Lapoinya’s secret weapon in the fight to save Tasmania’s old-growth forests
“Where’s the hope?” my friend Dave asks as we drive through plantations of recently felled trees. Piles of twisted branches lie scattered across hectares of landscape; a mass grave of rotting wood.
Hope is quickly fading for Tasmania’s old-growth forests. Until recently, logging was a dying industry, facing extinction like the Tasmanian Tiger. But since the Liberal Party’s election at both state and federal levels, logging is once again a priority.
To the residents of Lapoinya, a small hamlet in North West Tasmania, the intrusion of logging into their quiet haven is a shock.
I’m sitting in the farm house of Barbara and Stewart Hoyt whose property borders a designated Forestry coupe. (A coupe consists of 60 to 70 hectares of forest.) This particular coupe is known as FDO53A/JFF029; a souless reference to a thriving eco-system.
“Forestry is talking about dropping fire bombs just 200 metres from the property,” Stewart says. “We asked them to tell us when they’re going to drop them, but they said they couldn’t.”
Fire bombs can only be used when the wind is blowing in the right direction. Since the wind is unpredictable, these bombs are dropped suddenly so as to avoid bush fires, but there is no time to warn residents.
Bomb dropping — and its bushfire potential– means that logging of old growth forests must comply with regulations. One of these regulations stipulates that no endangered fauna or flora be within the logging area.
These stipulations, however, are sometimes overlooked.
In one of the coupes, for instance, sits a Goshawk’s nest. Goshawks are an endangered species, so the area should be automatically protected, but Forestry Tasmania has already started marking boundaries and building dirt roads for trucks. This is before the actual logging has even been approved.
If this area is logged and bulldozed, an entire, richly diverse eco-system will be destroyed. Once the forest goes, the animals flee and find shelter in the pine plantations.
“Nothing survives in the pine forest,” says Dave.
Stewart and Barbara have been in Lapoinya for 30 years. They originally bought a vacant piece of land and lived in a tent for three months while they built a small cabin. They had their first child here and with each family addition they extended the house. Now they have a two-storey dwelling and five grown-up children who live and work elsewhere.
Their children now bring their own babies and toddlers to visit their parents’ land.
When the Hoyts heard that Forestry Tasmania had targeted Lapoinya, Barbara wasn’t sure how to fight. She and her husband were hesitant and wanted to avoid conflict, but one day her friend on a nearby property started crying. Her bush block was going to be devastated and she couldn’t take it any more.
“I knew then I was going to fight.” Barbara explained. “And I thought if all iI do is save one person from this misery, then it’s worth it.”
Barbara and Stewart write letters, meet with forestry officials and are now ready to protest. They have slogans which will soon be emblazoned on banners and t-shirts.
Their daughter Jess is visiting from Hobart. She says she feels helpless but wants to support them in the fight.
“I want to do something,” she says. “It was the best place to grow up here.”
She shows me where she once rode her pony and then we pass a shed with garlic drying inside.
The garlic is grown organically and Stewart sells the produce to a local vegetable market.
I meet a young French couple who are travelling around Tasmania as part of Helpx, a voluntary organisation similar to Woofing. The difference between Woofers (Workers on Organic Farms) and Helpx volunteers is that many of the latter have trade skills. One lot of Helpx volunteers built an extension for Barbara and Stewart.
“They come for the bush setting,” Barbara explains.
Back inside the house, Barbara passes me a cup of camomile tea. She grows lots of herbs and gives me a bag of camomile leaves to take home.
Barbara and Stewart discuss tactics with Dave, and they review a list of slogans for their banners. Dave mentions he’s been in touch with Bob Brown, the former leader of the Greens Party, and he wants him to meet the protesters.
He also wants him to meet members of the Aboriginal community who he hopes will perform a bird-calling ceremony to attract local eagles. If it’s filmed, there will be irrefutable evidence that the forest is home to a threatened species.
We leave Barbara and Stewart’s house and drive through the forest along a track cleared many years ago.
The forest is beautiful. The day is warm and Dave stops and points out the rare trees and ferns.
“They’re meant to do a proper survey of the area to make sure there are no rare trees here, but they haven’t even bothered to look properly.”
He shakes his head in disgust. The bush has blue ribbons tied onto branches every couple of metres. Dave explains this is the boundary, where the forestry trucks can’t go. In between these blue ribbons are rare trees.
“How can they say they did a proper assessment and then not even notice these gums?” he asks.
And he’s right. Only someone wearing a blindfold could miss them.
“It breaks my heart,” says Dave, as he surveys some of the already-destroyed rainforest and rails against the politicians who allow it to happen.
“I hate the bastards.They are all corrupt and morally bankrupt.”
To prove his point he drives me to Preolenna, about 15 kms from Lapoinya.
Preolenna was once a thriving community. It was originally established by soldier-settlers after the Second World War. About 20 years ago, Forestry plantation companies decided to plant out the area but first they had to extricate Preolenna’s residents.
One of the members of Timber Communities Australia flew to the United States to learn how to woo communities so that they would support plantation development. The strategy included holding bbqs, family picnics, talks at the local school, and convincing the locals that it was beneficial to the community.
Twenty years later there is no community left in Preolenna.
The school closed down, shops in the nearby town of Wynyard disappeared and those who didn’t move away were left with unsellable properties. People who couldn’t sell their homes rented them out, and that’s when the criminal element moved in. The crime rate has increased in the area since ‘plantation development.’
Dave points towards thick underbrush and pine trees.
“You can hide anything in there — motorbikes, tvs, computers. You could steal stuff and hide it out here.”
Dave doesn’t want to see another rural area destroyed. This is why he is helping the Lapoinya residents fight. He hates Forestry and its short-sighted plans.
“Taxpayer money is used to build the forestry roads as well as to pay the consultants used to undertake the surveys. Forestry will spend millions of dollars logging this area, but they already know they are going to lose money. It makes no sense. The people of Lapoinya’s taxes are going towards paying for their own destruction.”
He shakes his head.
“Where’s the hope?” Dave mutters several times.
He is passionate about saving the forest and has rung journalists, met with politicians, advised the residents on how to protest, and brought filmmakers and writers to the area to help expose the destruction of communities.
Then something occurs to me.
“You’re Lapoinya’s hope, Dave,” I say.
“You’re the weapon that the residents of Preolenna never had.”
Save the lobster
A short film about endangered fresh water lobsters at Lapoinya
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About the author
Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.