It’s World Environment Day on 5 June and 35 years after leading the fight to save the Franklin River in Tasmania and starting the most successful alternative political party in its wake, The Greens, Bob Brown reckons we’ve got another big environmental fight on our hands in Tasmania to save The Tarkine/takayna wilderness.
For a built environment that’s turning increasingly towards timber as a sustainable and biophilic material, the battle to save The Tarkine/takayna rainforests is an environmental campaign closer to the bone than most.
We all know the Great Barrier Reef is crying out for help against imminent threats from the proposed Adani coal mine, and that it has already suffered damage thanks to poor land management practices and global warming. But in Tasmania the scale of proposals for the majestic takayna or Tarkine forests in the north-west of the state offer equally dramatic horror global footage.
The scale of beauty and rare wilderness of The Tarkine is evident in a film produced on behalf of the Bob Brown Foundation and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
Another 35-minute film on the region will be released soon globally by clothing retailer and environmental campaigner Patagonia, which has joined Brown in the fight for The Tarkine.
According to Brown, who spoke to The Fifth Estate on Monday, what is being proposed by the controversial Malaysian-based Ta Ann, supported by “both state and federal governments, Liberal and Labor”, is clear felling of vast areas of rainforest.
Brown says there are currently 150 coupes that allow logging over the region, each as big as 200 football fields.
The proposal over the next three years is for these coupes to be clear felled and then firebombed. When that’s done, the areas will be “napalmed” (sprayed with a napalm-like substance) so that the fast-germinating seedlings will be prevented from growing, as will any animals or insects.
“It means a total elimination of all bird life and plant life, to be replaced by an artificial planation,” Brown says.
The Bob Brown Foundation website describes The Tarkine as a “vast wilderness area supporting Australia’s largest tract of cool temperate rainforest, spanning wild windswept beaches, extensive buttongrass plains and pristine wild rivers”.
“It is of great significance to Tasmania’s Aboriginal people and a relict of the ancient continent of Gondwana.”
Brown adds that it’s home to rare species such as the Tasmanian Devil, a freshwater cray that grows up to six kilograms in weight, and the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle.
Ta Ann, Brown says, is a company that has turned from “marauding” its own rainforests in Sarawak and Borneo to ours in the pristine wilderness of Tasmania, on land that is publicly owned.
What is particularly frustrating, Brown says, is the lack of business case – and government support for the logging and for Ta Ann.
“If this industry was left to the marketplace it would collapse.”
It’s political case is more spin than substance, he says, and predicated on the illusion of creating more jobs, even as the state’s premier acknowledges that tourism and hospitality are the big growth industries.
“Logging is a big job shedder,” Brown says.
“All they talk about is ‘jobs jobs jobs’ and the average Tasmanian thinks 15 per cent of jobs are in logging, but it’s less than one per cent.”
There is no economic justification, he says. It’s a highly subsidised old industry that is working against the benefits of other industries, including specialty tourism.
“The politics is simply last century thinking.”
What happens to the timber is low end uses – paper, energy and furniture decorations.
In 2018, he says, this is “pretty disgusting”.
New plantations to replace the old growth forests will be used for the same purpose.
Brown says it’s wholly unnecessary – even to supply the built environment’s growing appetite for timber construction.
There are enough commercial plantations to supply the fast-growing demand for timber construction – 200,000 hectares in Tasmania and more than two million hectares nationally.
“That’s where all our wood should be coming from,” he says.
Besides, he adds, “We’ve marauded the forests long enough. Maybe it’s time to go without some of the luxuries this marauding has provided us.”
What irks him is the timber industry wanting to log in publicly owned rainforests at no cost for the raw materials, “without having lifted a finger” to protect the existing rainforests.
So what’s the plan to save Takayna?
According to Brown, The Tarkine will be saved pretty much the same way the Franklin was saved – by people getting to know it.
Once people experienced the Franklin River’s serene and wild beauty in person they were hooked. The stunning photos of Peter Dombrovskis would have also played a big part.
“The Franklin was saved because people got to see the blockades on their TV sets and when they were given an option they voted to save it. It was a great example of democracy in action,” Brown says.
The plight of the Tarkine will likely depend on the same thing: seeing it, experiencing it. And from the global realisation that here is one of the world’s last remaining wilderness areas.
“Go visit,” he urges, “from a bike, a kayak, and you can see it from a car as well.
“As people get to know about it you can feel the ground changing and we also know from the previous example of the Franklin that it’s a national and international heirloom. It won’t be protected by Tasmania’s politicians.
“It has to become known by the people.”
Supporters want The Tarkine to become a National Park and World Heritage Area.
Right now, Brown says, it “doesn’t have either big party lined up in favour of it”.
According to Brown, we’re much luckier than four decades ago because visual messages travel a lot faster and the whole world can become aware very quickly.
“The Franklin campaign was seven years long. We’re patient about this and I’m very confident it will be protected but it’s a case of not enough people knowing about it yet.”
Patagonia’s 35-minute film of the forest will help. It will show first in Tasmania, then on the mainland, and afterwards Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Patagonia, he says, is an example of how a business can help turn the tide.
“What an extraordinary ethical company with a global reach.”
The campaign is also being supported by The Tarkine Wilderness Lodge and the Corinna Wilderness Experience.
The mood is changing, he says. It’s been barren for a couple of decades but there is now change.
“Don’t get depressed. Get active.”