In August 2007, I arrived in Tasmania for the first time. My instant impression was that of road kill, the highest I have seen anywhere in the world. The second thing I took in was the sheer beauty of Tasmania, its magnificent forests and verdant valleys. The red loams reminded me of the West Country in England, where some of the most magnificent dairy products are produced. I was not surprised to learn that Tasmania's dairy produce is as good, if not better than that of my childhood.
I was here to research a documentary on forest destruction and a pulp mill and the next few days made me quite angry to see some of that obliteration first hand. The northeast of the island was particularly fertile and green, the forests were magnificent and despite the occasional pine or eucalypt plantation, they appeared to be largely intact, at least from the road.
It was over lunch in Hobart, with the member for Bass, Kim Booth, that I heard of the 2020 Vision. The lunchtime meeting lasted two and a half hours and it was filled with information about Tasmania's plight. The 2020 Vision was a concept some might say prophecy, of Gunns Timber Ltd and the State Government. The proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill would eventually be plantation fed and the whole of the northeast, the Dorset region, was to be converted to plantation. Needless to say, this meant depopulation of the area on a massive scale.
I asked how they intended to do this, given that the region was dotted with picturesque little towns and even prettier farms. I was told the infrastructure was already in decline and that, brick by brick it would be removed until nothing remained but trees. I was horrified and to be honest, a little sceptical that, in this day and age, such a thing could take place.
The research was finished in three weeks and it was Christmas when I returned to start production. The rest of the crew arrived in mid January and the shoot was on. Four years later and with the film safely in the hands of the distributor, I am still here. It is not just the pristine beauty that kept me here but also the determination of the people. The fight to overturn the pulp mill and wrest the forests from the hands of the destroyers overwhelmed me. So much channelled anger and so much passion became the main theme of my film and the main reason I stayed.
During that time I saw the removal of bridges, the closure of sawmills and the hillsides lined with more and more plantation. Farm machinery services have been closed, along with farm supplies and many farms have been planted out with E. Nitens trees. The Post office in Branxholme closed, leaving only a few PO Boxes and a post box. The general store sells stamps and envelopes. The threatened closure of the Winnaleah post office comes shortly after the stock feed store opposite closing and just before the threatened closure of the pub. In Ringarooma, a pretty little town in a beautiful valley, previously known for its butter and cheese, has seen the store close, the only grocery outlet in town. The pub is closing and the post office is tipped to do likewise. All this after the State Government did their collective best to discredit the only Doctor in the region that was prepared to do house calls and served the community for 33 years from 3 surgeries around the district. Trumped up charges of negligence, resulting in deaths, proved to be untrue and eventually, after several months, he was allowed to return to treating his 3,500 patients.
The vision painted by Kim Booth, back in late 2007 and that I thought unlikely, has unravelled before me. Gunns was behind the closure of the mills of course. In 2007 Gunns had the logging rights to the region, including pine and, as relayed to me at the time, decided to honour the supply agreement to the tonne but failed to deliver the lengths required. The contract stated only tonnage and so instead of 7.2 metre lengths Gunns supplied 3.6 metres. This prevented Auspine, who owned the two mills, from supplying their customer agreements and forcing the share price to tumble. Gunns and its subsidiary companies bought up the shares at rock bottom prices and took control of Auspine.
Within months the Tonganah mill was closed, laying off 174 workers. Two years later the Ling Siding Mill was closed, laying off another 120 workers. House prices have fallen and fore sale signs line the streets of every town in the region.
The community finally saw the light through the ever-thinning trees and realised that Gunns Timber had totally shafted the region. Shops have closed in Scottsdale, the biggest town and home to the two sawmills and many houses have bee left empty as young families have left for the mainland in search of work.
Again, that tremendous impetus has risen up within the Tasmanian people and the fight is on to save the district from closure and the almost inevitable plantation. Despite no equity partners and no FSC accreditation and the fact that Gunns Timber Ltd is technically insolvent, plans to build the mill are going ahead. This 2.7 Billion project has no funding, no social licence and is set to destroy almost every business and every life in the region. The State Government are still behind the project and are bending over backwards to help it got off the ground and yet indirectly, it has already had the effect of wiping 80% of forestry jobs from the state.
Wondering whether I should make a sequel to the film "A WORM in the APPLE" and perhaps call it "A Rot in the Core of Government" is ponder the future of this beautiful region. I remember the many fine, locally produced Angus Steaks I have enjoyed in the two pubs about to close. I think about the communities I have lived within and the jokes, in the face of adversity. I see the daring young climbers on bridge pylons and grain silos, raising awareness with huge banners and the elderly and children alike marching in the streets to protest. I look around me at the once peaceful farming communities and ask, who are the people this government is here to serve? Who elected these people to parliament and whatever happened to democracy? I think about the amount of money and resources, made available by the State Government, to Gunns Ltd and ask, if this is the government's 2020 Vision is it any wonder the people are angry and the budget is in deficit?