“Giants of Macquarie Street” is a stand of trees in Corunna State Forest so tall that a human is reduced to a mere footnote in its presence. The limbs of this copse of gentle creatures scrape the sky as they rise to form a canopy more than 70 metres above head height.
The Spotted Gums in Corunna State Forest, or Corymbia Maculata as the genus is known, are highly sought after by the construction and paper industries. But the people of Corunna value their forest so much they have asked the politicians of Parliament House in Macquarie Street, Sydney, to protect these trees from logging.
At a community meeting in August 2018, local member for Bega Andrew Constance was invited to tour the forest with locals. Six weeks on, Constance’s office was yet to arrange a date for the walk. Rather than wait longer, the community has taken the forest to town, by naming an entire copse the Giants of Macquarie Street, with each politician being informally appointed as a special envoy to their own tree, complete with a plaque and a naming ceremony. The people of Corunna have sent a photograph of each tree to its namesake, along with an invitation to get behind the preservation of Corunna State Forest.
Premiers past and present are represented by the Gladys, the Carr, the Nifty Nev, Keneally and the Greiner, who each stood for the people of New South Wales. Then there are trees named after Federal heads of state – the Morrison, the Turnbull, the Gillard, Keating, and the father of Federation itself, Sir Henry Parkes. Several hundred trees have already been named, and their patrons will be contacted with details of their tree in the coming weeks. The community took to the streets of Bega on September 28th to bring their protest to the office of Member for Bega, Andrew Constance. When asked for a comment by ABC South East the Member for Bega said while he supports the opportunity for free speech the timber industry is an important one for our region and we’re better to have a sustainably managed industry, than to rely on imports. “Certainly in terms of our region towns like Narooma, towns like Eden are critically dependent on their mills and of course contractors as well - so we have hundreds of jobs dependent on the industry and you know again the point out of this is that the timber industry is going nowhere it’s here to stay - it’s important to some local families that we have the industry and we have jobs.” Member for Bega, Andrew Constance.
VIDEO: Protesters in Bega during "Funeral for a Forest" Video by ABC SOUTH EAST
The last harvest from the Corunna Forest was in 1987, yet there are stands of Spotted Gum at Corunna that are still mere saplings after more than 30 years of regrowth.
The Giants of Macquarie Street stood witness while new arrivals raged wars against Original peoples who once lived in harmony with their forests. They stood here growing whilst men fought two world wars they deemed important. These trees watched while humanity transitioned from horse drawn carts to motor vehicles. Then jets flew overhead with a cargo of faces gazing down upon the green sea of tree tips that trace the blue fringe of the Tasman as she cuddles up to the coast.
Community Picnics on the foreshore of Corunna Lake, which has a 50m setback from logging under current harvest plans. Picture (c) Richard Cooke
During a community picnic on the foreshore of Corunna Lake, Sean Burke from the South East Regional Conservation Alliance raised some serious concerns about the financial viability of the proposed harvest of Corunna State Forest. "Not all of the timber from Corunna State Forest is slated for the timber mills which create popular hardwood flooring. Their exact destiny will not be known until a harvest plan is published. A Forestry spokesperson has confirmed that a good proportion of the timber in this forest is slated for more temporary uses such as pallet boxes, fence pickets, firewood, and the ever famished demand of the pulp mill in Eden, with its bay of hungry mouths to fill, as empty vessels queue up to be sent to Asia for our national wood pulp quota. "The paper made in offshore factories inevitably makes its way back to Australia as printer paper and toilet paper, commonly used in every home and office from Macquarie Street to the far south coast of New South Wales. Perhaps the people of Corunna and surrounding villages of Narooma, Tilba and Mystery Bay will buy inadvertently buy their trees back at their local supermarket. Whatever happens, they certainly won’t be inclined to call the exchange of these trees for paper an even trade. “This forest is home to threatened species, but they are selling it off to make woodchips for a little over four dollars a tonne,” he says. "Based on that rate, the community offered to pay Forestry the income it would generate from the harvest, if they agreed to leave the forest alone. Forestry are yet to respond.
“We elected this government to represent the needs of the people of New South Wales,” a community spokesperson says. “We believe in the democratic principal that the people we elect are above the rest of us, because they are the people who are prepared to stand tall and do what’s right by everyone, just the way a gentle giant would”. “We are calling on the parliamentarians and senators of New South Wales to stand up for what’s right and protect this forest. This is a designated ‘mixed use’ forest and this area is used for camping, birdwatching swimming, kayaking, bushwalking and commercial fishing – but it isn’t just needed by humans – it is also a unique feeding ground for migratory colonies of threatened Swift Parrots, it is home to threatened Southern Brown Bandicoot, Yellow Bellied Gliders, and is the where the Glossy Black cockatoo’s favourite feeding trees grow. "At the moment we have White Bellied Sea Eagles nesting with their fledglings, and the best Forestry can do is offer them a temporary exclusion zone. But once the fledglings fly, Forestry has the right to move in and take those trees. Where are the Sea Eagles supposed to go at breeding time next year, when these trees are gone?”
"Koalas were here before the last harvest. And although trees did grow back, koala feeding trees did not return. In fact, koalas are so broadly accepted as extinct in this forest that a survey to preclude their existence was not even required for the 2018 harvesting plan. “Harvesters use the forest once in a generation. The people of this place, the state-protected plants that grow here and the threatened species living here – each use the forest every day,” the Corunna spokesperson said.
"After 30 years, there are few tree hollows to host native wildlife, considering tree hollows can take up to 200 years to form. The protected cabbage palms that should be towering over established rainforest and ephemeral streams are present, but they are mostly unaccounted for, given that their three leafed sprouts have only just this year emerged from their seeds. The threatened tree ferns which reproduce by spores never had much hope of returning after forestry’s last post-harvest burn. Only the fire retardant species which respond to burning remain."
“Animals are struggling to exist in this habitat as it is”, the spokesperson said. “The plants that are on 2018 protected species lists don’t stand a chance when Forestry has a license to ignore them. We’ve seen Elkhorns, Cabbage Palms, Burrawangs and Geebungs – but if this habitat is not protected now, there is little hope for their future.”
Despite forestry agreements falling due for renewal as the existing agreements expire, the Environment Protection Authority has received consistent feedback from community organisations that current harvesting practices are out of line with the climate emergency that is rapidly emerging, with forests needed for carbon offsets, and the last rays of hope for species that are in decline.
South Coast conservation campaigner Harriett Swift has made strong representations to the government that it is time to impose a “Polluter Pays” levy until the native forest industry is closed. “The industry is living on borrowed time. Governments can legislate for anything they like. Sustainable and economically viable native forest logging, especially for woodchips is not real and never will be,” she said.
Dr Bronte Somerset, founder of Great Southern Forest which lobbies for the protection of all native forest in this important bioregion says disturbance of environmentally sensitive areas significantly disturbs native wildlife. “There is no doubt that the industry buried wombats alive in Glenbog State Forest. There is no doubt that the industry commenced logging on sacred Aboriginal land on the Biamanga Range. There is no doubt that mistakes are made such as when Gnupa State Forest was clear felled. We have seen all of this. We have witnessed and photographed that native forest logging can cause this much damage.”
Video: Corunna Forest by Kyle Wilson
“The people of New South Wales are increasingly calling for systems to align with community values on resource management, climate change and threatened species. We can no longer afford to say that processes will be renewed in due course – the time to act is now,” says local campaigner, Paul Payten.
"In the coming weeks, the people of Corunna will be calling on the gentle Giants of Macquarie Street, Sydney, to put down their axes, and pick up their pens to save this forest. The threatened species of Corunna State Forest can only hope they are listening.
"Whether the actions by the people of Corunna will have any impact is unknown – but certainly the more important question facing politicians across the country is what is being done to address the rapid decline in the state of the environment, and to appease the people who are increasingly unhappy about it.
"With state elections set for March 2019, time will certainly tell what becomes of these giants, of both human and gum variety."