Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Visiting Licola

Adrian Whitehead after being bashed by a logger wielding an axe handle

In the foothills of the alps nestles the small settlement of Licola. Occasional vehicles rumble across the timber bridge that spans the Macalister River, and the only shop is a general store.

I have been visiting this store for over 30 years, generally going to and from bushwalking trips. A few years ago - before flood and fire made big changes to Licola - my family stopped there to buy soft drinks. There were a few hats and souvenirs for sale, and items for campers and travelers. But also on prominent display, evidently for sale, were a number of stickers: “Don’t bugger the bush – bugger a greenie instead” read one. Another proclaimed “The only wilderness is the space between a greenie’s ears.” Another read “Fertilize the bush – doze in a greenie.”

In life, it's good to try and laugh off these jokes. This time, I couldn't.

Imagine, for a moment, replacing the word “greenie” in each of these stickers with “black”, or “gay”, and you will have some idea how offensive I found them. This kind of attack is very ugly - and it is not confined to words.

On 20th February 2000, some 40 to 50 loggers - some with their children - converged from Orbost and Bombala on a conservationists’ camp in the forest of East Gippsland. They trashed the camp and beat up a Canadian tourist who was there. A carload of conservationists drove up. The conservationists were violently attacked and the car reduced to a wreck. The loggers threatened to rape those present and caused severe injuries to two persons.

Much of this was recorded on audio, and it makes chilling listening. The out of control ranting of the loggers, the smashing of iron bars against machinery and people – and the futile attempts of the conservationists to calm the loggers down.

Some of the loggers were identified and later convicted.

This is no isolated incident. There have now been several violent attacks by loggers against environmentalists, some of which have resulted in convictions.

In December 1998 Adrian Whitehead (above) was assaulted with an axe handle by a logger. He had been conducting a botanical survey at the time. Despite having an independent witness, the police refused to lay charges.

After midnight on 3rd December 1998 a group of loggers smashed up a campsite of conservationists in the Otways, yelled threats, and drove a vehicle into a tent occupied by two female conservationists who feared for their lives. One logger was subsequently charged and convicted in relation to this incident.

In December 1998 Peter Stienke (“Fisherman Pete”) was by himself minding a conservationists’ camp at Goolengook over Christmas. His car was found at the camp with the door open and food and drinks on the passenger seat. Despite a search by police, Fisherman Pete was never found and is missing, presumed dead. He left a 14 year old son

There is nothing funny about the obscene stickers in the General Store in Licola. Exhortations to violence – whether against greenies, blacks, women, Jews, gays, or any other group in society – are shameful.

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  1. As a cyclist living in a mountain town I have been attacked physically, been run off the road, been threatened with death. Violence is part of some of the logging way. Having been on front cover of local paper re cycling some log trucks did start leaving space ... others still try to push me off the road.

  2. Great post Brian. A number of years ago I was verbally then physically abused by a group of local workers at a pub in Omeo. I was a bit more than halfway through a 22-day solo cross-country skiing trip from Licola to Kosciuszko. My 'crime' of being a 'greenie' was deemed justifiable enough to throw me into the street. At least they thought it was funny.... Glenn Tempest.

  3. Thanks, Pooru and Glenn - ugly experiences, and which diminish us all. It's important to hear these stories and for the community to give its clear response so that those tempted to express themselves with violence don't have any encouragement. Interesting that a magistrate in Hobart this week convicted Tassie loggers for their violence in the Upper Florentine