HELMERS RD-

Worker Liason

In early January we spent a week going from coup to coup to have a chat with the loggers without blockading them; in an attempt to communicate with them in a non-confrontational environment, and establish some common ground around the corruption of EGL. We were greeted with varying responses - from threats to break our legs if we ever returned, and then chasing us around with a bulldozer; to invitations to blockade them; to outright refusals to even speak to us. Some did stop and talk, yet were reluctant to express too much about EGL. We decided to blockade the logger who threatened to break our legs...ofcourse it had nothing to do with his threats.

Helmers Road Blockade

Early in January a small group of activists discovered a working logging coupe about 8 kms from Errinundra Road. It was also opposite farmland owned by the notorious fat cat director of East Gippsland Logging company (EGL), Bob Humphries.

Upon inspection, logging machinery was seen ripping its way through pristine Old Growth Manna and Mountain Grey Eucalypt Forest. A bridge had been constructed over Kanuka Creek and it appeared that the coupe had just been started. As the activists approached the bridge they were greeted by several loggers who promptly informed them that they would have their legs broken if they crossed the bridge. The people on our side, in response, left the coupe.

A crew of around ten people revisited the coupe in an effort to converse with the loggers on any ideas they may have on how to expose the corruption of the East Gippsland Logging Co. and how to eleviate the ludicrous unsustainability of the woodchip industry without hitting the 'average worker', ie themselves.

As we crossed 'the bridge', with video cameras held aloft, we could see a D7 bulldozer heading our way down the hill. As the dozer drew closer we realised it was driving straight at us. The dozer drove through the group, as people moved aside and climbed aboard, forcing the machine to stop. The driver was not really interested in any dialogue with us, commenting that EGL were obviously corrupt but that there was nothing he could do about it. He was mad and told us to keep back! The dozer passed as a truck arrived. The bulldozer then returned to the landing and proceeded to doze a huge old growth tree up a ramp made from trees and onto the truck-(a one log load). They were using the dozer to push logs onto the truck, as the trees (logs) were simply too big for the log loader to handle.

By the time the (mis)managers of the forest, NRE, arrived the level of frustration on both sides was at boiling point. The dozer driver was literally chasing several people around in the dozer and pushed a tree over almost landing on several others. As threats of violence from other loggers also came to fruition, NRE, in there usual neglect for public safety, refused to intervene and diffuse the conflict. After it became clear that our initial intention to talk to the workers was not going to happen we returned back to base camp at Goolengook to plan our next move..

The coupes at Helmers Rd are on the register for National Estate significance and are almost entirely surrounded by National Park. The area was declared a Special Protection Zone as part of the RFA in 1995. Kanoka creek flows from the plateau through this area and into the Errinundra heritage river. But due to the immense appetite of the woodchip industry, these areas of high conservation value Old Growth and crucial habitat (cool temperate rainforest), were rezoned in a stroke of ecocidal forest management into a clear-fell logging coupe.

A crew of around 15 of us returned to the coupe at Helmers Rd under cover of darkness, with the intention of stopping this madness. By dawn a tree sit hung 30 meters up via cable to the dozer and two women locked on. The council worker lock on was used to immobilise the log loaded.

The loggers arrived about 8am and in a different mood from the previous day. They told us that they had the contract to push the arterial roads into the coupe but not to actually clear-fell it. They also said that it had been so difficult building the road that they were not making any money. The dozer driver offered me a cigarette and said he was sick of logging and going to work on the gas pipeline instead. As a show of their sincerity one of the logging crew even ate a stick of our celery. After these pleasantries the loggers asked for their machinery back. We were not convinced they were telling the truth, so in a offering of sorts they told us that an EGL car was on its way to the coupe and suggested that we lock on to it when it arrived. One of the loggers said he could lead the EGL man off into the bush, pretending to show him something and meanwhile one of us "greenies" could lock on to his car. In a bizarre moment of greenie/worker solidarity, that is exactly what happened.

After spending much of the rest of the day procrastinating we de-rigged the tree-sit, un-locked from the EGL man's car and gave the loggers back their machinery. As the loggers left they informed us that another contractor was to pick up the coupe in a day or so. NRE were contacted and informed of the imminent action that would occur if they put more contractors into the area. We explained it was unfair to put workers into such an obviously contentious area and recommended that they stay away.

We regrouped at Goolengook again and the following night returned to Helmers Rd only to unfortunately discover that our advise had been neglected by NRE. A new set of machines now sat idle blocking the access road into the coupe.

That night a crew of around 30 people worked tirelessly erecting a mono-pole placed through the blade of the dozer blocking the road which was then cabled 50 meters to a bi-pod upon which a person perched. Two women also locked on, further immobilising the dozer. The 45kg council worker lock on was then carried 2km up the road and attached via two people's arms to the log loader.

By 7am the following morning the contractors had arrived and for several hours we debated the virtues of restructuring the logging industry. By 10am NRE had rocked up and informed the contractor that there was nothing that they could do at this stage. Shortly after both parties left the coupe, leaving us to plan further structures and enjoy the picturesque forest that remained as a result of our presence.

Over the ensuing few days several visits form the contractor, police and up to 15 NRE at a time kept us on our toes. On the eve of day seven we received a tip off that Search and Rescue police were on their way. We responded by building a road structure 130 meters long. The Tri-pod cabled to a bi-pod, ridge poled to another bi-pod cabled to a mono-pole which was then cabled to another tri-pod blocked the road from both directions whilst keeping the person on the mono-pole way out of reach, or so we thought. This structure added to the forests defense but as this was now our third installation, logistically our camp was becoming more divided, three camps with roughly 1km seperating each one.

At about 6am the following morning the inevitable entourage of police from five districts, NRE and loggers arrived. They brought with them another dozer which they used to push a road around the first structure and with a crane plucked the person from the bi-pod. Search and Rescue cops somehow managed to undo the lock-on girls bracelets, releasing the dozer.

Next was the maxi-pod -several arborists scaled trees either side of the mono-pole setting a line directly over the structure where the person sat. A climbing line was then rigged from the centre of the line which several S&R cops climbed to gain access to the girl on the pole. After reaching her it became apparent that she wouldn't be removed. Their next tactic was to take to the bottom of the pole with a chain-saw. This didn't work either and left them with the brute force option. Eventually after about three hours, much to our dismay, this saw her eviction. The council worker lock-on, despite all the hype, proved no match for the angle-grinder.

In all there were nine arrests. By about 5pm all our defenses had been dismantled and the coupe was swarming with NRE and police. The authorities all chanted the 'leave the coupe now, or you will be arrested' mantra……..over the following 2 weeks 2000 years of eco-systemic creation was leveled in the pursuit of profit for EGL…….5kms of new roads are planned for the Helmers Rd area in 2001 and more Old Growth is set to fall ……………….

Tom


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