Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Three Hydro-Electric Commission workers stand in front of the Lea Tree - estimated between 2,000 & 4,000 years old - that they chainsawed and drilled-and-filled as a reprisal against Franklin Dam protesters, South-West Tasmania, 1983.

The vandalism of the Lea Tree - an ancient Huon Pine (Dacrydium Franklinii) - is detailed in this chapter from the Australian Institute of Criminology. The key paragraphs, though, are as follows:
[After the High Court handed down its decision that the construction of the Franklin Dam would not proceed] officials were still concerned that the rainforest area at Warner's Landing might be vandalised in protest against the High Court decision.

These concerns proved to be well founded. Near Warner's Landing stood a Huon Pine tree some 9 feet in diameter. It was a sufficiently prominent landmark to have acquired a name - the Lea Tree. Three men, all over six feet tall, found that they were unable to link arms around the trunk. The tree was so old that it had been left by the convict cutters of the 1820s as of no use for boat building. Given its size, it was quite likely more than 2,000 years old.
On the night of 5 July, 1983, the tree was chainsawed, holes were drilled in it, oil was poured in the holes, and the tree was set alight. The fire continued for at least twenty-four hours.

Whilst it has been suggested by some that the tree was burned by conservationists to attract publicity, a more plausible explanation is that the tree was vandalised by pro-dam interests as an act of reprisal.

Allegations that HEC personnel were responsible for the incident are supported by photographs of HEC workers holding placards bearing various anti-conservationist messages in front of the charred tree. One photograph shows three workers posed next to the smouldering trunk, on which the words '[Expletive] You Green [Expletive]' were painted.
When I initially read that chapter, I could not find that photo anywhere online. Today I stopped by Readings however and found that it had been published in Alex Hungerford's "UpRiver - Untold Stories of the Franklin River Activists".

Seeing the picture really brings a whole new level of uneasiness to the story itself. Reading the tale without the image allows it to somehow remain something of an abstraction. There was a tree; some men; the assumed smell of diesel and noise; but all faceless though.

With the image, though, there are no longer abstractions. The embers of the tree glow in the background. What you assumed the expletives to be are laid out bare. They look like my father's friends, they have the faces of people I know. The lit cigarette. The stubby of beer. Hell, own helmets with earmuffs like that. There's that line in that song by Okkervil River, ya know:
Now, with all these cameras focused on my face
You'd think they could see it through my skin
They're looking for evil, thinking they can trace it, but
Evil don't look like anything.
30 years ago in a little over a month.

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