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Still Standing, With All That Remains

This year marks 30 years of the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) campaigning to protect East Gippsland’s unparalleled forests and biodiversity. Below are snippets of a couple of these conversations with original GECO activists present in the early 90’s. With such longevity of struggle, we have an important vantage point to learn, heal from, and also celebrate.

This year marks 30 years of the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) campaigning to protect East Gippsland’s unparalleled forests and biodiversity. East Gippsland covers 9% of the state, but is home to 34% of listed threatened species. It is the only place in the country that offers a continuous connection of natural ecosystems spanning from alpine to coastal landscapes.

GECO’s roots are in nonviolent direct action, and we’ve been blockading for forests since our inception.
In November 1993, GECO formed off the back of the ‘Celebrate and Defend East Gippsland Forest Festival’ put on by The Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth, and Concerned Residents of East Gippsland.

The end of this year also marks the end of clearfell logging in Victoria. While a major win, it has been a bittersweet victory for many. Fiona, our longest serving collective member, has been using this time to dive deep into reflection with all the generations of activists who have been part of GECO. These reflections will form part of a radio series on 3CR next year. Below are snippets of a couple of these conversations with original GECO activists present in the early 90’s. With such longevity of struggle, we have an important vantage point to learn, heal from, and also celebrate.

Person with dreadlocks reading in a leather chair, and a guitar next to them.

The Learning


The blockades were far from just symbolic – they were incredibly practical and relentless pressure upon the industry and had very real economic and political impacts on the industry at the time that was felt all the way up... There is no way that a city based population would have had the degree of ecological awareness of the importance of forests without people actually doing blockading, going out there and getting arrested. It just brought home to everybody just how critical and important these forests were...


I learned my rights – I’m happy about that. I didn’t really know my rights until I went out there... I learned to cook for a lot of people on a fire and how to start a fire with soaking wet wood.


It was such an important part of my life and laid the foundations of what was important for me including making lifelong friends. I learnt about who I was, what I can cope with, what are my strengths, and what are things that I can let go of.

Two people in a rainforest. One person is standing and has blonde hair and a checkered chirt. The onther person is crouching next to them and smiling.


The structure of GECO was Anarchist, but we didn’t have any other models or experience. Learning how to be an anarchist was an enlightening experience as well because with total freedom comes total responsibility. It was a huge balance. There was a process to make sure everyone had a voice, but also there were natural leaders that emerged in an area...

Another experience was learning how to lash, and I lashed a little platform on a monopole for Serina to sit on, and I remember seeing Serina all the way up there like 20 or 30 metres up and I was like, her life depends on my lashing, and whether those clove hitches hold... Oh gosh you know it was an amazing experience. Thankfully, they held!

Inter Movement Politics


So there were a lot of group dynamics over those years that we’re played out on a day-to-day basis basically. The stress and tension between the blockaders actually doing the blockading and the city people doing the advocacy and putting out the media releases. I think GECO really filled a big hole in that field by being an organising hub in the region that hadn’t existed before.


There were tensions but also a lot of co-operation and good will. I never saw organisations pushed out of discussions, certainly not towards the Friends of the Earth Forest Network at the time, which seemed to be more of like an urban direct action hub to complement the forest direct action hub at GECO.



The other road trips I remember in terms of negotiating at that time were the trips down to Lake Tyers to talk to the traditional owners, Robbie Thorpe and others, to seek consent, permission to do direct action which were incredible experiences.


Consensus is based on trust and respect so we had to rely on the trust and respect that we had for each other. Also it’s so hard to have consensus between a remote blockade camp, a base camp, and GECO and the city. The communication tree was doing it without phones and radio and then travelling to share information.


We had “tell a feral” - that’s how things got around. Or you would stay at someone’s place and then the messages would go from here to there. Remember the message books? Transferring messages from GECO out to the blockades and back. As well as people’s dole forms!



There was a boycott running in town. You would often get refused service if they spotted you as a greenie, or refused petrol. I remember there being shots fired from passing car windows at a few people on their way between Goongerah and Orbost.


There was a safe house in Orbost. They all had kids under two years old and I remember they were staying there when it got fully smashed.


... We were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and we passed a loggers four-wheel drive and we got in a car chase. They rammed the car, smashed it while I was doing
a three point turn, and then they pulled us out and beat us
up. We finally got to Sellers Rd and you were one of the first people I saw Fiona. I was just so happy to see everyone. I don’t know how I even drove with a smashed car with no lights...

Solidarity With Workers


... It was just this seemingly intractable battle. There were mills who were pissed off at Daishowa (logging company) who were seeing all these D and E grade logs being taken up to the chipmill where they could have been sawn
locally. There were all these opportunities for good alliance building that could’ve happened, but there was also strategic differences between some of the groups. There was also

the fact that we were all largely city-based greenies coming out for the first time and it was hard to find that common ground with local people.

The Losses


...I think almost everywhere that I blockaded isn’t existing anymore. There’s other losses too, including people who aren’t here anymore like Danny, Adam, Nick, and Flinney.


I always think we can identify the forests that were destroyed and we know which ones were lost in front of our very eyes. But there’s a hell of a lot of forests that are still standing that would not be still standing if it wasn’t for the work that so many people have done. I think we can point to some forests that are still standing which is the result of all of us. That is a huge win.


The fact that we got huge forest outcomes in the Otways,
in the Cobboboonees for the Red Gums, that would never have happened if it wasn’t for the forest protests building the strength of the movement. It also created political power which ricocheted into forest campaigns elsewhere. I mean it was heartbreaking to see what’s gone, and these are some of the most extraordinary forests found anywhere in the world. The movement that was created out of it did really have an impact though for successful forest campaigns across the country. 


I feel really honoured to have been there and seen that forest, and I guess there are still some bits in NSW that I return to. I feel like that time of blockading was the most useful thing I’ve ever done in my life, but with that comes great grief, to have borne witness and seen what was lost in our lifetime, and that does my head in and why I don’t do it anymore.

First Nations Solidarity


I know personally I went on a journey at that time learning about what happened in this country. At the same time Friends of the Earth had the Indigenous Solidarity Network and ran two gatherings, one in 1997 and one in 1998,

which brought together Indigenous activists from across the country alongside environmental activists. It really helped build those connections across a whole lot of campaigns... That’s where I first met Uncle Robbie Thorpe, who became an important part of our campaign. It was our connection to him that connected us with the Gunnai Kurnai and

the Bidwell, and it really brought our campaign to a new level. We were introduced to concepts of Treaty and No Jurisdiction and it became a big part of the campaign.


Working on this land, where sovereignty was never ceded, with Bidwell Traditional Owner Albert Hayes as well as Krautungalung man Robbie Thorpe, we came up with the idea that as environmental activists we would sign Treaties with the First Nations peoples for areas we were trying to protect, and we would serve evictions on the people who were trashing the forest.

It was really powerful. We marched into a logging coupe in solidarity with Indigenous elders with the intention of doing two things: signing the Treaties and serving the eviction notices. We were met with kind of a strong response. It was such a new concept then, maybe just for white fellas. I think everyone was shocked - and I think I can include myself in that!

To hear more about “GECO: 30 years fighting for forests” tune into

GECO marked our 30 year celebration last December. Follow our social media to learn more.

Tuffy Morwitzer is a campaigner for the Goongerah Environment Centre, and compiled this article for GECO.

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