Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Left to die

Neo Conned
Figure 1: Preolenna village, Feb 2009.

Given that plantations should be kept 700 metres away from a community [1] and that fireballs explode 200 metres in radius from their eucalypt fuel and that ember attack can come from kilometres away [2], rural communities like Preolenna in NW Tasmania have obviously been hung out to die since plantations have moved in.

Figure 2: The view to the west Meunna, Mawbanna….and some.

Their only fire appliance is in the main village, near five of the 21 houses in the district. The road in and out of the village has plantations on either side of the road. The school bus dodges log trucks as it wends its way between the trees. There is no safe way in and no safe way out as far as Morleah, further to the coast.

My neighbours, with fire-fighting experience would refuse to help in the instance of a serious fire. It is unlikely that a single house is 200m from a plantation – many are less than 50 metres away.

“There’s nothing anyone could do to save them without dying themselves. No way I’d be there… I ‘d be at my home in a bunker if Preolenna was alight.”

Figure 3: The main road from south of the Preolenna village.The trees are between 8 and 9 years of age and may double their fuel load before harvest. The fire appliance is near by communications tower.

Figure 4: The school bus route -on the main road twice daily.

On Sunday 7th January 2007 an arson attempt failed due to sheer luck [3].

Figure 5: Existing mixed farmland goes under, May 2001. The roof reflections show the bus route from the main road, Coalmine Rd intersection heading west (left) to the village in the far middle distance.

Figure 6: February, 2009. The roof of the house on the corner of Preolenna and Coalmine Roads is just discernible through the additional fuel load.

The arrival of plantations have turned the farmers’ household shade and shelter belts into fire hazards and their houses into death traps. Not every house with trees around it is the result of tree-hugging, tree-changing stupidity. The number of tree changer hectares would have trouble matching the 1 million hectares of hardwood and softwood plantations that have invaded the space between Australia’s native forests and rural communities (53% of plantations were on previously agricultural land in 2000[4]. 1.82 million hectares of plantations are identified in the 2008 State of Forests Report.)

Figure 6: Plantations replace mixed agricultural land – July 2001.

Figure 7: The house with the smoke in figure 6 – Feb 2009.

There are houses like this throughout the hinterland of the NW Coast of Tasmania in a belt of plantation that stretches from Smithton to Devonport and beyond. They no doubt occur in any rural area in Australia where it used to rain more than 6-700 mm per year.

Figure 8: Another farm east of Preolenna near Takone. Weather conditions and neighbours prevented catastrophe from a lightning fire in a neighbouring coup.

Figure 9: The same farm house (figure 8) in 1980, before extensions, outbuildings and garden were added in the mid 1980’s. The risk of fire from the small stand of radiata pines is almost nil.

Population shifts make housing on the outskirts of major centres necessary, given the inflation of town prices and lack of housing for those moving from remote regions. Premier Brumby does not forget the occasional lifestyler, either. The unfettered encouragement of plantations has failed to recognise these forces and the rights of existing residents – let alone having plans that consider the implications of climate change.

At no point have the state government departments concerned with resource planning , local government, fire prevention, or forestry made people aware of the true risks they face. At no point have they or plantation companies provided fire prevention plans. The fire authorities have actually engendered a false sense of security. Evidence shows they are assessing fire risk without an objective set of criteria. They use the “personal experience” of the officer usually assuming a small isolated outbreak in typical weather, with ample resources available.

Figure 10: Plantation to the fenceline of a property in Moorleah, north of Preolenna

The local council that looks after Preolenna does not issue fire abatement notices in the hinterland: understaffed. The companies spend only enough on maintenance to clear 3 metre trails every couple of years and slash once per year, usually when it is too late and after a lot of nagging. They are understaffed and their maintenance budgets are underfunded for doing the job properly.

The plantation industry and its state and federal government backers are culpable for exposing the rural population to known risks of lightning strikes, arson and fires at least as bad as the Ash Wednesday and Snug fires. It amounts to a criminal neglect of their duty of care even before new climate change risks are factored in.

Plantations will need to be removed to at least a distance of 700 metres from communities (including those in ribbons along public roads ) and at least 200 metres from isolated residences. Clearings for powerlines and other infrastructure need to also be reconsidered in the light of the increased risks due to climate change. A share in the costs of private bunker construction for plantation-threatened households should also be mandatory. Fire risk assessment protocols should be established and the state fire authority overhauled. Councils should be forced to carry out the duties they have to their entire shire (including mowing their own verges twice: before, not after fire season).

State planners should be required to rezone areas for plantations so that they are broken into smaller non-contiguous parcels before the next rotation.

Many of the residents of Preolenna and other rural communities are the employees that the plantation complanies purport to care for so much. Let’s see some evidence of social conscience and not of what looks like deliberate extermination.

Figure 11: An existing Preolenna farmhouse, now invisible due to plantations. Looking Eastwards towards Takone and Hampshire, 2001. It once produced milk, beef, lamb and potatoes.

[1] Chen, K. and McAneney, J. (2004). Quantifying bushfire penetration into urban areas in Australia. Geophysical Research Letters, 31, L12212, June issue, doi:10.1029/2004GL020244.

[2] Annecdotal evidence from this months Victorian fires.

[3] The Advocate, Tues, 9th January, 2007. P1.

[4] 53% of the 2000 plantation estate is on previously agricultureal land and 20% was on previous plantation, on second rotation. (Plantations of Australia, Summary Report 2001, Dept Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry – Australia, P8)

Or download picture essay: Left_to_Die.doc

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Duncan Mills

    February 15, 2019 at 5:45 am

    A tragic and powerful account of systemic failure of governance to protect people and their environment.

    Sorry, but this conversation has given so much space to obvious trolls. Hedgemonies always have a few sycophants who benefit from their existence. We saw this endlessly during the Gunns disease.

    We cannot escape the conclusion that the democratic process (parties/politicians which have been captured by the need under current legislation for electoral donations) to gain office. An obvious betrayal of the founding principal of democracy .. the equality of its members.

    The elimination of donations is the only solution to this ongoing slow destruction of our environment and communities. This, combined with an effectively and independently resourced Tasmanian ICAC.

  2. Nicholas Gellie (Spain)

    February 6, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    I’m sorry to hear of your plight in being surrounded by plantations.

    Your landscape looks like parts of Portugal I visited recently. Dense eucalypt plantations running for miles down either side of major roads, surrounding towns and invading endemic forests. It is a case of money overcoming sound land use planning. You do live in a different fire landscape from parts of the mainland with eucalypt plantations, and generally speaking you should have less risk from extreme wildfire.

    Here in Galicia, plantations cannot be planted within 50 m of any house. I suggest that should be increased to 200 m. Perhaps if you could prepare a community fire safety plan showing appropriate setbacks from houses, dams, etc., and show that to your local Council, that might help change the official line on fire planning for eucalypt plantations and neighbours.

  3. Brenda Rosser

    February 6, 2019 at 12:40 am

    February, 2019: 200,000 hectares of Tasmania has been burnt by wild fires raging out of control now for 6 weeks, set off by lightning strikes in an extraordinarily hot and dry summer.

    The plantation next to my house is still growing 50 metres away. The big American multinational company has refused to reply to my correspondence about the fire threat this placement poses, and in the context of abrupt climate change.

  4. Brenda Rosser

    May 10, 2017 at 4:02 am

    “South–eastern Australia is one of the three most fire–prone areas in the world .. The 2012 Tasmanian State Natural Disaster Risk Assessment highlighted ire driven by changing weather and climate as one of the natural hazards most likely to cause signiicant damage and cost to Tasmania.”…”The projections indicate a steady increase in fire danger, especially in spring; a
    lengthening of the fire season; and more days at the highest range of fire danger. ”

    Future Fire Danger
    Fox–Hughes P, Harris RMB, Lee G, Jabour J, Grose MR, Remenyi TA & Bindoff NL
    October 2015

  5. Brenda Rosser

    May 9, 2017 at 8:15 pm

  6. William Boeder

    September 6, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    How would David Llewellyn try to justify this syytem of plantations to the very doorsteps of houses?

    Don’t you worry. he will come up with some tattered old regulation which might hint that this could be OK, and it was the fault of somebody else.
    His involvement in both the support for this kind of reckless rural invasion and the supression of these actual dangerous scenarios, would be found somewhere in government records somewhere?

    This man singlhandedly has been the ancient warrior fighting for forestry controls over these past years, most all approvals must go via his office.
    Why he has cosistently toadied up to the forest destroyers and the unquenchable plantation seekers is something worth following up?

    I am reminded of Judas Iscarriot and how he gained his fame all those tears ago, the readings of this fellow typifies him as a not too pleasant fellow!

    Maybe Mr. Daid Llewellyn has read of this man about town in those times, for there is some simile in the actions of both these revered persons.


  7. Evelyn DeVito

    February 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Sleight of hand – again!

    How does it happen that a serious article about the fire threat posed by plantation development gives rise to a debate about whether plantations support more biodiversity than dairy farms? Surely the debate should be about how rural residents in plantation areas can be provided with adequate protection from wild fires.

    Neo Conned’s article and photos give a clear picture of the potential for a fire disaster in an area where inadequate regulation gives rural residents little protection from practices of their forestry neighbours. An individual resident can follow all the instructions for fireproofing their own environment, but a plantation 50 metres from the house makes a mockery of the attempt. And when the only possible escape route is through that same plantation, it truly is a recipe for disaster.

    Once again a serious issue relating to plantation practices and regulations in Tasmania has been diverted into a silly quibble. Congratulations Timber Lobby, you’ve done it again.

  8. Chris Harries

    February 27, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    In support of Francis, it is worth noting that both logging and agriculture are both largely set aside from Tasmania’s planning control system.

    And both have very high environmental impacts, if not from biodiversity or habitat degradation, then as a result of other factors such as hydrology and erosion problems, stream pollution, pesticide usage etc.

    As we know, logging is largely self-regulated, or regulated via special processes in order to avoid too much public scrutiny.

    Agricultural practices, similarly, are partly exempted from normal planning and pollution control laws, there being several special provisions in the planning system that apply to farming and which exempt farming from too much scrutiny.

    Now, when you consider that combined forestry and farming make up the majority of Tasmania’s land area, you begin to realize that Tasmania’s standard planning and development laws (as good as they may be) apply to towns, buildings, cities and factories and not much more.

    The Environmental Defenders Office has an online description of the planning and pollution control system and its ideosyncrasies. See: http://www.edohandbook.org/doku.php

  9. Charles and Claire Gilmour

    February 27, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    (7) Good on you Evelyn. We’d like to hear more from you. Because reality cannot ever be replaced by the forestry spin that is ultimatley, destroying us all.

  10. francis

    February 26, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    If you had actually been on a dairy farm you would know much of the only areas remaining as native forest are in gullies and inaccessible areas, much of which and actually greater areas are also inaccessible (through legislation or mechanically) for forestry. At any rate my comparison was between the biodiversity in plantations vs pasture. If you get past the hype and actually read the literature (not just that on the wilderness society/greens website) you would know that 1080 is only used during the establishment of a plantation, once the trees are established no mechanisms are employed to exclude browsing mammals, there is no need to. As I have said previously chemicals are only used at establishment and perhaps once or twice during the 15 odd year life of the plantation. Compare to pasture, chemicals every year, mammals shot or poisoned regularly to protect pasture. Again I am not against farming, simply using for the comparison. Birds and mammals rarely have permanent homes, they are adept at moving between areas of suitable habitat. The different life stages of a plantation would provide different habitat factors for different fauna species. I am not saying that plantation has the biodiversity values of native forest, however it is much greater than pasture.

  11. Steve

    February 25, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    13; And of course, mammals are encouraged to forage amongst the plantation trees. C’mon!

  12. Valleywatcher

    February 25, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Specious nonsense, francis (#13). Paul stated that in the area he grew up in, there were large tracts of healthy, diverse rainforest on and around the dairy farms – this is where the biodiversity existed and now there is almost none of it left. Did you choose to misunderstand that or are you simply a foolish forestry stooge?

    And you don’t even address the extremely important issue of poisons in our waterways from the spraying of your so-called ‘healthy crop – tree plantation’ with pesticides that drift willy-nilly around our ‘clean, green’ island. What a joke!

  13. Charles and Claire Gilmour

    February 25, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    francis, i’d love to know who you are, you seem to have soooooo much information. Please give us scientific facts and your obvious massive experience! That’s if you want us who know and can prove the truth, to believe what you say!

  14. Maddie

    February 25, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Francis, you say trees are available for small birds to nest in, for mammals to live and forage in. Have you ever had a wander through a plantation? Not much life there I can tell you. In my jaunts through plantations in Gunns Plains, the only thing that I saw HALF living was a wallaby that had obviously been poisoned by 1080. A distressing sight. The understory to the trees consisted of ragwort and thistle. You talk about the shade the plantation timber provides for streams. What about the vast quantities of water sucked out of the ground in the growing process? What about the sprays used that contaminate streams? Even if your fantasy was true and birds and other wildlife lived happily in your beautiful plantations, there would come a time when the machines move in and their new habitat (albeit totally unnatural) destroyed – then the 1080 baiting and chemical spraying regime starts all over again. I have read a number of your posts on TT and wonder if you are being deliberately provocative. Some people are like that. I feel sorry for you.

  15. francis

    February 25, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Paul I fail to see how you can argue that biodiversity is reduced, compared to dairy farms??!? Compare Fig 8 and 9 of the original article, one has highly degraded pasture, apparently grazed down to near dirt – the other a healthy crop – tree plantation. From an environmental and biodiversity perspective it is abundantly clear that plantation is better than pasture! In plantation stock is excluded from streams, streams are shaded, water cooled etc, trees are available for small birds to nest in, for mammals to live amongst and forage in. Yes the potential fire risk is greater than pasture, that is clear, but that alone is not reason to exclude trees – otherwise we might as well clearfell all of Tasmania if we need 0 fire risk.

  16. Ben

    February 24, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Re#9 Chris Harries is right, we are dealing with a different situation now.

    Last week, ABCTV’s Four Corners featured a horrendous report about the Victorian bushfires. I cried as I watched, not just at the people’s stories, but at the horror of the fire itself. It was so big.

    “Kevin Tolhurst is a fire expert and ecologist. His expertise is predicting fires using an index of danger. He was called in to the Melbourne Emergency Co-ordination Centre last Saturday.
    As he tells the program, ‘we use an index developed in the fifties and sixties that goes from zero to one hundred. (In the days leading up to Saturday) we were experiencing indexes in excess of two hundred.'”

    [ABC Four Corners, “Two Days In Hell,” 16 Feb 2009, http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2008/s2489831.htm ]

  17. Pat Donnelly

    February 24, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    This is a very badly planned development. What do the insurance companies think of this? Are there any significant assets exposed to risk? Will a competent court grant to a resident of the locality, a Declaration that the development is unlawful? Not a cheap option, but the insurance companies might have to threaten this to force the relevant planning authority to act.
    What do the residents think? How many are likely to be unable to escape given 30 mins warning? What does the local member think?
    God help the residents. The whole point of plantation developments is that they be sustainable. They must provide jobs at all stages of development. Thinning and fire-breaking has to be done. There has to be a local saw-mill. Small scale at first, but later, it saves transport costs to partly finish timber. Where is a rational business plan? Is the timber insured? By whom? Who are the investors? Is this to be set afire deliberately, soon, to realize cash now needed due to losses elsewhere? Have the police at the regional HQ, been informed that lives are at risk?
    We have systems for this sort of vandalism in waiting!

  18. Paul OHalloran

    February 24, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Shane,
    I grew up at Meunna on a dairy farm just 15 km from preolenna. My brothers and I and 20 children from Meunna attended the local school at Preolenna, which had around 60 pupils from kindergarten to grade 9. It was a community of approximately 250 people with a cricket team and a close supportive community.
    The 9 original dairy farms at Meunna have all been converted to plantations. They were clearly earmarked because of their productive soils, appropriate altitude and consistent rainfall. This land at meunna supported 50 people, 9 dairy herds and some of the best, if not the best, seed potato growing regions of this nation. Each of the 9 properties were around 120 hectares. Interestingly, all contained significant areas of rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest, with the obvious biodiversity contained within those areas. I can remember abundant Tasmanian devils, native quolls, eagles, fw crayfish and burrowing crayfish. I can also remember “helping” my dad and other residents run the power lines and also tending to the local phone exchange.
    As the plantation industry moved in, the phone lines, power lines, milk tankers and families moved. The school at Preolenna closed. The productive dairy and seed potato farms were replaced with fire prone monocultures. The biodiverse areas of rainforest were clearfelled and replaced with plantations.
    I still visit the area regularly and am certain from both a scientific perspective and from anecdotal observations that biodiversity has been diminished – how could it not be?
    The tragedy of all this is that the logging industry, supported by both Labor and Liberal, want to build a bridge at Hilders Crossing, just 8km from my old home, to access the remaining accessible rainforests and old growth forests in the Tarkine region, thus destroying its potential for creating 1000 jobs and $60m pa in tourism.
    And you are trying to tell me that this has been all good for the community of Preolenna and for biodiversity?

    Paul O’Halloran

  19. Chris Harries

    February 23, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Plantation or no plantation, we are in a new ball game with regard to fire hazard.

    Here is a very intelligent response about the Victorian fires from non other than the Firefighters Union – http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/face-global-warming-or-lives-will-be-at-risk-20090211-84od.html?page=-1

    If logging interests do not take on the risk of climate change seriously they will carry very heavy legal liability down the track. No amount of apology will cover their backsides.

  20. Neo Conned

    February 23, 2009 at 3:26 pm


    I think the point you contest was that plantations have invaded agricultural land where rainfall is more than 6-700mm, not that Preolenna has that amount.

    Not all of the houses adjoining plantations are in Preolenna and the rainfall on the NW, as I am sure you know gets lower as you head eastwards. At least that is the case now. No-one knows who will dry out and when, given the nature of climate change right now. Would you have lit a fire in Preolenna on the Friday before Black Saturday? The place is drying out and climate is changing FAST ..”abrupt” is the term. When was the last fire in the Tarkine? last year …. wet rainforest, just behind Preolenna. When was the one before that?….


    The plantation companies and policy makers have been told that fire given the fuel mass of a plantation is uncontrollable after 3-6 years of growth. They know and they moved in regardless! The sorry arses are not just those of a few so-called retired tree changers and ferals…. it might even be your sorry arse.

    If I had got the evidence of risk out of a journal (as one was), would you argue that I could get anything off a piece of paper to make an argument to suit my ends? Like porn or old fish batter?

    Just like the firefighters who are saving the sorry arses of those who live in amongst the native bush, I would hope that you see the same motivation behind the pictures of Preolenna. Any fool can see that having plantations so close to houses when backed by square kilometres of fuel is unsafe! It is just that no one at a policy level is prepared to do anything about it. And that’s what it takes to save sorry arses and not risk firefighters’ lives.

    Perhaps we should send in more pictures of non-Preolenna houses for the next few weeks just so you actually get the point (I thought two houses was enough).

    I think your arguments are small-minded, disingenuous and illogical. I suspect you are not a contractor or forestry worker, because you cant even see that such policies require an increase in employment. They usually have an affinity with the bush, same as farmers, tree changers and ferals. I suspect you are a media plant intended to burn up time and energy. Thanks for standing up on the golf tee.Thwack!!

  21. Evelyn DeVito

    February 23, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Once again Preolenna presents a clear warning about the unforeseen outcomes of myopic planning – by both government and industry. The fire risk to Preolenna and other similarly effected communities and the need to import potatoes into Tasmania from the U.S. are just the most recent observable results of the flawed MIS scheme. And once again there is uninformed debate about the status of the community of Preolenna rather than acknowledgement of the real problems illustrated by the Preolenna experience.

    Preolenna was a productive farming community. It produced potatoes including the seed potato crop for Australia, milk, beef and other crops for almost 100 years with little irrigation and without environment degradation other than the original clearing of the rainforest. Remnant bush in the wetter areas and along waterways provided habitat for a rich and diverse population of native animals and birds. Turning that into a vast monoculture industrial tree plantation would have been an act of vandalism if the outcomes were planned. Unfortunately there was no real planning for the safety of the remaining residents, the economic effects on the small towns of the northwest coast or the production of food for Australia and export.

    Shane’s unreasoning response to this article is typical of the response of the timber industry to the questions raised by myself and others about the long-term effects of industrial plantations. For the 9 years I have been involved in this debate, serious questions have been consistently been ignored or sidestepped by paid lobbyists and uninformed individuals within the Preolenna community who act as unpaid spokespersons for the industry.

    And Shane, don’t be lulled into complacency by the high rainfall in the district. In the History of the Preolenna Primary School printed in about 1992 there are references to days of bush fires in the district in the 1930s, and that was when there was a much larger human population and far fewer trees.

    Refugee from the trees,
    Evelyn DeVito

  22. francis

    February 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Good luck with getting less bias Shane. Interesting that all of the photos of the houses are taken from public roads, surely if the residents are as concerned as you state then they would allow you on their property to document their situation. You are comparing apples with oranges when talking about Tasmanian plantations and the Victorian fires.

  23. Brenda Rosser

    February 23, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Why do you love the industrial tree plantation industry so much?? Please tell us all.

    Nothing, it seems, will convince you that these global absentee forest-abuse corporations can do any wrong. They ignore state legislation that states that they MUST engage in particular fire management and prevention activities. This is a CRIME. Okay.

    See: Prepared for fire … you’ve got to be joking

    Whilst the legislation is ignored the public are told by the forest industry that the law is enforced.

    Murchison Forest District Forest Management Plan [Mentions the use of Fire Management Area Committee. They don’t exist!]

  24. Shane

    February 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Amazing how you can select whatever suits you from the net to produce the arguement that you want. What a load of hogwash you have written. I would suggest that prudence would require you to talk to the locals before you write an article like this – you have probably insulted them (once more) as the ones that I have talked to that live there love it there. People have generally moved there for a lifestyle choice. Rainfall is well over 1000 mm so I don’t know why you were talking about 6-700 (bias perhaps!?), the actual township would be the focus by forestry companies, FT and the TFS of any (unlikely) major fire event. Interesting how erosion prone those farms looked in the photos that you presented, all generlly with unprotected streams or waterways. Nowadays it is much more bio-diverse and closer to how it was before the native was removed, and the water is of much better quality.

    And, as a summary re the fire prone-ness you were trying to sway us with, it’s a completely different kettle of fish compared to the areas that have burnt down on the Mainland. I could explain in detail why, but beleive that you would have found good explanations why when you were deciding what to quote from the net.

    How about a bit less bias and a bit more objectivity.

  25. Maddie

    February 22, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    I remember reading submissions from various Preolenna residents, including Evelyn Devito, who were doing their utmost to stop this plantation invasion. It is absolutely tragic. I wonder how the PRO-plantation residents of that time are feeling now.

  26. Dave Groves

    February 22, 2009 at 8:25 am

    But you can eat trees if you are really, really hungry…….

Leave a Reply

To Top