Archives: January 2008

31 Jan 2008, Comments Off on The Forest Wars

The Forest Wars

Author: Helen

It took me a while to get through Judith Ajani’s The Forest Wars (MUP), partly because of my habit of having four books on the go at any one time, and partly because it’s more of an economic history of an industry than a history of conflict. Far from being an exciting account of stoushes and tree-sits in the mud of Goolengook and the Styx, this book addresses the root causes of, and solution to, the problem of logging Australia’s old-growth forests. There’s a welter of statistics, footnotes and tables. Ajani describes in loving detail the various committees and acts of legislation which have sculpted our forest landscapes since the 1930s. In fact, the experience was a bit like chomping through a very big bowl of oldgrowth woodchips, with very little milk or sugar. But it’s well worth it.
Image from
In the last few years the timber and woodchip industry’s publicity focus has shifted from addressing the environmental issues – on which they know they can never win – to a plausible sounding assertion that stopping old growth logging will destroy the rural economy. Native forest logging, they claim- pointing an accusing finger- forms a substantial part of rural employment. People who oppose clearfelling old growth forests for woodchips are simply effete urbanites, and selfish to boot. We’re treading all over the little guy to achieve our wishy-washy environmentalist aims. Not only that, but “locking up” the old growth forests will lead to an explosion in imported hardwood and paper. These arguments have been kept in the public domain, largely by the National Association of Forest Industries and the CFMEU.

Dr Judith Ajani is an economist at the ANU whose expertise is in plantations, the wood products industry and forests. Her background is with Forestry departments and foresters; She’s an insider. She has participated in numerous studies and government reports on forests. Her book just kicks the chocks out from under this argument. It’s as simple as that.

The focus in the first section of the book is the elephant in the room which the forest industry doesn’t want you to notice: the history of massive overplanting in softwood in the first part of the twentieth century, and then in hardwood from the 1990s, due to tax minimisation schemes. When the forest industries tell you that so many thousand people are employed in “forest industries” in your state, they’re rolling the competitive plantation industries in with the uncompetitive native timber sawmills, but allowing you to come away with the impression that all those people are employed logging the native forests.

Ajani observes that because of old alliances (such as membership of NAFI), the plantation industry continues to unite with the old growth woodchippers against the “common enemy” of the environment movement, against their own interests as well as that of the rest of us.

Here’s a little potted history from chapter 15, where Ajani pauses to recap the history of Australian forestry:

By the early 1990s, Australia had planted enough wood to meet its sawntimber needs. Planting therefore moved to replanting harvested areas, like other cropping regimes, and native forest clearing tapered off. By this time, large areas of erlier plantings were laden with sawlogs and ready for processing. The core interests of native forest activists and the plantation provcessors fundamentally changed from being in opposition (because clearing to plant softwoods destroyed native forests) to being complementary (because plantation sawntimber substituted for native forest sawntimber). ..The environment movement moved to build a new alliance with the plantation processors, but the processors were too locked into the native forest industry dominated lobby groups’ agenda of maintaining environmentalists as the “common enemy” to find their own voice.

The plantation sawmillers paid a heavy price for their silence. They desperately needed market-clearing intervntion because by the mid-1990s Australian was saturated with sawlogs [My italics] …With government forest policies and subsidies geared to the commercial interests of the incumbents – the native forest based industry – the emerging plantation sawmillers battled for market-share severely handicapped. Their ecomomies of scale and quality advantages … won them through, but the resulting unimpressive profits stirred a wave of plantation-processing asset sales to mostly overseas buyers.

Despite 80 per cent of Australian sawntimber and wood panels now being plantation-based, native forest logging did not decline. Instead, the hugely profitable export woodchippers rose to dominate native forest logging.

…In forestry, the invisible hand of market forces is really the big hand of state governments who created extraordinary profit opportunities for a few native forest woodchip exporters.

Dr Ajani amply confirms what most forest activists already know, that the export woodchipping industry, based on the clearfelling of old-growth native forest, is the most massive rock-painting make-work exercise for a minority of profit-takers that Australia has ever seen. Politicians and industry spokespersons get away with this by conflating plantation forestry with native forest industry, woodchips with plantation panels, clearfelling with planting, by speaking of the “forest industry” as if it was all native forest industry.

Here’s an example: Fran Bailey on the Victorian Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreements:

We are talking about an industry that employs over 82,000 people nationally, that has an $11.5 billion annual turnover and that represents 1.9 per cent of GDP.


Bailey did not tell parliament just how many of the 82,000 people actually worked in businesses based on native forests and who actually generated most of the $11.5 billion in turnover. Bailey said the word ‘plantation’ only once in her forty-two minutes of speaking…

If there’s one thing I want to point to as a message you will take from this book, if you’re concerned with employment in south-eastern Australia, it’s that we can stop logging old-growth forest today. Plantations are not some vague solution for the future, for which we have to wait because trees, after all, take time to grow; The plantation wood for both sawntimber and paper pulp is already there. New South Wales, Victorian and Tasmanian governments need to follow their northern and western counterparts who have already ceased logging their old growth. And it’s crucial, now that we have wall-to-wall labor governments, that those governments get out of bed with the forestry wing of the CFMEU.

To sample some Ajani, here’s an edited extract published in The Australian last year. Note the relationship between prominent Laborites like Martin Ferguson and Julia Gillard and the Forestry wing of the CFMEU. And you’ll all remember Mark Latham’s demise at the hands of the Forestry dinosaurs.

I’ll have more posts on this book later, because it’s dense, fascinating and contains some interesting stories which would make this post way too long. I’d like to say more about the recent election and the grubby politics of forests. Gary Sauer-Thompson has blogged it a while back and Tim Dunlop likewise. Tim also writes about it with reference to the Tamar Valley pulp mill proposal.

At least I know better than to ever let the woodchippers guilt me again.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

24 Jan 2008, Comments (4)

Almost Famous

Author: Helen

Mr Bucket was mentioned in the Arts pages of the AGE yesterday.

He was part of a review of the artists market where SO sells his Bucket wares: Subversive artists blooming in Rose street, by Robert Nelson. Boo to the mean editors at the AGE who didn’t put the article on line.

SO’s paragraph reads:

Some pieces lie on the side of farce, as with Mr Bucket, a range of clothing that features a suited man, perhaps from the 1950s, with a bucket over his head. Gathering an apparently heroic reputation, the character is the archetype of the corporate automaton, his head an empty vessel without the faculties of sense or communication.


24 Jan 2008, Comments Off on Hmmm, can’t think of a precedent for that, can you?

Hmmm, can’t think of a precedent for that, can you?

Author: Helen

WASHINGTON – A high school track star has been disqualified from a meet because officials said the custom-made outfit she wears to conform to her Muslim faith violated competition rules.

Juashaunna Kelly, a senior at the District of Columbia’s Theodore Roosevelt High School, has the fastest mile and 2-mile times of any girl runner in the city this winter. She was disqualified from Saturday’s Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet.

Kelly was wearing the same uniform she has worn for three seasons while running for Theodore Roosevelt’s cross-country and track teams. The custom-made, one-piece blue and orange unitard covers her head, arms, torso and legs.

Oh, so I must have imagined Cathy Freeman’s winning performance in the 400m at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Cathy Freeman wins the 400m at the Sydney olympics in 2000

H/T: Feministe.

22 Jan 2008, Comments Off on Today is Blog for Choice day

Today is Blog for Choice day

Author: Helen

Blog for Choice day, 22 January 2008

Blog for Choice day is an initiative of NARAL, the US pro-choice organisation. The website which showcases the event is called Bush v. Choice. This Blog for Choice day also marks 35 years since the Roe vs Wade decision which protected abortion rights for women in the US.

But it’s impossible to spend any time in the US feminist or political blogs without realising that the US religious right – which has been making increasing inroads into our country as well – has been threatening Roe v. Wade for some time. Pumped-up anti-choice organisations have been encircling women and their health providers, always alert for an opening or a sign of weakness. It’s not just the violence that happens around US abortion clinics. The legal and political challenges are circling around them as well, hackles raised, teeth showing, ready to pounce.

So, Blog for Choice day, where we stop and think about the abortion wars and how they’re nowhere near won, and what we can do about it.

I’m going to leave the US now though, to talk about Australia and Melbourne where I live, and the doctor who has been put through a trial by fire by an unscrupulous politician and the rest of the circling, snarling rabble of abortion opponents.

It’s a continuation of the story about the one extreme edge case of late abortion which was made into a cause celebre by MP Julian McGauran, who didn’t hesitate to trample all over the rights of the woman in question and her doctors.

Now the doctor who performed the abortion has outed himself, with articles in the Bulletin and other news outlets. His name is Professor Lachlan de Crespigny (and, oddly enough, I remember him from prenatal exams at the RWH when I was pregnant with Boychild.) He has also been speaking publicly in support of a change of legislation to entrench womens’ right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy. The anti-abortionists have done their best to ruin his life.

“It just took over my life,” he says. “It’s better now in that I don’t think about it all day every day, but I think about it a lot every day … I still wake up at night and I still lie awake thinking about it every night. It used to be for hours every night. But now I switch off and go back to sleep far more quickly.”
Most of his anger is directed at the hospital. A few months after the woman’s abortion, the hospital called a news conference to reveal the events that had transpired.
Professor de Crespigny says the news conference was called after a number of doctors told hospital administration what had happened. He was sacked first, then suspended. Five other doctors were also suspended. The suspensions were soon lifted and the doctors were able to return to work. But, because of a feeling of being wronged at least in Professor de Crespigny’s case, none of the doctors work at the hospital now.

According to the Bulletin article, because of the personal toll this six-year witch hunt has taken on him, Professor de Crespigny will retire this year at 61 (he expected to work into his eighties, as his father had done.) I can well believe it, because he appears to have most of the signs of post traumatic stress.

The corollary, of course, is clear. De Crespigny and other health professionals have been made an example of, to send a message to others. So, although on paper Australian women may have reasonable legal access to abortion, in practice, the numbers of surgeons willing to perform the procedure will fall and de facto access will be more and more restricted.

Doctors are right to be anxious about performing a legal abortion. Because of recent police and coroner’s investigations, court cases and press coverage of abortion cases, more doctors now refuse a request for abortion. This environment unreasonably denies women abortion, and it exposes women and their doctors to unpredictable legal risk and public exposure. A system is flawed when a doctor’s first priority cannot be the welfare of her or his patient.

And, as I pointed out here, although seven years have now passed since his crusade began, Julian McGauran – the MP who started it all – hasn’t been able to find another example of a late-term abortion conducted for psychiatric reasons. The number of late-term abortions conducted for purely frivolous reasons, of course, remains at zero. People’s lives have been ruined because of a late-term abortion epidemic that exists only in his imagination.

Blog for Choice day should be an occasion for all of us, Australians as well as Americans, to stop and consider how the circling, snarling anti-choicers are ripping away at our right to our bodily autonomy bit by bit. We can only stop it by looking outward, and doing what we can to chase off the circling predators. We also need to help to drag those predators off the targets they have singled out as particularly tasty.

So I’d like to offer a huge cyber-bouquet to Professor Lachlan de Crespigny, feminist ally and courageous supporter of human rights.

I’ll update this post later with links to other Blog for Choice day posts. Comments vilifying the people mentioned in this post will be disemvowelled. If you think this denies your freedom of speech, don’t hesitate to get your own blog.
Update 23/01/2008:
Jill Filipovic of Feministe lists 10 reasons to support reproductive justice on Roe day.
Alternet has a Reproductive Justice section with a massive link farm of Blog for Choice day posts.
There’s a group essay up at as well.

I can’t find anything on the Australian feminist blogs for BFC day, but I’ll take the oportunity to plug this wonderful article by Audrey Apple, and the followup here and here. Big “awwwwww!” moment in the third link.
Update 24/01/2008:
Add some blue milk to the mix. BM points out that the Blog for Choice organisers had a specific theme, which doesn’t really relate to Australia. My approach was simply to ignore it!
And this post from Lauredhel isn’t a Blog for Choice day post, but I thought it was too important to leave out.

Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

19 Jan 2008, Comments Off on While I’m out walking the dogs

While I’m out walking the dogs

Author: Helen

Here is the Darling Downs, “old time weirdness in a cubist syle” (Dave Graney).

H/T: Malcolm.

Normal, non- dog related blogging will resume sometime in the near future.

17 Jan 2008, Comments (3)

Another dog update

Author: Helen

He has a name!

It’s… Ollie.

Which really suits him, somehow.

It’s short for Oliver Twist, because he has a twisty tail.

When I wake up / come back to the house / come back into a room both dogs shadow me, doing the wiggly tap dance. It’s like being followed about by two demented crazy people. But they aren’t getting possessive and fighting. When tired, they’re lying about flat on the floor, close (but not touching), as if they’ve been together all their lives.

Boychild had him out in the park most of the day yesterday, on the leash because he isn’t microchipped or registered yet.

I’m still waiting for the disaster or outbreak of neurosis-fuelled crazy behaviour. As I’ve written before, that happened with Maggie, because she was a basket case when we got her. I think this little guy has been better treated.

16 Jan 2008, Comments Off on Doggie report

Doggie report

Author: Helen

He doesn’t have a name. His first owner was in the Army and was deployed to Iraq. He went to her father, who didn’t want him, then to another family who to all accounts was fairly clueless and couldn’t keep him.

Boychild will brainstorm names today.

I feel for these shunted-around dogs – he’s needy and clingy. And holy Christ on a cracker, he STINKS. The first thing he did was to go out to the back yard, find something dreadful and roll in it. People with boy dogs, please tell me this is first-time settling in behaviour. Please!

Urine on floor in morning: None.
Poo on floor in morning: None.
Shoes or other posessions destroyed: None.
Growling sessions with Maggie: 1. Dogs appear chilled now.
SO’s reaction: Cautiously positive. If humans sniffed dogs’ bums, he’d be doing it.

15 Jan 2008, Comments Off on Second dog

Second dog

Author: Helen

We’ve been considering getting a second dog for a while now.

Boychild passionately wants one of his own. He dotes on Maggie, but she’s really Girlchild’s dog, and I think it would be good for Maggie to have a canine friend for when we’re at school and work. I don’t think it will be easy, because she’s often quite standoffish with other dogs.

Now an offer of a very sweet pug cross has dropped into my email inbox and we’re going to look at him this afternoon. If we do decide to bring him home, we’ll have to take it slowly and carefully with getting the two dogs acquainted with each other.

To those with two dogs – should they have separate kennels / beds or one big one to be pack animals and sleep together? Does this vary with the dog? I’ve only had singletons before, so this is new territory for me. I’m finding good stuff like this via google, but it doesn’t mention sleeping arrangements.

If you have advice it’s not only welcome, I say “bring it on”!

Fingers crossed for now.

15 Jan 2008, Comments Off on Take that, Feminist bitchez!

Take that, Feminist bitchez!

Author: Helen

We just spent some time relaxing down at our favourite sleepy fishing village. Gliding along a deep black river in a kayak with the bellbirds a-ringin’. Sitting in rapids with the pressure of the water against my back. Swimming alongside Boychild, out of his depth for the first time. Watching kingfishers dive and kookaburras, like soft cuddly toys. Climbing along a funky homemade boardwalk, carved with the names of local fishermen who have died, out to the dreamy estuary to watch the sun go down.

No pictures, because we dropped the camera among the rocks in the river swimming spot. It got water in it, and it’s cactus.

Because we had the kayaks, and a friend drove us down in his company car, ergo, we took the trailer. The trailer belongs to SO and I, but I have not learned to reverse it yet. This fact is essential to this story. I’ve tried in the past, but even though I thought it would be counter-intuitive and tried to allow for that in my thinking, I haven’t picked up the trick yet. I make no apologies for it either. While the occasions we use our trailer are vanishingly rare, the occasions to reverse it are rarer still. SO can do it in a pinch, but avoids doing so.

So, to backtrack a little, we were sitting around on the first evening doing a catch-up and our friend and his partner were telling about what they were up to and I did what I do very rarely – which is make any reference to blogging or, specifically, being a feminist blogger. I’m annoyed with myself about this sometimes. Why so cowardly? Well, everyone knows how introducing some topics can lead to a world o’pain. Mainstream Australian society still interprets “feminist” to mean “hairy, hates men, ugly, needs a good root hurh! hurh! and did I mention hairy?” Not to mention the fact that even some fairly sympathetic types tend to interpret feminist analysis as a personal criticism, and do not have the intellectual tools to distinguish between “patriarchy” and “men-in-general”.

Generally, I don’t feel like generating kneejerk bitterness and resentment and spending valuable drinking time explaining first principles to people all the time, so my feminism is usually confined to writing.

Friend and Girlfriend (who I’ll call F and K) had just said that they have three home-recorded tracks entered and under consideration for Triple J Unearthed. F is a talented singer-songwriter and K is an accomplished singer. And SO’s business is going from strength to strength, too. So I thought it was reasonable to do a little trumpet-blowing on my own account, for once.
Femmobolsho Awards
I said something like: well, I’ve been busy too! I’ve got a couple of blog posts up for “Best of” in 2007, both at Club Troppo, which is a political blog, and the Femmobolsho awards, which is for feminist blogging. I’ve also been asked to help adjudicate for the Femmobolshos, so I’m not sure of the ethics of that. I think I’ll just give myself a zero. What would you do? But, exciting huh? Yay me!


Then one of those awkward silences where a sort of black cloud of static started to appear around F’s head, like the cloud of dust surrounding PigPen in the Peanuts series. I changed the subject. After all, I was very grateful to be driven to Sleepy Fishing Village by someone else, saving me money and wear-and-tear on our old Mitsubashi, not to mention the driving. I was happy to suck it up and keep the peace.

Fast forward to the next morning, and K is taking me to the launching place with the kayaks on the trailer. I’m not allowed to drive myself simply because it’s a company car and only F and K may drive it for insurance reasons. Did I mention that K has had even less occasion, up to now, to tow trailers than I’ve had?

So, at one point she decided that reversing would be in order, and she got in a bind with it. So she called out to F that she needed help with it. Then she pulled her head back in the window and sighed. “He won’t help us. He said if we’re ber-loody feminists we can reverse our own trailer.”

Eventually we wiggled car and trailer out of the spot we were in.

This illustrates nicely one facet of the backlash mentality; find me deficient in any facet of the toolkit of life skills which hitherto have been the province of men and HAH! I TOLD YOU SO! Youse chicks just want to have all the power and WE’LL STILL HAVE TO OPEN CAR DOORS FOR YOU!! Men are from mars, women are from Venus and they just don’t have the trailer-reversing gene….

I must tell that story to my male boss when I go back to work; he can’t reverse a trailer, either.

Actually, I quite agree with the “try it yourself and don’t lean on others all the time” thing; my female workmate used to encourage people to work out things for themselves, and I’m used to that tough love. But there’s also a place for teaching people so they’re independent in future – like the men were taught, when young, by other men. And saying that explicitly as “punishment” for outing oneself as a feminist (or, in K’s case, simply by sitting next to someone who’s outed herself as a feminist)? Fuck that noise.

And that is an example of why I tend to express my femmobolsho tendencies in my blog, rather than trying to educate my immediate circle and work outwards.

6 Jan 2008, Comments Off on But it’s OK – they’re white!

But it’s OK – they’re white!

Author: Helen

Photo from AGE article "As Victoria bakes, NSW floods given "disaster" status, 6 Jan 2007
Photo from The Age today.

Quotes from Peggy McIntosh’s famous article, White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack:

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or [sit around half-dressed necking fullsized bottles of VB*], without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

*This part added by me, of course.