298 p. 2010
I did intend starting this blog with a reflection on the “Note about the Printing of this Book” that appears at the end of this book- you know, the page where somebody (the author?) waxes lyrical about the paper and coos about the font used and how boutique it all is. But then I looked at the YouTube footage of the attack by Tasmanian forestry workers on the protesters that prompted this book, and somehow my opening observation seemed rather twee.
The footage is below. The language is crude and ugly, but I suggest that you do not turn off the sound because the rage, and the terror it induces, are also muted if it plays silently.
You wonder where this would have ended had the protesters actually “got out of the f***ing car” and taken them on. Likewise you wonder what publicity if any this would have garnered had there not been the video evidence and the platform of YouTube to distribute it.
And yet, the raw and ugly emotion of the video and the slight preciousness of the anxiety over the type of paper selected for the book are both manifestations of the complexity of the Tasmanian forests debate. Few (none?) of us can avoid using forestry products; this very book discussing the issue is printed on it and sold in shops choked full with the stuff. There are generations of forestry workers and there are timber communities. Beautiful objects are made of wood. There are those mountains of woodchips sent offshore as fodder to enrich other economies, but then there are the environmental hazards of the pulp processing facilities that perhaps we don’t want here after all.
Anna Krein makes no secret of the fact that her first sympathies lie with the protesters. It is the video footage above that propelled her across the straits to write the essay from which this book arose, and although repulsed by the dreadlocks and dumpster-diving, it was amongst the protesters and their share houses that was ‘home’ during her time there. But she ranges across a number of players as well- the loggers, the timber workers, the politicians, representatives from Forestry Tasmania, but not the timber company Gunns itself which did not participate. However, these were excursions to ‘the other side’, and she makes no secret of this.
This book is not the ‘he said’/’she said’ pretence of even-handedness by which objectivity is claimed by providing equal time to all sides. At some point, the journalist/writer/historian has move beyond being a mouthpiece for conflicting interests by confronting the “here I stand” moment and actually crafting an argument that she owns. Krien perhaps sidesteps this slightly by shifting her gaze onto the relationship between Gunns and the Tasmanian government- a relationship that is tangled by the small size of the Tasmanian population and the myriad and constantly shifting connections between government, Forestry Tasmania the government-owned enterprise, and Gunns itself. It’s a grubby and disheartening story, and one that makes me bristle with distrust. It makes me wary of the recent ‘Statement of Principles to Lead to an Agreement’ of October 2010 which seems to have been conducted in secrecy- the hallmark of the Gunns/Government/Forestry Tasmania triumvirate- yet to have garnered the support of groups across the spectrum. I have seen little analysis or detail of the agreement, but it is being lauded as a blue-print (green print?) for Victorian forests as well, and again conducted privately, out of sight.
The blurb from Chloe Hooper on the front cover is apposite, because Hooper and Krien are similar types of writers who move into a situation, confess (and perhaps even emphasize?) their novice status and write themselves and their emotions into their narrative. They both are careful observers of both people and environment, and both write evocatively, clearly and conversationally. The book confirmed and gave more factual validation to my own pre-existing sympathies- I’m not sure how I would have felt had it refuted them. I do feel as if I am better informed, but I’m not sure if my smug “Huh- I thought so!” response takes me far.