Daily Archives: January 12, 2011

I swear (not)

Yesterday The Age had a four letter word on the front page of the newspaper.  Not the f- word, but the other one. It’s  perhaps not quite as offensive, but it’s nonetheless  a word that I consider to be a swear-word.

It was in an article about the Labor  government’s ferocious prosecution of whistleblowers and leakers.  A former senior federal police source told The Age that if the government wanted to investigate the leaking of Government material, the Australian Federal Police would do so:

If the government wants us to do it, they’re our masters, so we do it.  And that’s not just a particular government- both Labor and Liberal and everyone in between gets the shits when their policies are undermined or their big announcements appear on the front page of the newspapers 24 hours before they announce it.

Using the s- word on the front page is no great crime, although I did raise an eyebrow.  But I found myself using the s- word and the f-word as well when viewing the footage of the cars being washed away in Toowoomba.  You’ve probably seen it by now.

What strikes me, though,  is that the young people taking the video are not swearing at all- not a single “Oh my God” or 4-letter word in the whole video.  The commentary under the YouTube version perhaps gives an explanation-  the photographer suggests that donations be directed to a  Church of Christ appeal, and asks for prayer.  I wonder if these wholesome young people are working in an office associated with the church?  I can only assume that the video was shot from the back windows of the office, hence their only vague concern about their own cars ‘out the front’.    While their commentary is rather awe-struck and banal, it’s better than a string of expletives and OMGs.

I never keep my New Years Resolutions.  Each year I say that I will exercise more, lose weight, and work harder on my thesis instead of blogging (hmmm…..). But perhaps this year I will really try to swear less.  It’s very unattractive; I don’t like listening to it from other people and I’d like to really work on it.

‘Into the Woods’ by Anna Krien

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.