Anger High Over Logging Planned at Tasmanian Historic Site

CANBERRA, Australia, May 5, 2005 (ENS) - Australian conservationists and elected Greens are furious over a logging road that is being cut by a timber company into one of Australia’s most important cultural landscapes.

The site, on the North East Peninsula of Recherche Bay was the location of one of the first recorded meetings between Europeans and Aborigines. It took place more than 200 years ago on the state of Tasmania's southern tip.

“Recherche Bay is the site of 10 weeks stay by French scientists under the command of Bruni D’Entrecasteaux in 1792 and 1793 including detailed documentary evidence of contact with Tasmanian Aborigines. It is threatened by road works and logging," said Senator Bob Brown of Australia's Greens, who represents Tasmania in Parliament.

The Recherche Bay land was also the place where the first documentation of Tasmania’s floral emblem, the blue gum, was collected by botanist Labillardiere. A cottage garden was created there by expedition gardener Lahaie; and the world's first discovery of variation in the Earth’s geo-magnetism occurred on the same site.

“The North-East Peninsula at Recherche Bay and Southport Lagoon, where the French scientists first met the Palawa or Tasmanian Aborigines, should be nominated for World Heritage Listing and, meantime protected by the emergency listing on the National Heritage List.” Senator Brown said.

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Black Swan Lagoon with Recherche Bayin the distance. The forest beyond the lagoon is to be logged. (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Brown)
Professor John Mulvaney, one of Australia’s top archaeologists, said the site should have been bought by the state or the federal government.

Mulvaney nominated the spot as a heritage site to be protected under Australia's new heritage legislation and made an urgent plea to safeguard the site because no archaeological study has ever been done there.

Tasmania's Aboriginal community has joined the battle to stop logging on the Recherche Bay historic site. In late April, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council wrote to the federal government asking that the entire north-east peninsula at Recherche Bay be protected.

In mid-April, more than 1,000 people marched in protest of the logging and roadbuilding, but Minister of Environment and Heritage Senator Ian Campbell has declined to halt the roadbuilding. About 140 hectares of second growth trees on private land are scheduled to be cut by year's end.

April 15, Senator Campbell rejected an emergency application for protection the Recherche Bay land. The application was made by Senator Brown, who wants to stop the logging to conserve the cultural and natural resources of Recherche Bay.

Campbell decided that the heritage values of the site are "not immediately under threat" because the owner does not plan to allow logging until the end of the year.

"The Forest Practices Plan, now in place, indicates logging will be confined to only about one third of the overall area, and in my previous consideration I was assured by the Tasmanian Government that logging would be selective," the minister said.

"The Australian Heritage Council is currently assessing the north-east peninsula of Recherche Bay under the standard, non-emergency provisions for the National Heritage List," Campbell said. The Council is due to report to the minister on their assessment by June 2, 2005."

A very different Council today called on the state government of Tasmania immediately halt all roading and logging activities at Recherche Bay and to acquire the land at issue for conservation.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) Council, which governs the largest conservation organization in the country, meets three times a year to consider issues of national significance. It includes representatives from each state and territory in Australia.

ACF Executive Director Don Henry said that the decision to permit logging on private land, ahead of a thorough archaeological survey, flies in the face of a great many august bodies including the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Council of National Trusts and the French National History Museum.

"Recherche Bay is one of the most important sites in the history of Australian botany," Henry said.

Landowners David and Robert Vernon, who plan to have the site logged by Gunn's Timber Company, expressed satisfaction with the minister's decision. "It vindicates our position and what we have set up with the state government and it just supports the processes that we have followed all the way through this this episode," said Robert Vernon.

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Senator Bob Brown leads a rally in April to protest logging in Recherche Bay. (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Brown)
Senator Campbell says the state government's forest management plan for the site provides adequate protection of the peninsula's heritage values.

But the ACF says it will not satisfied until the site is protected as a National Heritage site, and is calling for immediate protection of the entire peninsula as "a natural and cultural landscape of interest and importance."

Geoff Law of The Wilderness Society warned that two-thirds of the site would be clearcut, with many heritage sites, such as middens, lost forever.

Law said that the Wilderness Society believes that the logging road to be bulldozed across a conservation reserve, the removal of a significant proportion of the trees, and the subsequent regeneration burn would create an unacceptable impact on the area's natural and cultural values.

One of the few concessions is a 100 meter (328 foot) buffer zone from the beach. But the beach at Recherche Bay is already being spoiled.

Another road, originally built by New Zealand troops who fought at Gallipoli, Turkey during WWI, is being widened for tourist purposes, by digging into the cliffs at ANZAC Cove, according to Senator elect Christine Milne who visited the site in late April.

In an email to Senator Brown, she wrote, "The road works are cutting into the cliffs...a two lane highway is being bulldozed into the cliffs and the spoil is being pushed onto the beach."

"It has destroyed the whole perspective of the 1915 landing as, instead of cliffs, you now see a terrace effect from the beach. Beach is disappearing under a load of dirt from the roadworks. I was horrified," she wrote. "It is a sacrilege."