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The love and loss of Granite Mountain forest

By Darcy M. Hesse

I arrived at the Granite Mountain Blockade in so-called East Gippsland (Bidwell, Monero, and Gunai-Kurnai Country) after logging had already been stopped for several days. A tripod was blocking the access road into the area of forest to be logged (the 'coupe'). During the course of the blockade, which lasted 10 days in total, I was able to experience this magnificent forest in a multitude of ways. This piece is about the love and loss of Granite Mountain forest.

I'm drowning in moss, subsumed in forest sounds, feeling the pull of my soul to dwell in these trees forever. I am human, but an animal human. I look at the forest with human eyes, but with animal human eyes. I cannot separate what I am from this forest around me, from the pulse of life, the beating heart of immeasurable living things that surround me, that are, in this moment, giving me life, sustaining me, enabling me to be a human. I am visitor to this place, and as a visitor I have fallen in love.

We're sitting on the mossy log listening to bird calls, seeing how many different sounds we can pick up on. I lose count. There are 327 bird species within so-called East Gippsland's forest. I can't remember all of their names, but after a while I make friends with one which has a high, trilling call. The bird and I are having a conversation, a musical call and response. About what, I'm not quite sure, but there's something magical in sharing sounds with a being perched high above you.

Mists travel though these forests, seeping into tree hollows, hiding the call of the Boobook owl and the path of the Swamp wallaby. Come dawn the first rays of sunlight illuminate my surrounds through the mist with an emanating glow. The leaves are crisp beneath my touch, as I smell the dew drops of the new day. Thank you forest, I think. This moment I am alive because of you, just as you are alive this moment because of our ten-day blockade.

This forest no longer exists

Our blockade has been dispersed by the Victorian Labor Government's police force, Search and Rescue (although who are they rescuing?), and "Forest Cops" ‒ government officials from the oddly-named Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR). With no tripod in the way the forest is murdered, destroyed by alien monsters. Big, clawing bulldozer machines, unforgiving war vehicles. Their destruction is absolute.

As I wander in its aftermath I see a giant old hollowed tree lying on the ground, spray paint marking it as a pulp log. Was this the home of the Boobook owl we heard last night? I know my friend the bird-singer has lost its home. How many others with it? How many others were caught unawares beneath the jaws of the aliens? Perhaps my friend knew that solitary bird which is now flying around distressed on the edges of the war zone. Has this bird lost a family as well as a home? These dozer monsters have gouged out the heart of life in this forest. The land is empty now.

Seeing these bulldozer monsters reminds me of Avatar (the blue alien movie version) and the walking death robots controlled by minute humans inside them. It makes me realise that it's not possible to destroy a forest without becoming something more / other-than-human. When we're fully human, when we surrender to our bodies, our emotions, our mind, we cannot help but realise the destruction of the forest is the destruction of ourselves too, and that "me" is also an ecological community. To murder a forest through clear-fell logging we must forfeit "ourselves" to become "alien": part-human, part-bulldozer, part hyper-rational technological avatars stored in the "cloud". It is this alien which allows us to look at the forest in an abstract sort of way, economically analysing its current value on the global stock exchange. It is this alien which protects a logger from the screams of the dying. (I recognise that loggers are humans too, and they are mostly the foot soldiers in an epic global capitalist marketplace which requires people to sell their labour performing devastating tasks in order to eat and sleep in safety.) It is this alien which murdered the Granite Mountain forest.

The forest is gone. I am back in Naarm (Melbourne), and am overwhelmed by grief. I mourn the stupid, senseless loss of this ancient forest I fell in love with. I cry for the loss of humanity, the loss of humans as intrinsically animal, intrinsically ecological. For a while my grief is all encompassing. I am paralysed by guilt, and every morning I wake up thinking of that beautiful forest that no longer is.

Allowing myself to feel these emotions is hard. I am surrounded by a society which considers despair, sadness, anger, and rage as negative and disproportionate to reality. Apparently, these are emotions to be carefully boxed away with airtight lids. But it is only in creating time and space for these emotions that I was able to look around my community, both human and ecological, and feel hope. I realised that I am always surrounded by beings recognising what it means to be ecological. The magpie interrupting the tram noise, the moisture turning the dozer to rust, the human constructing a tree-sit. The relentlessness of nature's forms gives me faith that we are not helpless in the face of the monsters.

Indeed, it helps me recognise the ripples of impact the Granite Mountain blockade has already had. I notice the almost daily media debate on the "forest wars", and there can be no doubt that we have helped to lift the voice of forests within Victoria's consciousness. And I realise that the relentlessness of nature's forms echoes throughout time. As we drove back towards Naarm we followed a flock of parrots through Errinundra National Park, their feathers flashing bright red against the rich greens of the high canopy. These parrots were flying because of 600 people who took direct action in the 1980s, forcing the creation of this Park. I am able to revisit the forests of my childhood in the southern Snowy River because of an intense period of direct action in the lead up to the 2006 election, which caused the Bracks Labor government to link the Errinundra National Park with the Snowy River National Park. And the stunning Goolengook forest still exists because of a five-year continuous blockade. These cyclical threads of history remind me that we have always, and will always, challenge the destruction caused by the bulldozer monsters.

In fact, the number of ways we continue to tie these monsters up is limited only by our imaginations. We can climb trees to save trees, crafting tree-sits and tripods, tying the monsters to ourselves. The Granite Mountain "coup" is not yet completely logged, and so for the remaining forest there is still time. We can tie the formal political system in knots, as the current FoE Forests Collective and GECO's campaign for the Emerald Link are doing, encouraging humans to use their voting power to show there can be no "Government" decision without recognising humans are ecological and ecology is human. We can create space for the voices of the forest, listening to the bird calls outside our window, projecting videos of the Leadbeater's Possum at busy intersections and onto Parliament House, and conducting the citizen science that GECO does so wonderfully. And in doing all of this, we can allow ourselves and those around us to be ecological beings, transforming our very existence into a blockade for the meaning of humanity.

Published in Chain Reaction #132, April 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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