The Whian Whian Blockade (1994–97)

Much has been written about the Terania Blockade which put Australian rainforests on the political agenda but little has been written or documented on the story of the Whian Whian Blockade, so I will elaborate in more depth as The Whian Whian Blockade is now part of our local folklore.

Gibbergunyah cave

Whian Whian protestors
Photo by WWHEN

Newspaper clipping by WWHEN

The Whian protests began a 3 year campaign to save the then Whian Whian State Forest from unsuitable logging practices in the water catchment for Rocky Ck Dam. There were high numbers of threatened species and aboriginal artefacts known in these forests and the largest remaining Big Scrub remnants left in NE NSW.

Dec 1994 Press Release — ‘Federal Police Call to Stop Forest Vandals’. The environmental independent candidate for the NSW Upper House, Mr Bob Cummins called upon the Federal Government to provide Federal Police in the Whian Whian State Forest logging dispute near Lismore. Mr Cummins said “cultural vandalism of sacred Aboriginal sites was being perpetrated by NSW Forestry. He consulted with Nuilungah Lands Council chairman Mr Reg King, and former chairman Mr John Roberts who had asked for the immediate protection of major song lines, middens, stone carvings, crystal springs and artefacts.”

Mr Cummins said “song-lines along vital trading routes from Broken Hill to Brunswick Heads were now being trashed for woodchip and street bollards. These song-lines were evidenced by shell middens & stone axes... & he called for the NSW Government to apologise forthwith to the Aboriginal people for the gross devastation of an outdoor cathedral. The Federal laws provide monetary restitution for damages and criminal sanctions — all of which are now needed.”

These were great words that fell on deaf ears and unfortunately didn’t achieve anything.

The Whian Whian Blockade continued for another 3 years before logging was finally halted. No monetary restitution was ever forthcoming. The Big Scrub Remnants of the Whian Whian are now protected in the National Parks Estate, thanks to the efforts of the local Rosebank Community and surrounding environmental groups, known as ’The Greenies’. (a minority group)

History of The Blockade

In 1994 A taskforce led by Richard Staple raised concerns for the safety of the Community with regard to the use of Aluminium Sulphate in the Water Treatment filtration process at Rocky Ck Dam. This was being used to settle excessive sediment caused through logging. He cited previous UK studies which showed long-term brain damage in children from Aluminium poisoning.

1994–97 The Whian Whian Blockade. A round of peaceful protests and blockades began in the Whian Whian State Forests on the foothills of the Nightcap Range. NEFA (The NE Forest Alliance) joined with The Whian Whian Heritage Environment Network (WWHEN) who liaised with conservation groups such as, The Big Scrub Environment Centre, Byron Environment Centre & Nimbin Environment Centre to negotiate with State Forests (SFs) and the Government. The aim being, to add these forests to the Deferred Forests Agreement (DFAs) and reserve them. This meant that State Forests would need to evaluate the number of threatened species within the NE State Forests of NSW with the aim to add 15% to a reserve system.

Giants that were logged
Photo by WWHEN

Logging Coup
Photo by WWHEN

The Dozers move in
Photo by WWHEN

It was reported by State Forests that the Whian Whian was a nightmare to log as it had koalas in every compartment.

To add to the problems a new rainforest tree the Elaeocarpus sp. Minyon had also just been discovered and the Widjabul Elders were not happy. The Rosebank Community and many others joined in to stop illegal logging practices which saw clear gap felling of timber instead of selective harvesting. The Forest roads were completely blockaded and rallies took place on Telephone Road which saw 100’s of protestors arrive to help.

The Whian Whian protesters were locally known as the second wave of conservationists to the area.

In 1995 the WWHEN group began negotiating with SFs to stop the clear gap felling of the forests. WWHEN considered that SF contractors were using unsustainable practices in areas where high numbers of threatened plant & animal species occurred. Protest camps were set up in Rummery Park and this became the ‘Watching base camp’. Peaceful negotiations took place as the protestors decided they would not stand by and see any more areas of great conservation value destroyed. NEFA came to help negotiate with the Minister who finally announced there would be no more logging in the WWSF until the necessary surveys had been carried out for TS. This did not eventuate till some considerable time later.

In 1995 Prime Minister Keating announced that the Commonwealth would undertake an assessment to identify Deferred Forest Areas (DFAs) in State Forests in order to identify which areas were to be reserved under a Comprehensive Adequate Representative (CAR) reserve system so as to ensure that these areas were not logged. ‘The aim of DFAs was to identify, on a regional basis, those forest areas in current wood production tenures that may need to be set aside from logging and to focus on areas with threatened or rare species.’ There was a 15% target set however this did not work. NEFA spent 9 months negotiating the protection of the WWSF to help protect such species as the newly discovered Elaeocarpus sp. Minyon which was under threat of being logged and was afforded no protection.

Unfortunately the DFA that were supposed to save the old growth forests and HCV areas for endangered species was rorted.

As a result a groundswell of public interest saw locals making public submissions to the Government and State Forests in order to gain correct scientific assessments of the forest. This ended up eventually playing a pivotal role in the DFA debacle.

In May 1995 Following ongoing discussions on the Whian Whian, the following agreements where reached between State Forests and the Whian Whian Heritage Environmental Network.

  1. The forest type 49 within the WWSF be preserved from timber harvesting in the foreseeable future.
  2. The SF would only harvest the area outlined by Mr Col Stapely in his 1995 proposal
  3. The SF provide Dialan Pugh (a WWHEN rep) with its conservation prescriptions for harvestable forest types
  4. That WWHEN & SF re-convene for mediation on 30th June 1995
  5. That SF supply a statement on methods of harvesting, including buffer zones, corridors and retention rules.

May–Nov 1995 Logging ceased for a while in the WWSF and all was quiet, at least for a while.

20th Nov 1995 A Forest Action protesting camp organised by NEFA was set up in the nearby Mebbin SF which was being logged and a peaceful picket line was formed.

Peaceful blockading
Photo by WWHEN

Newspaper article by WWHEN

27th Nov 1995 DFA went to Parliament. WWHEN lobbied Federal & local Ministers to request that they save the Whian Whian’s areas of high significance for endangered species and include these areas to be reserved under the DFA process. Reasons given were; due to the Whian Whian’s international significance for biodiversity and that it was 95% of the water catchment of Rocky Ck Dam. WWHEN requested an immediate cessation of logging in the WWSF, due to State Forests unsustainable logging practices, destruction of Koori cultural sites & artefacts, stop gap clearing destruction of natural water filtration & purification system and violating the Big Scrub remnants & HCV areas by the use of carcinogenic residual herbicides (picloram — an active ingredient in Tordon). Other reasons given included; leaving insufficient habitat trees to sustain biodiversity & maintain viable populations of endangered species including the koala & sugar gliders, damaging natural beauty & the tourism industry, ruining local roads, noise & visual pollution.

John Roberts (Wibal Clan spokesperson also mediated with SF regarding section 91 in the WWSF.

There appears to have been a break of about 18 months–2yrs in the logging of the WWSF while forestry operations focused on logging the foothills of Mt Warning in the Mebbin SF. So Protestors moved camp to Mebbin SF and assisted with blockading there.

When logging recommenced back in the Whian Whian it was on again.

Protesting to save the Whian Whian State Forest rainforests re-commenced and The Whian Whian Environment Centre (WWEC) took the place of the work that had been previously undertaken by the Whian Whian Heritage Network (WWHEN). WWEC formed to protect the Rocky Creek Dam catchment area from logging so as to preserve and secure the water quality and exceptional qualities of flora and fauna within the catchment. The hope being to one day have it added the the NPWS Estate.

2nd Aug 1997 WWEC put out a press release saying “At 8.30am on Tuesday about 80 peaceful protestors entered compartment 68 and stopped tree felling operations in the water catchment and the Big Scrub remnant.” Compartment 68 was to be the first Interim Deferred Forest Area (IDFA) in NSW to be logged. Breaches were cited as being; trees felled into riparian zones, tree crowns devastating understory rainforest trees in excluded buffer zones & reserves, inadequate mitigation & erosion controls on roads, excessive snig track construction. WWEC added that “SF were not using best current forestry practices and were failing to apply a 20m rainforest reserve buffer beyond the 20m riparian reserve buffer.”

25–28th Aug 1997 A peaceful protest was held at Telephone Rd Campground in the WWSF to protect the forest & regional water supply catchment, including the compartment containing the extremely rare rainforest tree the Minyon Quandong, Albert’s Lyrebird & Marbled Frogmouth, identified under the IDFA. The protest also highlighted that logging was currently taking place in areas identified under the IDFA.

26th Aug 1997 A media release by the NSW Forest Products Association (FPA) & the CFMEU stated that, “The Timber Industry held a lunchtime rally against illegal blockades in the WWSF, saying this campaign sends a clear message to the NSW Government & premier Mr Carr to ensure that jobs and access to the forests are secured.” There was a 1hr pro-timber Industry Rally held in Grafton to show that more people support the NSW Timber Industry than oppose it.

Police presence at peaceful protest
Photo by WWHEN

30th Aug 1997 A Community Picnic day was held at the protestors camp at Telephone Rd in the WWSF where over 1000 people attended a forest party, to oppose logging.

2nd Sept 1997 The Byron Shire Echo reported that “a confrontation is brewing in the WWSF as protestors gather to make a stand against logging in the Rocky Ck Dam water catchment as this supplies the main regional water supply for Byron & Ballina.”

3rd Sept 1997 The Northern Star reports that “Loggers Stumped by Forest Protest” saying that ‘about 30 protestors attended a rally where Police attended. No arrests were made as peaceful protests were concerned with the stopping of logging compartment 68 (152ha of Big Scrub). 80ha of this compartment was to be logged and would completely destroy the Big Scrub rainforest remnant if logging proceeded.’

4th Sept 1997 A press release by WWEC reported that “today in compartment 68 in the WWSF logging ops were once again brought to a halt by reps of the local community. A large number of Police officers including the rescue squad, 7 reps from SF, 1 logging sub-contractor & 80 peaceful protestors converged on compartment 68 at around 11.40am.”

Logging continues
Photo by WWHEN

The Northern Star reported that, “the Big Scrub Environment Centre, yesterday, called for a temporary halt to logging in the WWSF. Approximately 30 protestors camping in the forest for more than a week have obstructed logging in compartments 68 & 77, citing the impacts on water catchment and biodiversity”. The Big Scrub Environment Centre president-Stephen Duthy (also rep on the NE SF Harvest Advisory Board) called on both sides to step back from the confrontation, so that the long term forest assessment process could continue in view that the Whian Whian belongs to the World Heritage Nightcap NP. He said they have been lobbying for months to avoid this situation.

A State Forests spokesperson replied stating “attempts to log the forest would continue”.

5th Sept 1997 The Northern Star reported that “Police were called in to the logging stand-off where protestors once again forced logging in compartment 68 to stop”. This time an unknown number of protestors hid in the bushland as part of a protest strategy they dubbed ‘black wallaby’. This caused SF to call off logging for safety reasons. The Police were called because they were informed 100’s of protestors, including some reportedly prepared to ’resort to any means’ were there to stop logging. Again nobody was arrested or forcibly removed as the protest was peaceful. 100 protestors were now based at the protest camp at Telephone Rd in the Whian Whian SF.

8th Sept 1997 Crowds of all ages, exceeding 150 protestors, displaying bright banners expressed their frustration and disbelief at Rous Water County Council in Lismore, regarding water quality issues. General Manager Paul O’Sullivan addressed the crowd who wanted clean water and chanted “NO TREES, NO RAIN, NO WATER, NO LIFE, NO BRAINS”. Protestors chained & padlocked the front door of the HQ of Rous demanding answers to the following breaches; lack of erosion mitigation control by forestry logging, No active monitoring by the EPA on breaches and declaring that the water quality of the catchment was not being protected under the Clean Water Act. Further that under the Harvest Advisory Board’s own initiatives being the Interim DFAs (IDFA) that the areas allocated were supposed to be held in reserve until June 1998 due to their high significance & sensitivity. 3 compartments (compartment 68, 75 & & 77) allocated under the IDFAs were now under threat from logging.

9th Sept 1997 The State Forests Department respond to the protests by saying they intend to lock up compartment 68 (a proposed IDFA) and close it to the public by way of an Exclusive Works Order. This meant that protestors could be charged with trespass. (Compartment 68 is now the largest remaining remnant of Big Scrub left in the area.)

Protestors retaliate and organise a ‘Walk-in Protest’ while State Forest breaches of the EPA logging guidelines are taken by Ian Cohen to Bob Carr & Parliament.

Protestors blockade roads to
halt logging operations
Photo by WWHEN

Protest "Sit in" halts logging
Photo by WWHEN

WWEC declares that Forestry was again stifled in their attempt to continue logging in compartment 68 as large blockades & 25 foot high tripods were constructed across Gibbergunyah Rd. These remained in place awaiting a response from the EPA & State Cabinet. Ian Cohen attended the blockade and tried to obtain a ‘Stop work Order’. Ian was appalled by the level of destruction imposed upon the fragile ecosystem & 3 more breaches were reported. WWEC made it clear that the Department of State Forests & their contractors were incapable of working within the strict environmental guidelines.

In the frustration, Protestors with children were sprayed with fungicides by a neighbouring farmer bordering this Big Scrub remnant of compartment 68.

Police advise farmers, forester’s and protestors that “no-one can threaten, dare or intimidate people.”

During the 3rd week of protesting, the EPA were still ineffective in regulating the breaches in regard to the Threatened Species Act.

10th Sept 1997 Blockades at the corner of Gibbergunyah & Rummery Rds & Nightcap & Telephone Rds remained in place due to the fact that compartment 68 was declared an exclusion zone from the public, so that logging could proceed. The protestors now request a logging moratorium be placed on the Whian Whian State Forest and a stop to all logging in the Rocky Ck water catchment.

WWEC lobby Premier Bob Carr & EPA Director General in regard to breaches in the Whian Whian in compartment 68 & invite the EPA to the site to survey the breaches.

The WWEC enter negotiations with State Forests re logging non-compliances in the Whian Whian SF. They confirm with the Harvest Advisory Board that ‘we accept in principle the compromise offered on current logging issues and that a moratorium will be placed on compartments 75 & 77 and any other logging in the WWSF in compromise for the completion of logging opposite compartment 68. This is based on internal discussions that the presence of the blockade on Gibbergunyah Rd would remain in place until valid representation of the EPA are present to survey current breaches in compartment 68 and they implement appropriate action.”

The Minister for Land & Water Conservation responded the same day accepting the above terms but stating “logging will re commence, without hindrance, in compartment 68 on the 15th Sept.”

That was not the reply that the protestors would have liked.

The WWEC group responded to the Minister again requesting that logging did not commence until the EPA had actively surveyed the breaches & implemented obligations under their licensing of Forestry operations. They further requested that NPWS be present for reference as the then current negotiations with Kim Yeadon’s office were still underway. The group stated that they would not remove their blockades until the EPA arrived. This was followed by a flurry of letters to NPWS, Kim Yeadon’s office & the EPA.

12th Sept 1997 The EPA & SF inspects compartment 68 for breaches.

1997-media release

Newspaper article-logging to stop

14th Sept 1997 Media release by the Big Scrub Environment Centre that “A Logging moratorium was in sight as Stephen Duphy resigns from the NE SF Harvesting Advisory Board, last week, over State Forests failure to avoid the conflict.” The release claimed that ‘this was a huge win for the protection of biodiversity values and the regional water supply”. “This outcome is in effect a moratorium on logging of the WWSF”, said Mr Duphy. The protesting groups welcomed the news.

15th Sept 1997 An invitation was sent out by protestors to attend a “Wake in the Whian Whian” at 11am on Blue Fig Road. Intended as a combined celebration and ritual to silently protest the final tree felling ever in the forest & unite to celebrate the future of the forest as a peoples place not a “FORESTORS DESTRUCTION ZONE.”

NPWS respond to WWECs invitation to attend compartment 68 but stated that the EPA & SF have already inspected the compartment on the 12th without advising them. Gary Davey the National Parks Threatened Species manager was advised by the Department of State Forests that they have acknowledged apparent breaches of the NPWS licensing conditions and that further action will be considered by NPWS upon receipt of a detailed report from the EPA.

18th Sept 1997 Rous County Council invites WWEC reps to a council meeting to further discuss logging in the water catchment, Clean waters Act, riparian flows legislation, differences between silicates & sulphates, disposal of filter tailings and sustainable futures. WWEC responds with reps Bo Kaan, Gully Coote & independent community rep, Dr Paul Recher. These reps defend compartment 68 as being the most ecologically viable remnant of the remaining Big Scrub and its known 33 rare & endangered plants & 36 known rare & endangered animals

20th Sept 1997 NSW State Forest & protestors reached a compromise where protestors agreed to move their protest camp from Telephone Rd and not obstruct logging in compartment 68 (off Gibbergunyah Rd) in return that no logging would take place in compartments 75 & 77.) A compromise that not everyone was happy about. Meaning that compartment 68 would still be logged. There was confusion amongst the protestors as the original agreement was meant to exclude logging from compartment 68 and only allow it to continue in the adjacent compartment.

Not content with the outcome protestors work together to identify other strategies to cease logging. They decide to negotiate directly with the logging contractors instead of the bureaucrats.

Logging ceased in the Whian Whian State Forest.

30th Sept 1997 A media release went out from WWEC saying that the “Community takes control of the WWSF”. It stated that “The negotiations that had taken place with the private logger had resulted in him re-deploying his bulldozer elsewhere and reafforestation had halted in compartment 68.” This was hailed as a victory for common sense. The logger & protestors further agreed to consolidate and call on State Government to fast track the CAR process which was now considering much of the WWSF for inclusion in the NP Estate. So again the protestors called for a moratorium on logging in the WWSF.

3rd Oct 1997 The EPA responds to WWECs letter in regard to their inspection of breaches in compartment 68, stating that;

  1. The harvest plan did not accurately reflect the proposed logging operation or the existing eroded state of the compartment or any proposed maintenance on Duff’s Break Trail (including the importation of fill & gravel) but that the EPA still supported this maintenance.
  2. The EPA had concerns over a proposed logging dump supporting some wetland-type vegetation and supported SF decision to not use the dump.
  3. Non compliance in regard to pollution, inappropriate road drainage, length of mitre drains, roll over cross banks, rutting on Duffs Trail from snigging effecting road damage & log furrows and they are requesting that this is fixed ASAP.
  4. Referred WWEC to NPWS in regard to the protection of aboriginal relics & sites, rainforest, old growth, end species and retention of rainforest buffers

The formation of the Whian Whian
State Conservation Area

The Whian Whian now
adjoins the Nightcap NP

29th Oct 1997 The Minister for the Environment of NSW responds to WWECs letter re breaches in compartment 68 and the agreement reached by the protestors in regard to compartments 68, 75 & &77 and the inspection by the NPWS & EPA — He responds favourably.

Logging was stopped both on the logging front on site and at Bureaucratic levels. A great win for the environment.

Final Outcome

In 1999 Signing of the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) This placed the spotlight on the host of endangered and threatened plants and animals of the Nightcap Ranges and established a rigorous regime for ecological surveys. As a result parts of the Whian Whian State Forest were finally added to the adjacent Nightcap National Park as part of the Regional Forest Agreement process.

In 2003 The balance of Whian Whian State Forest was gazetted as the Whian Whian State Conservation Area as part of the State Government’s ICON parks initiative. The gazettal of the SCA completed the reservation of the important bio-geographical area of the Nightcap and Kooynum Ranges. This provided additional protection to the forests of the Nightcap Range, its high biodiversity and threatened species, Aboriginal significance and water catchment values for the regional water supply.

The Big Scrub Rainforest of compartment 68 was saved and is now the largest remaining Big Scrub remnant left in NE NSW.