Fight moves into the trees

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - DAINTREE BLOCKADE — EXCERPT III -

The tree-sit­ters now held the only line of de­fence be­tween Coun­cil and clear ac­cess to the rest of the road. From day one, the treesit­ters were roughly ar­ranged into two rows gen­er­ally 10 to 20 me­tres up in the canopy, al­though some ven­tured higher at times. A few small plat­forms had been se­cured to as­sist them, but the ma­jor­ity hung in the canopy on ham­mocks, or sal­vaged fish­ing nets, strung be­tween branches with ropes and wire. On the first day, treesit­ters could climb down, get sup­plies, take a toi­let break and climb back up. Young, bare­foot and fit, they scaled the trees with ease. The po­lice had no chance of climb­ing the trees: they wouldn’t take their boots off.

Gummy was in a strate­gic tree in the first line. Apart from get­ting a bit stiff and un­com­fort­able at times, and a bit cold on one night, Gummy en­joyed his time in the tree. The prob­lem was his tree was very thin and had been dam­aged the year be­fore. The dam­age to the snow wood had brought on a pro­fu­sion of white flow­ers that matched Gummy’s blonde locks.

Chris Fow­ell, one of the NAGs, found him­self up a tree with just a half a packet of Ryvita crisp-bread and a few or­anges. Af­ter a cou­ple of days his cig­a­rette papers ran out, so he be­gan rolling ci­garettes us­ing pages of the science fic­tion novel he was read­ing.

Along­side the un­com­fort­able and danger­ous con­di­tions, the tree-sit­ters en­dured reg­u­lar taunts and abuse from coun­cil work­ers and po­lice. A cou­ple of work­ers put lit­tle cuts in the trees they knew would even­tu­ally be com­ing down. These trees wouldn’t fall, but they would crack all night. So any­one sit­ting in the tree would ex­pe­ri­ence a long night in the quiet for­est, lis­ten­ing to the crack of the tim­ber, won­der­ing if the next crack might be the one that breaks the tree. Po­lice of­fi­cers put green-ant nests at the base of some trees. Some young cops spent a day col­lect­ing crick­et­ball sized rocks from along the side of the road to throw at the tree-sit­ters dur­ing the night. One af­ter­noon when smoko was called, the dozer op­er­a­tor parked his dozer right un­der a pro­tester. The two big chim­ney stacks blew hot smoke and ex­haust fumes right onto the pro­tester while the work­ers ate nearby.

The po­lice were not let­ting pro­test­ers any­where near the road. The news re­layed through the ra­dio link was the only way of get­ting con­sis­tent in­for­ma­tion out. And the ac­tion by the tree-sit­ters, par­tic­u­larly Gummy, was now mak­ing news.

Tiny Toohey con­tacted ABC ra­dio. ‘We’ve got a guy with a ra­dio up a tree here.’ ‘Can you put him on?’ Tiny patched Gummy through to ABC morn­ing ra­dio, and he had a live dis­cus­sion with the host about his vigil.

An­other re­port com­mented: ‘He’s prob­a­bly 50 or 100 feet in the air, and as I un­der­stand it, he has a rope be­tween a cou­ple of trees so he can get from one tree to the other, and he’s fairly well es­tab­lished up there.’

In the morn­ing, the large bull­dozer be­gan low­er­ing the end of road. The D5 was parked nearby. Po­lice cor­doned off a larger area, in­clud­ing a sec­tion of the beach, as a re­sponse to the vigil and con­fronta­tions of pre­vi­ous nights. But the tree-sit­ters were hold­ing strong, and the D10 dozer had not made it past, though the creek cross­ing was now a muddy mess.

Coun­cil in­ten­si­fied their ef­forts. By mid-morn­ing, the large dozer passed the first line of tree-sit­ters with one me­tre to spare on ei­ther side of the blade. Work con­tin­ued into the af­ter­noon. The re­ports com­ing through were con­cern­ing. Ra­dio log: Sun­day 12/8/84 16.14 Tim­ber­top re­ports the large dozer is just north of him at­tack­ing a very steep slope where the sur­vey­ors have marked out to pos­si­bly go above both pro­test­ers. The dozer is hav­ing con­sid­er­able dif­fi­culty, only man­aged a dozer length so far. South of his po­si­tion there are sev­eral coun­cil and po­lice ve­hi­cles, also sev­eral large con­crete pipes and a crane. We are still hold­ing them up even though large dozer has gone past. They need to clean that area, in­clud­ing the two trees, be­fore they can do any­more.

18.35 Dozer in sight of Tim­ber­top. A few hun­dred yards from him mak­ing a deep cut­ting.

Around the cor­ner from Gummy and Greg, north of the creek, the sec­ond line of de­fence had four tree-sit­ters in it. Some other pro­test­ers got into the area and kept them en­ter­tained with mu­sic and songs. At one stage the singing stopped, and a lone man­dolin player con­tin­ued with a cho­rus of frogs and ci­cadas for ac­com­pa­ni­ment. Some of the pro­test­ers rolled boul­ders down onto the track in the path of the doz­ers. Re­ports that the tree oc­cu­pa­tion was frus­trat­ing the po­lice kept spir­its high.

On 13 Au­gust, The Cairns Post re­ported on a Dou­glas Shire Coun­cil me­dia state­ment that bull­doz­ers had made a track past trees in which two pro­test­ers were lodged in ham­mocks about 20 me­tres above the road. Coun­cil work­men us­ing a small bull­dozer care­fully formed a track around the trees to en­able the coun­cil’s gi­ant bull­dozer to pro­ceed.

The re­ported that the Queens­land Cab­i­net was call­ing for ‘tougher ac­tion’ un­der ex­ist­ing laws to ‘stop hordes of peo­ple on the dole’ trav­el­ling to north Queens­land to join the protest. Ra­dio Log: Mon­day 13/8/84 08.20 Dozer D10 go­ing around sec­ond block­ade — 4 ar­rested Ian, Chris, James, Mal. Some in hand­cuffs led past Tim­ber­top. Press pres­ence re­quired ur­gently.

Tim­ber­top now alone. Greg in ad­ja­cent tree climbed down and was ar­rested.

09.45 Tim­ber­top calls for Po­lice pro­tec­tion as coun­cil work­ers clear­ing trees around him. Dozer work­ing very close to his tree and shak­ing it badly.

The pro­test­ers who had come down had done so in a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion. They did it to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age be­ing done to the for­est. The dozer driver told them he would drive down the gully to go around them. From their po­si­tion in the canopy, they could see all the for­est be­low them that would be de­stroyed.

The doz­ers started to go down to­wards the beach when they reached the sec­ond line of tree-sit­ters. More ma­chin­ery came in to sup­port the work of the bull­doz­ers, in­clud­ing the coun­cil back­hoe, which pro­ceeded to bump Gummy’s tree.

Pro­test­ers on the ground were now con­cerned about Gummy’s safety. One of them was sent on a mis­sion to try and get a vis­ual of him, but it was dif­fi­cult be­cause of the ter­rain and the po­lice pres­ence. One pro­tester spoke to the po­lice to try and bring a halt to the work.

‘If he re­mains in the tree, it is an act of sui­cide,’ a po­lice of­fi­cer told him.

‘He said he’s not com­ing down.’

For Hans, back at camp work­ing the ra­dio, it was tempt­ing to drop ev­ery­thing and run to the site to do some­thing for his friend. He re­layed mes­sages of Gummy hang­ing on for dear life for Tiny to send to the me­dia.

The in­tim­i­da­tion con­tin­ued. The po­lice on duty stood by smil­ing while the back­hoe bumped Gummy’s tree again and again. His ra­dio sig­nal weak­ened. A coun­cil worker with a chain­saw walked around the base of the tree, in­di­cat­ing he was go­ing to cut it down. The po­lice spoke to him. The worker yelled abuse at Gummy.

‘Please don’t cut down this tree,’ Gummy said.

At camp there were other prob­lems. Pro­test­ers were pre­par­ing for an­other tree ac­tion fur­ther along the track but were hav­ing trou­ble find­ing a boat to run peo­ple and sup­plies along the coast. Ra­dio Log: Tues­day 14/8/84 08.05 Tim­ber­top came down and ar­rested — ob­servers say he is OK. Hans went with am­bu­lance now and asked to go to site but told to go back.

Gummy, the most strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned tree-sit­ter, had been keep­ing watch over the for­est for six days. Like the oth­ers, Gummy came down be­cause Coun­cil threat­ened to dig a large sec­tion out of the hill­side above his tree that would cause more dam­age to the for­est. And with the small dozer al­ready work­ing up the hill, it seemed like this bat­tle was over. On 15 Au­gust, the

re­ported on Gummy’s ar­rest. He was ex­pected to ap­pear in Cairns Mag­is­trate Court that day. Gummy told the pa­per he had sur­ren­dered to di­rect his en­er­gies to other ar­eas of the cam­paign to save the rain­for­est.

When he came down from the tree, a re­porter stuck a mi­cro­phone in his face. ‘How do you feel?’ ‘I’m out of my tree, man,’ Gummy said.

In this third ex­cerpt from Bill Wilkie’s new book on the his­toric Dain­tree Block­ade, we pick up the cam­paign in Au­gust 1984, as Dou­glas Shire Coun­cil, with the sup­port of the State Govern­ment, re­turns to fin­ish the job of build­ing the track from Cape Tribu­la­tion to Bloom­field. When their early de­fences crum­bled, the pro­test­ers took to the trees.

Main photo: The Coun­cil dozer works along ‘first creek’. (Cliff Frith). The early ex­ploits of the tree-sit­ters were mostly spon­ta­neous and un­pre­pared. In­set above: Some pro­test­ers still man­aged to get 20m or more into the canopy. (Rus­sell Fran­cis) In­set far right: ‘I’m out of my tree, man.’ Gummy comes down from his five day tree vigil. (CAFNEC)

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