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Saving Goolengook Forest Block, Australia


Goolengook was the site of Australia's longest running forest blockade (1997–2002). Deep in the heart of the Victorian forests of East Gippsland (EG) walking into Goolengook instils a sense of primordial earth — home to what David Bellamy called ‘the most diverse range of temperate forest ecosystems on Earth’ (1) and featuring remnants of the ancient Gondwanan rainforest that once covered most of Australia. The blockade ‘Fort Goolengook’ became the symbolic last stand of environmentalists’ opposition to wood chipping (exports), the harvesting of old growth rainforest, timber industry subsidies, unsustainable and industrial clear felling, and the contentious Regional Forest Agreements.

Logging started in the Goolengook forest management block in 1976, then 9166ha and practically intact apart from damage from bushfires. Logging ceased during most of the 1980s for a flora and fauna survey. The survey report (2) deemed Goolengook’s flora and fauna values ‘exemplary’, its ‘combination of particular significant biological values unique in south-eastern Australia’, identified ecological sites of international, national and state significance, and recommended managing 5052ha of the block for flora and fauna values with special conservation measures to protect its threatened and vulnerable species.

These recommendations were not put into action, contributing to resignations, most significantly of the Head of the Flora and Fauna Unit of the responsible Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (3), and to the authors charging departmental foresters of ‘unprofessional behaviour’ for making changes to their reports (4). Controversies between scientists and foresters arose over the definitions of ‘rainforest’, ‘old growth’ (5) as well as on the ecological results of clear felling.

The biggest forest blockade up to 1989 took place in neighbouring forests of New South Wales, in response to the government licencing Daishowa to woodchip for another 15 years. In 1989, protests culminated with 1200 forest protesters arrested across Australia, over 215 of these in EG (6).

As the forest protests grew throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s they increasingly focused on the campaign to ban woodchip exports and in areas where clear felling in old growth and native forests was the most environmentally damaging.

To fight back against what they considered conservationists attempts to ‘lock up’ of forests, the timber industry formed the so-called Forest Protection Society and Forest Communities of EG.

By early 1990, in the Errinundra Plateau, just north of Goolengook, more than 100 were arrested, with hunger strikes and politician office sit-ins. Meanwhile industry created a 6km-long 3000 vehicle blockade outside Australia’s Timber Town Orbost, taking 100 trucks in convoy, leaving a bulldozer at Parliament House and threatening an investment strike (7). Environmentalists were accused of eco-sabotage, eco-vandalism and eco-terrorism (8, 9, 10, 11).

Loggers who started work in Goolengook just before World Environment Day on 5 June 1997 faced substantial protest action. The Age newspaper (9, 11, 13, 14 June 1997) reported road blockades, activists chaining themselves to machines, sitting on platforms up to 30 metres off the ground, ‘black wallabies’ (i.e. protesters trying to disconcert and disrupt logging by hiding and reappearing in the bush) — all leading to more than 100 arrests, including of Greens leader Bob Brown. Three police were injured using angle grinders to release protesters from their chains (Snowy River Mail 18 June 1997). At this time a contractor employed by the Department of Natural Resources & Environment at Goolengook claimed losing A$5,000 on account of such behaviour. Brigette Muir, the first Australian woman to scale Mt Everest lost her sponsor, Beaurepaires (the tyre company) after hoisting a banner reading ‘Let this Forest Forever Rest’ from a 300 year old tree at Goolengook in June 1997.

In August 1997, protesters at the Amcor Paper (company) Arts Awards at the Victorian Arts centre symbolically dropped woodchips in guest’s drinks to highlight the impact of clear felling on drinking water (The Age 20 August 1997). Disability activist Katie Ball daringly hoisted in a tripod from her wheelchair to attract media, was amongst those arrested and charged at Orbost Magistrates Court (Snowy River Mail 27 August 1997). In lieu of a A$1400 fine she served a jail sentence.

Charges against more than 100 protesters pending since 1997 were dropped in 1998 when logging in Goolengook was found to be unlawful under the Heritage Rivers Act. The state then amended the law to retrospectively protect loggers and introduced legislation criminalising entry of any person other than a state or private logger or police officer into certain Forest Operations Zones covering protest actions. Fines up to A$2000 applied.

In early 1999, the EG Regional Forest Agreement was amended but only to protect 45 per cent of Goolengook block — in the Goolengook Flora and Fauna Reserve and Errinundra National Park — to appease protesters and loggers, whose struggles had become particularly violent and entrenched. This insulted the environmental scientists responsible for the 1991 report who had gone public advocating its entire inclusion in a well-supported proposal for a national park — ‘we are appalled at the prospect of logging in this unique area’ (12).

Throughout the summer 1999–2000 an ECO-deck tree platform remained suspended in the forest canopy to prevent logging scheduled in Little Goolengook River. Later that year, in a letter to the Wilderness Society, the Executive Director of Forest Services ruled out including Goolengook in the Errinundra National Park because its timber was ‘considered to be high quality’ and ‘fetch in the order of [A]$1,200 per cubic meter at the mill gate’.

Mid-February 2000 activists locked themselves to the back tray of a logging truck that they flagged down on a highway near Orbost. In retaliation around 40 people attacked the Goolengook camp at night, smashing cars, assaulting protesters, which hospitalised three, resulting in 21 charges and even imprisonments (Potoroo Review, Autumn 2000). Later, in May 2002, ten men pleaded guilty and received suspended jail sentences (ABC News 2002). Around the same time, other protesters received compensation of A$50,000 for injuries caused by police pressure-point tactics — which can cut blood flow to the brain — in an action in the Department of Conservation and the Environment HQ (East Melbourne) (Davies 2000).

After Fort Goolengook was busted at 5am on 5 March 2002, a Total Exclusion Zone prohibited any movement around the area. Still the protesters pronounced: ‘Our dreaming is strong’. By early April four coupes of old growth forest were clear felled in the Goolengook block — some precious overlap forest, some in Special management Zones and another adjacent to the Flora and Fauna Reserve.

Government amended the applicable Heritage Rivers Act retrospectively, inviting more logging and criminalising entry into special Forest Operation Zones such as Goolengook. Subsequently, after years of resistance and legal charges, often successfully defended by environmentalists, and timber industry demonstrations and violence, the police and NRE busted Fort Goolengook 5am, 5 March 2002 to resume logging.

Yet, October 2002, a moratorium was placed on logging. In 2006 a new government promised to include Goolengook in a national park but delayed implementation (13).

Towards the end of the 2006 state election campaign, the Australian Labor Party released its Victoria’s National Parks and Biodiversity Policy with a commitment to ‘immediately protect the Goolengook Block and the last significant stands of Victoria’s old growth forests currently available for logging under the National Parks Act’. By 2009 this promise was had been stipulated in legislation. The primary damage since seems to have been the result of bushfires (TWS, VNPA & ACF 2009: 5). In March 2010, Goongerah Environment Centre (14) celebrated 13 years defending Goolengook, with its 300+ arrests.

(Refs: Sources and Materials)

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Saving Goolengook Forest Block, Australia
State or province:Victoria
Location of conflict:Within Shire of East Gippsland (covers 20,931 square kilometres)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Logging and non timber extraction
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Eucalyptus
Ecosystem Services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Goolengook forest campaign included Aboriginal people, such as Albert Hayes from the Bidawal tribe and Robbie Thorpe, Krauatungalung leader (15). The Indigenous Gunai (Kurnai) who inhabited the EG forests for tens of thousands of years before the white invasion in the 1830s led completely self-sufficient lives in these complex forest ecosystems and adjacent coastal lands (16). Goolengook, which means ‘truth’, was treated as a sacred spiritual site, the birthplace of the rainbow serpent. Goolengook is populated with oval granite stones referred to as ‘eggs of the rainbow serpent’. According to some Indigenous people breaking them — logging machines could not help dislodging and damaging such stones — is tantamount to wreaking hell on earth.

‘As the crow flies’ Goolengook is around 45km north-east of Orbost — self-proclaimed as ‘Australia’s Timber Town’ — but the distance by car is around 75km.

Although East Gippsland forests cover only 4% of Victoria, by the end of the 20th century they contained around one third of the State’s plant species and almost one half of its eucalypts — more than 1,500 plant species — sustaining almost half of the State’s range of animal species: 320 species of bird, 65 mammals, 40 reptiles, 20 frogs and 100 estuarine and freshwater fishes (2). Eight vegetation communities and twenty sub-communities, from riparian and montane forest, to cool and warm temperate rainforests, damp and lowland sclerophyll forests and wet sclerophyll forest have been identified there (2).

The EG Regional Forest Agreement was signed in December 1996. Regional Forest Agreements were political agreements to redefine competing and conflicting areas of authority between the Australian and state governments and to create some kind of ‘accord’ addressing and balancing conflicts of interest between citizens and stakeholders, typically around commercial exploitation versus conservation of the ecological values of forests.

During the 1980s and 1990s various sections and responsibilities of the forestry area within the Department of Natural Resources & Environment, such as research, advice and mentoring, were privatised. In November 1998 the bulk of the department’s 170,000ha plantations were handed over to control by the multinational American Hancock Timber Resource Group (see FoE Australia's Hancock Watch — Private forest was not legally bound by, and its management showed breaches to, the Code of Forest Practices (1995).

VicForests reports in ‘Victoria’s Native Forest Industry’ Fact sheet — — that around 21,000 staff and claim to have generated more than $1bn revenue 2004–2014. Fires have reduced its harvesting area. Despite public protest at wood chipping, pulp wood continues to be supplied from saw log waste.

Project area:9,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1996
Company names or state enterprises:Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) from Australia - Responsible for advising government and implementing policy and regulations relating to state forests
VicForests from Australia - Responsible for state forestry, timber harvesting and conservation.
Department of Conservation and Environment (DCE) from Australia
Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (CFL) from Australia
Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) from Australia - Commercial interest in state and private forests
Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) from Australia - Antagonistic towards environmentalists
Relevant government actors:As above
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Friends of the Earth (Australia) —
Goongerah Environment Centre —
The Wilderness Society —
Victorian Rainforest Network —
Australian Conservation Foundation —
Victorian National Parks Association —

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Gunai, Krauatungalung and Bidawal indigenous groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Property damage/arson
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Public campaigns
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Boycotts of companies-products
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Media based activism/alternative media
Shareholder/financial activism.
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Threats to use arms
The Goolengook forest campaign included Aboriginal people, such as Albert Hayes from the Bidawal tribe and Robbie Thorpe, Krauatungalung leader (15). Community monitoring — inspired by the work of Loris Duclos and Tim Anderson, leaders of the Wombat Forest Society and Community Forest Management trial in Central Victoria’s Wombat Forest — began to audit and check the department’s wood allocations against sustainable yield limits to detect breaches.
One nonviolent protest tactic is to act as a ‘black wallaby’, trying to disconcert and disrupt logging by hiding and reappearing in the bush in or adjacent to where the loggers are working.


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Fires, Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsEcocide
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsFor Indigenous people in particular this level of environmental damage and destruction brings on high levels of distress and protesters have been physically as well as psychologically abused by police and pro-forestry opposition in forest conflicts. Police as well as forestry workers also suffered in conflicts.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession
Potential: Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsMassive intense protests cost environmentalists in terms of lost wages, relocations and burn out.
The timber industry has always argued job and economic losses due to conservationist measures.


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Negotiated alternative solution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
New legislation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Withdrawal of company/investment
A stalemate ensues. Goolengook is not wholly protected by law but the state agency seems to be protecting/neglecting it. A bushfire impacted some areas late February 2014.
Proposal and development of alternatives:EJOs suggest a national park or similar classification, which stops any logging or other such commercial activities, and active conservation management, including many endangered, vulnerable and threatened fauna and flora.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:This and other struggles in Australia's forests have left citizens without strong confidence in state agencies management of areas subject to strong commercial interests. Even when legislation and regulation is clear 'mistakes' are made, such as illegal logging and deliberate fires. Promises for more certain protective action remain outstanding. While commercial pressures and economic growth remain central concerns the environment continues to suffer.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

National Parks Act 1975

In 1988 under this act the Goolongook River headwaters became part of the Errinundra National Park

(Victorian) Forest Act 1958

Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988

Two of Goolongook's vegetation communities — the cool temperate rainforest community and the warm temperate rainforest (East Gippsland alluvialterraces) community — are listed 'threatened' under this act

Rainforest (East Gippsland Alluvial Terraces) Community’.

State of Victoria, Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment (East Gippsland) Bill 2009 (Amendment to the National Parks Act 1975). (Stipulates that Goolengook is included in the Errinundra National Park)

Victorian Environmental Assessment Council Act 2001

VEAC considers controversial environmental issues of significant public interest. VEAC was called on to assess the proposal to include all or part of Goolengook Forest Management Block into the Errinundra National Park. Well into the process, its commission was withdrawn.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Titelius, R (2001) Paradise almost lost. Herald Sun, 29 May: 48–49.

[2] Lobert B, Gillespie G, Lunt I, Peacock R & Robinson P (1991) Flora and Fauna of the Goolengook Forest Block, East Gippsland, Victoria, Department of Conservation & Environment Ecological Survey Report No. 35.

[3] The Age 14 November 1995, p. 15

[4] The Age 14 February 1990, p. 15

[5] Ch. 2 in Woodgate P, Peel W, Ritman K, Coram J, Brady A, Rule A & Banks J (1994) A Study of the Old Growth Forests of East Gippsland, Conservation and Natural Resources Department, Melbourne.

[6] The Age 31 January 1990

[7] AFIJ (1991) Australian Forest Industries Journal & Logger March 1991: 20 & The Age 14 February 1990

[8] Snowy River Mail 20 September and 18 October 1989 [9]

[10] Herald Sun 9 December 1991

[11] The Australian 20 October 1991

[12] The Age 9 June 1997

[13] TWS, VNPA & ACF (2009) Flawed Promises: Environmental Organisations’ Investigation of Labor’s 2006 Election Old Growth Forest Commitments. The Wilderness Society, Victorian National Parks Association & Australian Conservation Foundation.

[15] ‘Aboriginal leaders defend the forest’ — accessed 11 January 2015

[16] Nelson A (1999) Aboriginal practices in East Gippsland forests pre-contact. In Australia's Ever-changing Forests IV: Proceedings of the IV National Conference on Australian Forest History. (Eds J Dargavel & B Libbis), pp. 5–16. Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (ANU): Canberra.

Davies, Georgina (2000) Victoria Police agree to pay compensation. Green Left Weekly, 15 November.

VicForests (undated) ‘Victoria’s Native Forest Industry’ (Fact sheet)

ABC News (2002) Men get suspended jail terms over forest raid. Australian Broadcasting Commission, 23 May.

GECO 2000 Loggers attack Goolengook camp. Goongerah Environment Centre.

Dargeval, John (1995) Fashioning Australia’s Forests, Oxford University Press, Oxford, is a good source for forests and forestry in Australia — especially Chapters 7–9 (Section ‘Contesting, from the 1970s’).

Michelle van Gerrevink (2003) ‘Goolengook – The persistence of radical environmental action’. This 56-page honours year thesis centres on Goolengook, involves many interview and provides a an intellectual approach to the campaign.

Andrew Picone was a student-activist during the campaign to save it and currently (2015) works for the Australian Conservation Foundation in Cairns (Northern Australia). Picone, Andrew (2004) Goolengook National Park proposal : Review of existing information, report on new biological information and recommendations for conservation / Andrew Picone. Save Goolengook Melbourne Desk (Hawthorn) and Environment East Gippsland (Orbost). Download electronic copy (see below). See 20 library holdings of print version in Australia here:

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council was charged with assessing Goolengook but their commission was withdrawn before they wrote their final report but they put up many materials about the case at their site. Don't be put off by their notification of withdrawal statement, go to the tabs on 'Reports' and 'Maps' to find great basic information.

GECO, the Goongerah Environment Centre, is the closest EJO to Goolengook and networked closely with Melbourne-based and other regional forestry EJOs to provide support to, and be supported by, protesters from across the state

The archive created by Trevor Poulton to preserve significant documents related to some key forest campaigns in Victoria. Search the left hand column for the documents relating to Goolengook.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Forest Network — East Gippsland (amongst other EJOs) has photos, such as at this page

Other documents

Forestry Violence Facebook.docx Here's a photo posted on Facebook referring to tactics involved in the Goolengook (and other) protests

Goolengook in Errinundra National Park.pdf This government plan shows the Goolengook Block as finally incorporated into the Errinundra National Park, which protects it from logging. Source: Andrew Picone (forest protest movement historian and campaigner)

Other comments:Numbers on references relate to description in 'Source of Conflict'.
Legislation sample/indicative only

Meta information

Contributor:Anitra Nelson, RMIT University Centre for Urban Research: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1717



Fort Goolengook: Too precious to log

A photo of the entrance to the blockade Fort Goolengook taken in 2001 by Australian activist–journalist–lawyer Trevor Poulton