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.

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Basic Data
NameSaving Goolengook Forest Block, Australia
SiteWithin 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)Establishment of reserves/national parks
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific CommoditiesTimber
Ecosystem Services
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe 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 (in hectares)9,000
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date1996
Company Names or State EnterprisesDepartment 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 actorsAs above
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFriends of the Earth (Australia) —

Goongerah Environment Centre —

The Wilderness Society —

Victorian Rainforest Network —

Australian Conservation Foundation —

Victorian National Parks Association —
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous 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 MobilizationDevelopment 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
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Occupational disease and accidents
OtherFor 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-economic 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
OtherMassive 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
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseApplication 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.
Development of AlternativesEJOs 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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

National Parks Act 1975

In 1988 under this act the Goolongook River headwaters became part of the Errinundra National Park
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]

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’.
[click to view]

(Victorian) Forest Act 1958
[click to view]

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)
[click to view]


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

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

[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.

[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

[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.
[click to view]

VicForests (undated) ‘Victoria’s Native Forest Industry’ (Fact sheet)
[click to view]

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

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

GECO 2000 Loggers attack Goolengook camp. Goongerah Environment Centre.
[click to view]

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

[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.

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

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’).

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:
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]


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.
[click to view]

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
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]

Media Links

Forest Network — East Gippsland (amongst other EJOs) has photos, such as at this page
[click to view]

Other Documents

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

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)
[click to view]

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
[click to view]

Other CommentsNumbers on references relate to description in 'Source of Conflict'.

Legislation sample/indicative only
Meta Information
ContributorAnitra Nelson, RMIT University Centre for Urban Research: [email protected]
Last update27/05/2015