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In September 1974, a young couple, Hugh and Nan Nicholson, bought an abandoned farm at the end of Terania Creek Road adjoining Whian Whian State Forest, about 80 miles south of Brisbane, New South Wales.
They didn’t know what lay ahead. Their plan was to start a specialist rainforest nursery. They were pioneers in the propagation and extensive use of rainforest plants in gardens and in reforestation on degraded lands, and they had made The Channon their home.
Their dream was coming to fruition when in January 1975 they discovered the Forestry Commission planned to log the area within the next few years and convert the rainforest to a eucalypt plantation.
From then until January 1979 when it was announced that logging would commence within the next few months, Hugh and Nan spearheaded a movement to stop the destruction of the forest.
The Channon Residents’ Group became Terania Native Forest Action Group (TNFAG) and when their voices would not be heard, TNFAG commenced a media campaign. There were stories on Nationwide, in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.
The fight begins
In early August the Nicholsons made an appeal at the Channon Market to prevent the logging. Within the next five days 300 people were gathered at the Nicholsons’ property. Cars moved into position in the valley to begin peaceful vigilance. They planned to stop logging until an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) was in place.
On August 16, a bulldozer and two Forestry trucks arrived. The first bulldozer was met by 200 protesters singing and chanting, playing guitars, drums and other instruments. One hundred and twenty police were sent to maintain order.
The next day, tow trucks, five paddy wagons and 20 police cars with 108 police arrived. They started removing vehicles from the blockade. A bulldozer began clearing the old logging road into the forest.
There were 17 arrests, but the media coverage was unprecedented – the story was national news – and so began the end.
It’s too simple to say that was that – it wasn’t. A lot happened on both sides of the fight for months afterwards, and today there are still scars in the community and the town, the residue of what happened, but in the end the efforts of the protesters paid off, and after a prolonged fight on the right side of history, Premier Neville Wran called a halt to the logging on September 4, 1979.
He established a fact-finding committee with Len Webb (CSIRO), John Whitehouse, Marilyn Fox (National Herbarium) and Lorraine Cairns (NPWS) accompanying them on the visit.
The Committee recommended that logging be suspended and the rest, as they say, is history.
Terania Creek was a landmark environmental protest.
The protest was the first time citizens physically defended a rainforest by placing themselves in front of police and loggers, the dawn of an entire new generation of forest activists and environmental defenders. People have moved to the area just to be near this place of victory and hope.
Some say it was this fight that lit the fire in the belly of protesters on the Franklin and certainly during the Northern Rivers’ fight against CSG mining at Glenugie, Doubtful Creek and Bentley. Terania Creek was a beacon from the past guiding the battle from its place in history.
A forest to capture the imagination
In 1979 David Kemp, a keen amateur photographer, arrived in the area and was captivated by the beauty of the Terania forest. He was appalled at the possibility of it being lost, and determined to join the protest with his young family. David pulled out his camera and spent the best part of a month capturing images of an unfolding drama. David, who had moved to the area from South Australia, had an Olympus OM2 with a 200mm lens with a 2X converter.
“I was living at Coorabell and at that stage we could drive up from Mullum, through Huonbrook, up over what is now the Nightcap and down Mackays Road, so it was quite a quick drive to get over there.
I was doing the markets at The Channon at the time when Hugh got up to speak about the imminent logging. So I drove out and saw this incredible rainforest. Some of the trees were dated at 1200 years old. They were just giants, they should never have been logged.”
David says to take time out for his work and family was a big deal back then:
’To give up your life – it’s quite a big commitment, but heaps of people did it and just camped there. It was a seminal moment. It changed my life.
David says when he was taking the photos, he had no idea how important they would be.
‘It was just the only talent I had to offer. I had a good camera. I had very fast black and white film and I just snapped away. I got these wonderful shots. Intimate and personal shots. To someone from conservative Adelaide, it was such a mind blowing change to my comfort zone.
David says he was one of a group of photographers who pooled their resources:
“At the end of the day we handed in all our film and it was developed on-site up the valley and we were given more film. Of the 800 or so images, about 300 were mine.
I just did what I was good at and I eventually got tapped on the shoulder by Detective Sergeant Campbell.
I got arrested and taken into Lismore in the paddy wagon.”
On Friday the Lismore Regional Gallery opened the first exhibitions for the year – one of which is entitled The Terania Creek Protest…
David approached the gallery in early 2018 about the exhibition saying he was interested in an exhibition in 2019, to coincide with the 40th Anniversary of the Terania Creek Protest. ‘The photographs are captivating and we well knew the local and national importance of this landmark event. We jumped at the chance,’ says Lismore Gallery curator Kezia Geddes.
Ms Geddes says that the Lismore Regional Gallery has done several exhibitions over the years that look at the history of the region. ‘We see them as crucial not only to celebrating the history of the region, but also in making sure these stories are told and research expanded on into the future,’ she says. ‘David Kemp has been very kind to donate his photographs in the exhibition to the gallery.
‘We are so grateful to him for providing us access to these images that capture the time and which are an important local, historical resource.
The opening of the exhibition was held last Friday and attracted a large and buoyant crowd. ‘There were three generations there; protestors, the children of protestors, and their children,’ said Kezia. ‘You always know an exhibition has touched a sweet spot when you get a crowd like that.
‘The Terania Veterans have always been brilliant networkers.
‘The protest began when word was spread at the Channon markets on 12 Aug 1979 to meet at the Nicholson’s property for a non-violent direct action to protect Terania from logging.
‘For the opening and exhibition, word was spread through Facebook, Instagram, email and good old-fashioned word of mouth, and the community came out to see the show.’ Kezia says it was brilliant to see so many people who were involved with the protest at the opening.
‘It is important to work with the community on an exhibition like this one and we collaborated with David Kemp, Hugh and Nan Nicholson, and Michael Murphy to bring this exhibition together.
‘They were so generous with their time and knowledge. All were very involved the protest, with the Nicholsons and Michael Murphy working to stop logging for five years – while also balancing the many other priorities of their lives.
‘Many people devoted time to the protest. There were letters, submissions, talks, appointments, phone calls, and expenses. Local Aboriginal custodians were approached as well as bureaucrats, scientists, politicians and media representatives.
‘The success of an exhibition like this is hinged on community consultation, so the story that is told is one that rings true to those who were involved and word about it is passed through this community.’
Don’t call them hippies
Local woman Rhoda Roberts opened the exhibition with a passionate speech about the people her father Frank Roberts Jnr, told her not to call ’hippies’. Rhoda says that when free selection occurred, a lot of the Bundjalung people stayed on and worked for the local farmers. ‘As the dairy industry decreased, we saw a lot of people coming into Nimbin, especially in the early 70s.’
Rhoda says her father would go out and greet them and talk with them and he realised they were very different. ‘Dad said the young people were really wanting to protect country and they understood the psychology that Aboriginal people had for the land.’
Rhoda says at the time her father (and now she herself) was very grateful for the part the Nicholsons and the other blockaders played in saving the forest. ‘That was how dad saw them. They were beside us. Side-by-side was dad’s thing.’
Rhoda says there is a special connection in having the photos and other memorabilia at the gallery. ‘Having the exhibition on this place here which was known as Tuckurimba, and knowing that our land had been protected by strangers, who wanted to work with us, and to take the children out there to see the rainforest remnants, I mean, it’s gold.’
Hugh and Nan still fighting for trees
Everyone was happy to see Hugh and Nan Nicholson at the opening. The couple who have lived in the area for forty-five years are often considered the mother and father of environmental protesting.
‘We didn’t expect to be recognised after 40 years, so that’s a good feeling,’ says Nan. ‘But we are so aware that we haven’t stopped fighting yet. This is just the start.’
Nan says that her fighting days are not yet over.
‘It was a great victory 40 years ago, but we are more in trouble now than we were then with our forests.
‘Even this week people are out in the forest stopping logging. It’s high conservation value koala habitat, recognised as old growth. It should be saved. People are on the line now trying to stop it from happening. You can never give up.
‘We will always get engaged. What’s really giving me courage now is that there are a lot more young people involved. It makes you think, ok, we can win this. But, gee it’s a hard road. After all this time I would have hoped that we would have been a bit more secure. I know a lot of things are getting reversed, but I feel like with a lot of new blood coming in, we’re really up for the battle. So, we’ll keep going.’Nan
Hugh says that there are plenty of people to be thanked for their conservation efforts in the area. ’Terania Creek’s got the name, it was sort of the first fight, but it was the Mount Nardi fight a couple of years later, that’s when the government finally made changes and the rainforest policy came in.
‘So if it hadn’t been for Mount Nardi, we wouldn’t have gotten the national parks. The people who fought for that haven’t had the same recognition we’ve had, but they were vitally important.’
The Nicholsons are now looking toward the election for changes to be made. ’I think it’s a watershed moment and people are starting to grasp that climate change is here and you have to vote accordingly,’ says Nan. ‘You can’t muck around any more with people who think it’s not happening. I think there will be major changes this time.’
A beautiful and moving exhibition
The Nicholsons say the exhibition is very beautiful and very moving. ‘I am so aware that if we hadn’t had David Kemp, the photographer, we would have basically had no record,’ says Nan. ‘It’s so different now when everyone has their phones, which is wonderful.
Nan and Hugh do have advice for the younger people coming up.
‘My advice is just get involved,’ says Nan. ‘It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the facts. The facts are so dire, but if you do nothing, then you’ve got low self esteem to cope with as well. If you get involved, you can at least feel ok about yourself if nothing else. And when you win the feeling is so euphoric it makes everything worthwhile. And even if you don’t win, it’s still worth doing anyway.
‘So I just say, cause trouble whenever you can, because it’s so important, and that’s the secret of joy.
Hugh also has advice for the would be protester. ‘Just don’t give up.’
‘I hope to be an example for all the people here that you can fight,’ says Nan. ‘You can win, and hopefully we will win this next battle because we are really heading into difficult times now.’
In January this year, the Terania Creek forest blockaders won the 2019 Australia Day Award for ‘Services in the Community (Group)’ for their pioneering efforts to save a pristine rainforest.
An exhibition of photographs by David and other photographers who documented the action – The Terania Creek Protest – is on at the Lismore Regional Gallery until April 7, 2019.