Terania Creek in northern New South Wales was the scene of Australia's first major forest war in 1979. According to then NSW Premier Neville Wran, "Terania Creek
was to the natural environment what Green Bans were to the built environment" (page 83). Nigel Turvey explores the site, the drawing of battle lines, the war and the aftermath of this environmental conflict in nineteen chapters of varying lengths. He situates the rainforests of Terania Creek as the main character in the war, and presents the influx of hippies and their culture as being in contrast with the culture of the then New South Wales Forestry Commission and forest communities. Turvey also examines the change in perception of the Forestry Commission, which sixty years earlier had been seen as at the forefront of conservation.
This book is easy to read and understand. There are useful
maps at the front of the book, the referencing format is
endnotes so the text flows well, and there are clear and
interesting pictures that relate closely to the text. The
book contains many quotes from the time and from recent
interviews. There is a sense of fairness in the portrayal
of various actors, and their underlying motivations. The
differences in world view are apparent, without the author being judgemental.
This book is suitable as a reading in environmental
management, environmental politics, history, ecology and
political geography. While the whole book is probably more
suited to teachers, individual chapters are particularly relevant to students studying the above topics. Turvey establishes the context for each chapter very effectively, whether by situating communications technology in relation to contemporary mobile phone technology, or by placing the event in relation to other events at the time, such as the 1979 Fastnet yacht race or the Azaria Chamberlain case.
I particularly liked chapter 1 (The Caldera) because it linked
geology, Indigenous settlement, European exploration and
the experience of being in the rainforest today. Chapters on
the history of forestry (chapter 5) and the deconstruction of
ecology (chapter 13) also stood out as being important and
articulate. The rainforest decision (chapter 17) was fascinating in that it connected the personal and the political in the lives of Neville and Jill Wran, and highlighted how politicians may be influenced in their decision-making.
Overall, I recommend this book as an important contribution to understanding a crucial part of Australia's political and environmental history.
– Dr Phil McManus
The University of Sydney, New South Wales
I came across this book straight after my
first trek through Nightcap National park in northern New South Wales.
I read it in a day, and - absurd as it sounds - it had me gasping with
excitement. Not bad for a book about trees, eh?
But, as Turvey tells, the trees of this region are far from ordinary. They’re
the Gondwana rainforest ancestors of the eucalyptus and acacia forests the now
define Australia - and they very nearly came to grief.
In 1979, Australia’s first forest protest broke out on the southern rim
of the Tweed caldera. Turvey was then a young forester employed in Victoria.
For three years the rainforest wars waged. Until Neville Wran, then premier of
NSW, ended the conflict. Turvey takes the reader on that thrilling - and globally
significant - journey.
He begins with describing the origin and evolution of this ‘green, lovely
world pre-dating the arrival of humans in this planet by about 85 million years’.
Then, with uncompromising fairness, Turvey recreates the story of its preservation,
adding maps and photographs to his diverse sources. The hardships and perspective
of the political ‘losers’- the forest workers and sawmillers - are
included but Turvey probably agrees with Wran that ‘when we are all dead
and buried … [the end of logging will be seen as] the best thing the… Government
did in the twentieth century’.
Dr Turvey has deliberately chosen to write for the general reader - for the sake
of story he feels should be told - and there’s humour and pathos in Terania
Creek, a refreshing change from the stodge and density of much academic writing.
On closing its appropriately green and ‘forestly’ covers, feeling
moved and better informed, I pronounced it the best non-fiction book I’d
read all year. This was the verdict of local publisher IP, because Terania Creek
is IP’s Best Creative Non-Fiction Award Winner 2006. If you weren’t
there in 1979, if you can’t easily experience Gondwana for yourself, this
book is the next best thing.
-Lesley Synge (Writing Queensland, Issues 160)
The planet is an amazing place.
The last book launch I attended was Barry Jones’ – “A
Thinking Reed” – it’s about his political life, a life
with lots of wars in it.
Guess who launched it?
Malcolm Frazer! Not exactly on Barry’s political team for most
of his wars!
And so we are here – an old lefty teacher, unionist, environmentalist,
who’s worked in all kinds of places with all sorts of people – now
working in forest industries where lots still fear to tread!
But not so NIGEL TURVEY. His preface introduces the book as “stories
of the people involved…..hippy next to logger”
He sets us dreaming with his lucidity about the rainforests themselves
and the Caldera, a place I know, my sister lived in Murwillumbah for
more than a decade. I often spent Christmas there. She planted hundreds
of rainforest trees.
Nigel takes us on a colossal journey, from Captain Cook to early settlement,
agriculture, dairy, cedar cutters, supplying the WW2 effort and then
through the blockades and grenades to protected forests and radically
changed regimes of forest management, protection & production and
baby boomers like us!
Like me, he talks of the divide between hippies/greenies and loggers
and the echoes around the nation; political parties divided, city versus
the bush, tree huggers Vs tree loggers.
His turn of phrase describes how the loggers lived how the protesters
It was these very campaings that set the scene for lots more of us to
be involved in forest campaigns over the next 30 years, for me it was
By then change was afoot. National parks and reserves of all sorts were
in place. But the tenacity, agility, the culture of protests were still,
in essence, those established at Terania Creek – physical resistance,
music, media, arrests, celebration of anti establishment values and life
styles all around –helicopters hovering overhead and bulldozers
droned to a halt.
In his chapter on “The Original Conservationists”, Nigel
give some rare insights. The Forestry Commission in NSW had changed.
By the First World War cutting down forests was no longer open slather,
conservation played some part of the pattern of forestry, sawmillers
were regulated. By the
1970’s younger foresters were expected to be highly educated, some
at the pointy end of technology and environmental knowledge.
But these changes were not fast or deep enough to catch the coat tails
of the emerging environmental movement and urban public opinion. Trees
became symbolic, totemic of a new era of respect for nature and new ways
of managing resources, especially forest resources.
Pg 27. I quote Nigel “The political mood swung dramatically while
the Commission remained static. The area of productive forest estate
was reduced, the professional expertise of the “original conservationists” was
permanently devalued and the reputation of the wider forestry profession
Nigel covers very intense terrain, crosses the boundaries, describes
wars about territory, resource, life style, values, jurisdictions, institutions,
science, economics, jobs, production and consumption, the battle for
the hearts and minds of the public.
He says in his last chapter “the war never truly ended” –
He is right! –
I must say in 2006, I think it is time the war ended.
I’m still asked “what’s an old trade unionist and greenie
doing in a place like this, Victorian forest Industries”?
I think it’s time for claiming the victories of the forest campaigns
for protection, knowledge, new management. We have a number of global
crises especially climate change. Much of our forest is now protected.
Trees store carbon as they grow. Forests in production also have their
part to play in storing carbon – in the trees as they grow and
the wood products we love and use and of course there are other values
in these forests, biodiversity, recreation, tourism. If we’re clever
we can help save the planet in lots of ways! Forest industries can play
their part more easier than most resource and manufacturing industries.
I love to be way beyond the Terania Creek Rainforest Wars!
I’d like to thank Nigel Turvey for detailing its history, telling
the stories and making his insights so clear so we might go forward differently.
It’s a wonderful, accessible, unique read! Congratulations to you
Nigel and all who helped.
— Tricia Caswell, Victorian
Association of Forest Industries, Melbourne Launch Speech, 27 October
I was not a participant in the rainforest wars at Terania creek – more
of an observer. But in 1981-82, I became caught up in one of the subsequent
battles of this long running war – the Washpool – from which
I still bear some scars. This new book is a fascinating and compelling
read. It resonates on many levels.
I’ve known Nigel on and off for about 25 years, sometimes when
we were both academics, sometimes when we were both living and working
in Indonesia. I have always had profound respect for his expertise as
a scientist. One central pillar and dominant character of this book is
the subtropical rainforests. Nigel’s knowledge of, and passion
for, these amazing ecosystems permeates the whole. But one would expect
no less from someone of his expertise and experience. Like virtually
everyone who has studied rainforest ecosystems, he has been captivated,
bewitched, seduced, by them.
So that element of the book pleased and reassured me, but did not surprise
But this isn’t really a book about beautiful rainforests and why
they’re important. What I was unprepared for, but impresses me
even more, is the story telling, the characterisation, the rich detail
the presentation of the minute
features of the personalities involved, on both sides of the war. I knew
some of the characters Nigel describes, but I could never have painted
such accurate and enthralling word portraits of these people. The book
is an oral history - a rich narrative about some exceptional people and
some ordinary people doing exceptional things?
There’s the scientist’s eye for detail, combined with the
narrator’s flair for painting vivid word-portraits. For example,
some odd “forest fauna” are described, in the vicinity of
the “rainbow army” camp.
A few cars sat awkwardly on the track, without wheels, as though beached
on some alien shore; this was the first passive line of defence for the
rainforest. Other vehicles stood among the tents dotting the paddock:
a slab-sided and rag-topped Landrover, a rust-spotted ute, a white van,
a gaggle of kombis, a surfie’s shaggin’-wagon, and a majestic
FJ Holden with upright windscreen and a smiling big-lipped chrome grille.
But the book is also social commentary, generating insights into how
society was changing in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, in ways
that few had anticipated, and which those who found themselves caught
up, didn’t really understand.
The struggle as celebrity
Not just the rainforest, not just the characters on each side who became
famous or infamous, but the struggle itself became important and achieved
the status of celebrity. The fact that there WAS a battle for Terania
Creek surprised many people, in the media, among the public watching
the nightly news in their living rooms, and of course the loggers, the
foresters and the government agencies who’d assumed their “right” to
log State Forests was unquestionable.
Terania Creek was the mother of subsequent battles – the Washpool,
the Hastings, Eden and Coolungubra in NSW, the Daintree and later all
the wet tropics in north Queensland, the Frankin and the Lemonthyme in
Tasmania, and the Erinundra plateau, the Otways and others in Victoria – to
name just a few. I suspect that many people, inspired by what had been
achieved at Terania Creek, embarked on similar strategies to save the
places that were just as locally or nationally significant to them. Of
course the detail, the context, the names dates and places, of all the
other rainforest conservation struggles were different. But Terania set
much of the pattern for other disputes, which were usually of much greater
scale and of much greater consequence. And how it was resolved (if indeed
it was) was also something of a template, that extended through the Helsham
Inquiry into the Lemonthyme Forests in Tasmania up to the Resources Assessment
Commission Inquiry in to Forestry, and the subsequent RFA process when
the RAC failed to achieve much.
The Commission of Inquiry
Chapters 12 and 13 cover the infamous Terania Creek Inquiry and its machinations.
The book is worth reading just for the account of the Inquiry alone!
But a mandatory health warning – it will raise your blood pressure.
I had no idea, until I read these chapters and the selections from the
transcript, how bizarre that process was. I was angered to read the attempts
to belittle and humiliate one of Australia’s greatest rainforest
ecologists, by a barrister who apparently didn’t –and did
not need to – understand the substantive content of the evidence,
but merely had to discredit the witness. The reality of public policy
debates exists to me as shades of grey, often context –specific.
The black/white, yes/no, true/false dichotomy of the courtroom seems
to rarely be helpful in these areas.
Up to this point in the book, I had enjoyed reading and better understanding
the people and events that I had only ever known before from TV and press
reports. I knew no more or less about whatever had been happening in
Northern NSW than any other layman interstate. I was thinking to myself, “thank
God I wasn’t involved in all that!”
But Chapter 14 introduces the next battle, the Washpool, and Chapter
15 introduces my small role in that battle. Now we’re dealing with
people I met, and issues I personally grappled with – this is oral
history come alive! And I still have a few scars and raw nerves (though
much less so than many others, on both sides of the debate).
I realised at the time, that we were a small part of a much bigger debate/battle/war,
but I did not fully appreciate then, just how big the big picture was,
or that our small 2 month consultancy would be pivotal in that big picture.
Forestry Commission wanted to log, refused to consider alternative sources
of supply as required by the legislation for Environmental Impact Statements;
we documented the feasible alternatives; the EIS was rejected; logging
was stopped; and soon after, the State Forests became National Parks.
But that’s enough about the Washpool saga, and the Hastings saga
that immediately followed. Same story, same outcome.
There were serious fears that without the timber industry (5 sawmills
and a plywood factory employing about 200 people, mainly women) Grafton
would become a ghost town if the industry was denied access to the Washpool
forests. Well the Washpool wasn’t logged, and Grafton is still
there too, and Big River Timbers, the ply mill, appears to have been
at least as successful as it was before, even after it was denied rainforest
What of the Forestry profession?
The abstract states that this book was stimulated by Nigel’s passion
to find out “what happened to the once-noble reputation of the forestry
do we eventually discover, through reading this oral history, some insights
into that? Were they simply old dinosaurs who were out-manoeuvred by
nimble and switched-on, media-savvy, ex-hippies with great political
I don’t want to spoil the mystery by revealing “whodunit?” but
I think I can safely say that the foresters and industry people had not
realised that the world had changed considerably since the 1940s and
1950s (not just since 1900-1916 when State Forestry agencies around Australia
were being created to ensure future supplies of essential timber for
the rapidly expanding society and economy).
They perhaps naively, put their faith in “due process” – they’d
been doing everything “by the book” and expected government
apparatus to not only support them, but to prevail. They could not feel
how strongly the winds of change were blowing!
As Turvey writes
From a broad perspective, it is a story of the forestry and timber industry
under siege from growing environmental activism. At a narrower focus,
it is a story of slow-moving institutions outmanoeuvred y small flexible
and proactive groups who managed the media and the message with alacrity”.
And what of the rainforests, the central character of this documentary/oral
There was no national recognition for the bush crews, foresters or sawmillers
who took part in the conflict. But 205,000 ha of moist forests, including
logged areas in the Washpool, the Border Ranges and the Nightcap Range,
together comprising the New South Wales part of the UNESCO Central Eastern
Rainforest Reserves of Australia, received World Heritage status in 1986.
Many in the timber industry consider that there could be no better recognition
for the generations of forest workers of the north-east than to have
the forests they managed and harvested to be still found worthy of recognition
by international conservationists, an award more lasting than a medal.
But it still hurts, professionally, that after demonstrating how to manage
forests sustainably for almost a century, society concluded that foresters
could not be trusted to continue that stewardship for another century
— Neil Byron, Dr Neil Byron,
Commissioner of the Productivity Commission
Although the NSW campaign for the preservation
of our North Coast rainforest ended over twenty years ago, it still excites
interest, probably because
of the lingering resentment in the timber industries and because it was
the most important conservation battle in the State.
Dr Nigel Turvey's book Terania Creek: Rainforest
Wars, which was launched at Dymocks in Sydney by Neville Wran
on the 22nd of November, is an excellent objective study of the violent
confrontation there in August 1979 and subsequently in the Washpool and
Nightcap rainforests. The author's
research took two years, was very comprehensive and examined both sides.
Three executive members of the Colong Foundation were interviewed at
length and the Colong Committee (as it then was) receives favourable
mention even though we only supported the 'alternatives' after the physical
violence began at Terania.
With feeling still running high on the far North Coast, it was considered
desirable to hold separate launches of the book —conservationists at
Byron Bay and the timber industry at Lismore!
The book is highly recommended and an excellent value at
— Jim Somerville, Colong Bulletin 219
Rainforest Wars strikes a brilliant balance between
artful story telling and objectively woven historical fact. Nigel Turvey’s
book is a successful crafting of literary journalism’s tried
and true methods of total immersion and scene sculpting, with echoes
of beloved Bruce Chatwin and Truman Capote’s juicy, creative
non-fiction narrative style.
And like all of the best works of literary journalism, the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ are
not apparent. That’s not the point anyway. The real issues are
far more complex and Turvey arranges opposing views with care.
The author’s timely angle of one Australian rainforest’s “spiritual
landscape — the living archaeology of Gondwana,” reflects
the contemporary struggle and surrounding political climate of many.
Terania Creek stands as a model for forests everywhere, and Turvey
explores this representation skillfully with a work supported by a
rich, thoroughly researched perspective.
The historical montage begins
45 million years ago with a glance at a primal volcanic era, reflecting
on a system that has evolved to survive drought and fire for eons before
the emergence of humanity’s political climate.
The womb-like basin of Terania Creek with its narrow cervix of an entrance
faces south. In its cool embrace is a rainforest little-changed for
more than 45 million years. On the eastern-most part of Australia,
it survived the drifting continent’s climatic shifts and 150
years of timber-getting. In 1979 some claimed it was the last un-logged
rainforest and should be saved, but for the foresters and sawmillers
it was the last rainforest they would plan to log. This story is about
the people who fought over the rainforest, but the enduring player
in the story is the rainforest itself.
We glimpse James Cook and Joseph Banks as we vault over 150 years before
Turvey sets us down in 1979, when “a war broke out in this most
peaceful of landscapes; it was the Rainforest War. It started with
a battle over the rainforests of Terania Creek, the forests just across
the Nicholsons’ boundary, and it spread to rainforests across
the whole State of New South Wales.”
With the rainforest of Terania Creek as his main character, Turvey
asks us to think and to observe for a moment, to plumb our current
understanding of environmental
issues, despite deeply polarised political pulls, labels and arguments. Terania
Creek asks the audience to work a little harder on an inner level than most non-fiction
books, but it’s worth it. The result of our efforts can foster a broader
consciousness actively regarding the larger forces at work within our world.
– Lauren Daniels, for the judges, IP Picks 2006