Among our group to Save our Sisters we have an economist, librarian, social worker, doctor, artist, tourism operator, electrician, orchardist, teacher, nurses, farmers, businesspeople and retirees.

I thought, in my naivety, we were honest, hard working and basically decent people. Yet, for the past 16 months, we have been treated by government (local, state and federal), politicians, councillors and bureaucrats alike as first class idiots and second class citizens.

When the bulldozers moved in last Monday to begin the destruction of our beautiful forest, our tourist icon, our recreational retreat, our source of water and home to many protected species, we could only stand by powerless in the face of such an onslaught and either weep with sadness or rail with anger.

We now will either become warriors and continue the fight more fiercely, or we will retreat into easy complacency to stop the mind thinking, and tell ourselves that those who govern are good blokes doing the fair, honest and right thing by us.

Democracy in this State is a farce, individuals do not matter

Months of hard work lobbying, studying and discovering sound scientific backing for our concerns, despite government, opposition and Forestry claims that their experts know best, resulting in the realization that democracy in this State is a farce and that individuals do not matter gives credence to the adage that ignorance is, indeed, bliss. It would have been far easier to get a convicted murderer off death row in Texas than to stop the logging of the South Sister.

And for the second time in less than three years the heart of this township has been ripped out, first when we lost Todds Hall by fire and now as we lose the South Sister. The first was accidental and we are just recovering, the last a deliberate, vicious attack for a return of less than $150,000 to the State, albeit $800,000 to the buyer, and one from which we will never recover.

Most of the trees will be chipped, sent overseas, returned as cardboard and thrown on the tip. For this insanity a unique place is destroyed, numerous birds, insects and animals lose a rich habitat and the goose that could have potentially laid a golden egg for this economically depressed area is effectively killed.

As well, the personal cost to all of us is enormous and yet to be quantified. A large number of residents are suffering from stress related illnesses: insomnia, depression, anxiety, stomach cramps and shortness of breath.

Now many of us are in a state of shock – something we have to experience daily as we witness large machinery entering the forest and as we prepare ourselves in dread for the constant whine of chainsaws and roar of log trucks from which we cannot escape, and the sickening knowledge of the devastation that is occurring to our once lovely place.

It has been intimated that we do this for fun or to be difficult, but I certainly could have done without these months of despair, hope,and back to despair again, as well as intense stress and monetary loss.

Like many other groups all over this state,we have no alternative but to fight for our livelihoods, environment and protection of water for it’s certain this Government will not.

One day one of us just might get a win!

A little history:

A state-sanctioned act of vandalism

A FORMER Labor Forests Minister Andrew Lohrey has written to state politicians to lobby against a Forestry Tasmania plan to log the South Sister on the East Coast.

Dr Lohrey says the plan “will be a state-sanctioned act of vandalism that demoralizes the local community and undermines a healthy tourism and recreational industry. The South Sister is a location with magnificent views across North Eastern Tasmania. It forms part of a horse-shoe range around the historic town of St Marys which is on the East Coast tourist trail.

Dr Lohrey said the State Government’s “forestry mantra” was jobs, jobs, jobs – but they had been declining for the past 25 years. “In 1980, there were around 205 sawmills in the state,now there are around 40. In 1980, there were around 8300 manufacturing jobs in this industry, now there are around 3000. There will be no forestry jobs lost if the South Sister remains as beautiful as it is now, but if logging goes ahead, tourism jobs will be lost.”

Read it for yourself … here is the letter Andrew Lohrey wrote to local pollies about logging the South Sister:

In the next few months Forestry Tasmania proposes to begin logging of the South Sister on the East Coast of Tasmania. This will be a state-sanctioned act of vandalism that demoralizes the local community and undermines a healthy tourism and recreational industry. The South Sister is a local icon with magnificent views across North Eastern Tasmania. It forms part of a horse-shoe range of mountains around the historic township of St Marys.

Part of this range is St Patrick Head, named on the 17th March, 1773 on Captain James Cook’s second voyage. None of this range is safe from logging.

Historically, Forestry Tasmania, and the Commission before it, have not worked in the interests of the public of Tasmania. They have always worked in the interests of the forest industries. This was clear to me as Minister for Forests in 1978 when I set up the Everett Enquiry. Now 25 years later Forestry Tasmania is working even harder on behalf of private industry to the detriment of Tasmanians. The proposed logging of the South Sister is a dramatic case in point.

The forest destruction caused by this logging will be visible along the East Coast tourist trail. The steepness of the coupe, particularly on the eastern slopes facing the coast, indicates that the damage to the topography of the South Sister will be devastating. The logging will leave a malignant bush-tumour 1000 meters high, the stark visibility of which should scare off every concerned tourist for years to come.

This logging proposal is also seriously endangering the water quality of the small farming community at the base of the South Sister. This possibility is supported by the report prepared last year by the hydrologist, David Leaman. In addition, the proposal will directly interfere with recreational activities as well as disturbing, if not destroying, the habitat of several rare and threatened species known to be in the area.

Forestry’s mantra has been jobs, jobs, jobs … but

The State Government’s forestry mantra has been jobs, jobs, jobs. But the last 25 years of logging have not reduced the job decline in forest industries. I believe that logging in fact has helped to accelerate the decline. In 1980 there were around 205 hardwood sawmills in the State. Now there are around 40. In 1980 there were around 8300 manufacturing jobs in this industry, now there are around 3000. There will be no forestry jobs lost if the South Sister remains as beautiful as it is now, but if logging goes ahead tourism jobs will be lost.

According to the CEO of Tourism Tasmania, St Marys is on one of the eleven touring routes in Tasmania famous for their surrounding bushwalks. The local youth hostel alone averages 800 to 900 visitors a year and the number is increasing. All spend money in the town of St Marys. This is an area where youth unemployment runs at 40% and no-one is able to demonstrate how that figure will be reduced by logging. This is an area at risk of losing valuable tourist assets for no demonstrable return in jobs.

The proposed logging of the South Sister highlights the indifference that Forestry Tasmania has long shown for the local community. This indifference is supported by both major political parties in Tasmania who have together effectively disenfranchised many concerned citizens.

We saw this disregard recently when some respectable local people were arrested for protesting against logging of the unique Blue Tier, another scenic tourist destination a few kilometres north of the South Sister. That logging went ahead and government and opposition cared nothing about it. What are good people to do when their community in under threat and there is no one in authority who cares?

The effects of this kind of indifference lead inevitably to serious demoralization in regard to the worth of democratic values and the usefulness of peaceful methods to resolve conflicts. When government and opposition support greed and self-interest over community culture and environmental care how are we to respond? If people loose faith in governmental processes then we will begin to see the kind of social and civil strife common to other more dangerous parts of the world.

[The attached before and after pictures of the South Sister gives an indication of what it will look like after the logging.]

Yours sincerely,

Dr Andrew Lohrey

And the response:

Dear Dr Lohrey
Your email was passed on from Greg Hall’s office to Forestry Tas (Bass District) as South Sister is in this district.
Having read your email we have noted there are a number of misconceptions relating to the proposed logging at South Sister, which we will address:

The harvesting will be of a selective nature, not clear felling.

It will be on a small section to the west, not east, and not across the entire slope as depicted in your (attached) JPG. To support this, we have attached a photo of the actual section that is to be harvested.

Because of the topography of the hill, combined with landscaping techniques, and the fact that it is not a clear felling operation, the views from the East Coast touring route that goes through St Marys and not up to South Sister, is unlikely to impact on tourists and locals.

As to water quality being affected by logging practices around South Sister, there are Forest Practice Code guidelines for managing the quality of domestic water catchments, which is overseen by Peter McIntosh of the Forest Practices Board. Peter assessed the site and as a result a reserve has been established around domestic water intake.

Thank you for advising of your concerns. We hope now you are more well-informed.

Jo Field
Community Liaison Officer
Forestry Tasmania (Bass District)

Andrew Lohrey was forests minister in 1978. He was dumped by Doug Lowe for setting up the Everett Inquiry to investigate the level of royalties the state received from forestry. Neil Batt replaced him and got rid of the enquiry.

This article was first published in first-generation on Saturday, September 25, 2004