“Never after the South East Forests campaigns can you say that a natural environmental protection issue wasn’t absolutely mainstream to the Australian psyche.” – Professor A.J. Brown
Understorey is a timely documentary as the Regional Forest Agreements which govern forestry in the area expire in 2019 and 2021. An alliance of conservation groups is now advancing a Great Southern Forest proposal. This involves funding jobs in tourism, wildlife protection, forest restoration and climate change mitigation from carbon credits, instead of loss-making logging-based forest management.
The Franklin River campaign looms large in Australian environmental movement history. Less well known but just as deserving of attention are the extraordinary decades-long campaigns to protect the biodiverse rich, internationally significant forests of southeast New South Wales.
Some 20 years after the South East Forests National Park was gazetted, documentary maker, Tathra resident and Uniting Church member, David Gallan, presents Understorey. This film traverses the rise of a large scale social movement, which grew from humble beginnings and a few dedicated conservationists in the 1960s through to its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. Wood chipping for export to Japan first commenced in the 1970s. It then expanded into the Tantawangalo and Coolangubra forests and prompted widespread opposition.
The film is an education. It highlights the centrality of local communities in environmental protection, the rights of traditional owners (the Yuin nation) and the diversity of tactics (court actions, tree sits, etc.) all needed to achieve campaign goals. There is also importance in the role of professional and citizen science in holding the forestry industry and governments to account, and the hankering of media after conflicts between opposing sides.
The story is told through interviews with many of the key players, interspersed with archival videos by Peter Constable and media reports. The personal testimonies of persistence over years, at times at great personal cost, are deeply moving. Gallan’s daytime and nighttime footage and stills of wildlife are delightful and contrast with confronting images of clear-felled wastelands.
The establishment of the South East Forests National Park is described by an interviewee as a “moderately successful outcome”. It consolidated a number of fragmented national parks and added significantly to their coverage. In the meantime, wood chipping, propped up by large government subsidies, continues in old growth forests outside the park boundaries.
Understorey will screen at Pitt Street Uniting Church on the 16th August at 7pm, followed by Q&A with David Gallan. For more information about the Great Southern Forest proposal, visit the official site.
Published with permission. This review first appeared in the South Sydney Herald.