on HEC property, he declined, and was remanded in jail.

He was joined by 45 others on that day alone.

The restriction on where people could go was widely seen as an abuse by the authorities of the bail process. The maximum penalty for the offence, on conviction, was a $100 fine, but people were held in prison for weeks for refusing to accept mere conditions of bail imposed ancillary to that charge.

There were daily actions and arrests. On 16th December Bob Brown, wearing a jumper and tie, was arrested at Sir John Falls. News footage around the country captured him smiling and shaking the hand of the arresting officer. He did not accept the bail conditions and was remanded in custody.

On 22nd December the workers left the area for Christmas. But already until that time there had been 202 arrests, with 167 imprisoned.

By now the issue had become global. Prince Charles said in Wales that he found the argument for the Franklin dam “not terribly convincing”.

Norm Sanders resigned his seat in parliament so he could run for the Federal senate. That meant that Bob Brown could, if he chose, contest a recount of the seat and possibly replace Sanders in Parliament. He had to consider this in prison over Christmas.

After Christmas large numbers of rafters commenced the trip down the Franklin River to join the blockade. Others travelled direct to Strahan, where the Wilderness Society had a shop premises and there was a large base camp for protesters. Media communications were being handled by Bob Burton and Geoff Law, and an impressive legal team was headed by Lincoln Siliakis.

On 1st January 1983, Bob Brown, still in prison, was announced to be The Australian newspaper’s “Australian of the Year”.

On 4th January Bob Brown accepted the bail conditions “with the utmost protest” and was released from custody. He was already in a commanding lead in the recount, and the following day was declared elected to parliament.

On the river, protests continued. Thousands were coming to Strahan to participate in the blockade.

Soon new bail conditions were imposed preventing blockaders from returning to the Municipality of Gormanston west of the King River (ie Strahan and Queenstown).

Then things began to get nasty. On 12th January, in the small hours, rocks were hurled through the windows of the Wilderness Society’s Info Centre in Strahan, radio equipment was jammed, all public telephones in Queenstown and Strahan simultaneously were out of order, and the telex cables into and out of the Info Centre were cut. That morning the road to the protesters’ base camp was blocked by a police car and any protesters attempting to pass were arrested. Eighty police escorted the first bulldozer on a low loader into Strahan. Protesters were pulled from underneath the wheels of the moving truck and were arrested. The bulldozer was successfully loaded onto a barge.

The following day the dozer left Strahan at dawn on a barge towed by the Cape Martin. The boat ploughed through a duckie blockade without slowing and passed over a submerged diver in flagrant disregard of the diver’s flag. Police did nothing to prevent this dangerous situation from developing. The dozer was unloaded and began to destroy the rainforest at Warner’s Landing.

That night Bob Brown was attacked in Strahan by four youths wielding a wheel brace. Bob managed to get hold of the wheel brace and the men fled. They later admitted kicking him in the head a number of times. They appeared in court the next day and were released (unlike many of the protesters) to be feted as heroes in Queenstown.

The Supreme Court upheld an appeal against the extreme bail conditions, and they would no longer be imposed. The Supreme Court also disqualified a magistrate for bias.

Professor David Bellamy, with 53 others, was arrested at Warner’s Landing. Footage of his arrest was shown in 32 countries and created banner headlines in London’s Fleet Street newspapers. He was remanded in custody. All up, some 1,500 people were arrested during the blockade and more than 500 were jailed.

On 19th January Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser made an offer of $500 million for Tasmania to stop the construction of the dam. Bob Brown described this as a “charade”: the Prime Minister knew of its rejection in advance. Premier Robin Gray described it as “totally unacceptable”.

Bob Brown announced that the Wilderness Society would campaign against the coalition at the forthcoming Federal election.

Opposition Leader Bill Hayden toured the Franklin with Bob Brown. In the Gordon River gorge, workers set off an explosion in an adit, cannoning boulders out over the river less than 100 metres behind Hayden’s boat. Hayden reaffirmed the Labor Party’s commitment to saving the River.

But Bill Hayden was in trouble in his own party. Bob Hawke was the rising star in the Labor Party, and could take over at any time. Malcolm Fraser knew this, and wanted an election before the more popular Bob Hawke became his opponent.

To pre-empt the Labor party change of leaders, on 3rd February Fraser drove to Yarralumla and advised the Governor-General to hold an election on 5th March 1983.

But before he could announce the date the dramatic news came that Bill Hayden had resigned the leadership of the Labor Party. Fraser would have to campaign against Bob Hawke.

On 4th February a rally was held against the dam in Hobart. An extraordinary 20,000 people attended, giving Bob Brown a huge ovation.

In the election campaign that followed, the Wilderness Society urged voters to put the Democrats first in the Senate, and Labor first in the lower house.

Two days before the election an advertisement was placed in the Melbourne Age and in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was a stunning full page colour poster of a Peter Dombrovskis photograph of Rock Island Bend on the Franklin River. It had the caption “Would you vote for a Party that would destroy this?” Up to this time, colour was almost unknown in Australian newspapers. The poster was electrifying.

Labor won the election, but lost all five Tasmanian federal seats. Bob Hawke claimed victory, and his only election night commitment was “The dam will not be built”.

But it was not over yet.

On 31st March 1983 the Commonwealth passed regulations making work on the dam illegal. The Commonwealth relied on several of the powers given to it under the Constitution, but chiefly the power to make laws to enforce its treaty obligations, pointing to its obligations to the Franklin under the World Heritage Convention.

The next day Premier Robin Gray announced that the regulations would be ignored, and a challenge mounted in the High Court.

Legislation was also passed by the Commonwealth parliament to prevent the dam being constructed.

The High Court now prepared to hear what is still the most important case in Australian constitutional history: the Franklin Dam case.

At issue was not the merit of the dam proposal, but whether the Commonwealth had power to override a State in this matter. The case was argued for two weeks.

On 1st July 1983 the parties gathered in the High Court in Brisbane for the result. Everyone knew it would be close. By four justices to three, the Court upheld the Commonwealth’s legislation.

The Franklin River was saved and so runs free to the sea.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Visiting Licola

Adrian Whitehead after being bashed by a logger wielding an axe handle

In the foothills of the alps nestles the small settlement of Licola. Occasional vehicles rumble across the timber bridge that spans the Macalister River, and the only shop is a general store.

I have been visiting this store for over 30 years, generally going to and from bushwalking trips. A few years ago - before flood and fire made big changes to Licola - my family stopped there to buy soft drinks. There were a few hats and souvenirs for sale, and items for campers and travelers. But also on prominent display, evidently for sale, were a number of stickers: “Don’t bugger the bush – bugger a greenie instead” read one. Another proclaimed “The only wilderness is the space between a greenie’s ears.” Another read “Fertilize the bush – doze in a greenie.”

In life, it's good to try and laugh off these jokes. This time, I couldn't.

Imagine, for a moment, replacing the word “greenie” in each of these stickers with “black”, or “gay”, and you will have some idea how offensive I found them. This kind of attack is very ugly - and it is not confined to words.

On 20th February 2000, some 40 to 50 loggers - some with their children - converged from Orbost and Bombala on a conservationists’ camp in the forest of East Gippsland. They trashed the camp and beat up a Canadian tourist who was there. A carload of conservationists drove up. The conservationists were violently attacked and the car reduced to a wreck. The loggers threatened to rape those present and caused severe injuries to two persons.

Much of this was recorded on audio, and it makes chilling listening. The out of control ranting of the loggers, the smashing of iron bars against machinery and people – and the futile attempts of the conservationists to calm the loggers down.

Some of the loggers were identified and later convicted.

This is no isolated incident. There have now been several violent attacks by loggers against environmentalists, some of which have resulted in convictions.

In December 1998 Adrian Whitehead (above) was assaulted with an axe handle by a logger. He had been conducting a botanical survey at the time. Despite having an independent witness, the police refused to lay charges.

After midnight on 3rd December 1998 a group of loggers smashed up a campsite of conservationists in the Otways, yelled threats, and drove a vehicle into a tent occupied by two female conservationists who feared for their lives. One logger was subsequently charged and convicted in relation to this incident.

In December 1998 Peter Stienke (“Fisherman Pete”) was by himself minding a conservationists’ camp at Goolengook over Christmas. His car was found at the camp with the door open and food and drinks on the passenger seat. Despite a search by police, Fisherman Pete was never found and is missing, presumed dead. He left a 14 year old son

There is nothing funny about the obscene stickers in the General Store in Licola. Exhortations to violence – whether against greenies, blacks, women, Jews, gays, or any other group in society – are shameful.

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Monday, 9 August 2010

Bat Caves

Ghost bat

In Queensland, north of Rockhampton, there is a mountain named after the famous Sicilian volcano - Mount Etna. It looks a little like Mount Etna in shape.

The area around is rich in limestone, and these have many caves. Apart from being very beautiful, the caves contain breeding habitat for several species of bat, including the ghost bat, which is unique to Australasia and listed as vulnerable. It is Australia’s only carnivorous bat and the second largest such bat in the world. It has the most sensitive hearing of any land mammal, and has been the subject of specialist hearing research.

One cave, Speaking Tube, was considered critical to the habitat of the ghost bats in the area.

In the 1980s, Central Queensland Cement was mining limestone at Mt Etna, which was in a public reserve. Conservationists obtained legal advice that the mining contravened several laws.

When the Company announced that it would blast Speaking Tube, protesters occupied the cave, but CQC lowered in speakers playing high-pitched sirens. The international community called for an end to the mining of the cave.

After some damage was already done, the Central Queensland Speleological Association sought injunctions in the Queensland Supreme Court.

The court found that the speleologists lacked "standing". In other words, the court said that because they would not be economically affected, they had no right to take legal action at all. For this reason, the court did not grant injunctions pending the full hearing. More importantly, it ordered that the speleologists deposit $15,000 for security for costs in respect of the balance of the action – that is, the speleologists had to put up money for Queensland Cement’s costs, in case they lost their case.

After a series of further hearings dealing with procedural issues (including visits to the High Court) Justice De Jersey ordered the speleologists to give further security in the sum of $45,000 within a fortnight, failing which, the case would be struck out - and the company would blast Speaking Tube.

The speleologists embarked on a fundraising campaign. They raised $20,000, and had the balance guaranteed by a Brisbane woman.

However, it then became clear that if they deposited the $45,000, the speleologists would be met with a further application for yet more security for costs. They knew they would not be able to raise this, and then they would lose the $45,000.

The speleologists abandoned their action.

The manager of Central Queensland Cement had admitted that the limestone around Speaking Tube would not be needed for ten years. Nevertheless, the following morning, 12 June 1989, a screen of trucks was placed in front of the cave in a vain bid to block the view of waiting television cameras. The company then dynamited Speaking Tube out of existence.

Despite several court hearings, the cave was destroyed without the legality of the mining ever being determined. The speleologists were acting not out of self-interest, but in the public interest, and they should not have faced costs penalties at all.

We'll never get Speaking Tube cave back, but perhaps we can use the experience to ensure we have a legal system more responsive to important conservation concerns - and astute to actually hear the merits of those claims. Security for costs is a major barrier to bringing legal proceedings in the public interest. Where community and environment groups approach the court in the public interest, they should be able to obtain, in advance, an assurance that they will not be liable for costs.

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