NO PICNIC: It was a battle. These were among the many eco-warriors.
NO PICNIC: It was a battle. These were among the many eco-warriors.

A rainforest won by the people for the people

'If the ancient rainforest ridges of the Nightcap range could talk, they would tell tales of the living history of this land, of the people who first pioneered the river valleys, and those who came more than 100 years later to protect the rainforest. Deeper in the memory of these mountains, lies the lore of this land's elders. Their ancient wisdom lingers on as mute testament to the Bundjalung people.'

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service1988.

As far back as 1932, The Nightcap Range had been earmarked as National Park, yet with the advent of WWII the proposal was forgotten.

The logging of this ancient forest had been going on since 1842, when the enormous cedars and hoop pines were felled before the settlers moved in. For the Wiyabal people, the old guardians of the forest, time was running out as the loggers moved in for the rest of the tall trees. Down came ancient brushboxes, quandongs and tallowoods. The rugged nature of the terrain had kept Mt Nardi safe from the early loggers but as bulldozers and chainsaws replaced carts and bullocks, the threat to the untouched forests on the mountains became very real.

The early settlers were not so attuned to their living environment and thought little of the destruction of life around them and by the 1920s, when most of the valuable giant trees were gone, the district around Nimbin largely turned into a dairy industry.

It was not until 1973, with the coming of the hippies, that land practices began to change. A respect for Mother Earth was evident amongst the newcomers and a great love grew. It was the Aquarius Age, arriving in a small town where the forests really needed help.

In 1979, the new-age settlers at Terania Creek made the first stand against the logging companies that threatened the virgin rainforest in their area. They organised a protest and brought about a much-needed awareness in the public about the value of these forests for all future generations. Their action, although widely reported on by the media, failed to attract an environmental impact study and letters to government departments proved useless as they were always ignored.

On May 25, 1982, after major changes to the Gooninbah State Forest management plan, Standard Sawmills in Murwillumbah was issued a special licence to log Mt Nardi and Grier's Scrub. It amazes me still as an old protester of those times to think that this beautiful ancient rainforest could be called 'scrub'. The logging commenced immediately at Grier's forest and a few months later, on September 29, they came for the trees of Mt Nardi.

Another local initiative was formed, and a group known as NAG (Nightcap Action Group) came into being. The placid nature of the protest at Terania morphed into a more

determined hardcore stand for the rainforest … it was the last chance the forest would have, and we knew it.

Bundjalung elder, Uncle Lyle Roberts opened the camp known as Leaf with a protective dance at the gates to Mt Nardi in June, 1982. He told the protesters that his ancestors were buried on the mountain and of its sacredness to his people. His spiritual passion had inspired us all; the Bundjalung and the Naggers had become one tribe. His inspiration and blessings carried us on to the direct actions that were needed to stop the D9 bulldozers and logging trucks coming up Newton Drive every day.

For four long months, a core group of 50 or so Naggers lived in Leaf camp. There were another two camps, one at the base of the mountain known as Stumps and another further up the mountain which acted as a last line of defence. When the spring rains arrived that year, we wept for joy in the teeming downpours as there would be no logging that day and we could recuperate and regroup our forces.

It was as if we were in a war, a battle for humanity to conquer greed and the destruction of the natural environment.

We removed a cattle grid from the road at 4 o'clock one morning when one of the tribe, a man called Winiatta, had woken me to go to action by playing his pan pipes. The melodious notes of his pipes were heard most mornings as we rose for our bowl of porridge before making our appearance on the road outside the camp.

There on the road we were subject to arrest and being dragged away by the police. Inspector Harold Fredericks seemed to have no shortage of men to attend the protest. After being arrested four times, I held a discussion with my friend Rick Wright who had had long experience as to what to do when things got tough. Many in the camp including ourselves were sick with dysentery and other assorted illnesses related to the rough conditions. The next morning, Rick had his foot run over by a 4WD police vehicle that reversed to run over it again. The incident made media headlines throughout the country.

On October 1, the day after the foot incident and when a representative of NAG, Di Kivi, had brought the issue before the NSW Land and Environment Court, a court injunction prohibiting further logging was finally gained. There was jubilation all round.

Mt Nardi and Terania Creek were incorporated into the Nightcap National Park, which was granted World Heritage status in 1986.

A total of 186,300 hectares was saved in the newly declared National Park. Included in this was a big slice of the Washpool Forest and all the Border Ranges.

As a tribute to Nagger Andy Frame, who sadly passed away early in 2009, the remaining members of NAG will be laying a wreath of flowers on the land he gave over to the protest.

Many folks today have no knowledge of what happened back then on that mountain. Many of the stories still remain untold.

Let's hope history does not forget the day we saved the forest.

A celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Nightcap National Park will be held in the Nimbin Town Hall on Saturday, October 20 from 6 pm.

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