Kirsha’s Forest Diary, 2024

Kirsha Kaechele | Posted on June 4, 2024

29 May

On a plane to Smithton. It’s a shit plane. The Flinders Island mail plane. The every-shitty-job plane. We boarded at the shitty non-airport where the private jets take off from. ‘We’ is me plus Sylvia, artist and wife of Graeme Elphinstone, plus Mona artists Loren and Donnie. We load up my box of hippie offerings from the health food store (for the Greens). If you ever want to make a perfect gift basket of hippie health food treats, talk to me. My dreadlocked days in Maui make me an expert: raw vegan chocolate, candied ginger, organic chai, rosehip, turmeric, ginger and tulsi tea, organic almond butter, and tahini. I didn’t bother with the Bragg’s liquid amino acids and apple cider vinegar (in my cupboard to this day) because Bob Brown Foundation is well stocked with the staples. David and I went on a morning walk and picked up a vegetable bouquet Penny Clive put together from her garden, a beautiful arrangement for the Greenies. Check ✔️

For the loggers, an orange cake from Jackman and McRoss. Sylvia presents a bag of regional cookies she’s brought for the Greens. I eye the coloured icing butter cookies: everything a hippie would hate. ‘These are full of butter, but the loggers will love them.’

So we’re prepared with treats for all sides. Friends to all. That’s us.

Marissa is meeting us there, and is in charge of outfits. I threw every high heel, patent leather and serious mudboot into my bag plus two tuxedos and a gown, a hi-vis mini dress. Lace socks, hairspray and dry shampoo. I’m prepared.

I thought there would be leather seats and a steward on this plane, pouring champagne. They sold the plane as a luxury ride! Not the case. All the ladies sharing a laugh over that. We’re dressed and ready for champagne. A Comme des Garçons ad if Comme des Garçons were gauche enough to make ads. This shit plane would make the perfect backdrop.

The plane has ashtrays. Loren asks if anybody wants a cigarette. It reminds me of Lindsay Fox’s plane we chartered with the fax machines. In case you need to send a fax. Lindsay had a steward and champagne on his plane. 

When we land we’ll be picked up by Collette and Scott from Bob Brown Foundation. I’m embarrassed by the carbon miles, so I was a little vague about the pickup point, but the truth is out and they seem non-judgemental. It felt delicate asking to come see their blockade because they’ve been so suspicious of our friendship with the loggers. But these twisted friendships have made it possible for Sylvia to make a call and get us all into the coupe tomorrow. This will be the first time the blockaders have been able to access the coupe without risking arrest. Apparently STT (Sustainable Timber Tasmania, the government’s forest management agency, or Suss Timber Tasmania, to the Greens) and the government are freaking out. What are the Mona ladies doing now, bringing Greenies into the coupe?! Yes, the ladies are stirring it up. But STT needs to chill. Women can do it. It’s all men in this industry, so just trust us and leave us to it. You don’t want to be guilty of ecocide and sexism. 

Here’s what happened. In the wake of the Forest Congress we’d been planning a series of field trips, designed to facilitate follow-up work … with moderate success. BBF and the Wilderness Society boycotted us because they don’t like us ‘being nice to loggers’. It depends what you mean by nice—I see it as missionary work, and missionaries aren’t nice. They just see the loggers being rewarded with good company and cocktails. And we are good company. And they are nice cocktails, because Mona made them. That’s a fact. But they don’t pause to think what cocktails could do. It starts with a negroni and next thing you know you’re drinking ayahuasca in the Amazon. And there's no room for ecocide there. Bad practices dissolve. Thirty negronis later we’re building a beautiful future together. So, chill. Also, what happened to love thine enemy? I expect environmentalists to be enlightened, not ridgid puritanical stiffs. But we must forgive them for that. Loggers are more fun, but Greens are right. 

For the most part—but not every part. Stringency can alienate people and perpetuate the problem. Rile them up into pro-logging positions when really everyone just wants to do well. That’s why I’m not lying when I say I take a pro-STT position, because I believe they can and should be the best. They are our public forestry company. We need to be proud of their work, drop the shame, work it out and show it off. Some changes need to happen to get there. Cocktails.

We’ve landed. I see Scott and Colette. Exciting!

2.15 pm

We load our things into their ferret truck, I mean, Tassie devil truck. The truck belongs to their devil researcher friend, and has many compartments for gear. In goes our hippie treats box and logger-orange-cake-box and non-vegan cookies and my many necessary shoes. Loren later confesses she brought latex opera gloves. So they take up some space as well. Plus camera gear, etc. 

We drive to Tall Timbers lodge. What a place! It’s fucked-up weird and lovable. Full Twin Peaks with no irony, a completely sincere time-warp, a last vestige of pure boganism, a social-ecological treasure. When I look at the value of the resource, the incredible wood applied to every surface, floors, bathroom stalls, ugly-ass cupboards—well … While I respect the sanctity of pure boganism, I think we might also need a tourism industry. The economics look wrong. On the bright side, you get GREAT cupboards for $150 a night, actually quite nice now that I’m settling into my room. Shawn Britton's blackwood is everywhere. And where it isn’t, there’s old growth.

We pull up to the hotel and I try to send Donnie and Sylvia on the boat but Colette intervenes—they want me to see the river firsthand. So we leave Loren and Sylvia with the understanding that they’ll go to the safe house (BBF protest headquarters) and we’ll go up river (not metaphorically) to where the Arthur and Frankland rivers meet. We set out on the hour drive. I should have known better, because, as I predicted, the protesters decide they are not cool with Sylvia coming to their safe house because she’s, you know, married to a logging monster (it’s always good to be important), so she has to hang in the weird hotel all day.

3.30 pm

On the river. We are welcomed by Alistair. ‘Hi Charlie!’ I greet him. No, it’s not Charlie, ‘I’m Alistair,’ he says, massive smile. How cool is he? His boat is rickety but good. (Sorry, Charlie! It’s a great boat, I’m just fresh from Lake Como, Rivas galore, so my standards are a little unrealistic.) We start upriver and the scenery unfolds, ever more beautiful. Forest reflections on the mirror surface casting psychedelic symmetries. ‘It’s hard to tell where the sky ends and the water begins,’ says Allistair. No it’s not, I think, it’s the prominent centre line of the symmetry. Always one for the facts. But I am genuinely mesmerised, which doesn’t happen very often; I’ve travelled so much I’ve depleted my amazement receptors. Seen it all, but not this.

The last light hits us. Then Charlie appears out of nowhere on an army green inflatable canoe. A French ecologist and bird specialist, open and sincere. He’s magical. We greet each other in French (Oui, je parle française!). I love when French people say my name. He plays a recording of masked owls for me. He’d snuck into the coupe last night. Go Charlie! (Sorry Steve and Dwayne 😬.) He points out some eagle nests. From the river there appear to be a million reasons not to clear this coupe. It will be good to ask why tomorrow.

Back from the boat we meet stoic Sylvia who is holding the reject role with elegance. ‘I completely understand,’ she says. ‘They don't want me in their safe space and that’s fair.’Our next stop is the blockaders’ safe house. Once again, Sylvia is asked to remain at the lodge. Colette says it’s because they’ve been having a debrief. A few of the protesters were arrested today. Two at the gate, two in the coupe. They’d come in from the river the night before. We leave Sylvia (rejected again) and Donnie (good company), and set off with Colette to meet the protesters.

6.20 pm 

We enter the safe house. Everyone is sitting cross-legged on the floor, squeezed onto sofas, splayed out on chairs. It’s a nice handmade house, spacious with interesting timber features (I hear your laughter, loggers—yes, it is made out of wood), a warm vibe, circa-1970s Topanga Canyon. I settle in front of the fireplace which serves as something of a podium, Loren to my left, supporting role, strong. It’s a little tense, or I am. There is some scepticism—they know I’m in town (in bed?) with ‘the enemy’—so there’s fear, but also open curiosity. And warmth. Very nice people. I tell them we are Switzerland, which elicits some jaw drops and awkward laughs. On reflection it’s a weird thing to say given Switzerland is the favoured port of call for pillaged Nazi art collectors / genocidal dictators / drug cartels / basic greedy capitalists—it’s where everyone hangs to hide assets. ‘We might need a new metaphor,’ Loren says gently, ever the diplomat.

They are generous and overlook my faux pas, they hear me out. I tell them about our upcoming field trips, pairing industry and environmentalists with artists and bonding experiences. Jenny reassures the room that BBF will not be participating in these field trips. ‘I’ve explained to Kirsha we won’t be attending as we don’t negotiate with industry.’ I decline to point out that tomorrow is a field trip and she is banging down the door to attend (she says she’s coming whether they like it or not—and it’s probably not, given a prohibition notice was placed on her by STT this morning). Magdalena was right: we need to be here. We’d been failing to get buy-in for our field trips—but meet people where they are, and it all works out … famous last words.

Before I leave, I give them the hippie box of health food from Eumarrah. When you’re on an overnight action, vegan chocolate espresso beans are essential.

8.11 pm

We return to the bar at Tall Timbers and I immediately order a shiraz (with sulfites). Sylvia’s in the same purgatorial spot. What a fucking bore for Sylvia. She made all of this possible, so fuck that. But she remains stoic and elegant. She and Colette bond over animals and other life experiences that are too racy to share—you’ll have to wait for Sylvia’s book (and believe me it’s gonna be worth it)! Colette was a vet. She has two rats. Sylvia has two dogs. They both have memoirs to write.

Note: many of the protesters at the safe house expressed that they would love to come meet Sylvia and asked me to please tell her that, but they were truly exhausted from their protest action the previous night.

I think back to the conversation in the safe house. A young girl asked how we can possibly solve the logging crisis when the real problem is capitalism, and Scott and I scoffed, pointing out that the logging market is so fixed that for once capitalism might actually make things better. This is some price-fixing, antithesis-of-the-free-market shit. I’m cursing a lot. I’ve had three wines and I’m a woman in her late forties—I’ve had it with bullshit. Oopsies. Totally uncalled for. Seems the estrogen gel, which should be making me sweeter and more docile, isn’t working.

Then I charge my phone and invite Shawn Britton to join us tomorrow. Conversation goes like this:

Good night.

30 May

It starts with breakfast. Well, actually, let’s rewind. My alarm went off at 6.45 am which was unrealistic but intentional. I lie to myself well. Marissa had driven in at midnight with Joe, our videographer, and she and Loren arrive to my room at 7 to 7. We threw my wardrobe across the bed, all the random shit I’d stuffed in my 5 minute pack. Leopard Dolce skirt, Balenciaga pointy boots, white leather skirt—it must be good for this occasion because Jane covets it and she’s a Liberal minister. Hi-vis flapper dress … But the answer was obvious. Armani suits. We’re going in big. 

Loren, Marissa and I kitted up. ‘That jacket might actually be Armani,’ I said. I’d stolen it from David's wardrobe. ‘Made in Italy,’ Loren read. But it was Versace. ‘Sorry to disappoint,’ she said.

Then I looked in the mirror. I was sceptical beforehand but this looked crazy. ‘Is this too much?’ Marissa came in to take a look. She was already in full tux. ‘Don't worry’, she said, ‘the hi-vis vests will tone it down’ 😂. She’s one funny woman. The whole Forest Congress team has fine-tuned black humour. And thank god, given what we have to deal with.

Loren, me, Sylvia and Marissa

7.15 am

We are in the Tall Timbers breakfast room—I wish I could record this, but I’m too honourable. Loren gracefully and stealthily slips the mic onto my waistband (Italian slacks) but I’m asking hard questions. So I unplug it and set it on the table as a statement of respect. And thus the juicy bits are lost for good. But I’ll do my best:

Sylvia and I ask him what it would take to get out of old growth sooner. Our question is based on a chart going around that shows potential supply scenarios including percentages of old growth, native regrowth and plantation to be harvested over the next few years. Old growth is represented in red (demonstrating some self reflection on their part). ‘What needs to happen for that red zone to shrink down faster?’ (It’s a big chunk of the chart, about half of the saw-logs to be processed.) Shawn needs a steady supply of plantation timber. His guys don’t mind if they’re processing old growth or plantation wood, he says. They just want to show up to work and do a good job. Shawn is very cute. Those blue and steady eyes. He’s a real leveller too, not a bullshitter. I’m a bit nervous, pushing so hard. Where is the line, am I being a fascist Greenie? I need that line on the river: clear, still, and steady reflection. Our friendship makes communication possible. And Sylvia is here to keep things grounded.

Last time the government issued payouts as part of a transition plan it didn’t turn out well for Smithton. You can’t just hand out a bunch of cash, people need a sense of purpose, Shawn recounts the history. I propose a four day work week. (Yes, I’m a radical thinker.) What if we reapply the subsidies (‘There aren’t any subsidies,’ says Shawn. ‘There are no subsidies,’ says STT. OK, whatever—reapply the losses from the uber-cheap native logs) to cover the fifth day, so the workers get the same amount but you process less trees. And you’re not eroding their sense of purpose. In fact, you’re making life great again! They’d fucking love you (life, us, the government, hell—the Greenies)! Who wouldn’t? And it’s newsworthy. We’re testing the four day work week in Smithton! Cutting-edge Tasmania. There’s a transition plan that makes you feel like you won the lottery. Submissions welcome.

Joe later suggests those who want to work could use the fifth day to learn a new skill, build a business that the government invests in. What a party killer, that Joe. Total bore. But he’s right. Imagine the grants to go along with it! Micro-businesses. Not only for women, but for bogans too. Sorry, completely inappropriate. He also tried to man-splain botox to us ladies in the car, but that’s for another post. (Joe is actually a super-cool guy, but still a man, alas.)

The Vault: we landed on the idea last night. The idea is to create a place to hold everyone’s real feelings around forestry, and secret them away in a beautiful place for a period of time. The National Library, somewhere in the museum, a fireproof time capsule in a tree … the loggers LOVE that last one. The Greens love it too because it protects the tree. And a buffer stands around that tree to protect it from wind and fire, so more trees are left standing. Maybe it’s a circle of trees to stand for our group. Our group coupe. One tree for each of us. A stand to reflect on in the future and say, wow, this is the stand that represents our conversation. The STT ladies (observers) ask if it would be a physical capsule. The Greens ask if we could have 18,000 of them, one on every treestrategic. Dwayne asks if it could be big enough to hold a chainsaw from this coupe. Loren asks if it could be a chainsaw with many miles. She likes a patina. Dwayne says he’ll sort it out. 

9.20 am

Getting into the coupe is pretty drama-free. Jenny technically isn’t allowed in, given she’d been served a prohibition notice the day before. No coming within 200 metres of the stand. Dwayne had put out 300 fires the day before, STT and a bunch of industry had gotten wind of our visit and were flipping out. His phone was ringing off the hook. But he’s handled it all and I don’t have to pull the feminist card—you men have run the world long enough, you need to give us a chance to sort it out. I was prepared to call Steve (STT CEO) with that message, but the gentlemen settle down and give us space.

Sylvia and I walk up to the site, cake in hand. Loren suggests we inscribe the box with a message of peace. So we pause, a moment marked in the rapid-fire of the day. We settle on ‘We Come in Peace‘ and I draw a little love heart beside it. Girls. That’s why we run the world. STT has sent two female observers to receive us (they’re starting to get our drift) and they are lovely. ‘We can’t sign an exemption for Jenny because we’re not qualified officers,’ they explain, ‘but we’re not here to call the police.’ Sylvia and I ask the women to please relay to headquarters how appreciative we are of this gesture. They are being very trusting and generous. 

Jenny walks up to join us and we give her the update. I sense she’s surprised by this gesture of good faith. Heart rates in the Green camp are a little elevated. But they are polite and poised. Everyone introduces themselves, and the protesters use their real names, which I perceive as a gesture of sincerity, but is perhaps strategic / a self preservation practice.

‘The only real problem here,’ says the STT woman, ‘is your shoes.’ She points down to my knee-high, high-heel boots (workplace safety requires steel toe). ‘Yes … I wore these intentionally because I have a leech phobia, and I want to see them coming.’ But there are many pairs in the ferret truck. I return with steel-toe, off-road, high-heel ankle boots. ‘If you tuck your pants into your socks they won’t get in,’ she says. (See styling in photo #1.) I need some thigh-high steel-toe boots (Loren’s note: See Schiaparelli Fall ‘21).

We walk together to the edge of the action. Dwayne gives a welcome and shares his perspective. It’s a little emotionless / defensive to begin with but he’s starting to relax and open up. What a beautiful speaker. He shares how, for him, it’s a job. He does what he’s contracted to do to keep his men employed. He talks about the impact this work has on small communities. Smithton and Circular Head depend on it. People say back in the day when Gunns collapsed people were referring loggers to Lifeline. So there is a lot at stake for everyone.

He says he can imagine a day when we aren’t clear-felling, that practices have come a long way but can still be better. Large machines move backwards and forwards in the background. And one at a time, trees are falling, each landing with a loud crash. Loren invites us to come closer and form a circle. Her deep voice has authority. I explain that we are going to ask a series of questions and their answers will go into the Vault. (There is a full fucking film crew here, but nevermind, ignore that. And they do.) Then, inviting everyone to answer in turn, we ask:

What is happening here?

How do you feel about this particular coupe?

What are you willing to give up?

And then the banger: In a crazy utopian world where you wanted to do something kind for your enemy that makes their life better and more successful, what would it be?

The answers were astounding. Some people are ready to give up everything.  

We slowly gather ourselves to exit the coupe. There are some tears. Then straight out of central casting, a white bellied sea eagle flies overhead. You can read about this from Jenny’s point of view here.

3.48 pm

Empty beer bottle between thighs (Corona, with lime). Third-filled (as in one-third, not filled three times—the day is young) champagne, also in-lap. It would be in my hands, but it’s journal time. We are all spent. On our rickety aeroplane ride back to Hobart. This one’s not so ghetto (sorry, illegal word) but given it belongs to the only REAL 5-star, top-50-in-the-world golf course in the country, it’s pretty janky. Loud. Leather seats, from 1980. I’m being generous. Our pilot is female. And hot, so I sing, ‘You’re the captain, and he is no-one’, referring to the young male steward who gathered us from the car. We assumed he was captain, because we’re sexist. ‘You’ve been upgraded,’ he said. ‘Oh yes we have!’ said Marissa. ‘You’re way hotter than the last pilot!’

Marissa is pouring herself another champagne. I tell her she could audio record her diary (field notes, she corrected me) on her phone so she can hold it. Not everyone has my acrobatic thigh techniques. That’s why I have hip dysplasia or whatever it was that made me need that hot young guy (doctor) to inject steroids into my hip last week (to no avail—oh well, I’ll have to go back and see him again). 

Our seats are in the mega-recline position, mine because it’s broken, but that suits me just fine. We are all spent, because it’s been a MASSIVE day. We wrangled in the world. Sylvia and I share a toast. Fuck, what did we do? We went along for the ride and experienced everything. Tried to be open and we succeeded. Pushed hard, too hard at times, then pulled back and listened. I actually enjoyed listening for once. I don’t know if that’s because I was already at psychological capacity, my-cup-runneth-over, as the focus of attention (from the Q & A / grilling at the safe house last night), or if I actually discovered the generous listener within me. Maybe it’s been there all along. I suspect the prior. 

Interventionary note: I can’t believe I have to go to a cello concert (Sunday’s third grade cello concerto) and meet the Premier's advisor for dinner tonight. I’m going to die.

4.25 pm

It’s all fun and games in the back seat of the Tesla. Marissa and Joe are playing Nicki Minaj. Well, Marissa is. As soon as she’s left the car (we leave her on the side of the road in Rokeby, by Cellarbrations, so I can get to my concert) Joe puts on some plant medicine music. Mother Earth’s Plantasia. Written for mushrooms he says. Fucking kill me now.

31 May

7 am

I’ve woken up exhausted. The cello concert was excruciating. Eeeeeee aaaaaaahhhhhhh eeeee … Not my child, she was excellent. But everyone else’s kid sounded terrible. I felt especially close to my husband in our shared misery. 

Then we had martinis and red wine with the politicians. I know I should be doing yoga. But this is diplomacy. I regaled them with stories of the forest field trip. 

I want to rest but this day is relentless, school run and an 8am leadership video-meet with Material Institute New Orleans. David has been ignored for long enough so I forgo the gym (too exhausted anyway) and come home for a quick cuddle (‘n’ stuff) before heading to a finance meeting titled: ‘Getting Kirsha real about the bleak financial picture / massive cuts this year’. So I have to prioritise and I tell them it’s this forest work. Fuck Domaine A landscaping. You’ll just have to live with the ugly driveway for another year. Don't despair, it’s REALLY nice inside because I blew last year’s budget on the reno. 

1 pm Architecture meetings 

3 pm STT

I fling myself frantically into the foyer. The wind is blowing hard outside and I look insane—my hair. But Sylvia looks like she’s walked out of French Vogue, hair in a twist, threads: Copenhagen 6. And Magdalena has a brush for me to borrow.

As we walk into the boardroom, Magdalena and Sylvia relay some wild news: the loggers have asked to be taken off the contract for that coupe. We wonder if it has anything to do with our visit. It could be completely unrelated, no doubt the protests were making it difficult to operate. We ask STT the same questions we asked Shawn—what will it take to get out of old growth immediately? I.e. box office poison. They share their plan for the plantation timber plantations that are ready to go. 350k hectares a year of plantation timber, ready to rock. So let’s get it done! We agree to work together to address the blocks that are slowing progress. A job for the Forest Congress, a diverse group of voices from all sectors that will deepen our understanding of the issues and help us roll out a vision that places Tasmania as the leader in forest practices. So we can rule the world (girls). 

The meeting goes well. It is so much easier than our early sessions, conversations between strangers where information was not forthcoming. Now there is open communication. Reality can be set on the table for the un-impassioned. Magdalena is a badass and brings things into concrete, real-action terms. Sylvia is holding the men steady with straight questions and her calm and steely gaze. I am the dreamer, per usual. I propose the four day work week. They don’t hate it, or they have excellent poker faces. Next meeting we want those STT observer ladies in the room.

I consider requiring that all negotiations are conducted by women, which is a little rough since there’s so much expertise in men (inherent by privilege). Maybe everyone participates but the women negotiate. It’s a thought. 

Magdalena, Sylvia and I go to Sonny and have some bubbles (surprise!). Sylvia tells us extraordinary stories. There is no doubt her book will be a bestseller. We begin envisioning a VIP lounge at the upcoming Forestry Australia conference (industry on industry with industry) where I’ve been invited to give the keynote, and a lounge at the Nature Repair Summit in October (Greens, carbon proponents, everyone except industry, maybe a few spies). We start imagining a lounge with speed-dating and cross-sector conversations. A mini congress. Now I’m imagining, what if it were only women …

The Forest Congress and the Ladies Lounge become one.

This diary entry is the first of many coming from members of our Forest Congress team and various representatives of conservation, First nations (Palawa and elsewhere), activism, and industry, who will share their experiences and perspectives.

 

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