IT’S BEEN AN unexpected start to the new year for me, having been called into service by my best friend Susie Russell to live-tweet actions and arrests to try to save native forest on the Bulga Plateau, her home.
New year, same horrifying behaviour by loggers in the Bulga Plateau. Locals’ August 2020 protest against impending native forest logging after fires devastated the region (thread below).— 📣Margo Kingston💧🔥 (@margokingston1) January 2, 2023
They backed off till pre-Christmas, hoping locals were winding down. Nope. #SaveBulgaForest https://t.co/QGleAlK5ww
Back to the #LeardBlockade
My first such experience of live tweeting direct action was in 2014 at the Leard Blockade on the Liverpool Plains, NSW, which No Fibs reported in detail.
I wrote a piece in The Guardian – full of twitter portraits of people in the camp on Australia Day – to try to dispel the miner mythology that only feral greenies gave a damn.
It still freaks me out that the NSW Government allowed an endangered state forest to be felled for a coal mine in the Liverpool Plains, a NSW food bowl ffs. Whitehaven Coal’s chairman was former National Party leader and deputy PM Mark Vaile, marking the Party’s desertion of its traditional farming industry base.
When I first visited, the camp was a couple of tents on a dusty bit of public land beside a road after authorities dismantled the long standing camp in the Leard State Forest. My first live-tweeted arrest was of Susie, down a deep hole where a River Red Gum had been removed.
The few tents became a Greenpeace-backed super-camp on the sheep farm of Cliff Dolan at Maules Creek. The climax of a doomed but inspirational campaign – the first attempt to blockade a new coal mine in Australia – was a mass break in of the mine site in dead of night and Greenpeace-style pic on the machines when the sun rose. Police mass arrested everyone, including me, instead of following standard practice of allowing people to leave before arrests were made (Tony Yegles Tribute to the #LeardBlockade).
Now to #SaveBulgaForest
This time the odds were stacked against a protest camp on the Bulga Plateau.
NSW Forestry unexpectedly began felling native forest on the Bulga in the lead up to Christmas. A lightning direct action was possible thanks to serendipity – the news coincided with a fundraiser for native forest campaigners at an Elands events space – the former timber mill bought by the community.
The loggers stopped, to be back after the first week of the new year. Somehow, and it was fascinating to watch, Elands residents young and old brainstormed, organised and fundraised to create a protest camp at the Ellenborough Falls public camping ground, including incredible meals, and staged two successful direct actions in the space of a week.
Native forest logging is for floor boards in designer houses and woodchips. I still can’t quite believe anyone would want a native forest floor given the urgent need to protect endangered native birds and animals and their diverse habitats, address climate change and preserve the water quality of our rivers.
In my dreams I imagined the camp growing to be the NSW election frontline in convincing citizens to demand either big party make a commitment to end native forest logging. Maybe environmental big guns could bring their organisational and financial clout into the mix. But Greenpeace doesn’t do forests, I’m told, and the other big nature organisations don’t want to touch direct action for fear of losing their charitable status.
So it’s left to local communities and their personal networks to do what they can where they live. Besides, the number of front line frontliners – the tree sitters and those who engineer and build these structures at night – is quite small. It’s a very cool sub culture of men and women who lead adventurous lives in nature and accrue sometimes multiple convictions.
33. New 29.— 📣Margo Kingston💧🔥 (@margokingston1) January 9, 2023
A #SaveBulgaForest leader @bulga99 arrested. She got a notice a few days ago directing her not to enter ‘closed area’. She stayed on right side of line except once, when she checked on tripoder. Police pounced.
Bailed – she can’t be anywhere in the Forest. pic.twitter.com/vMFskah5bm
The camp co-ordination committee had won the group’s commitment to maintain the camp till the end of January, when kids going back to school and work commitments meant locals just couldn’t do it anymore. So I went along to Saturday’s Open Day thinking it was a celebration of achievement before closure. Instead I saw a busy merch tent, all items hand created and made, a tree climbing adventure for kids, bushwalks, and non-violent direct action training. And a commitment to keep the camp open in some form until the election.
It’s an honour that Susie is my first 2023 guest on the pod in 2023.
She’s fought for the Elands’ Bulga Forest, where she lives, and native forests throughout NSW, for 30 years. And in November 2019 she, her partner Greg and other Elands stayers fought to save their home and others after the village was officially evacuated due to unprecedented fires after an extended drought (my Twitter thread starts here).
It seems criminal to me that NSW Forestry is felling remnant public native forest across the mid-north coast region despite the devastating loss of forest habitat when Australia burned and the protection older growth native forest offers against fires.
Susie will never stop fighting – it’s an act of love.
#SaveBulgaForest photographs by Sallie Colechin: