In the autumn of 1996, the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) was very quiet. Logging equipment had been sabotaged, and people perceived as ‘greenies’ violently attacked on the streets the nearby town, Orbost. Volunteers were wary of becoming involved in the campaign to help save East Gippsland’s forests, as were the peak environmental groups.

I stayed at GECO, enjoying the opportunity to study and learn about the region. It was fascinating learning to identify the flora, fauna and forest types. After learning this, I could better understand the Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC) maps, level of disturbance maps, and correlate these with proposed logging maps.

The government was undertaking similar work, announcing to the public a “comprehensive regional assessment” (CRA), which lead to a “comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system” (CARR), based on scientifically determined criteria, which would be signed into “regional forest agreements” (RFA). What they didn’t announce was that estimated timber quotas were held fixed, so there would be no net gain in protected forest, regardless of what values the CRA found.

This fraud was clearly demonstrated in the Goolengook forest block, where a Rainforest Site of National Significance was scheduled to be clearfelled. The area fulfilled each of the JANIS criteria, but was not included in the CARR.

The maps which scheduled logging at Goolengook showed a line of 7 coupes (logging areas), which could only be accessed by crossing a single bridge. It was a logical choice for a blockade site. I visited the area with friends a couple of times, and photographed the environment and aesthetic values found in the proposed logging areas.

A survey camp was established in late 1996, where a group marvelled at the beauty and scale of the area. My photos were displayed at the festival ‘Confest‘, which lead to 70 people wanting to travel to Goolengook, see it for themselves, and help defend the area.

In January 1997 the road was first blocked by a small tripod, and since then has seen countless structures, lock-ons and protests. It was World Environment Day 1997 when clearfelling of the National Biological Site of Significance (for Rainforest Values) began. Since then the blockade has been busted and re-constructed at least 50 times, over 160 people have been arrested, it has been through the media, through the courts (DPP v Brown [1998] VSC 117) and has become folk-lore.

In 2000, the blockade was attacked by a mob of bat-wielding loggers, who beat the crap out of a visiting tourist, flattened the camp, then attacked and rolled a vehicle, beat its male occupants and threatened to gang-rape the women. The threatened to sodomise anyone found in Goolengook when they returned.

In response, blockaders built a Fort. This is part of what makes Fort Goolengook so hard-core. There is also the fact that Goolengook is so remote – 6 hours from the nearest city (Canberra), and the nearest towns are notoriously dangerous. Orbost saw dozens of attacks on anyone looking slightly hippy or green – I was violently attacked several times for things like buying petrol or groceries. Vehicles were sabotaged by loggers and defected by the cops. Of course not everyone in town is that way, but it is the aggressive few that scared the rest into submissive acceptance of the violence.

Fort Goolengook not only stood to protect the forest and the cute furries, but stood against intimidation by violence, against thug rule, and against Corporate Oppression. Ultimately the driving force behind the logging is the woodchipping industry, which sends the pulped logs to Japan to make paper.

In 2002, during a pre-dawn raid, the Fort was busted and demolished. The government reportedly spent $1.4million trying to keep protesters out of the area, in order to earn a few hundred thousand back in timber royalties. This effectively ended 5 years of continuous occupation at Goolengook – Australia’s longest running blockade.

The campaign to save Goolengook continued, and lead to a VEAC inquiry, which in turn lead to the entire forest block being protected. There were many other factors involved, and many people involved, so credit for the victory is deservedly and widely shared. I personally feel my victory in the Supreme Court (Hastings v Brennan & Anor [2005] VSC 36, 37, 228, 269), contributed to saving Goolengook, because the Judge made which ruled that “Forest Management Plans and Forest Coupe Plans …(are) required to be consistent with the Code and to exceed the minimum requirements outlined in the Code where necessary to protect environmental values”. (Hastings v Brennan & Anor; Tantram v Courtney & Anor [2005] VSC 228 at [22].

The Forest Code of Practice included a statement that Sites of National Significance should be protected at the highest level, generally the sub-catchment level. In 2006 the Victorian Labor Government promised to protect all of these sites, including Goolengook.

Here’s my submission to the VEAC inquiry, which details the ecological, recreational and cultural values of Goolengook: Hastings (2006) “Goolengook, too precious to log. A submission to the Victorian Environment Assessment Council, Goolengook Forest Inquiry


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