I came to Tasmania for the first time, 10 years ago and I’ve grown up in Queensland and hadn't seen forest like Tasmania's forest before. And I still remember the first night I went on an action and I woke up in the morning in the middle of this clearfell and surrounded by these stumps and fallen trees, and it was just really shocking to see for the first time the destruction that happens here. I decided to go for a walk and so, I crossed that threshold out of the clearfell and into the forest and that was my first experience with these forests.
And I remember standing under this ancient tree that would have been hundreds of years old, towering above me and surrounded by rain forest that was full of moss and so green, and it was amazing to experience that forest. And then, stepping back out of that, into the clearfell, it really hit me and that's when I realized that this destruction has to end and I’ve been passionate about forest defense ever since.
We were camped out here in the forest, setting up the platform and we woke up one morning to the sound of machines. Sneaking down there, we could see trees falling to the sound of chain saws and realized they’d started logging here. So, we had to set up the rest in silence being really careful that they didn't realize we were here. And I remember setting up climb lines, holding up all the gear to the platform as quietly as we could.
The next morning I remember putting my harness on, connecting to the ropes, not knowing how long it would be before I would take it off again. I remembered the last moment when my feet left the ground and I started climbing the tree, hearing the sound of logging so close and knowing that I wouldn't put my feet back down here again until the forest was protected.
Observatory is an ancient [inaudible 00:03:14] around 400 years old and the platform is close to the top of the tree. It sits at about 60 meters and I chose this tree basically because it's here at the top of the ridge and it overlooks the rest of this valley. And so, it overlooks the area that they were due to log. My intention was, if they did log around me, I would film that and stream it live unto the internet so, that people all around the world could see the destruction that occurs when they log these forests.
Four months before I went up the tree, the Australian government made an announcement that would put a conservation agreement across 430,000 hectares, including this forest, but they never actually put it place. Not many people all around Australia, all around the world believed that these forests were safe and I wanted to go up the tree so, that I could show people, this is what's going here in Tasmania. The forests aren't safe and they’re still falling. I stayed in observatory for 449 days without putting my feet on the ground.
The best thing about being in the tree was the experience of being immersed in the forest day in and day out and being up there for over a year meant I got to see all four seasons come and go and witness the change of the forest in Summer, the snow in Winter, which was absolutely beautiful, and all the birds that came to visit me over the time so, I think just that connection that I developed to the tree and the forest around me is something that is really important to me and still you know, when I come out here, I still feel that connection and it's really amazing.
Eventually, I was forced to evacuate the tree due to a deliberately lit bush fire that was about a kilometer and a half from the tree. I stayed in the tree for two days after the fire started and in that time, I watched it grow. I could see the flames and I could hear trees falling and cracking into the fire and I knew it just wasn't safe to stay anymore. So, sadly I had to make that decision to get down.
Why would someone light a fire? I don't know the answer to that question. I mean, it's kind of obvious but I just don't like saying things when we can't back them up with evidence so, I don’t know who lit it and why. The idea for observatory really came out of my experiences of living at the blockade at the Florentine. We’re here in the upper Florentine valley in Southwest Tasmania, and this is the site of Camp Florentine which is Tasmania's longest running forest blockade. It was set up seven and a half years ago when this whole valley here was threatened by logging.
At the blockade, we would have a number of tree sits and they’d be connected by ropes to structures that would block the road basically, meaning that they would be no ability for them to get the machines or trucks or anything into the valley. And we'd also have tunnels that people would go down into under the road and lock ons and drag ons as well, to stop the machines from getting through.
Over time, the blockade really built a lot of momentum and there were more and more people coming out here and some of the most inspiring times were when we have community days. And we’d have times [inaudible 00:06:58] when people from all walks of life who’d never been arrested before, many have never been to an action before, who would come out here and be willing to cross police lines, walk into the logging coupe and stop logging.
One of hardest part about being involved in this campaign was the times when police busted the camp. I think for me, to be here, it can be really hard to come back here and be with those stumps of those trees that we lost during that time.
Right now, I am sitting on the stump of a tree that we used to call Oak Frontee or Frontsit and it's a tree that I used to spend a lot of time in and we had to trace it and I'd spend many nights climbing up to that tree and living in that tree. I remember the day it got cut down. The police were here guarding the camp and they made us stand down on Gordon River Road and we weren't able to get into the Campsite at all.
So, I just stood there without being able to do anything and watch as they cut down my favorite tree in the world and I think that that’s one of the hardest experiences I’ve had as an activist to be sort of connected to a tree and they to just stand there and watch it fall. And especially when you’re relationship with that forest is one where you really want to protect it and you spend so much time trying to protect it, to be in that situation where that tree is falling and there’s nothing you can do it is really hard.
The blockade went for six and a half years and in that time, successfully managed to stop most of the logging that happened here and eventually, win World heritage protection for this valley.
Why did it take that action to get World Heritage?
The battle to get World Heritage protection for these forests has been going for over two decades and the fact is that, if we’d waited for that World Heritage process to take place which takes a very long time, then by the time we did get the World Heritage protection, it would have been too late for the Upper Florentine. We would have had 15 clear fills scattered throughout this valley and basically, destroying the entire valley before it ever had the chance to get protected. It's been about a year since I got out of the tree and in that time I come to visit every now and again.
Every time I’m walking up the path the hill, towards the tree, I feel anxious that there’s the potential that it might have been cut down. Obviously, if that happened I'd be really devastated because, while I was in the tree, I developed such a strong connection to this tree and feel really close to it. But I think I have also realized that the forest is more than just an individual tree and my fight here in observatory was about much more than just protecting this one tree, it was about protecting the entire ecosystem and all of these forests. So, I guess I would want the observatory sacrifice not to be in vain and for people to keep fighting and keep protecting these forests and I think that's something that we all need to keep doing because they are still under threat.
Did you find that this was a successful tree sit?
I feel like the observatory tree campaign was really successful because it was able to spread the message around the globe about Tasmania's forest and really built an international movement for the support of these forests and to fight for protection of these forests. The World Heritage Committee met in June of 2013 and unanimously, all countries voted for the extension and this area was officially listed and still is World Heritage.
I think one of the most amazing experiences is to come back out to the Florentine and walk amongst the ancient trees here and to know that there would have been stumps standing in the middle of a clearfell if we had enough blockade and had taken direct action, and to stand here amongst these forests now and know it’s here because of what we’ve done and now it’s World Heritage protected is an amazing feeling.
It’s obviously with mixed emotions because at the same time, in celebrating this win, we also have to keep fighting a whole bunch of those forests that were recently World Heritage listed are potentially going to be under threat. The Australian Government recently made a nomination to the World Heritage Committee to have a lot of those forests taken off the list and areas like the Florentine may potentially be opened up for logging if that happens.
Our forest here are being logged to provide wood for a company called Ta Ann who are also logging in Sarawak and are responsible for the displacement of indigenous communities there. They’re actually selling the wood from Tasmania in the international marketplace and lying and saying it's from environmentally friendly sources with the tick of approval of some Australian Environment groups and so, for this reason, we need to keep fighting and keep spreading the word about what's really happening here.
On a global scale, the world has already loss the majority of its original forests cover and here in Tasmania, we are down to the last remaining patches of ancient forests. The reason World Heritage listing of these forests shows that they are globally significant and I think it’s important therefore, for people not just in Tasmania but right around the World, to understand the values of these forests and to stand with us in defending them.
I just find it's hard to talk about success because I do not want to be like, yeah, we won when and people think that everything is good so, I always feel weird talking about success. I had to do a whole speech once at this conference and the topic was like, success. I think my speech was a bit depressing because it was all about not celebrating success, to the point where you forget that you have to keep fighting.
I believe it’s possible because I’ve already seen it happen right here on this road where we’re standing today. A taste of what is possible when we have the courage to stand up and fight for and create the future that we want to see. So, I’m inviting every one of you today to make that commitment to stand with me and know that this rally here is just the beginning and we will keep on fighting and keep on going until we see a guaranteed future and the survival of these forests for future generations. Thank you.
Would you do it again if you had to?
I would definitely do it again if I had to. I would do whatever it takes for these forests to survive into the future.There may be small errors in this transcript.