The womb-like basin of Terania Creek, with its narrow cervix of an entrance, faces south. In its moist embrace lies a rainforest little changed for more than forty-five million years. But in August 1979, war broke out over this peaceful valley near Lismore in north-eastern New South Wales. It was the Rainforest War which spread to forests across the state – the unintended consequence of the Forestry Commission’s plan to selectively harvest just seventy-seven hectares of forest in the basin of Terania Creek.
Today, forest protests are part of Australia’s political landscape, but Terania Creek was the first – the first time that the presence of protesters stopped a logging operation and challenged a state organisation’s authority over forests. No one wanted the war that ensued. Negotiations had been going on for five years – since Nan and Hugh Nicholson bought a rundown farm bordering the state forest and Terania Creek basin. Terania Native Forests Action Group (TNFAG), which the Nicholsons formed with their neighbours in the valley, turned around the Commission’s initial plan: to clear-fell the forests of the basin and replant them with flooded gum seedlings. By 1979, the Commission had already agreed not to harvest the rainforest in the basin, and to selectively harvest only Brushbox trees from seventy-seven hectares of wet sclerophyll forest – no more clear-felling. But rejection of even this plan by TNFAG caused the Commission to cease negotiations with the local community. It bunkered down and determined to begin harvesting just as it had always done.
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