Following the serving of eviction notices and genocide charges by the local indigenous leaders to the DNRE, a violent attack on environmentalists in Goolengook occurred on the evening of 21st February 2000. Here is a composite eyewitness account of what took place -
During the afternoon the chief forester for the Orbost region Gary Featherston, rang GECO in a panic. He mentioned the notices served earlier that day had been passed along to him. Speculation is that by this time Orbost was firing up to riot in the bush. Rumours began to reach Goongerah that afternoon.
There were four people at the base camp on Goolengook road. Two were asleep in personal camps away from the main camp, and two were sitting around the fire at the communal kitchen.
GECO received a tip at approximately 9.30 pm to say about 10 utes, with people hanging off the back, were hooning towards the camp from Orbost. About an hour later 4 women and 5 men left from GECO for camp in a Land Rover.
The first ute arrived at Goolengook base camp, checked out camp for a minute and sped off again. Soon after Jinker, a dog at camp, heard the loggers sneaking up on the camp and alerted the two in the kitchen, some of the mob gave chase but lost them in the bushes.
The mob trashed the camp. The first structure they encountered was the kitchen tarp. Most equipment was smashed and axes were used to destroy the pots, camp ovens etc. Sinks, burners, benches, gas bottles etc, all were hurled down into a deep gully. The remaining three structures were reduced to a pile of wet, dirty and mostly destroyed remains. Our radio and solar panel communications, our personal bedding and gear, tools, tarps, tents, a Holden car, pushbikes, library and maps , a motorbike etc were sledgehammered, slashed, and thrown into the gully. An estimated $30,000 worth of damages was sustained. A private camp was found across the Goolengook River from base camp, and trashed.
They demanded answers and insulted him but cooled off a bit when he yelled out that he was a Canadian tourist. He estimated that he was surrounded by 25 men and more around them. He was chased back toward his tent and beaten a bit more, then fled into the old clearfell further from the road as soon as possible, and waited there until they left.
An Orbost Sergeant arrived at Goolengook with a recent recruit in one vehicle. They had passed a row of vehicles, and recorded all the number plates. From further down the road (towards camp) about 50 men and youths armed with sticks, crowbars and the like marched past their car. The police made a tactical decision to stay in the car while the mob passed, about 20 of whom they recognised. The Sergeant was freaked out and called Bairnsdale instead of Orbost cops.
A bit later about four utes going south from camp passed the Land Rover going north on Goolengook Road. The journalist driving stopped the Land Rover on Goolengook road at Monster Valley, about 5 kms south of the camp, and got out to film the number plates. The rest of the utes stacked up on the road, and everyone in them jumped out and approached angrily. The journalist got hit on the back of the neck and lost his glasses as the mob chased him and his camera. He managed to record audio footage but only a short image survived.
One woman climbed out the back and was immediately punched in the side of the head and fell to the ground. Then she escaped around the vehicle and into the blackberries, falling down into Monster gully. The mob, beer cans in hand, circled the car smashing the headlights etc with wooden stakes, metal poles, picks, mattocks, pitch fork, etc.; physically assaulting everyone, and making verbal threats. They proceed to smash in the Land Rover's windows. A man climbed out the window to rescue the woman out there, and was punched to the ground and kicked. The mob opened the drivers door of the car, bending it backwards, and pulled one woman out. She was surrounded, abused, and hit until she made her way back into the car.
The mob threw punches through the windows, jumped on the roof, threw rocks, and smashed everything. They ripped the windscreen off and threw it into the front, hitting one man on the bridge of the nose, and shattering it on his face. This same man was then hit with a crowbar across the temple. One man in the mob said "give them a camera, give them anything" to two people in the car, yelling "quick quick, they're gonna tip it." Eventually a stills camera was handed from the car, which was shown to the mob, who seemed slightly mollified. The mob continued smashing and rocking the car.
Two people bolted down the road towards camp, shortly followed by a third. Everyone else gathered to recuperate, do first aid on the man who was bashed in the car, and winch the Land Rover upright.
At 1. 56 am the cops alerted GECO of the possibility of the ute convoy coming up the main road towards Goongerah. They advised us to evacuate the house. Kids, adults, and resources were evacuated from GECO, and the community was alerted.
At 2 .00 am one man who had bolted down the road (5km) to the policeman's car, and convinced the cops to search for the man who was beaten. The victim was found near his camp site with visible wounds.
Once the landrover was uprighted, another person set off on foot for the camp, leaving five at the Rover. Two policemen from Bairnsdale arrived at the Land Rover. They examined some injuries and called an ambulance.
At 3. 00 am a local policeman arrived at GECO. He told us that he would sit in his car further down the highway, and will alert us if the mob arrived. He told us that one camper had definitely been beaten, possibly two. He further informed us that cars were trashed, drivers were hurt, that two campers were missing, a firearm had been sighted, and that ambulance drivers were on the way to camp.
At 3. 50 am the local policeman and two others updated GECO -- they had found the worst victim at the Land Rover, reporting serious head wounds but wouldn't tell us who. They said they were "treating him as serious, but he's sitting up talking." Cops reported 11 people accounted for, give an estimate of 50 loggers, and claim 20 have already been identified, presumably by the Orbost Police Officers. The Canadian tourist who was beaten at the main camp requested that the ambulance drivers examine him and they refused. The victim inside the Land Rover was taken to hospital in ambulance.
When the GECO truck arrived at camp the CIB investigators were collecting all three totalled vehicles for fingerprinting. Footage of the crime scene, with the chief investigator from the CIB, was taken. Five people left camp, visiting the hospital in Orbost on the way to GECO. Seven people remained at Goolengook, falling back into a smaller camp with a watch with no police help, no radio, and no vehicle.
Written by witnesses soon after the event
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