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Crime, fiction and political intrigue

By Chris James - posted Friday, 3 October 2008

Gods, heroes and crimes provide us with a spectacle that tantalises our senses and links to our own capacity for fantasy and imagination, this keeps us glued to the screen watching the escapades in such productions as the controversial Underbelly. The cross-over between the real and fictional is interesting because it appears to affirm our need for a constant adrenalin rush to counteract the mediocrity that most people encounter in their daily lives. In reality it might not appear so entertaining.

Here is another story that might translate into a television drama; or perhaps a comedy. It took place a few years ago in the Central Highlands, home of some of Victoria’s most beautiful landscapes and site of the prime Mountain Ash forests and Melbourne’s water catchments.

In the early 1990s some residents of the Central Highlands were still largely cut off from their urban counterparts. There were older folks who had never seen the city: they had not travelled beyond the outer suburbs. The small town communities were insular and until the Shire amalgamations local governments were autocratic.


Nature lovers and environmentalists were not common in these parts they came from outside and they were not particularly welcome. They were regarded as “blow-ins”, having come on an ill wind of new wave environmentalism.

When the Victorian Greens held their first branch meeting in Healesville in 1995 there was already some concern from Melbournians about the devastation of the forests caused by clear felling. Hence, the major issue for the Greens was conserving the biodiversity of the area.

Greens member’s brought with them new knowledge about conservation and a determination to stop the logging in old growth forests and the water catchments. They posed a serious threat to the old guard.

The memory of the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires that killed 49 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes was still fresh in the minds of local residents. And the representatives of the forest industries traded on claims that logged forests were safer. They also claimed that the forest workers were the first at the fire front saving lives and this gave many of the loggers a hero status.

The Greens, they claimed would stop the clear- felling and this would be the cause of future fires. Seemingly, both the major political parties gave their support to the pro-logging fraternity. The Liberals were believed to serve the interests of business and Labor was perceived answerable to the CFMEU. The entry of the Victorian Greens acted as a catalyst to challenge this monopoly but it also raised the angst of some old-timer’s and other pro-logging community.

It was probably fair to say that in the early to mid 1990s the environment movement’s campaigns across the nation were beginning to make some inroads towards exposing the logging industry’s practices as well as the long term consequences for the environment. There were major successes in reclaiming lands for national parks and in protecting the vulnerable creeks and waterways, in revegetating vast areas of eroded land and in the constant monitoring of planning decisions.


Local environment groups in the area gradually grew in members and along with their city counterparts they were able to mobilise against the forest devastation. Then the tide turned. The environment groups were suddenly confronted with a groundswell of fierce opposition from a well organised, well resourced pro-logging lobby, with some groups even operating under the guise of conservation.

The political parties were also in turmoil at this time and many will remember the accusations of branch stacking in the Labor Party. Many skirmishes arose between the ALP environmentalists and those representing the logging interests. There was much to be nervous about: the environment groups had done a good job of scrutinising the forestry code’s violations and bringing them before the authorities.

The network of logging interests was still very powerful in this region but now it had to come up against the bourgeoning outcry from city environmentalists; people who knew their rights and had their own political connections. It was inevitable that the timber industry would find a way of combating the spread of ideas that focused on biodiversity and/or old growth sustainability.

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About the Author

Dr Chris James is an artist, writer, researcher and psychotherapist. She lives on a property in regional Victoria and lectures on psychotherapeutic communities and eco-development. Her web site is

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