A first-hand account


Vivienne Legg

10th Edition, July 10th 2000


Dedicated to The Honourable Ian Raymond Causley, M. P., who provided the main inspiration for this book.



Table of Contents



CHAPTER ONE ................ The People's Land, Ripped Away

CHAPTER TWO.................Speaking Out / Fiery Retribution

CHAPTER THREE...............Bushrock / Stealing the Crown Jewels

CHAPTER FOUR ...............The Labor Party

CHAPTER FIVE...................Pine Brush, the Gravel Source

CHAPTER SIX ................... The Ombudsman Steps In

CHAPTER SEVEN...............The National Parks and Wildlife Service

CHAPTER EIGHT................ The National Parks and Whitewash Service

CHAPTER NINE...................National Parks and Whitewash Service - The Rot Sets In

CHAPTER TEN.....................The Secret of the National Estate Listing

CHAPTER ELEVEN............. More Labor Ministers involved in the cover up

CHAPTER TWELVE.............Questions in the Federal Senate /Environmental Law

CHAPTER THIRTEEN......... NPA Bails Out/ Logging on the National Estate

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.........The Internet: Publishing on the World Wide Web

CHAPTER FIFTEEN...............Launching the WEBPAGE/ The LAW

CHAPTER SIXTEEN..............Allan Misleads Parliament

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN ..... .Premier Promises Enquiries/Allan Dumped

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN ...........Debus Misleads Parliament





I don't consider myself a writer and I have no formal qualifications. Apart from a few letters that I have written to politicians and government agencies over the past five or so years I have had very little serious writing experience. But, I have undertaken the task of writing this book because it seemed the logical next step in the largely frustrated efforts of my partner Dyson, and myself, to have the Pine Brush scandal exposed. Also, a complete, written account of events, complimenting the collection of documents and summaries we have compiled, is important in gaining a comprehensive understanding of the issue. As well as being necessary for exposing the full extent of the corruption that has plagued the ongoing management of the former Pine Brush reserve, such understanding is important if anyone else is to learn from our bitter experience.

But my inexperience with writing and my lack of previous exposure to these kinds of issues has naturally made this job very difficult. The responsibility is daunting. On one hand I feel horribly underqualified as I tackle the actions of bureaucracies and institutions which I barely understand and which I view only as an outsider, as do most people. But on the other hand my position as a representative of ordinary people does qualify me to give a commoner's account of events - hopefully one to which most people can relate. For this very reason I have made a point of including my personal reactions and perceptions to the events I convey. I am attempting to emphasise why this story is relevant to us all and how easy it is for people-issues to become obscured and distorted in a sea of documents and files. Another important point I want to make before you begin reading is that although this issue alone is worth the effort we two have put into it, a lot of my strong feelings about it are aroused by the fact that it is representative of problems we face all over the country. If this Pine Brush scandal is ignored and trivialised then it is likely that hundreds of others are suffering the same treatment. The overall effect of that, is, of course, extremely serious.

I have striven to make this account of events fair, accurate and clear but there will, no doubt, be some errors and inaccurate conclusions within it. But I think that the facts I have presented, which are backed up by voluminous documentation, now published on our web page, will speak for themselves, and you can decide whether my opinions have any foundation. This is still a working manuscript. I regret that I have had to make it available for reading before I am really comfortable with it. But it doesn't seem that we can afford the luxury of waiting for a more polished version to be finished. If this version is read now by someone able and willing to intercede to save this special area of wilderness, or someone is motivated now to intercede in a similar situation somewhere else because of it, then it will be worth the compromise.

Our table of contents (available with the zip file within our web page) with one or two exceptions, lists the documents from which I have gathered the following information. Electronic representations of all of those documents can be accessed by downloading our zip file, which appears in our index to main links on the web page.


INTRODUCTION (return to contents)

From the top of the tree-covered hills which rise behind our house you can see the white-hot sun emerge from the Coral Sea. Then with the sun warming your back you can look high across the wide expanse of the Clarence Valley to the Great Dividing Range, cold and purple in the distance. When the sun sets over those mountains the Clarence River becomes a ribbon of molten gold. There aren't many parts of Australia like this. The coast is still relatively untouched here, south of the huge writhing mouth of the Clarence, in contrast to much of the rest of the subtropical east taken up by housing and tourist development.

The Yiraygir National Park and the Pine Brush and Candole State Forests blanket most of the land between the sea and these hills. In contrast, west in the valley, the land which was once rainforest is now cleared. Only a few trees are left standing in the paddocks along the Clarence from the last century, and sadly, many of those are now suffering from die-back. When I'm driving down there, through the farmland by the river, I always look up towards these hills. Prominent beyond the broad floodplains they add a welcome rolling softness to the sometimes bleak landscape. I know when I reach them I will find relief from scorching spring and summertime temperatures, the cooling sea breezes wafting over the escarpment in the afternoon. Rich, native forest still clothes these sandstone ridges and surrounding slopes. It's hard not to notice the luxurious foliage of the ancient trees and rare plants around us, and the remarkable biodiversity, and the centuries old hardwood giants, almost absent now in the rest of the Lower Clarence valley.

The highest point behind our house is known by some of the locals as McCraes knob. Our land, here on the valley side, is forested too. But unlike the hills, loggers took its best timber years ago, leaving mostly grey gums, twisted apple gums, paperbarks and flaky-barked swamp turpentines. Ours is fairly thin forest mostly with bladey grass throughout, adding enormous flammability to the already volatile but beautiful forest.

This particular environment is still quite new to me. I only arrived in the area a few years ago. I came in 1992, from Melbourne to be with my partner Dyson, who had already been here for seventeen years. I didn't know what my new life here would bring. The warm subtropical climate enticed me. The thought of vibrant growth and the energy expressed by such seasonal change was appealing. The slower pace of life and the country routine appealed too. I was keen to grow our food and live a simpler life, surrounded by the natural world. When I first arrived here we would walk around together for hours exploring the ridges or gullies or climbing up to McCraes knob to see the view of the valley. Emus, kangaroos and wallabies are common around us. This forest also provides a refuge for all kinds of more endangered animals, birds and plants - some that would once have inhabited the rainforest of the valley last century. Probably others would always have been unique to these ridges. Not being botanists or fauna experts though, we didn't know many of the details of the significance of our area. But we knew it was very special and quite different from other areas.

This little line of hills behind our property, the western slopes of McCraes Knob, was a Crown reserve when I arrived, protected from logging and most other development. As Crown land, (public land),with strong conservation values, it had been reserved from sale for future public use. It was wonderful knowing that that land would remain a Crown reserve and with hundred acre bush blocks either side of ours we were fairly secure in the knowledge that our natural environment would remain intact. But we were ignorant about a few things back then. Another look at McCraes Knob now from the valley reveals that it is not all unbroken forest on her western flanks. Ugly scars are gouged into her northern end and now extend high onto the ridges, theoretically protected by soil conservation legislation. The worst of it happened recently as a result of a sudden grab for gravel to improve the nearby Pacific Highway, and probably in anticipation of building the great bypass at Ulmarra, nine kilometres away, promised the electorate years ago by our State Member for Parliament, National Party's Ian Causley. As this reserve was public land the local councils were permitted some gravel extraction over the years. It is not clear what legislation contolled the council's actions but it seems that the laws were fairly loosely applied in the past. But it was more than just the Ulmarra Council involved in the most recent development there.

Some days when I drive through Ulmarra, lurching around on the narrow irregular patchwork of bitumen and concrete just a couple of house blocks from the river, I am reminded that that highway bypass has yet to eventuate, and I wonder how much that has to do with Dyson and me.

Although I enjoy the luxury of subtropical temperatures here, I arrived in the middle of the worst drought this century. Our garden seemed a fairly hostile place for our fruit and nut trees, and we often wondered about the surrounding towering eucalypts and other forest giants, as there were plenty of signs that they were also beginning to suffer from lack of water. We seemed to spend hours dragging our huge hoses around the battle-worn vegetable garden. We were very aware of the fragility of the whole situation. Yet along our road people continued to buy up bushland and strip it of trees. There are still few effective laws in place to prevent this on privately owned land. But the most disturbing thing to us at that time was that it was apparently not just private land where this was happening.

In August of 1993, little more than a year after I had arrived, we became aware of a situation concerning the sale of local public land. An item on the radio news caught our attention early one morning as we sipped coffee.

In our electorate a piece of public land, earmarked by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Lands Department for conservation, had been sold off for an undisclosed price to a private landowner in the area. The land conversion had been organised by our local State Member for Parliament and Minister for Natural Resources Ian Causley, and there was some question surrounding the legitimacy of the sale and just how he had gone about it. Part of our concern arose from the knowledge that Ian Causley has quite a reputation for throwing his weight around and opposing nature conservation. Given his record on environmental issues, it was difficult to imagine that he would have given any consideration at all to the land's conservation merits in his dealings with it.

Ian Causley has a powerful presence in the area. The National Party warhorse cuts quite a figure standing tall above most of his loyal constituents. His grandfather came to this area in 1888 as a farmer. The Causley's are well known and proud of their history. Settling this area involved cutting cedar then clearing 'scrub' to make way for agriculture. Ian Causley grew up with timber cutters and sugar cane growing, among other things. Still absorbed in the timber industry he brands those who oppose the current management of the forests as an extreme and noisy minority group who are hurting timber workers. The town of Grafton, still touted as one of those areas dependent on timber, eagerly supports him while the timber resource diminishes at an alarming rate. But as Ian Causley is outspoken, and such a force to be reckoned with, there is little strong opposition to his rhetoric.

It was too hard to tell from the radio item we heard that cool August morning what had really happened with that land conversion. The local Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s radio announcer Paul Kylie, told the listeners, in his hearty bass tones, how the local Clarence Environment Centre representatives had attacked the conversion. Then Causley’s booming voice exploded rudely and defensively through the radio waves into our kitchen.


It sounded to us as if the Member for Parliament was protesting too much. We wondered what he might be hiding. Apart from our general concern for the environment, we were a little uneasy about this news with the land to our east being a Crown Reserve, being publicly owned land reserved from sale because of its conservation value. We knew that the man who ran a few cattle there had just a grazing lease on the land which allowed him only to graze his cattle on it. On his death the grazing lease over that land would end. But we were a little worried because the reserve's highest point, McCraes Knob, our own very scenic backdrop, was mentioned that morning in the news report. Yet while the land referred to on the radio, according to M.P. Causley, had,

not one decent millable log on it

the land behind us was clearly heavily forested with many huge, straight, timber trees. Still, we wondered just where the land in question could be. Perhaps it was just over the ridge somewhere. But a phone call a couple of days later from a neighbour enlightened us. Of course, it was the public reserve behind us, the western flanks of McCraes Knob that had been converted, against the advice of three government departments, to freehold land and sold - and, as we were later to learn, for just a dollar an acre!

We couldn't believe it. Of course, the thought of our treasured neighbouring nature reserve falling into private hands was just too horrible to accept. It was too difficult to comprehend. The money which had changed hands was clearly a token amount. Just one of the thousands of timber trees on that land would sell dressed for more than the whole property was sold for. We knew it couldn't possibly be maintained in its present state now that it was freehold land. It seemed like madness, in the face of modern scientific evidence about the need to conserve wilderness areas, that that remaining patch could be snatched away - given away to private interests. I didn’t really believe it at first and Minister Causley's ‘not one decent millable log’ quote rang in our ears. How could Ian Causley make such a claim? But we found that it was only the first of a great deal of misinformation to emerge surrounding this issue. The huge and plentiful old growth hardwoods behind us could be seen for kilometres around by anyone interested in looking toward these hills. From the valley it is hard not to notice them. Dyson and I passionately flogged that point at every opportunity during the months ahead as we entered what proved to be only stage one in our seemingly endless struggle to expose the corruption surrounding the dealings with that land, which had so recently been intended to be protected for the benefit of future generations.

As well as this important wilderness being disposed of at a regional level, it was, in a sense, our ‘backyard’ that had been thrown away, and for the extraordinary price of just a dollar an acre, with next to no regard for further environmental protection. Our heads were full of questions. But Minister Causley had assured the public on air that,

“The intended use is very clear. It’s a little bit of grazing.”

He had said the owner had entered in agreement and the escarpment would not be touched. There was some mention on the news of an agreement to protect some or all of that land. But, just days after that news report, Dyson telephoned Minister Causley about the issue. You would understand our cynicism and distress when Dyson heard him say,

"Trevor [the now owner] is one of my oldest and dearest friends."

I have no doubt that Trevor will clear the whole thing”.

This land, as the National Parks and Wildlife Service interest would suggest, was no ‘ordinary’ piece of bush, despite Causley’s later assurances to a Sydney Morning Herald journalist. The following article was written after we had begun to publicly protest against the conversion.

(23.8.93 Sydney Morning Herald)"... the MP [Member for Parliament] for Clarence and Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Mr Causley, said the land was 'ordinary' and had no special conservation value. 'It is a very poor piece of land. I would like to see it emblazoned on the front page of every newspaper to show how hypocritical these people are,' he said. "

We soon learned that it had been intended to be set aside as a nature reserve for scientific and educational objectives, according to a proposal prepared by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1974. The 'Pine Brush Nature Reserve Proposal', prepared by Ranger Dodkin, noted the land's unique 180 million year old, Kangaroo Creek sandstone rock formations which are the feature most characteristic, and most commonly noted in surveys or recommendations about it. According to Ranger Dodkin, the Kangaroo Creek rock formations,

provide an interesting and diverse sample of vegetation”.

More significantly perhaps, Ranger Dodkin's survey also mentioned that this land contains remnant rainforest. This, soon to become public, observation of Dodkin's sparked one of the filthier subplots which make up the Pine Brush scandal, brought to life by Ian Causley, and which was soon to take on a hideous life of its own.

The land conversion was certainly no ordinary transaction. Within the relevant files we obtained over the next months, we uncovered layer after layer of blatant ‘irregularities’, as certain departments call them. We were repeatedly astonished and dismayed at what had occurred behind office doors and in cosy meetings. We were, and still are, equally amazed at the reactions of the government officials to whom we presented the material. It is, perhaps, more what happened as we tried to expose the original wrong in this saga, than that original wrong itself, which makes this story extraordinary. We have been overwhelmed by the relentless cross-party cover-up which has been going on ever since Causley's deed was first exposed. Even some environmentalists have been trying to push this one under the carpet.

It seems that we have shifted from being foolishly naive and trusting, to being very cynical, and back again, as we have tried to save the former Pine Brush Reserve. Some places, we believe, must be sacred to our society. Some places must surely be revered and respected for their relevance to our existence. Yet we are perpetually disturbed to find that few people really seem able or willing to care or be aware of what's happening in situations like this.

Sadly as I begin to write at our makeshift bedside desk, those huge, rare, hardwood trees on the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve are falling, and the growling of the chainsaw is penetrating the walls of our little house. In our isolation we can hear it. We can see the change. We will smell the dead crowns eventually burn. Just 200 metres away from my chair is one of the still untouched jewels in that crown - that small patch of lush, dark forest, since identified by respected botanists as debatably the last remnant of the once vast Lower Clarence lowland rainforest. There remain no other living examples of that huge lowland rainforest, aside from perhaps that on Susan Island at Grafton, corrupted by introduced species and weeds, and the tiny vestige at nearby Maclean, now largely destroyed by flying foxes. The handful of other rainforest remnants in the region, which are all living fossils from the dinosaur days of a wetter continent, represent very different plant communities more typical of the coast or hills. The Pine Brush rainforest remnant, as we continue to call it, amidst what, over the ensueing months and years has become an attempt by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to deny its existence, still nestles coolly between the ridges and dryer surrounding forest, its large-leaved, glossy tree crowns competing for every available space.

To better understand the significance of this special place it is important to realise that the standard dictionary definition of "rainforest", being a forest of year-round heavy rain in excess of two-hundred inches, is not applied by the scientists of this, the driest continent. Even coming from a much wetter part of Australia I was, at first, unsure of the rainforest classification applied to this seasonally dry gully forest. But that was before I had heard the term 'dry rainforest' and how it is legitimately applied by botanists to other places.

Only a few hundred metres from this remnant here are the remaining giants of the sclerophyll forest. It is this intimacy that drives us to act to stop the destruction when those who are officially responsible, and others who are morally responsible, refuse to.

Tragically, as you will see, this saga not only involves the failure of a number of government Ministers to fulfill their obligations, but the incompetence and corruption of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales. It involves the rotten side of the local Ulmarra Shire Council, and remarkably the failure of all levels of government, and both sides of politics, to publicly acknowledge the misconduct and corruption. It involves the media and their apparent inability or unwillingness to investigate and expose those who demonstrably did the wrong thing, and it involves the attitudes of ordinary people to these events. It sadly also includes the participation of some conservation organisations in the cover up of the scandal. But of all these things, probably the most troubling to me is the failure of ordinary Australians to be alarmed. Without that degree of public concern little will be done to halt or reverse these destructive trends. Of course, to be concerned the public must first be informed. Getting the information out is extremely difficult, near impossible.

Predictably, when we began our struggle to save the Pine Brush property we were accused publicly by Minister Causley on the ABC radio, of having vested interests. We don’t want our little corner of the world messed up, he says. Do we have a vested interest as Ian Causley claimed? Yes, of course. We have very great reason to be concerned about such corruption going unchecked resulting in the degradation of our immediate environment. The ludicrous nature of that accusation still floats near the surface of my thinking on this whole issue. We have plenty of documented facts on which we base our concerns. Our outrage is based on far more than a product of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome. What a strange world it is where the locals are criticised for attempting to defend their habitat from illegal destruction. Yet the vested interest comment, as the files have shown, has been turned upon Mr. Causley, and for good reason. And the Pine Brush property, as you will see, has far more relevance than to just the two of us immediately next door.

It is my aim with this book to persuade people to act to save what health the environment has left and to promote a healthy social structure to maintain that necessary care. If our struggle here is resolved as a result of this account then my first objective will be achieved too.



ONE - The People's Land, Ripped Away

________________________________________________________________________(return to table of contents)

 Still in a partial cloud of disbelief at what had happened, and with Ian Causley’s radio broadcasted misinformation ringing in our ears, we flew into action. We contacted the Clarence Environment Centre who had first brought the story of the land conversion to the media’s attention. That organisation had heard about it while investigating logging that was taking place at the Pine Brush State Forest which adjoins the former Crown reserve along its eastern boundary on the other side of McCraes Knob. The Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) was concerned because a small rainforest remnant, with quite different species, representative of coastal areas, recently identified within the State Forest, was being threatened by the logging. When questioned by the CEC representatives about the logging, the Forestry Commission apparently said that they would be logging the grazing lease next because it had been sold. The CEC, alarmed and aware that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had identified conservation values on the Crown Reserve, had written a letter of protest about the conversion to Minister Causley in July '93. Then, having no response from the Minister’s office, they followed shortly after with the press release which prompted the news item which had caught our attention.

The forthright CEC spokeswoman, Karen Rooke, had railed at length on the phone to us about Causley’s various activities. She and her colleagues had battled the Minister on numerous issues over the years from their cluttered offices. There were stories about of oyster farm scams, numerous other deals for cronies and even an exploratory gold mine sunk in the nearby Washpool National Park. It was no surprise to them that a conservation effort had gone by the wayside because of Ian Causley’s interference. After talking with us about the Pine Brush issue the CEC set about acquiring the appropriate files on the land conversion from the Department of Conservation and Land Management, through the new Freedom of Information legislation.

Karen Rooke connected us with another conservation organisation, the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA), a group well accustomed to camping out at contentious logging sites. Based in the Lismore area, further north in the state, NEFA had also been watching the Pine Brush situation. It issued a press release shortly after the news of conversion first came out. NEFA spokesman, Dailan Pugh, after talking at length with us, contacted the Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to find out what had actually happened among the NPWS, the Department of Conservation and Land Management and Minister Causley to bring about the conversion. While Pugh went about his investigations he recommended we contact the National Parks Association (NPA) of New South Wales.

This early on in the piece, I knew of no real reasons to feel unduly suspicious about what had happened. I simply had nothing with which to compare this situation. I had never had reason to involve myself in land issues, nor political ones. The whole concept of leasehold land was new to me too, so I had little to guide me in my judgment when listening to the stories, which emerged over the weeks, about the nature of this particular land deal. Ian Causley was especially keen to have us believe that leaseholders had a right to convert their leases to freehold, or should be compensated. Well, it was all new to me. How was the public to know that Kratz's lease only allowed him limited grazing rights on his land, as distinct from the substantial developments some leaseholders are apparently allowed? This is a very different circumstance from many, since publicised by the introduction of the contraversial Wik legislation, which deals with aboriginal land claims.

The land title of the Pine Brush Crown Reserve had in fact been marked, 'reserved from sale'. But, to begin with, I had no reason to know these things. And it was this kind of ignorance - a widespread ignorance, that Ian Causley seemed to be using to his advantage. Fortunately for Pine Brush, though, Dyson had worked in a government department where land matters were dealt with daily, and so he had a better understanding of what was going on and to what degree the truth was being distorted. Gradually over the months we pasted the pieces of the story together with help from various bodies.

From their more comfortable Sydney offices the National Parks Association apparently focuses largely on the formation and preservation of National Parks, appealing to mostly city-dwelling environmentalists with a love of bushwalking. They had been concentrating on these conversions of Crown-leasehold land to freehold because of their horrific frequency in recent years. The National Parks Association (NPA) had already obtained most of the appropriate Pine Brush files from the NPWS, and their generous research officer, Penny Roberts, gladly sent copies to us. Peter Wright, the NPA’s spokesperson, was interviewed shortly after, on ABC radio. In that interview with ABC’s Elizabeth Heath he indicated the NPA’s intention to approach the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, George Souris, about Causley's disposal of the public reserve at Pine Brush, and on a news item Wright voiced the NPA’s possible intention to get the Independents or Labor party to raise the matter in state parliament. Unfortunately these moves, if they were carried out at all, bore no fruit.

But we were heartened by all the interest from the ABC and these three conservation organisations. Things were happening fast. The phone was running hot. Perhaps the sale could be reversed and the Minister exposed for his actions at the same time. We explored every avenue we could think of and sought as much advice as we could, while still trying to absorb the shocking news. We pleaded down the telephone wires for continued help from all these organisation representatives, spending hours at a time discussing the possibilities. But where could we really start? How could what had happened now be reversed? I really had no idea what to do. But fortunately Dyson had some firm ideas, and we soon became the centre of a whirlwind of activity.

Only a week or two before all this we had been quietly tending our food garden, hoeing between the bananas, weeding the cabbages, oblivious to the sinister movements of our state representative - movements that now affected us so closely. How could it have happened? It was as if a great grey cloud of doom had descended over our tranquil home and the security of our unique bush surrounds was dissolving into it. That precious Crown jewel had been ripped away behind everyone’s backs. Only a few days before, and for years before that, we had been certain that it would remain a reserve for all time. Dyson had told me about its status before I moved here. He had learned when he bought his place, now ours, in 1977 about the land behind his being public land - Crown Land, on which a grazing lease existed, which would expire upon the death of the lessee and then be reserved for nature conservation. Yet he hadn't been aware at that time that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had plans for acquiring the land well before the lease expired.

Dyson and I had walked on it together, between its ancient towering giants and rocky ridges, marveling at our good fortune to live in such close proximity to pristine forest while so many other places had been stripped. It was special. Weeds had barely penetrated this forest, although a few cattle grazed there sometimes. To my eyes, the only real evidence that cattle were run there was the cattle themselves and the fences, or perhaps the hoof marks marching across a creek bed here and there. Protected by the often luxuriant foliage and steep ridge lines, it seemed as if the modern world had completely bypassed this place. But as we had discovered, the truth was quite different. How could we come to terms with what had taken place? How could the country afford just to let it slip away? We were determined to get to the bottom of this.

The National Parks Association's concern about public land disposal, in New South Wales led to them publishing an informative article by John Benson (the Senior Plant Ecologist at the National Herbarium in the Royal Botanic Gardens of NSW) and Michael Doherty (of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Division of Wildlife and Ecology) in the August '93 National Parks Association Journal. At the time of that article, Benson and Doherty regarded the disposal of public land to be the most important issue affecting biodiversity and landscape protection in eastern and central New South Wales. So the Pine Brush conversion was not an obscure issue in that sense. The atrocity at Pine Brush was an example of all that was wrong with the State government's Crown Land policy.

Since the beginning of white settlement in Australia Crown lands (named as such because at that time all lands were claimed by the British invaders for the Queen of England), have been disposed of in various ways. (Aboriginal rights weren't recognised.) Many Crown leases resulted from the government attempting to deal with people, unable to buy land or acquire it by some other means, squatting on public land. Under the leasing system people could legitimately use that land at an affordable price. Eventually leaseholders gained the right to apply to purchase their leases. To begin with there was little to prevent such purchases from happening. Over time though, concern grew that public lands were being disposed of too rapidly and indiscriminately.

Apparently, more than twenty years ago, in the early seventies, when conservation was becoming more of an issue for the New South Wales government, it assigned an interdepartmental team the task of assessing the Crown Lands situation. That team eventually determined that Crown lands should no longer be sold because of their value as a nature reserve system. But the report resulting from that determination was never published. Later, in 1978, a conservation policy was introduced by the Lands Department. Then in 1980 a program was introduced where all Crown Land meeting the conservation policy would be noted as ‘reserved from sale’. But this had little effect because it was not legislated and could be overridden by the Minister in charge. Then the disposal of Crown Lands apparently continued under all governments. Not only did it continue but, alarmingly, the conservation policy, intended to give these lands a level of protection, was ditched in 1989 by the then Minister for Natural Resources, Ian Causley. The Liberal/National government, of which Causley was a member, then actually advertised to lease-holders the increased opportunity open to them for purchase of the land on which their leases existed. (According to Forrestry files, Trevor Kratz was one to respond to this encouragement.) So the Crown land alienation process was accelerated rather than decelerated. At that time, the National Parks and Wildlife Service was given the option to acquire those Crown Lands (on which leases existed) of interest to it, but if the necessary funding was not there it was forced to give up its interest.

It was also around that time that the Forestry Commission had been attempting to acquire the Crown land at Pine Brush. The Forestry Commission was interested in adding the Public Reserve to its adjoining state forest, especially as the NPWS had not been pursuing its interest in acquiring it as a Nature Reserve. As a result of the Forestry Commission's movements the grazing lease-holder, Trevor Kratz, made his second attempt to have his lease converted to freehold, so he could purchase the land. This time he attempted this with the help of his State Member for Parliament, Ian Causley. Forestry's attempt to acquire the property failed. The State Minister for Natural Resources Ian Causley, refused the dedication. (I discuss this blatant conflict of interest later.) But then the Lands Department refused Kratz's conversion application in 1990 citing an objection by NPWS as the reason. Perhaps this was because at that time there was a public outcry over the increased disposal of public land resulting from the government's advertisements.

Even some members of the Liberal/National Government, ordinarily in favour of privitising public land, were concerned about this increased and unchecked disposal, and so later in 1990 the Premier Nick Greiner, under pressure, introduced a moratorium over all Crown lease conversions without an Environmental Impact Statement (performed by the NPWS). During this time the government departments were to decide what to do about the leases. So another interdepartmental task force was formed. It made some quick assessments of leases thought to have heritage values. New 'reserve from sale' notices were placed on those.  Mr. Kratz's grazing lease was assessed as containing heritage values at that time, and so it was one of those marked 'reserved from sale'. That prevented some continuing attempts to convert from succeeding. On the 24th of February, ‘92, in response to those attempts to convert, the Department of Lands wrote,

“I refer to your previous application and subsequent representations through the Hon. I.R. Causley, M.P., Minister for Natural Resources, concerning purchase of Lot 183, ...”

“As you are already aware, Crown Lease 1944/3 Grafton is a lease affected by a moratorium on the conversion of certain types of leases to freehold. An interdepartmental task force has now completed its investigation of the conservation values pertaining to your lease and found that it contains natural heritage values under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. This does not necessarily mean that the National Parks and Wildlife Service has any interest in acquiring the land but that certain values recognised under that Act should be protected.

Accordingly, It has been decided to retain lot 183, D.P. 751365 in Crown ownership. Reserve 90595 from Sale for Future Public Requirements preventing sale of the land will remain in place...”

Of course, in this instance the NPWS did have and interest in acquiring the land.

It was in August '93 that it became public that despite this stance taken by the Lands Department, Kratz had since, remarkably, been successful in having, what for him was no more than a grazing lease at Pine Brush, converted to freehold and sold to him for next to nothing, just one dollar an acre.

The moratorium on converting Crown Lands to freehold had been in place since 1990, but in May 1993 it had lapsed. Minister Causley was ready. His apparent intentions had not been altered by the moratorium, only temporarily thwarted. Using his Ministerial power he ignored the advice of the Inter-Departmental Taskforce, made up of representatives from the Department of Conservation and Land Management and the National Parks & Wildlife Service, who assessed the leases for heritage values. He pushed the conversion through before another moratorium was hastily reinstated by the government ten days later, as a result of a public outcry over the lapse. This handiwork by the Member of Parliament, was produced for Trevor Kratz, who Mr. Causley had described in the phone call with Dyson as, “one of my oldest and dearest friends”. If this is true this was blatant cronyism.

If there was any doubt about the neat timing of the application processing being intentional, it was seemingly not shared by the Minister.

(17.8.98 Ian Causley ABC radio interview with Elizabeth Heath)

(Causley) "Well, it started way back in ,(AHEM!), 1975 when Mr. Kratz who owns the perpetual lease applied to have it, ah, converted to freehold, which is his right, under the, under the lease. Ah, it had some objections from Forestry at that time, and, ah, there were other objections from National Parks, but, ah, the whole issue was, was, gradually steered through, I suppose, when I took over as Member I, I took made representations from Mr. Kratz,..."

Minister Causley steered it through a ten day window of opportunity.

It is interesting to note that Ian Causley's Ministerial portfolio changed in May '93, the month of the controversial conversion, from Natural Resources to Agriculture, Fisheries and Mines.

I had heard of the old grazier, Kratz. With only grazing rights on the Pine Brush proposed Nature Reserve (and no right to convert, only to apply to convert) he had visited the land, maintaining common fences with Dyson over the years. To Dyson he seemed a friendly, good-hearted fellow who had learnt the old ways of managing land. In the 70’s when Dyson had only recently arrived in the area, Trevor once very kindly offered him advice on how to kill all the trees, not aware that he was looking over the fence at the first of the new settlers who would come and attempt different land management practices from the older locals, and offend their judgment with opposing values. Could that unassuming, shy, old grazier really have been one of the oldest and dearest friends of the powerful Ian Causley? Or was that another piece of misinformation from the Minister? At any rate, there was only our word for it that the claim had ever been made to Dyson, although we felt sure Causley would not deny it, mateship being of such importance in these parts.

It hadn’t just been the identified heritage values which might have prevented Kratz, as the grazing leaseholder at Pine Brush from converting the public reserve to freehold, had the member for parliament been more ethical. An earlier potential threat to the conversion was that from the Forestry Commission who, back in 1988, aware that the NPWS were not in a position to acquire the reserve at the time, due to lack of funding, dedicated it as an addition to the neighbouring Pine Brush State forest. But up until July 1990 the Minister for Natural Resources was Ian Causley and in that position he knocked back the Forestry Commission’s dedication. Yet he had already begun representing his constituent in having the public reserve converted to freehold. This was an obvious conflict of interest. This Forestry Commission document of the 18th of May 1990, to the Director General of NPWS explains.

“As indicated in the [Forestry] Commission's letter of 26-9-88 to the Service [NPWS], the Commission had approved that Cn.L. 44/3, Grafton be dedicated as an addition to Pine Brush State Forest, having received concurrence from Grafton Lands Office.

The District Forester advised the lessee of the proposal to dedicate by letter dated 7-11-88. The lessee then commenced a series of appeals against the Commission's proposal through his local M.P., the Minister for Natural Resources.[Ian Causley]

At each appeal, the commission continued to press its case for dedication.

The lessee eventually lodged a conversion application, but before responding to the Lands Office, the Commission presented the dedication to the Minister for approval.

The Minister had earlier inspected the lease in company with the lessee and the Regional Forester.

To the Commission's disappointment, on 14-2-90 the Minister noted the dedication submission thus, ‘The forest should not be dedicated because it is an extremely poor forest’.”

So when Trevor Kratz had become aware of the Forestry Commission’s plans for dedicating the Pine Brush public reserve as an extension to the Pine Brush State Forest, he apparently informed his old friend, now parliamentary representative. He told him that he had made his (grazing) lease his life’s work, putting lots of money into it, and it would all be lost if the dedication went through. Minister Causley, (presumably acting as Member for state parliament), conveyed this message to the Forestry Commission.

The Forestry Commission had been given instructions by Minister Causley to confirm these statements by visiting the land. On the information gathered on the resulting inspection of the Crown reserve, Forestry staff prepared a report for the Minister’s information.

(21.2.89)“I refer to the Minister's inquiry of 21 December 1988 concerning the suitability of this lease for State Forest dedication.”

The report outlined the land’s value for timber,

Except for some small areas in the north of the lease which have been stripped for gravel, the lease is fully timbered, .... The lease currently carries about 500 cubic metres of saw logs, and large volumes of durable bloodwood suitable for fencing material. There are also areas of good quality regrowth.

More importantly, it was valued by Forestry as a fire buffer zone to protect its adjoining forests.

Apart from timber value, the Commission considers that fire management on the lease is important for the protection of nearby State Forests, ...”

The only significant improvements on the lease boundary fences, most of which are old.”

But as Kratz held only a grazing lease over the land (and he certainly did not live there), he was not permitted to improve the land anyway. He was only permitted to run cattle on the land and cut timber for the purpose of maintaining fences, nothing else. In some places even the fences were down. Mention was made of the lack of improvements and some poor fences in the report for the Minister. The news did not go down well with Minister Causley. On the bottom of the report in his handwriting is an angry note.

Norm, I’m going to inspect this lease because if I believe Mr. Kratz this is bullshit. If it is PITY HELP WHOEVER PREPARED THIS REPORT ! Ian

It also became clear that the Minister for Land and Water Conservation Garry West, was also promoting some developments concerning the conversion process at Pine Brush. In August of '91 West seemed happy to accelerate the process if possible. In response to a request for special consideration from Ian Causley West wrote,

"I refer to your personal representations on behalf of Mr Erroll O'Driscoll, PO Box 31, Tabulam, 2470 and Mr Trevor Kratz of Tucabia concerning purchase of Crown Leases 1915/2 Casino and 1944/3 Grafton, respectively."

"A committee comprising of representatives from the Department of Conservation and Land Management and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, established to undertake an analysis of those lands, now proposes to concentrate on leases where an application to purchase has been lodged. However, in view of the history of these specific cases I have directed that they be considered as a matter of priority. If the outcome of the assessment process is favourable, your constituents will be suitably advised and invited to apply to purchase the whole or part of the leases in question."

After the Lands Department knocked back Kratz’s conversion application in 1992 due to the interdepartmental task force’s assessment of heritage values on the land, Minister Causley was clearly frustrated. The Honourable Member for Parliament was apparently not above using pressure tactics. In June '91 Causley had reacquired his position of Minister for Natural Resources. The Grafton Area Manager of the Lands Department, Steve MacDonald had written,on the 29th of May, '92 to Minister Causley,

At our recent meeting you advised of your deep concern in relation to a proposal by Mr. Trevor Kratz to purchase the Land contained in his Crown lease ....”

“As you are aware In July 1990, the N.S.W. Government imposed a moratorium on the conversion of certain leases to freehold, pending the outcome of a Government review of its policy in relation to protection of identified values associated with those leases.”

Unfortunately Mr. Kratz's lease was not in the 40% over which the moratorium was lifted”

“You will appreciate that I am also concerned with the perception that this office is responsible for delays in finalising the analysis into the two categories abovementioned." [those leases identified as having conservation values that needed to be addressed by means other than acquisition; those leases to be acquired by National Parks and Wildlife Service.] "I assure you that this office is not involved in the operation of The government Task Force charged with the State Wide analysis and I am not in a position to indicate the progress being made in the Force’s deliberations.

Mr. Kratz’s application for conversion of his lease was refused in March, 1990, and any new application lodged would also be refused in accordance with the existing policy.”

Shortly after the exposure at that meeting to Minister Causley’s “deep concern”, MacDonald was transferred to the cold tablelands town of Orange, commonly understood to be a destination for North Coast public service troublemakers. According to the Australian Labor Party’s north coast organiser, Lawrie Brown, who later did some investigations of his own, MacDonald was angry and keen to expose this injustice, but shortly after, apparently had a change of heart. It is not clear exactly who directed this transfer, but it was said to be Causley to whom MacDonald's anger was directed.

MacDonald’s replacement in Grafton was understandably co-operative as can be seen by what followed. Another application to convert the grazing lease to freehold had been lodged on the 22nd of December '92 by Kratz. This one was lodged less than a week after an on-site inspection of his lease by the Minister for Natural Resources (Ian Causley), the acting head of the Lands Department, Mike Ockwell, and the Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division of NPWS, Peter Wilson. At that meeting Ockwell, clearly co-operative, on behalf of the Lands Department, had apparently given Kratz verbal approval to convert. (Wilson, on behalf of NPWS had also given verbal approval.) Kratz’s solicitor had written, in the letter to the Lands Department on the 22nd of December,

Will you kindly note that verbal approval to the proposed conversion has only recently been granted by executive officers of your Department. Advices in this regard should come forward from your head office shortly.

According to the North-East Forest Alliance spokesman, Dailan Pugh (who, after the conversion became public knowledge, spoke with Peter Wilson of NPWS), Mr. Causley had shown the Department executives the far northern end of the property which had been quarried by the local Councils over the years, and then the far southern end which contained rather thin poor forest. These areas contrast with inner areas, some of which were described in the original flora survey prepared by NPWS's ranger Dodkin in 1974. On radio, following news of the conversion, Causley described Dodkin's report as 'emotive'.

(17.8.93)"if they READ the report from, ah, one section of National Parks it’s quite an EMOTIVE report about the value of the land, but, ah, when you WALK on it and see it it’s quite a different, ah, proposition!"

As well as ignoring the decision made by the interdepartmental taskforce about retaining the land in Crown ownership, Causley had contradicted the advice of both Forestry Commission officers and the NPWS's ranger Dodkin concerning the former Crown Reserve. As neighbours of that land it is clear to us that great stands of tallowood, brushbox and mahogany grow on the hillsides toward the centre of the property, among many other species. Lush gullies, nestled between the sandstone ridges, are shelter for an enormous and unusual diversity of plant and animal species obvious even to the untrained eye. Dodkin documented tree species characteristic of rainforest. But the Sydney officials had seemingly not been shown any of these by Causley. At that on-site meeting the Minister managed to somehow persuade the department heads to his point of view and then still found time to inspect another public property on the same day, about two hours drive away. That property is said to have been also sold under very suspicious circumstances.

 After that on-site meeting at Pine Brush the application process was seemingly then held up by the lack of input from the NPWS regarding the Conservation Agreement which Wilson (Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division from NPWS) had apparently stated at the meeting would be conditional to the conversion of the portion. Wilson explained months after the event, in a file note of 11.8.93,

"I also explained that the Service agreed, through me, that conversion could precede if the Service could be satisfied that Protected Lands mapping and/or a Conservation Agreement could protect the vegetation cover on the Crown Lease."

A form from the Department of Lands, inviting formal response was sent to the Grafton NPWS office on the 6th of January '93. No response had come from NPWS by the 15th of March. Although the NPWS still had another three weeks to respond, the Lands Department invited Kratz to re-apply for conversion, this time with a watering down of the conditions. A letter was sent to Kratz’s solicitor, A.J. Gallagher.

The Department of Conservation and Land Management is now prepared to give favourable consideration to granting of the above application provided your client formally undertakes to immediately [now merely] enter into negotiations with the National Parks and Wildlife Service aimed at preparation of an appropriate conservation agreement in respect of the affected lands.”

The conversion approval was given on the 12th of May just after the lifting of the moratorium on the 10th. If it hadn’t been for the timely invitation by CaLM in March '93 to Kratz to re-apply for conversion, would it have coincided with the brief lifting of the moratorium in May '93? Would the application have been processed so conveniently if MacDonald had not been transferred to Orange after refusing the conversion in May '92, just a year before, or if there had been no on-site inspection of the lease with Minister Causley in December '92. Could it have happened if Wilson or Ockwell had maintained their department's recent positions in favor of conserving the land, or if the conditions of the conversion, as stipulated by NPWS had not been watered down by the Department of Conservation and Land Management? What if the Minister for Lands, Garry West, had not been willing to make Kratz's case a priority? What if Kratz had not been one of Minister Caulsey's oldest and dearest friends?

In August '93 Ian Causley attempted to deny that the conversion had been rushed through.

(6th of August '93, ABC radio news) “This has been going on since Don Day was the Member, so, and there’s nothing, ah, ah, about the fact that it was rushed through”.

(17th of August '93, ABC radio interview with Yvette Steinhauer)“Hm. ah, Mr. Causley you didn’t fast track this at all, ah, I’m sure we had you on the station, ah, in the Rural Report talking about this, and just saying that you did, to some degree, fast track it because it was, ah, ah, a relatively worthless piece of land and the person had every right to acquire it?

Well if I fast tracked it, Yvette, it was a very slow process, because I’ve been, I’ve been dealing with this as a, as a, for Mr Kratz, as my constituent now, for a matter of four or five years, and as I said the previous member Mr Day [Labor Member] was dealing with it beforehand, so if it was a fast track process it was a pretty fah, eh, pretty slow process.

The processing of the final application was not slow. The Minister's involvement with Pine Brush had been relatively long term but the arrangements for conservation measures to be implemented over the land, for instance, were not given the time and importance required under the circumstances.

Clearly Minister Causley cannot take the entire blame on this one. The disregard for environmental concerns by the Lands Department was apparently not unusual. In an article on the disposal of Crown land at that time, in the August '93 National Parks Association Journal, the then president of the NPA, Graham Douglas, had this to say.

It is clear that CALM [Department of Conservation and Land Management] cannot be trusted to properly deal with these leases, however. The department has all too easily given away areas in the past or turned a blind eye to illegal clearing. CALM has never attempted to comply with its responsibilities under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act”.

... it appears that some of CALM’s top bureaucrats either wish to rid themselves of responsibilities or care little about long term wise land management.

A letter written in May 1990 to the Minister for Environment, Mr. Moore by NPA's Armidale Branch seems to back up this view.

"...I believe that current policies of the Minister for Natural Resources and the Department of Lands - facilitating Crown Lease conversions without acknowledging environmental values identified by the National Parks and Wildlife Service - is inconsistent with, will compromise and indeed will operate in direct opposition to the Government objectives of retention of our natural and cultural heritage. These policies must be changes [sic] for reasons I have outlined in recent letters to you and to the Premier."

Were we expected to accept the state of affairs at Pine Brush and go on about our business? Should we have considered it just too bad? Apparently Ministers can do pretty much what they like, especially if no-one knows. How powerful a Minister is who, by asserting his will, can bring about the destruction of a rare, prized ecosystem. The former Pine Brush reserve, still a unique wilderness, would surely become an eroding, weed-ridden log dump or gravel pit, or more poor grasslands for a few beasts, or maybe even exposed house blocks with a view of the cleared valley. That place is still one of a kind. Where was the local opposition to this crime? Where was the political opposition? The layer of protection - official protection, given to those forest giants and gully species for so long, was virtually torn away on Causley's instruction. The action of one powerful man for another, against common wisdom and governmental policy would leave its mark. Would anyone step in to pick up the pieces?

These hills were seemingly never penetrated by the early settlers, presumably because of the rugged terrain and relatively infertile soil. Although it is virtually all that remains of such botanical value in the Lower Clarence, Ian Causley has determined that it can be exploited anyway for the benefit of one man and his family, at the expense of the rest of the community. Machines are not thwarted by those leafy or rocky obstacles. It seemed clear that we would soon see gutted forests, vehicle tracks crisscrossing the hillsides leaving mounds of earth and ditches from dragging the logs. Fires would rage up the escarpments, blackening the remaining tree trunks, the hotter, more open environment inviting this destruction. Tall bladey grass encouraged by the fire would then encourage the cycle to repeat itself. Long gone would be the botanically distinct shrubs, ferns and herbs, once sheltered between massive tree trunks, those species found in the vegetation communities so different to those found in existing reserves.

We were compelled to seek justice. Someone had to stand up against those powerful individuals. We wished it didn’t have to be us. At least we felt sure that Minister Causley's conflict of interest and the misinformation he had fed to the public about the nature of the Pine Brush reserve and its conversion to freehold left him in a vulnerable position. He would be an easy target for his opponents. We thought our job would be fairly clear cut. But time proved this assumption to be very naive.





TWO - Speaking Out / Fiery Retribution

____________________________________________________ (return to table of contents)

 In the weeks immediately after the land conversion at Pine Brush, as we acquired our various pieces of evidence about the scandal, gathered from the relevant departmental files, we began shouting from the rooftops about the injustice and abuse of public trust. The ABC radio news provided an appropriate initial outlet. Paul Kylie seemed eager to convey the story as it developed. He had no qualms about presenting the National Party member for parliament in his true colours. The first radio news item on the 6th of August '93 about the conversion was followed up four days later on the 10th with another documenting the objection of the locals to what had obviously happened behind closed doors.

I was the local community representative that day. I dearly wished it didn't have to be me. On the radio I had often heard the various brave, outspoken members of society forwarding their causes. I admired them. Surely there were others here who knew more about the local situation and who had been in the area longer. I was a newcomer and we were not the only people living close to the former pulic reserve. Surely there were others who had as much reason to be concerned. Why was I representing the local conservationists? But my wavering voice railed indignantly into the microphone. My frightened voice issued forth with condemnation and prediction of doom if nothing was done to reverse the conversion.

...and we’ll see a bald hillside , I believe, if Mr. Causley’s people get their way”, I forecast. After the interview, still a quivering, jelly-limbed heap, I scooped myself back into our van and contemplated the next time I would be compelled to put myself through such discomfort.

It was just three days later when we began our talkback radio assault. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation had a weekly Friday morning “free for all” show, where anyone could phone up and talk about anything, or so they said. This was the perfect forum. The fresh and friendly-sounding host of the show, Yvette Steinhauer, seemed genuinely interested in our story. She did her best to verbally paste the different related fragments of the issue together as the shows progressed. The first couple of times we were joined by some other locals.


“I just wanted to comment that I think it’s a really fabulous area and ah, I think it’s a, it’s a disgrace that ah, Mr. Causley has a, made that freehold land.”


“ Anyone with eyes, driving along the Pacific Highway, north of Ulmarra can look to the coast and see this huge hardwood forest, except Mr. Causley. Now why would the Forestry Commission want that land as part of the state forest if there were no trees on it?”


“So I got directly onto him [Causley]and they confuse you with their government type languages and he was sort of saying to me. “You enjoy the privileges of freehold, Mrs...!


Now Mr. Causley our um, local National Party M.P. is behind this. The issue is that on the radio last week he seriously misrepresented the ancient hardwood forest up there, quite blatantly. I thought it was incredible because he said on the radio [6.8.93] that there’s not one decent millable log on it.”

We alerted some Aboriginal elders of the local Maclean-based Aboriginal Land Council about the land conversion, as the (newly named) Department of Conservation and Land Management had neglected their obligation to notify them. One of the elders soon arrived, on the 14th of August with Ron Heron, an archaeologist from the University of New England who found, what he described to us as, rare axe grinding grooves in the one gully examined. We showed him hand axes that we had uncovered in our gardens over the years just next door to the newly converted land. He confirmed that the artifacts are genuine. A couple of our nearest neighbours and a friend joined Ron Heron and the Yaegal elder in our walk up the gully that day. We excitedly anticipated what our visitors might find.

This beautiful area with its diversity of plant species and terrain would surely have been a valuable site for Aborigines before the white men forced them out. Our shire is situated in what was one of the richest prehistoric environments in Australia, according to a study, "Aboriginal Sites in Ulmarra Shire", produced on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1986 by Denis Byrne. Rising above the flood prone Clarence Valley, and with small caves scattered along the ridge tops, it would have provided a dry shelter and a view of the whole area. One of the Aboriginal men with the visiting group pointed out various bush foods as we walked : a berry here, a yabby there in the deep dark creek, a yam and a possum hole. Still the site is a home to a great number of mammals, reptiles and birds. Phascagales, bettongs, gliders, pigeons and micro bats all seem to be thriving. We often see black cockatoos and there have been breeding pairs of quolls sighted on occasion too. The archeologist’s find amongst all this left us with a great deal of hope. What Ron Heron found that day comprised a site according to the guidelines he explained to us and after just a brief inspection of a small area. According to Heron it qualified as requiring protection under the relevant NPWS legislation.

ABC radio and local newspaper items, meanwhile, continued following the story including Ron Heron’s discovery of artifacts on the land. But when questioned by the media about the Aboriginal artifacts the archeologist backed down on his original claim. Unless, that is, those bodies actually misrepresented what he had told them. We were angered and frustrated to find that in the local tabloid, the Grafton Daily Examiner, where the incident was covered shortly after the news of the conversion, the story was quite turned around. The heading which we imagined should have read something like ‘ABORIGINAL SITE FOUND AT FORMER PROPOSED NATURE RESERVE’ read 'ARTIFACTS WELL PROTECTED AT SITE : EXPERT’. The newspaper refused to print a retraction. Perhaps Heron had misunderstood.

Mr Heron said he had not studied the area in depth but a quick survey had brought to light a good supply of stone implements, some of them made from stone that had obviously been traded into the area and at least one well preserved grinding groove which was a rare find.

“He said the artifacts and the grinding groove were certainly worth preserving but felt they were well protected as they were.

(If this is what Heron actually said then he clearly mis-understood.)

He said areas incorporated into publicised reserves could sometimes be vandalised or unsympathetic landholders could deliberately destroy Aboriginal artifacts, for fear of some form of Aboriginal claim on their land.”

We had no confidence that the artifacts and grinding grooves would be well protected. The ridge looming above these finds, we suspected, was becoming an attractive illegal source of bushrock for garden landscaping. Large amounts of rock had been taken from other parts of the property already. And it was Dyson who Heron had spoken to when he visited, not the new owner of the former reserve. Dyson had been very sympathetic and enthusiastic about preserving the archeological finds and it was this reassuring enthusiasm to which Ron Heron had been exposed.

Shortly after this informal archeological survey, Kratz attempted to deal with the trespassers on his new land by issuing a warning in the Grafton Daily Examiner. This was the first we had heard of him since the land's conversion, despite the controversy surrounding it. The ABC radio news grabbed hold of this new development too. In light of comments from Ian Causley that Kratz had a real affinity with that land, it is interesting that Kratz had listed, in the notice, the wrong portion number, (186) for his new property which is actually portion 183. According to Paul Kylie of the ABC radio, the Examiner's classified section said it was not a misprint. However Kratz went on to erect signs on the actual property.

One of the ‘no trespassing’ signs leered down at us on our property from a corner of the new freehold block. For us it was the intruder. Like a ferocious animal determined to protect its new-found territory it gnashed its painted black teeth at us from above a collection of fragrant, freshly cut logs. We had always walked freely up there before. The few beef cattle that shared our walk from time to time had been short-term visitors too. Apart from that there had been little activity there. Relatively few people were aware the reserve existed at all, with its knobbly outcrops and diverse gully tree life, although it was clearly and distinctly visible from the cleared valley for kilometres. Now, walking up there we would be lawbreakers.

The land belonged to one man now. Would he really clear the whole thing as Dyson had heard Ian Causley say on the phone? His other land was certainly cleared. With the help of modern technology he could remove most of the vegetation, and even the rock formations with relatively little effort - biomass that had now been the subject of hours of paid bureaucratic study by scientists and years of passionate admiration by a small number of locals who knew it could be destroyed in a short amount of time. Could the owners of all the adjoining and nearby properties comprehend what kind of effect the loss of that environment would have on them or what kind of implications the Minister's actions continuing unchecked could have?

On the third week of talkback radio Dyson and I continued with our barrage of information and allegations, but without the other community members. Each week the hostess of the show became increasingly uncomfortable with our presence.

“And now we have Vivienne from Lower Coldstream”.

I was always a shocking bundle of nerves. Fortunately they didn’t all translate through the phone lines.

“Hello Yvette, ...... , um, I have also heard the chainsaw up there in the mornings.”

I gave in after three goes, also very uncomfortable with our weekly radio presence. Dyson, less intimidated by the establishment and far more able to see potential results for our efforts persisted admirably.

“Thank you for letting me talk Yvette...I’m a one-issue wonder when it comes to this show”.

Yvette was no doubt glad when she was eventually relieved of our radio presence many weeks later.

The three environmental organisations, the Clarence Environment Centre, the Northeast Forest Alliance and the National Parks Association had been quite involved in the initial outcry over the conversion to freehold of the former proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve. They had been very supportive of our efforts. Numerous phone calls continued between their members and us. Both the NPA and NEFA had taken a stand when interviewed for the local ABC radio news during that first fortnight.

(August '93) [NPA] Spokesman , Peter Wright, says the National Parks Service and the Forestry Commission had declared an interest in the Upper Coldstream Land, which should have prevented the conversion”

(18.8.93) “NEFA spokesman Dialan Pugh, says there was no proper inspection before the conversion, and no legally binding agreement since then to preserve any part of the 500 hectare block.”

But then the Pine Brush situation was apparently largely to be left by these groups to serve as an example of what shouldn’t happen. NEFA had little time for such issues. The Pine Brush property is 492.5 hectares of bush with its riches only partly revealed at that stage, and there were more well-known areas to focus on saving further north and more central to the organisation’s home base. The NPA considered the conversion to freehold irreversible although they continued to offer a degree of help for some time. The CEC gladly handed all the files to us as their members and funds were always stretched to the limit although they, along with the NPA and another group, the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition, managed to produce some submissions during the next phase of the Pine Brush scandal.

Understandably, when resources are limited, groups have to concentrate on projects that promise the greatest outcome for the least effort. For environmentalists this probably means big and recent, and prevention rather than cure. So maintaining the help of the various groups was very difficult. We were largely left to struggle on - just two adjoining landowners. But wasn’t Ian Causley then, and isn’t he still, a great threat to the New South Wales natural environment, and wasn't this well documented conversion his weak spot?

The Pine Brush conversion was not the only one he was responsible for. Concerning a conversion of leasehold land to freehold at Youdale on the borders of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, in the West of New South Wales, the Armidale Branch of the NPA had written in 1990 to the Environment Minister,

"It is indefensible that Mr. Causley chose to hasten the conversion proceedings after seeing your comments in a letter referred to him on another matter and in the full knowledge that conversion means the area must be logged under Section 25F of the Forestry Act 1916 with consequent loss of conservation values."

"...will you protest most strongly to Mr Causley about his action on this matter, and makes [sic] him aware that the Department of Lands must provide for refusal of conversion in some cases of conservation values identified by NPWS?"

Surely Mr. Causley has to be prevented from allowing more damage to our natural heritage through his disregard for the need for nature conservation and willingness to compromise his professional integrity.

It seemed to us, because of the personal involvement of a Minister, that this issue was far bigger than the 492.5 hectares beside us. But it frustrated us to discover later, after months of struggling to bring this scandal to the attention of the relevant authorities, that it was generally perceived as too difficult or unimportant for them to deal with because it happened ‘last year’, then ‘two years ago’ then ‘three years ago’ and so on. ‘Current’ issues were given priority. The old issues are easily forgotten.

 But the Pine Brush scandal was a substantial story. In the climate of considerable concern, (which first arose twenty years before), even by some right-wing politicians, about the indiscriminate disposal of public land, a State Government Minister had pushed through a conversion of Crown land to freehold, even though it was a proposed Nature Reserve, documented by the NPWS as having remnant rainforest. The conversion conveniently went through in the ten days between the lapsing of a moratorium on such conversions (without an Environmental Impact Statement by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service) and the introduction of another, despite an interdepartmental task force's determination that the land should not be converted because of its heritage values. Prior to this the Minister had knocked back the Forestry Commission's dedication of the land to add to its state forests while he represented his friend and constituent in 'steering through' the conversion. The proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve was sold to the cattle grazier for only a dollar an acre. Although this price was apparently the same or similar to the sale price of other Crown lands containing leases and which had been converted to freehold in prior years, in all practicality it is outrageous for land with such botanical and heritage value. Kratz only ever had a grazing lease with very limited rights, unlike some leaseholders who develop and live on the land they lease.

It seems obvious that Minister Causley pressured certain officers in order to achieve the conversion. The National Parks and Wildlife Service actually agreed to the conversion, provided (as documented in their file notes) that a conservation agreement to protect all the land's vegetation was put in place. But at the time of the conversion no such agreement was signed. The conversion to freehold had all been arranged in Sydney without the knowledge of the local NPWS office. Minister Causley had conducted a very unusual meeting on site with the heads of the relevant departments. The documentation available to us had clearly revealed a general abuse of due process by the Minister. He then told one story on air about the supposed nature of the land and the new owner's intended use of it, while telling us privately a conflicting story.

All the things that the Minister did that seemed so wrong to us we naively presumed to be illegal, unlawful or at least ‘improper’, but over the weeks we learned that so much is left to the discretion of the Minister, and if what he does goes against his department’s policy, it’s too bad, unless some ambitious opponent feels it opportune to point the finger. Still, there were always some things that were particularly improper. And so we continued our attempts to demonstrate it.

Dyson, on ABC talkback radio in September '93, was far from giving up, in spite of being warned that we would be sued by Causley for libel if we publicly revealed what we heard him tell us privately.

What if, hypothetically, mind you, Causley told me on the phone that the owner intended to clear the whole thing?

Attempting to expose governmental corruption is a frightening thing. Obviously the individuals we are dealing with are powerful people with all kinds of hidden connections. People who have a lot to hide are desperate and can perform desperate acts, as we were soon to see.

Now deprived of our peaceful walks on the reserve we took the occasional weekend trip away to explore the richer forests and landscapes further north in the magical Border Ranges. It seemed normally that our thoughts and conversations were never far from the land conversion scandal, so our time in the ‘Rainbow Country’ served as a spiritual renewal. We would walk, relax with friends and hopefully gain a little perspective. The country up north is lush, green and hilly compared to the Clarence Valley. Inhabited by a multitude of alternate life stylers, it seemed there was greater potential for positive change concerning land management and other cultural matters. To me our area appears relatively impoverished. At least the real or imagined progressive aura of the more northern villages served to refresh us. On returning to the Clarence Valley from one of these trips one very windy, 38-40 degree (Celsius) Spring afternoon our usually lively conversation was subdued. We were exhausted and hot. Our minds were idling back over the usual issues surrounding the Pine Brush conversion. We were probably wondering what kind of a response we would get from the local NPWS office to Dyson’s letter written three weeks before.

In October '93, on the advice of the North East Forest Alliance spokesman, Dyson had written to the local office of the NPWS, formally demanding that proper fauna, flora, anthropological and archaeological surveys be carried out before the Conservation Agreement, which was supposed to protect parts of Kratz’s new freehold land, was finalised. There had never been a formal fauna survey carried out on the portion and, as explained in Dyson’s letter, the Aboriginal archeologist Ron Heron had identified rare axe grinding grooves, making it a site, according to the rules he outlined to us. It had been a condition of the conversion, as far as NPWS's Peter Wilson was concerned, that a Conservation Agreement be signed to protect the land’s heritage values, or that Protected Lands mapping would adequately protect the vegetation cover.

We had been advised that since the agreement still was not signed four months on, and since no protected lands mapping was ever provided, that the conversion must have been illegal. Unfortunately we eventually discovered that the Minister for Natural Resources was free to ignore the wishes of the NPWS. We also discovered as time went on, that the NPWS itself was keen to water down that original stipulation. We pondered the likely response to our letter to NPWS as we drove.

Now on the highway, struggling with gale force winds, our minds were focused on the weather and a gigantic plume of smoke we could see off in the distance. It was no wonder something was on fire in those conditions. It wasn’t uncommon to see fires somewhere in the valley, especially that year, and the drought had been relentless. We chatted a bit about where it could be this time. We wondered about the cluster of bush residences a few kilometres from our place whose inhabitants had apparently agreed not to do any burning off at all for hazard reduction. The forest, if unburnt, would, some thought, perhaps regenerate into rainforest. We knew it would be a terrible fire if that place burnt. The thought was chilling, even in that heat. Then we wondered about our place and a sickening feeling arose.

It wasn’t really until we were almost on our own stretch of road, just a few hundred metres from our gate that the bottoms fell well and truly out of our stomachs. Travelling up the long track, surrounded by our now horribly unfamiliar, still smoking, blackened, moonscape seemed to take an eternity. Each hump in the track was like a mountain, the van wheels seemed more like squares. Would the house still be there? We knew it was partially protected by a large clearing, but if conditions were bad enough just about anything could burn.

Our intimacy with this bush has given us a unique view into its true nature. Our closeness to it allows us to see what is happening to it and to attempt to monitor its safety, but it has also hidden us from view the way it had hidden the land's special qualities from the view of the general public. Now the flames could be engulfing our modest home and the orchards and the vegetable garden, or they could have done it hours earlier. It looked like no-one had been up the track. It was all too much to try to comprehend as we finally entered the clearing.

Thankfully the large clearing had saved our house and gardens. The relief was immense, but our attention had to turn to the edge of the fire, now taking a new direction towards the base of our garden at the far end and beside the cool edge of what we took to be Dodkin's remnant rainforest. A series of hurried phone-calls revealed that the fire brigade had been tending that fire all day and were working further up the road. We drove out to the road again and found them resting and exhausted from working to protect the other houses. They were less than enthusiastic about helping us clean up the rest of the threat to our place, but they came along all the same with some encouragement from us. In the end, no houses were burnt but the fire had come very, very close to burning a neighbouring house a kilometre away. It had also raced mercilessly up into the adjoining former reserve.

We are emotionally prepared for fires here. You have to be, living in the Australian bush. In fact, the flames and devastation were not the most terrible thing that Spring day. The most terrible thing was that the fire, according to the captain of the local Ulmarra fire brigade, had begun its wild dance of destruction very neatly just at our front gate. He reported this observation to the local press. No trouble had been taken to hide the fact that the fire had been deliberately lit. We had been sent a lethal message.

One of the most hurtful aspects of taking on this whistle blowing task is the realisation that other people are not only frightened and loathing of the big time villains as a result, but they are also frightened of us. We have become dobbers (squealers). We have become the bringers of unwelcome news and we have become ruthless and demanding in our thirst to expose the corruption. Whether it was the fire, or the fear that we might begin heartlessly and randomly exposing every trivial misdeed of our community members, we can’t be sure, but the local support we had at first, soon petered out. Although perhaps there was little faith that anything could be done anyway.



THREE - Bushrock / Stealing the Crown Jewels

_______________________________________________________________________(return to table of contents)

The fire wasn’t enough to make us give up. We were not about to be intimidated. The fire only gave us more reason to pursue the Pine Brush issue. There were serious criminal activities going on. We were not about to turn a blind eye to what amounted to the senseless destruction of our immediate environment and harassment of the locals. It seems that the NPWS was not above taking part in the destruction. On the 2nd of November '93, just three days after the fire, we received a response from the NPWS Northern Region office to our recent letter. Their method of response was one that became all too familiar to us over the next couple of years. The specific points were largely ignored and we were mainly given a whitewash. They told us,

“...the Service recommended that a condition of conversion be the owner enter into a Conservation Agreement with the Service”.

Already they were saying that a conditional Conservation Agreement was no more than a recommendation. Yet it was less than three months before, in August, that Wilson had described it in his memo as simply conditional. Now the letter continued,

“...these negotiations are presently at a delicate stage”.

“...Mr Heron has denied that he stated that the sites were rare or significant to the local Aboriginal communities.”

They had not even acknowledged our demands for thorough surveys on the land. Why did NPWS's account of Heron's claims contradict what he told us? Even the Grafton Examiner had quoted Heron as saying that the axe-grinding groove was a rare find. This correspondence had achieved nothing other than to demonstrate that the NPWS had been compromised and did not want our input. But Dyson wrote again to NPWS on the 12th of December '93, this time to the regional manager, Bob Friederich, at his request, following a phone call between them. Friederich was a former acquaintance of Dyson’s and for that reason, if no other, we hoped that he would be prepared to listen to our local knowledge regarding the conservation values of the portion in preparation of the agreement. It seemed a reasonable request under the circumstances.

While I had perhaps taken a lot of my surroundings for granted, raised as I was close to bushland in Tasmania, Dyson took nothing for granted. Part of his great appreciation of this area stems from living on three different continents and, in his crowded country of birth, being aware of the atrocious disregard for environment there. At least Australia had not gone quite so far down that destructive path. But Australians seem largely complacent about the need to care for this more fragile environment.

The native Australian environment is still rich, especially in distinct isolated pockets like this. Wedge tail eagles soaring overhead, lorakeets and rosellas busy in the eucalypt blooms, glossy black cockatoos calling plaintively from casuarinas and rainbow bee-eaters - splendidly attired - join together and provide a sensory feast. At night the musky aroma of flying foxes tells a story. Sugar-gliders growl and crash through fragrant, leafy branches while in the distance soft mopoke calls rise from the gully floor. Dyson has experienced all these and more for years. Strange species have come, gone, and come again with the seasons. He had wondered at unusual plants and realised he was in a very special position. The National Parks and Wildlife Service would realise this too, in more ways than one, but they were probably unlikely to want to be exposed to Dyson's special knowledge.

Not long after that letter to Bob Freiderich was sent, a two-day flora survey was carried out by NPWS on the former reserve in preparation for the Conservation Agreement. It took place just four days before Christmas '93. Already a year had passed since the on-site inspection with Minister Causley which had led to the conversion. The day the botanists began the Christmas '93 survey they had visited our house first. Our property provides a neat entrance into the land, and we had urged them to stop by so that we could point out one of the jewels in the crown. The remnant rainforest, the very one, we guessed at the time, that had been identified in 1974 by the respected ranger Dodkin, could easily be seen from inside our house.

We had often slipped into the patch of rainforest, through the fence, to take a closer look at its treasures. Mottled bark, buttressed roots and fallen mossy logs distinguish the remnant from the neighbouring dry eucalypt and swampy paper bark forests. Pink Lillypilly fruits, figs, bolwarras and the blue fruit of native ginger attract a different set of birds into that dusky wooded habitat. Often at dawn we can hear a whipbird or pair of whipbirds calling from within it. The mouldy litter of rainforest leaves would be their fertile scratching ground. Dodkin had described the forest on this land as being ‘prolific with spiders’. We can attest to that. The dark, deep, shaggy patch of “scrub” or “rubbish” as the old graziers call it, promises great invertebrate discoveries too, as well as botanical discoveries, protected in the gully and hidden for so long from the public’s gaze.

After coffee with the NPWS representatives we pointed clearly to it, visible 200 metres away. They then thanked us for our advice and went on their way. Sadly, already these men had lost the magical aura I had childishly given their interstate associates years ago. They were keen to cover over the role their organisation had played in the conversion and reluctant to discuss why the NPWS had recapitulated. Instead of the sensitive, nurturing, quiet enthusiasm I had admired in my childhood role models there seemed a cold, secretive, argumentative antagonism, and we suspect, a menacing fear.

We were naturally very eager to learn the results of the flora survey as promised by the NPWS staff, but it was still months before we were able to view the report, so all we could do was wait and hope that the outcome would make the reversal of the land conversion more likely. But meanwhile there was another matter to attend to. Shortly before the Pine Brush proposed Nature Reserve was converted to freehold and sold, a flurry of gravel quarrying activity began in its northern end a few hundred metres away from us. We didn’t know at the time the exact nature of the project, but the lonely narrow road we shared with the quarry access was being dramatically upgraded. Still a relative newcomer I wasn’t even sure just where the quarry lay. Dyson knew that small amounts of quarrying had gone on there in the past as a local council activity and we were not particularly alarmed at first. We were aware though, that the sandstone bushrock, vital fauna habitat, had been stolen from the portion by Trevor Kratz's son, reportedly to sell as landscaping ornaments on the Queensland Gold Coast.

Dyson and I had often been together, high on the ridges, walking between the ancient lichen-covered boulders that connect the worlds of reptiles, tiny birds and plants. From the quiet rock shelves, through the towering trees we could look out over the whole valley, now largely cleared and grazed, or planted with sugar cane. It’s like two different countries. Down there the fields on either side of the Coldstream river and the mighty Clarence river are broken occasionally by eroded gullies or by roads, and dotted with cows, while up there on the ridge tops continues a sense of connectedness and stability, the natural ecosystem still largely intact.

But those ridges began to disappear. Truckload by truckload, the jewels were being ripped from the crown, wrenched from their sacred home and loaded onto a heavy vehicle which appeared to have been purchased for that exact task. Over the months we had been aware of a vehicle labouring through the steep forest with the loads, the activity increasing as the conversion went through. In local gardens and on the Queensland Gold Coast the purchasers, probably oblivious to the source of their new ornaments, would have their own representation of the bush. Still with the multicoloured lichens attached, the ancient boulders would be adding a touch of gentle wilderness to those small manicured, domesticated landscapes. How ironic that with their rock displays they were contributing to the destruction of the very environment whose essence they attempted to capture.

Serious rock theft had begun at the Pine Brush Reserve back in 1987. Then it had been reported to authorities and Department of Lands representatives had been out and stopped the offenders in their tracks. Kratz and his off-sider had been forced to dump a load which still remains as a monument there on the hill. There were rumours that the they had been prosecuted. But it wasn’t so straight forward when the land became freehold, and the thieves were cautious about being caught again. Months after the conversion we began to investigate. Another local, Peter, living closer to the southern end of the former reserve, was also aware of the bushrock removal. Working in this area for WIRES, a wildlife rescue group, he had developed a keen understanding of the importance of animal habitat, sandstone bushrocks forming a large part of it locally, especially for reptiles (a much overlooked life form in popular conservation, perhaps due to their un-cuddly nature). Peter eventually made a complaint to the Department of Lands. We were curious about the response to that letter since the Lands office had so recently processed the controversial conversion documents with Ian Causley, it would seem, breathing down their necks.

In February '94, as a result of Peter’s enquiries the Lands Department sent a letter to Ulmarra Council requesting advice about the bushrock operation. The February letter (which was not present among the other Council files since obtained by us) was evidently responded to with the statement that,

“as the registration has not been canceled [sic] [presumably as a result of the conversion] it would seem that the operation must not be illegal.”

John Duggan, the manager at the Council Chambers was perhaps referring to legality under the State Environmental Planning Policy no.37 (SEPP 37), which according to the state ombudsman is,

“...a statutory scheme which provides that certain mining and extractive industries may continue to operate without development consent, during a moratorium period, by registering the development with Council”.

Another letter on the same topic was sent to Council from the Department of Conservation and Land Management in March.

“SEPP 37 is not intended to legalise operations which commenced illegally after planning controls were introduced. Eligibility for registration under the Policy requires evidence that there has been a continuous operation prior to the introduction of planning controls until the present...”

“Your advice is sought as to the status of this development, the basis for its registration and any action Council intends to take.”

This probing letter was apparently simply ignored, or any response was missing from Council files. In April the Department warned the Council of the illegality of the operation.

“The removal of materials for sale from a Crown Lease cannot be undertaken without the Minister's consent, ...”

“This Office has no record of any such authority having been granted for Portion 183 during the Crown Lease tenure.”

“An application by the lessee or other persons for an authority to remove bush rock from the subject lands would have been rejected in accordance with standard Crown lands policy based on the principles of Crown land management.”

“It is hoped that ...Council will ensure that the removal of bush rock from recently converted lands is not construed as a lawful continued operation ...”

Still no answer from Council was forthcoming. Further letters from the Department of Planning were sent to council in May and July again requesting the advice previously sought. The bushrock scandal made the local news.

(ABC radio news)

“Ulmarra Council is under increasing pressure to order a stop to the taking of bushrocks from a five hundred hectare property at McCraes Knob in the u, in the Upper Coldstream area. Paul Kylie reports,

It’s the same property which was the subject of a controversial leasehold to freehold conversion last May...”

“The property already has a gravel quarry which operates legally, but the Crown lands office says the taking of rocks from elsewhere should also be approved by the Minister under licence.”

“But the council claims the operation can continue under another moratorium currently in force giving extractive industries until September next year to lodge licence applications.”

In fact we were to soon discover that the gravel quarry was not operating legally either. And as mentioned, the moratorium referred to, only applied to operations which had been legally commenced.

This wasn’t the first indication of the Council’s attitude toward development on the former reserve. Over the years as the NPWS had sought to make the portion a nature reserve, it had consistently been only the grazier’s representatives and Ulmarra Shire council who objected. The Forestry Commission and Department of Lands had been in favour. In February 1975 Ulmarra Council objected to the Nature Reserve proposal claiming,

“1) The area is used as a source of gravel by Council for road making and this material is becoming scarce in the locality.

(2) The land is valuable as a flood refuge for cattle.

(3) As a Nature Reserve it would become a harbourage for dingoes and other vermin which are a nuisance to landholders.”

A NPWS internal note written in November 1979 sums up the NPWS’s perception of Council’s attitude.

“In view of the dogmatic opposition of Ulmarra Shire Council to all matters of Service interest, a meeting on a minor issue such as this proposed Nature reserve will be counterproductive.”

It is worth mentioning that at that time NPWS was attempting to negotiate about the much larger proposed coastal Yuraygir National Park and faced local antagonism with that.

Council themselves had taken bushrock from the Pine Brush property prior to the conversion, as Council records later revealed and so they presumably had an intimate knowledge of the industry. Admittedly the laws surrounding such activity appear to have been more relaxed in the past, especially where local councils were concerned. But some months later Ulmarra Council drew attention to what appeared to be a continued interest in the industry by refusing one of the councillors the documentation concerning the bushrock removal licence that had been issued to Kratz. That story also made the news in the Grafton Daily Examiner, later in October '94.

“THE ULMARRA Shire Council has refused to make a copy of a document concerning a shire quarry development available to a councillor. Councillor Glen McCarthy had asked in a notice of motion before yesterday's council meeting, for a copy of a SEPP 37 application concerning removal of bush rock from a property in the Coldstream area.

He told the council meeting he had been given approval by the mayor, Councillor Bill Niland, to view the document but not to copy and use it.”

“Councillor Kerry Lloyd said providing a copy of the document as requested "might not be in the best interests of the council down the track".

“His [Councillor McCarthy’s] notice of motion that a copy of the original application be made available was lost.”

But we knew that it was Trevor Kratz’s son who was taking the bushrocks. As if to advertise that fact he decorated his own house with some of his newly acquired trophies. He split and displayed them proudly, like memorial plates around the base of his unpretentious home, perfectly visible from the main road.

We try to understand the mentality behind this kind of blatant disregard for the law. Had these people been encouraged or misled so effectively by the Council into thinking that they had every right to remove the sandstone bushrock from their new land? Did they think, now that it was private property, everything was theirs for the taking? I prefer to think that it was this kind of ignorance motivating the offenders rather than a real criminal mentality or criminal association with the council. Or did they simply believe that the laws were unfair and unnecessary? There is certainly evidence suggesting that many leaseholders believe that they have every right to convert their leases to freehold and every right to do what they wish with their own land, even if it had been fraudulently represented during the sale.

A letter written to Ian Causley, a few years before the conversion, by Kratz’s solicitor in July '89 expressed the frustrations of the grazier and his perception of the politics behind his situation. Though awkwardly worded, this excerpt conveys Kratz’s misunderstanding of his rights.

“First will National Parks release for conversion otherwise acquire or replace subject to present market value, (if overruled) if gazetting Forestry means constitute to a permanent Bar of Conversion without a mention of market value, then my total rights if an old law would be taken away by one sided comunist [sic] cunning policies.”

Kratz was apparently of the opinion that he should be paid market prices for what was only a grazing lease. The lease came with no guarantee of conversion despite Ian Causley's repeated claim that these leaseholders have a right to convert. He only had the right to apply to convert. Yet he felt it was his right to be compensated if he could not have the property as freehold. Certainly some of Kratz’s views seemed dated. We wonder how much of this attitude had been encouraged by his Member for Parliament.

Perhaps the media interest had something to do with it, but finally a letter was sent on the 22nd of July '94 from Council to the Department of Lands notifying them of the eventual cancellation of the bushrock licence which had most certainly been unlawfully granted. The letter was prepared by the Council’s new Director of Environmental Services, Ken Exley.

“SEPP 37 Registration No 93/04 to carry out an continued extractive industry on the above property has been canceled [sic] by Council under Clause 12 (b) of SEPP 37.”

We were hopeful that that was at last the end of that rapacious activity. We wondered what development we could next expect on the former reserve and by whom.

Those rock trophies are still displayed around Trevor Kratz son’s house. Local home and business gardens continue to be filled with many of the lichen-covered ornaments.  After the conversion went through we had predicted that Kratz's new property would become a source of all kinds of lucrative materials, considering the nature of its disposal, but it was all happening too quickly. Not only had the proposed nature reserve been converted with no honest regard for its environmental significance, but extractive industries and illegal practises were continuing apace, apparently with the Council's approval and, you could argue, their encouragement. But the environmental groups initially involved were no longer pursuing the issue independently of us, so we were really up against it. On top of that, our talkback activity and invitation to the Aboriginal elders seemed to have been rewarded by an arson attack and the erection of 'no-tresspassing' signs on Kratz's land. Even our hopes of salvaging the land's conservation values were shrinking since, although the NPWS were apparently beginning to negotiate the Conservation Agreement (after the event!) they remained unwilling to enter into discussion with us about the issue. They were clearly taking orders from head office. It did not look good.



FOUR - The Labor Party

___________________________________________________________________ (return to table of contents) For months we had made no real progress with exposure of the Pine Brush land conversion scandal. No-one was responding to our cries. We couldn’t understand why. Still, we thought we had managed, for a while at least, to prevent the Kratzes stripping more bushrocks from the property and perhaps by keeping the story alive we had slowed down other activities that may have been planned. But although the bushrock operation had been halted, at least officially, the Conservation Agreement had still not been signed. Worryingly, some gravel quarrying continued in the distance while the CA was still being negotiated. More than a year had passed since the conversion took place. It had been eight months since we sent our latest letter to the NPWS regional office and there was still no acknowledgement of that. Bob Friederich appeared to be simply ignoring us. Presumably the Conservation Agreement negotiations were still, at “a delicate stage”. We wondered what would be left to protect by the time the agreement was signed.

We still feared for those beautiful rock-ledges and outcrops. They had taken millions of years to form. This is an ancient land. There aren't many forms like these in other places around the Lower Clarence that haven't already been defaced. Squatting in the small caves overlooking the valley before the land conversion came about, we couldn't have imagined that even those rocks could be chipped apart and taken away to sell as ornaments. They would not grow back. We also feared for the forests below them, remembering Causley's words to us on the phone.

A forest is an organism. You can't just take its body parts away without it losing life - without changing it forever. There was sure to be more frequent, hotter fires gutting those places when the sun was let in. We feared for the rainforest remnants in the cool moist sheltered gullies, in case they met a fate like one already had near the current quarry site. It had been almost completely demolished. Tree trunks, topsoil and disturbed rocks now fill the creek bed there. A tranquil pool, the surrounding banks long ago an obvious source of ocre body paint, is now quite spoilt and silted up. It is unrecognisable. We feared that the other gullies would be penetrated, distorted - robbed or their treasures. We feared for the animals and birds finding refuge and sustenance there, often in old hollow trees which could now be in the way of industry. We feared for creatures living beneath the rocks, recently the main focus of the industry. We feared too for the protective shadow this ecosystem casts over the surrounding area, also wildlife habitat of a different nature - and human habitat.

But it was about this time that we were given our first real burst of hope with the bigger issue. Perhaps the destruction would soon grind to a halt. We eventually met with the North Coast Labor Party organiser, Lawrie Brown, one very hot day in Grafton, and it seems we had what he wanted - a story documenting the misdeeds of the State opponent, National Party’s Ian Causley.

Down on the floor of his old, lived in, South Grafton town house Lawrie sniffed through the precious documents like a hungry hound, his tiny daughter occasionally trampling them underfoot, blissfully oblivious to their meaning on her playful excursions. We were relieved that this issue was, at last, in the hands of the authorities, and would soon be resolved without further effort on our part. It had been such a burden to carry. Still, we looked on with some desperation at first, anxious to see a sign of recognition on Lawrie’s face. We hoped that he would discover morsels that we had overlooked, despite our hours of study. He did find some things of interest that he would have to explore further.

Causley has a reputation for rorting the system. There were more rumours all over the place of cosy deals and general corruption. These stories were hard to prove, but the Pine Brush story was thoroughly documented. The Pine Brush scandal, the Labor representative thought, could be pinned on the National Party Member. The one document in particular, which, to our knowledge, still remains the most damning for Ian Causley, is the Forestry Commission letter of May 1990 to NPWS which so clearly outlines the Minister’s conflict of interest.

“The lessee then commenced a series of appeals against the Commission's proposal through his local M.P., the Minister for Natural Resources.”

“To the Commission's disappointment, ...”

Forestry seemed keen to have the story told.

The Labor party would take that document to State Parliament, Lawrie told us, after some weeks spent perusing the files. They would prepare Questions Without Notice for Minister Causley, followed by a press release and a submission to the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. Lawrie was excited. We were excited. But we would have to wait, and meanwhile there had begun another disturbing development on the Pine Brush property.

We became aware that a development application to expand the existing quarries on the former Crown reserve had been lodged with the Ulmarra Council. The advertisement appeared in the Grafton Daily Examiner’s government notices during the school holidays in August '94, just a year after news of the conversion had been broadcast. Submissions by those who ‘contended they would be affected by the proposal’ would be received up until the 11th of October. It was unlikely that many people would see the notice in the holiday period. We wondered if any would respond.

This was it, we thought. For months we had heard activity in the area of the gravel pits and the recent work being carried out on the quarry access road was quite extraordinary. Ulmarra and Maclean Councils were both involved in the road upgrade since the two Shires meet part way along it. The shire border also coincides with the north end of the Pine Brush land, making it a convenient source of gravel for both councils. Until then we hadn’t really given that activity a lot of our thoughts, being ignorant of its nature. But the lodging of the development application (DA) set alarm bells ringing. These people were serious. There were big plans being made and obviously also considerable investment of time and money. A fancy new tip truck soon took its place outside Kratz’s son’s house. There had to be a connection there.

This kind of development was what we had feared but had been unable to really imagine. It seemed like the beginning of the end for Pine Brush. The transformation of the peaceful nature reserve to a busy industrial quarry pit was about to happen before our eyes. A new world was replacing the old. This sort of development was not reversible.

The quarry, Council claimed, had been operating in the past months, since the conversion, under the SEPP (State Environmental Protection Policy), 37 legislation relating to extractive industries. The legislation allowed those owners who could prove that their pits had been operating continuously since 1969, and had lawfully commenced, to continue working while lodging the newly required development application. They had to demonstrate that the pit in question had not been abandoned for any period of twelve months or more.

We didn’t know the details of the Pine Brush quarry operation but there had only been very sporadic activity over the past seventeen years that Dyson had been here and prior to the land conversion. We were not convinced about its legitimacy, especially in light of the bushrock operation which had been allowed, for a period, to continue, supposedly under the same legislation. At any rate, in August that year, in a letter written to Kratz about his bushrock industry, Ken Exley as Director of Environmental Services had written,

“ have not supplied Council with information which supports the claimed continued operation of bush rock extraction under SEPP 37 from the above mentioned property. You are therefore advised to cease all extractive activities until development approval has been granted by Council.”

Kratz never did explain. So why was he being permitted to operate at all?

It all seemed too neat. The quarry development application was prepared by none other than John Stone and Associates. John Stone, had, as recently as August '93, just a year before, left his position as Health Inspector with the Ulmarra Shire Council. When I phoned Stone at the Council chambers, during the bushrock episode, he seemed well acquainted with Kratz’s situation and was expecting to receive from him the extractive industries form for bushrock. That form was accepted thereafter with Stone’s knowledge, despite the illegality of the operation. It was also rumoured that some Council files went missing when Stone left his Council job. The absence of these files made our task difficult later when we attempted to access all Council files relating to the Pine Brush property. But, if Stone did take them it would have made his job much easier. No longer employed by Council, Stone was free to use his years of accumulated experience and information to forward his private career. His letter-head now reads,

“John Stone & Associates

Local Government Environmental Health Building & Planning Services”

Had the Council been anticipating the success of the land conversion application? Did Stone somehow have it all worked out prior to his leaving his job with the Council? It is easy to imagine cosy connections existed behind the scenes. We were soon to see some justification for our concerns.

When we learned of Stone’s Development Application we set about prising a copy from the reluctant grip of council staffers. One copy only had been made available for viewing at the Council Chambers. We were allowed to borrow the document, although office staff had been directed to keep it in the building, and made a number of copies to give to the environmentalists and locals. (We later learnt that Council was legally obliged to make copies of the DA for the public on request.) We were alarmed by what we read. Stone was requesting that a quantity of 41,374 cubic metres of gravel be allowed to be removed each year from the site. He estimated that the 35 hectare site would provide this quantity for a period of over 30 years, but stated,

"...our client seeks consent for a period of only 10 years..."

Stone’s DA was prolific with misinformation. It claimed that no known dwellings existed within a two kilometre radius of the quarry site. We counted twelve dwellings including our own, which is just eight hundred metres away from the site. It claimed that the site would not be visible from the surrounding area and would not, therefore, be an eyesore. But we could see it plainly from roads all over the valley, including the Pacific Highway, used by almost everyone who travels up Australia’s east coast. It blamed very new work in the quarry, work that we could hear being carried out over the previous weeks, on “past haphazard development by council”.

The DA had been most specifically lodged for the expansion of the southern-most of three pits on the Pine Brush land. Stone claimed that the southern pit had been in continued use since before 1969, qualifying it for SEPP 37 registration. And the registration had indeed been granted by Council the previous August, along with the bushrock registration. But we could see from photos, obtained from the Lands Department, that the work had not been continuous. The pit in question, judging from the photos, was not obviously in evidence from the air just six years before, nor ten years before that. Some disturbance was apparent in photos of 1970 and '79, but this certainly didn’t back up the claim of continued use. Most outrageous about Stone’s DA, though, was the diagram included, which showed the southern pit as no larger in area than the central pit. Fortunately, by the time the submissions were due, we were able to demonstrate that, in reality, not only was the southern pit larger than the central pit, but that it had already been extended well beyond the size of the proposed extension for which the DA had ostensibly been lodged.

The area into which Kratz was requesting to expand was being furiously developed before and during the assessment of the development application. Out of the eye of the general public the pits were worked. We attempted to prove this by flying over the newest pit in a light aircraft, cameras clicking, on a day when the extension was bustling with truck and dozer activity.

We had collected Karen Rooke of the Environment Centre and coughed up another hundred dollars of our meagre income to pay the pilot. Karen, first with a gasp of horror, then mouth open wide in astonishment, viewed the work down below. Hands on hips, standing in the fresh pit by their huge monsters in the cruel heat of the day, the workers looked skyward. Tiny figures in stubbies and blue singlets, not quite so intimidating from that perspective, looked more bemused than concerned as we buzzed overhead. What could they have been thinking?

Later we studied more maps and aerial photos of those hills. The deep, rounded, pregnant forms display their opulence to the sky. Like a living, breathing creature the land still thrives, wearing her lungs luxuriantly on the outside. Her tree crowns appear thicker in the lower gully areas, different species telling their own tales. But to the north, on her western flanks now are the white gashes, the bleak moonscapes - the biomass gouged off. It was so insensitive. Those deep scars won't heal. If the proposed development was allowed to go ahead, what then? She would be utterly destroyed. What a legacy!

On talkback radio in October that year we tried to expose the issues surrounding the quarry development and again also Minister Causley’s conflict of interest. We began as we had before, both taking a turn, only this time, to our horror and delight, we were joined by Minister Causley himself.

I began, very nervous as usual, still ignorant of the Minister's listening ear.

“Um, now this land was converted recently, um, by Ian Causley, and he had, also, previously, knocked back the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This is a bit of background. Um, because the National Parks and Wildlife Service wanted the land, and also the Forestry Commission wanted it. So the, the conversion went ahead, and, um, one of the conditions of the conversion was, that there was a Conservation Agreement.

Now, um, Mr. Causley has said, on the radio, that all the owners wanted to do was a little bit of grazing. Now, you’ve heard about the, um, the quarry on this property.”

Ian Causley was next. My heart stopped. He may as well have been standing talking in the same room to me. Although I was quite sure I had said nothing untrue, I couldn’t rid my mind of the doubt that the Minister might find a way to catch me out, so shaky was my understanding of the legal situation at that point.

“They can, they have their statutory rights to oppose. And to infer that I, in some way, am favouring the owner of the land, is quite libellous! That there,- in fact- I have nothing to do with that.”

Dyson, fortunately as a result of hanging on the line all through the talkback show managed to squeeze in near the end. It was very fortuitous, though terribly nerve rattling.

“I’m so glad that I had an opportunity to hear Mr. Causley, because, I have the dubious distinction of being able to make him eat his words!”

But it was all too much for the host of the show, Yvette Steinhauer.

“O.K. Well. Dyson, the problem is, that I don’t want that information put across now, until I have a chance to vet it, as you can understand.”

We were disappointed that Steinhauer was apparently so willing to bow to the pressure of Ian Causley threatening the radio station with libel. The ABC clearly had no doubt about his ability to follow through with his threats, even though they had no reason to assume our claims were without foundation. When another caller phoned to criticise Steinhauer for allowing Causley to ‘nobble’ the conversation she predictably denied that she had.

We found it interesting that Minister Causley could spend time listening to talkback radio on Friday mornings. Of course Mr. Causley had good reason to be concerned with the publicity the land development and his involvement were getting and I’m sure the listeners would have found that occasion most entertaining. Steinhouer said the station would probably try to follow the matter up, but it never did.

But we had other things to be concerned about. For the quarry development application we discovered that John Stone had worryingly managed to secure a letter from Peter Wilson, the Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division of NPWS, who had accompanied Minister Causley on the on-site inspection of the lease in '92. The letter was confirming that the quarry extension would not impact on the proposed Conservation Agreement area. As the DA was for an expansion of the Southern pit then clearly some of the existing vegetation cover on the land would be destroyed as a result. What happened to the NPWS's wish to have the vegetation cover protected? It was our understanding that this meant the vegetation cover in its entirety. That is how the relevant file note reads. Certainly all evidence available to us indicated that the prime conservation values lay frighteningly close to the quarry, and the CA rules stipulated that the CA’s were designed to protect the main conservation values. The safety of those values was especially under question as Kratz’s developments were continuing illegally, with no apparent regard to boundary restrictions. It was alarming that the NPWS seemed to be tacitly approving the destruction continuing apace or at least doing nothing to prevent it. The DA text explains,

“The National Parks and Wildlife Service have confirmed that the extractive sites are outside the area of significance proposed to be protected by a conservation agreement (see Annexure B). We therefore contend that the proposal is not designated development.”

Stone maintained that as such it was not necessary to provide an Environmental Impact Statement with the DA. Instead he would provide the far cheaper and less detailed “statement of environmental effects”, which he prepared himself. It didn’t seem to matter to Stone that Ken Exley had previously determined that the development was a designated development.

( Exley, 9.5.94)" It is considered that the development is that of a designated development under the State Planning Policy No.37 Part 5 as the development will have a significant effect on the environment."

Exley’s advice was apparently simply disregarded. The DA was lodged with the Council and accepted without an Environmental Impact Statement.

It was becoming increasingly clear to us that this property, identified by the NPWS as having heritage values and unique vegetation and being worthy of conservation was soon to be plundered for all it was worth. In our minds again echoed Minister Causley’s earlier assurances in August '93 on the ABC radio news about Kratz’s intentions for his new land.

“The intended use is very clear. It’s a little bit of grazing.”

“...the escarpment area which is a little bit steep...ah, that won’t be touched”.

But we could see that the existing quarry scars, including those resulting from the most recent work, extended high onto the ridge and went into the steep areas supposedly protected by the soil conservation legislation. Kratz was requesting to expand the existing use of the operation by as much as six times the volume of the currently proceeding operation, which was already cause for alarm. We thought of the Aboriginal artifacts we knew to be scattered over that area. How many of those would become part of some grand stretch of highway for us to drive over?

This DA approval was surely being pursued with the much talked about Pacific Highway upgrade in mind. Ian Causley, as local Member for Parliament, had promised the electorate an Ulmarra bypass. Ulmarra, once an important river port, is now little more than a cluster of antique shops to bounce past on the patchy stretch of bitumen and concrete that currently passes for the Pacific Highway. The bypass was a welcome idea. The gravel would have to come from somewhere. Kratz’s new land is just six kilometres from the Highway and only a few more from Ulmarra. It would, no doubt, be the most convenient source of gravel for the project.

But what if the quarry wasn’t approved? Where would the Council buy its gravel then? According to John Stone’s D.A.,

“...if the development does not proceed, the only alternative is to open other extractive pits in other areas. If those areas are not protected by the provisions of SEPP 37 and require the preparation of a full environmental impact statement in order to gain consent, it is anticipated that the cost of materials from those alternative sites will be greater than from the subject site.”

Surely such a cost would be less of a burden than the cost to the community of having our remaining wilderness destroyed. We didn’t hear any more about the alternatives.

It wasn’t difficult to persuade the other submitters on the DA that there were valid points to raise in objection to it. The document was so obviously corrupt. We assume that Stone must have felt fairly confident that no one would ever view it, let alone oppose it. The DA states,

“There has never been any previous adverse complaint about the activity with regard to noise, vibration, dust, erosion, water and traffic which has been brought to the attention of our client, and because of the isolation of the site none is anticipated as a result of the intensification of the proposed use.”

Perhaps that had been the way it had always been before in this shire. But strident and damning submissions including our own did arrive on the due date, 11 October '94, giving the laughable DA the response it deserved, despite the inconvenience of the notice being lodged during the holiday period. There were nine submissions in all. I wrote,

“This document is extremely misleading, vague and is an insult to the intelligence of the rate payers.”

“... why does Mr. Stone feel compelled to tell us that Mr. Causley drove a gravel truck himself at the site?”

“Mr Stone’s outrageous statement that there are no known dwellings within 2 kilometres of the quarry hardly deserves a mention, especially since he personally accepted the plans for my house ,(just 875 metres from the site), when he was a council member [sic, actually a staff member]. The other 12 or so households within that 2 kilometre radius must be equally amazed at this ludicrous statement.”

The National Parks Association took a stand.

“... this portion was identified by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as ‘still environmentally intact’. with, ‘ virtual nil disturbance of the environment’. ‘Remnant rainforest’ and, ‘a diverse shrub layer still exists’ and, ‘ on both counts of geology and vegetation it is considered that the area is worthy of conservation’”

“There is no indication that less sensitive areas were properly investigated for the supply of gravel.”

And from a close neighbour, commenting on the looseness of the application wording, the Council heard,

“The language of the application concerns me. Such phrases as ‘we intend to’, ‘if necessary’, ‘every reason to suppose’, ‘should the operators become aware of their environmental responsibilities’.”

“The development application makes repeated reference to a conservation agreement that is being negotiated. It concerns me the council is being asked to give approval to this development when this agreement is far from being finalised.”

It concerned us too. It had already been seventeen months since the land was converted to freehold. Why was the NPWS dragging its feet with the Conservation Agreement?

Some time elapsed before any more was heard of the Development Application, but the legality of the currently proceeding work continued to be fought out among us the neighbours, the Council, the developer and eventually the State Ombudsman.

Meanwhile moves had been made within the Labor Party to follow through with questions in state parliament to Minister Causley. Lawrie Brown was to head for Sydney and spend ten days working on the issue of Ian Causley’s conflict of interest. The opposition leader, Bob Carr was apparently keen. The Labor Party must have dreamed over the years of being able to dispose of the National Party heavyweight. But there would have been little time to indulge in plotting the downfall of the rurally popular and troublesome Causley. This time, though, it was all laid out for them. We had done much of the work already. If Causley was caught out on this it would be a show for the media too. He generally performs well for the cameras.

Then eventually the much anticipated phone-calls came from Lawrie telling us that the time had arrived for the Pine Brush matter to be raised in parliament. It had been an agonising wait. We were on the edges of our seats. We listened on the radio throughout the day. We listened and listened to the parliamentary broadcast. The dull voices exchanged their messages. Advice and insults bounced endlessly across the room. The strain of passing bills in the limited time left in that sitting was apparent in the parliamentarian's weary sighs and sarcasm, captured by the microphones. Still nothing happened with Causley. We listened some more, already becoming cynical. The long day came to a close. What had gone wrong? Would there be another chance?

Yes there would. Another phone call came to our home from Lawrie. There had been a slight change of plans but 'tomorrow' would be the day, we were assured.

We thought about that magic document. I remember first looking at the daunting piles of photocopied papers and how foreign they had seemed to me. It read like another language. Were they supposed to be in some kind of order? I had never seen the inner workings of a public service office before. In this case even the dates seemed hard to find. Through the confusion of faded stamps, scribbled notes, poor photocopying of poor photocopying, frequently changing titles for the various departments, varied logos and obscure and antiquated terminology we were supposed to find some meaning - some sequence of events and policy. Those papers were like coded messages passing sometimes only metres between the different departments. What was the protocol? Which offices had the greatest power? What was policy and what was legislated? What was carelessness and what was outright corruption? How did we have a hope of learning anything from them? But fortunately Dyson, after several years of office work, had eyes trained for cracking the code. The messages were less confusing to him.

The next day in parliament arrived soon enough. We listened again, still faithful and excited. This was the moment we’d been waiting for. It had already seemed like an eternity since the Pine Brush land conversion took place. Minister Causley's misrepresentations of it needed to be exposed. If that happened there would be a party among the conservationists. I could imagine the relief and exhilaration on the mixture of earnest and rugged faces of the Clarence Environment Centre. There would be champagne corks popping. What enormous damage one man can do! What change there would be when he lost his seat. What glee there would be among the environmentalists. Maybe we’d all take a holiday.

But nothing happened that day either.

What had gone wrong? With only a day or so more left of parliament and hundreds of bills yet to be passed, our hopes were quickly sinking. Then, sure enough, parliament was prorogued, and Causley, although confronted on similar issues, remained untouched by this one. We were bitterly disappointed. In fact we felt crushed. Lawrie and even Carr, we were told, had been visibly keen. They had been confident. Of course, to our minds came thoughts of back room deals. Had Carr agreed to keep quiet to save his own skin about something? Had the Labor party been bought off somehow, or could they raise the issue in the next session? But maybe there would be no next session for Labor as opposition.

The issue was dropped like a hot potato. There was no more follow up from Lawrie Brown or Bob Carr. We felt used. We should have known, of course, that self-interest was motivating the potential saviours of Pine Brush. I couldn’t help recalling the look in the eye of the various local ‘Greenies’ when we had earlier told them of our good fortune with the Labor party. They were justifiably cynical. They had heard it all before. Promises are easily made. Against the backdrop of dog-eared posters the fiery-eyed inhabitants of the environment centre had told us that nothing would thwart Causley. But still they had been hopeful and cheered by our optimism.

The Labor party had dropped the issue. Causley was safe, his deeds unexposed in parliament. Meanwhile the former Pine Brush reserve was being subjected to seemingly reckless exploitation. As well as the bushrock removal there was an illegal gravel operation going on, unchecked, with a suspicious connection to the Ulmarra Council. NPWS, although the Conservation Agreement had still not been finalised, seemed to be approving of the development, while continuing to ignore our enquiries. Causley had succeeded in intimidating the ABC radio station. Who would expose this corruption? What hope had we?

With barely a thank-you, without returning our hard-won, expensive, file copies - the only set we had, the Labor party dumped us. They handed our files to Mathew Moore in the Sydney Morning Herald office. Carr's press secretary, David Britton, explained that it had been decided to try to expose the issue in the public arena that way. But nothing came of it, and the files, we were told, were eventually shredded.

Particularly maddening about this last incident was that among the files was our only copy of a letter of acknowledgement from the Federal National Party leader, Tim Fisher. We had written him informing him of Causley’s actions. We had also written with the same news to the state National Party leader, Ian Armstrong, and to the state premier, John Fahey. Those letters were among the files handed over by the ALP to the Herald, and shredded. Armstrong and Fahey had not acknowledged receipt of our letter. But the letter from Fisher would have implicated Fisher as he had been informed and done nothing more about it although he had promised to look into it.

Our naive trust in the Labor Party and our enthusiasm had led us to foolishly part with these documents, thinking we would have no more need of them. Fortunately we were able to gather new copies of all the files we had before, except for those three letters. It was another hard lesson.

What was there left to do? It was no use approaching the Federal Labor Member Harry Woods, at that stage, we were told, since the matter was a state issue, although Woods had been enthusiastically informed earlier by Lawrie Brown. No more was heard from the Labor party. But in the meantime we were approached by the young, ambitious SBS television journalist, Matthew Carney, who was keen to do this story about Ian Causley involvement in the Pine Brush land conversion and sale.




FIVE - Pine Brush, the Gravel Source

_____________________________(return to table of contents)

The National Party’s Minister Causley has a reputation for a violent temper and irrational behaviour. There's an often quoted tale that he publicly threatened Milo Dumphy, a well known and highly respected environmentalist, that he’d cut him open with a chainsaw and decorate the streets with his guts. Matthew Carney expressed to us his dislike for bigwigs pushing the small people around, and this Pine Brush land scandal was just the sort of story he was after. Carney was directed to us, we were told, by the State opposition leader, Bob Carr.

After a number of phone calls Carney visited us with his camera crew. The smart young trio bumped up our track in their hire car. What were they expecting to find here, hidden in the forest, I wondered? Carney had spoken with us at length on the phone several times. We had talked with him about the rainforest remnant, the unique rock formations and the endangered plant and animal species we had seen here or had read about in the NPWS Dodkin report of '74. We had told Carney about the Aboriginal stone axe-grinding grooves and the way McCrae’s Knob and the rest of the former reserve rises up at the edge of the Clarence Valley. In his mind he would already be forming word pictures and planning evocative images. But we had some concerns.

The whole valley was dry and weary from the drought. We were weary from the drought and the struggle of the last year and a half. We were in no mood to have our privacy invaded for TV entertainment, and we thought the hills had probably never looked so bad. But we desperately needed the exposure a television documentary would give the Pine Brush issue.

How would this crew portray the beauty and significance of our environment under these extra dry Spring conditions? It had been only a year since the terrible fire which left its mark metres up the trunks of trees and had, along with the drought, set back growth dramatically. As we had approached our home from Grafton in recent weeks we saw high on the ridge lines extending from McCraes Knob, the massive tree crowns progressively thinning. We were sure many would die soon. How could we convey through the media the importance of this seemingly exhausted gem, its fringes now suffering from die back?

The television crew was naturally warmly welcomed by us. As two very grateful individuals we offered cups of tea and an endless barrage of critical information. We provided the smooth Carney with as much detail as we could about the issue and after gently directing the curious camera lenses away from the unimpressive contents of our modest dwelling, Dyson reluctantly agreed to do an interview in front of the camera. After all, it was we who had waded through all the documentation. We had to face the awful fact that we were the experts on the scandal, at least from the outside.

Carney, at our suggestion, hired a light aircraft and flew with his camera-man and sound engineer over the former reserve, capturing the wounds in her sides caused by the reckless gravel and rock quarrying of recent months. The television crew would take in the view from the coast just sixteen kilometres east, from near the fishing town of Sandon. From that perspective the heathy, coastal Yuraygir National Park stretches many kilometres wide before the gentle forested coastal range, which includes the Candole State Forest. Inland of the coastal range lies a small area of low grazing land, and then the 9190 acre Pine Brush State Forest. Within Pine Brush State forest is the remnant rainforest for which the Clarence Environment Centre had concerns in early '93 and which had since been made the Crowley’s Creek Nature Reserve. Pine Brush State Forest stretches wide and then reaches up to the seaward side of Kratz’s new land. McCrae’s Knob, at its peak on his eastern boundary, rises directly above Crowley’s Creek Nature Reserve. Kratz’s new land then reaches west to meet the eastern boundary of a number of private properties, including our own.

We hoped Carney would capture that place in all its glory, making references to the wide views from its tallest point. We hoped he would mention the view of Mt. Warning, the core of the great Caldera in the north, which makes up the spectacular Border Ranges, separating New South Wales from Queensland. It has always been so important that the broader perspective be provided in this issue, geographically as well as politically.

We felt, and still do feel, dirtied by our exposure to the Pine Brush scandal and unhappy that the task of exposure had fallen largely to us. But to distance ourselves from it would be to lose the struggle. That just isn’t a palatable option for us. So my thoughts were (then in 1994, and are still) frequently in turmoil about the whole issue. I had no prior exposure to internal governmental workings. My eyes had not been opened at an early age to the magnitude of human dishonesty and greed. I had been raised to look for the best in people. I had not been raised to detect duplicitous behaviour and certainly not to broadcast it. In fact, reporting on people’s evil acts was somehow to reinforce the reality of them. So I was hardly cut out for exposing slippery villains and penetrating the layers and layers of protective deceit in which they cloak themselves. Dyson, by contrast, has had the misfortune of experiencing these seedy elements before, and doggedly meets each sleazy attack or defence with a sharp probing response. His deep-set philosophy directs first and foremost that it is our moral duty to society to expose these issues of public importance so they can be properly resolved. In fact, on migrating from Germany as a U.S. ex-serviceman, Australian immigration officials told him, "We've got a lot of things wrong with our country. We need people like you to fix them." Grateful for the privilege of becoming an Australian, Dyson earnestly promised that he would do his best.

So with this issue it is not always a matter of the two of us simply being of one mind about what to do. Reaching decisions about our best approach has been a great source of stress for both of us. But perhaps it is my naiveté coming together with Dyson’s intriguing faith in the ultimate triumph of truth that keeps us going, when others might have stopped. And we simply don't find it acceptable that such things can be allowed to happen. The perception among people seems to be that as the conversion had actually taken place it was too late to act. There doesn't seem to be any mechanism in our society for the reversal of such procedures and certainly, in this case, not enough of an outcry against it.

We often contemplated these things while suffering the wait of weeks for the SBS feature to be approved and go to air. There was plenty of time to contemplate the range of emotions we were experiencing. But we were not idle. Something still had to be done about the quarrying continuing apace less than a kilometre from us. Carney’s cameras had only captured the images on film. Sadly they had not stopped the activity. For us, to listen daily to the destruction was terrible. The rattle of the monstrous trays as the trucks raced to be filled, and the movement back and forth of the excavators sounded like garbage cans rolling on our back porch. We could hear parts of that unique sandstone ridge being demolished. It was only as darkness fell that we were relieved of it.

As well as the seemingly constant gravel excavation noise just 800 metres from us, we were shaken, that hostile spring, by occasional blasting. We eventually approached the still relatively new Ulmarra Council Director of Environmental Services, Ken Exley. He was said to be keen to stop the “cowboys”, and was apparently really getting things done around the shire. Over a few weeks we reported on the phone to him what we could hear. But having no reason to trust the Council after the bushrock episode, and after being fed a variety of conflicting stories from Exley about the legalities of the Kratzes' extractive operations, I documented some of our complaints in a letter, and delivered it to Ulmarra Council chambers later in October. I remember requesting a signature for my letter from the Council Manager, John Duggan, thinking it likely, under the circumstances, that the letter could be “lost.” I remembered Duggan’s name on letters from Council to the Lands Department concerning the bushrock episode. I wondered if any of the people in that office were intimately involved with that enterprise.

At my request for a signature Duggan leaned down across the counter at me. He looked me straight in the eye and asked a rather unprofessional and probing,


“Because I want confirmation that my letter has been received”, I said. The office staff giggled as Duggan turned to find his stamp. Then he did stamp and sign my letter. But as he had given me even more reason to be suspicious, I left the council chambers more determined than ever.

At the beginning of November I wrote letters to the Ombudsman and to the New South Wales Independent Commission against Corruption, expressing my perception that the Council had no real intention of investigating our complaints. I also hoped to inspire more interest in the whole issue. Exley had driven up our track on a number of occasions in his incongruous fancy government car and tidy shoes, in response to our complaints. We didn’t really believe that he would trek into that wild and dirty neighbouring environment with burly truck drivers lurking in their secretive pits. Yet full of promises and a professional demeanour he did continue to navigate our track and head up afterwards, or so he told us, to the quarry sites to investigate. To be fair, he did, on one occasion, discover a huge stockpile of gravel on-site that would not be easy for Kratz to explain away. That time he had visited the site with then Labor Party member, Councillor Glen McCarthy, to whom we had been previously introduced by North Coast Labor organiser Lawrie Brown.

At this point, we heard that the New South Wales Greens candidate, Ian Cohen, was visiting Grafton with the National Greens Spokesman, Bob Brown. It was an election promotion tour, because a state election was due early the next year. We were hopeful that the Greens would help us. People with issues for the Greens were invited to attend a lunch at the town’s vegetarian restaurant. So, with our incriminating aerial photos, expensively enlarged for easy viewing, and all relevant documentation to hand, we had gone along, expecting to have to push our way to the attention of the famous Greens. We were, at the same time, both disgusted and pleased that we found ourselves to be virtually the only people with an issue at all. Our time with the two men seemed interrupted only by the local media representatives and a short speech from both the Greens.

Brown’s face was naturally familiar to us. He had regularly been filmed as the chief voice of the environmentalists in Australian politics. Seemingly earnest, sincere and without fanfare he would deliver the pithy truths about the state of affairs. Here in the restaurant he had the magical aura of a well loved, high profile ‘Greenie’, pleasingly down to earth, but followed around by a cloud of despair. Cohen, less polished, had a seriousness and slightly menacing air. In 1986 it was he who had been filmed hanging onto the bow of a huge United States thermonuclear warship as it steamed up Sydney Harbour on a good-will visit. He was a hero too. Luckily the two men were clearly interested in what we had to tell them.

True to form and with the usual flair, ABC radio’s Paul Kylie incorporated our story into his.

(3rd of November, ‘93)

“National Greens spokesman, Bob Brown says he’s amazed by member for Clarence, Ian Causley allowing the freehold conversion of five hundred hectares of leased Crown land ...”

“He says the state government was twenty years behind the times when it allowed the conversion, against the advice of Government departments who wanted the land reserved.”

Commercial television news also conveyed some of Brown’s comments.

“This is a particularly beautiful area. The big river country is famous, ah, right around this country and it has a lot of attractiveness to it. It, it can do better than being turned into a quarry or even just water resource for adjacent areas which are growing quickly.”

The Local Grafton Examiner (also true to its form) omitted our contribution and story from the occasion altogether. They did use a photograph of the two of us and Ian Cohen with Bob Brown, who was holding one of our aerial enlargements. But the accompanying article heading read,

“High-profile environmentalist praises valley protesters Support for green 'ferals'”

and was relevant to the other article.

Our issue and our photos remained unidentified. But after the event, Ian Cohen apparently covered the story quite thoroughly in a commercial radio item although we didn’t hear it or manage to obtain a transcript.

Before we left the lunch Bob Brown assured us that if the Labor Party didn’t raise the issue in parliament, he certainly would. We were greatly encouraged by this as we had heard no more from Lawrie Brown. At the lunch Bob Brown also handed us a scrap of envelope on which he had written , 'Tim Robertson, Earth Law Office'. However it was many months before we made contact with Robertson.

Mr. Kratz, aware of all the fuss being made about the legalities of his new quarry, presumably hearing some of the media coverage, had his solicitor send council a letter the very next day. It consisted of Statutory Declaration from himself, and the promise of a number of Statutory Declarations from others, confirming the legitimacy of the southern quarry operation for which the Development Application had been lodged. When we heard of this we were convinced that the old grazier was really playing with fire. We felt sure there was no way the declarations could be truthful, as we had, at that point, only seen photos of recent years, where the quarry was non-existent. Kratz’s own claim was that the southern-most pit had been opened in about 1952 by the Department of Main Roads (now the Road Transit Authority) who had quarried many hundreds of cubic yards from it. But this, even if true, didn’t demonstrate that the quarry had been in continual use since then. His claims certainly didn’t legitimise the quarry extension that was proceeding at that time without approval.

The day after that, November the 5th, I recieved a letter from the NPWS. I had written the previous month to the regional office in another attempt to document events. By the Spring of '94 we were more than irritated by NPWS’s attitude towards our inquiries. It had been eleven months since Dyson had written the last letter to Bob Friederich, at the Regional office, which was still unanswered. In my letter of October '94 I told the regional office of my current concerns for the Pine Brush land in regard to the quarrying. I was pleased to have a fairly prompt response from them but the letter gave us no reason to feel confident about NPWS's attitude towards the conservation of the former reserve.

(5th of November, NPWS)

“The Service notes your concerns, however this matter now rests with Council. The Service is currently undertaking negotiations with the owner to protect important conservation values on these lands away from the quarry area.”

This wording, accidental or not, we discovered over the next months was indicative of the NPWS's overall attitude. In effect, as we read it, they would endeavour to protect conservation values that didn’t interfere with the quarry, or any other development plans for that matter. We were later given more evidence which certainly confirmed our suspicions.

Councillor McCarthy, Dyson and I met with Exley in his office in Ulmarra on the 14th of November, accompanied by Clarence Environment Centre representatives, Karen Rooke and Timna Taylor. With the CEC representatives eating Exley alive with their accusations, and Dyson and me straining to maintain a level of diplomacy, we placed the incriminating aerial photos we had taken of the quarry before his eyes and sat while he photo-copied them, signed them and filed them away. A week later he began to make enquiries about the actual amounts of gravel leaving the pit. Part of the highway was being upgraded close to the former reserve and so, we discovered, the required material was conveniently being taken from Pine Brush. We knew great quantities of it had been going somewhere.

It's hard to guess to what extent Ken Exley's enquiries were influenced by the local media coverage of Kratz's operation earlier in the month. But Ian Cohen’s words on commercial radio had caught the attention of a truck driver, John Smith, who on hearing the radio item became worried. He had been one of several transporting the gravel from Kratz’s quarry to the highway and claimed to be previously unaware of the controversy. Smith advised Exley on the 23rd of November, '94 that he alone removed 13,000 cubic metres of gravel in “the last month” from the pit in question for the Road Traffic Authority job at Shark Creek.

Another truck driver Keith Conner, also spoke with Exley, as described in a council file note of 22nd of November '94.

“he advised me that material from Kratz operation is being used by the RTA for the Shark Creek Project he estimated that approx 13000m3 has been used so far from Kratz operation for this job in the last 4 weeks...”

The Road Transit Authority responded to Exley’s enquiries on the 24th of November.

“A quantity of approx 10,000m3 (loose) has been supplied to the contract works on the Pacific Highway at Shark Ck. between Oct & this week. It is believed that this may have originated at the pit in question."

Why this investigation was being carried out at all is beyond me, since the operation in any shape or form was directed by Exley to cease four months before in August '94. And as far as we could tell at that point, it should never have qualified for registration under the SEPP 37 legislation in the first place. Nevertheless, Exley continued his enquiries. A letter written by Exley to Kratz on the 17th of November '94, covering a number of complaints, had explained the following.

“As you are aware your registration under SEPP 37 (93/04) provides for a quota of no more than 8,374 cubic metres per annum from 21st June, 1994. Council's records show that so far you have removed 6,110 cubic metres. An inspection of the site has revealed that an existing stockpile estimated to be about 20,000 cubic metres appears to have been removed from the site.

Please provide details as to the amount of material removed from the site to date and the location and use for this material once removed.”

Since then Exley had heard from others involved in the extraction of gravel at Pine Brush and it was looking worse for Kratz. Hoping to avoid prosecution, truck driver Smith had offered his information which, along with the other snippets, apparently convinced Exley that the quarry operation had far exceeded its annual quota of 8,374 cubic metres, and in just one month. Exley wrote to Kratz’s solicitor on the 25th of November notifying him of the breech of the quota. He asked him to give reason within 30 days as to why he should not have his registration cancelled.

Following that letter Mr. Kratz’s solicitor, John Gallagher, wrote a number of letters to council in a matter of days. He denied that there had been any breach of the quota.

“Mr. Corbett [recently engaged in haulage of gravel from the southern pit] states that a stockpile of gravel comprising about 10,000 cubic metres was established at the quarry in or about October 1994. 8,021 cubic metres of this stockpile was trucked to Shark Creek Bridge for the Roads and Traffic Authority's work. There is a balance of about 2,000 cubic metres remaining on site. The estimate of 20,000 cubic metres referred to in Council's letter appears to be erroneous.”

He then listed some technical legal points regarding the nature of the Council’s letter in the apparent hope of delaying proceedings. He contended, for example, that the decision to cancel the registration should have gone before the Council, and, quoting from the act that

“The notice [of possible cancellation] must indicate:

(a) the person to whom representations directed to the consent authority may be made...”

Apparently, solicitor Gallagher felt that this had not been complied with.

Another of the letters stated that his client would respond to the submissions generated by the original development application after all, as previously invited. The promised post facto statutory declarations supporting Kratz’s claims about the legitimacy of the southern pit were provided. A further letter stated that after talking with the Mayor it had been decided that an amended development application would be submitted.

On the 15th of December in response to these matters Exley contacted the RTA for further confirmation concerning quotas and then wrote to Kratz including the original letter from the RTA, and some legalese concerning his responsibility in handling matters concerning the cancellation of licences.

“Council in order to provide for the expedient exercises and performance of Council's powers and duties and the efficient management Of Council's business and responsibilities ... has granted delegated authority to the General Manager who ...delegated to the Director of Environmental Services a number of delegations one of which being: ... doing all things and signing all such documents as may be necessary to prosecute any person for breeches [sic] of the said Act and Regulations...”

By acknowledging Gallagher’s points this way, the time in which Kratz had to give reason why his licence should not be cancelled was conveniently extended by some weeks.

What a mess. We had become the defacto policing body for the proper carrying out of environmental law. Over the months it seemed like every way we turned there was more filth swept under some carpet - filth that was no secret to many within the system. Yet we still held illusions about having the whole development issue resolved. But all the vested interests and compromise of morality we had witnessed up to that point was just the tip of the iceberg. Yet we were hopeful about the effects of the SBS coverage.

I often wondered about the local landscape and its thinly settled population. As I had travelled, just after the DA was lodged, along the road used by the gravel trucks and ourselves, to alert other locals about the quarry operation I heard a few opinions.

" I support development", said one man living just six hundred metres from the quarry site. Lucky for you, I thought. I didn't spend much time explaining the intimate details of Stone's deceitful application there, especially as he seemed unable to read - not very unusual in these parts.  Some others further along the road had come here because of the bushland and its tranquility. They didn't appreciate sharing the road with numerous fast moving, uncovered gravel trucks spraying gravel into their yards and onto their cars. They were even willing to be filmed with their comments for the SBS television coverage. We were grateful not to be the only public local voices of opposition.

Eucalyptus trees pleasantly line most of that road making it difficult to see up into the former reserve. Cleared farm properties lie on the valley side, vacant bush blocks and probably bush - dwelling recluses on the other, at the base of the Pine Brush hills. On my travels that day to inform people I wrestled with gates and nosed through staring herds of cows. A lot of people on the land here, as National Party supporters, vote for Ian Causley. He supposedly stands up for the agriculturalist, owning a sugar cane farm himself and once being involved in a piggery, among other things. Would his supporters look up to the hills and see them as anything other than a timber or gravel source? I didn't know. I still don't know. But regardless of their views they share the same air, the same rains and the same winds surrounding these hills. They would feel the drying effects of a thinner forest so close to them. They might feel the effects of her creeks filling with mud if sensible logging practises weren't carried out. And we doubted they would be. The old cattle fences around those farm properties don't keep out the things we all must share - in this instance, the consequences of greed.

Further away in the valley the Pine Brush hills may simply provide a picturesque backdrop in front of which day to day affairs are carried out. There'd be no reason to give the distant bushland much thought. Like a cardboard cut-out, pleasantly balancing the low, painted plains, these hills perhaps perform a purpose with little conscious acknowledgement by the valley dwellers. There would be little reason for the graziers to come here. But they would know it was here - a constant like the horizon, like the river and like the sun. But for us, down in its fragrant shadow, nestled deep in its cosy embrace, the world of the Pine Brush hills is a pumping, breathing, vibrant one. It's not a cardboard cutout. Its creatures are creeping, calling and spreading their genes. Plants are entwining, competing and growing abundantly. We are as much a part of it as the valley inhabitants are perhaps apart from it. It's no wonder it captured our hearts and no wonder the scandal captures out outrage. We will probably be the first to feel the land dying if development continues.






SIX - The Ombudsman Steps In

____________________________________(return to table of contents) 

An amended development application for the Pine Brush proposed (though already well established) quarry extension was quickly produced just before Christmas '94 while many people were again on holiday or caught up in Christmas festivities. The amendments were very brief. Stone withdrew the claim that there were no known dwellings within two kilometres of the quarry site, leaving us to ponder why he had arrived at it in the first place. He now stated that,

“Schedule 3 of the regulations to the E. P. & A. Act suggests that no dwellings should be located within 500 metres of the site if blasting is to take place. No dwellings known to us are located within the 500 metre buffer and there is no intention to blast material on this site.”

Then we were again reassured that,

“Socially, the development will not impact on residents of the Councils [sic] area, because of its isolation.”

“However, residents generally, are likely to suffer if raw materials are not available for the purpose of maintaining and constructing roads and assisting to provide ready means of access to their towns and villages. Generally the community will benefit through increased employment and improved access.”

Some of this was no doubt true (although greatly increased truck traffic would certainly impact on some of us, as we had already suffered three smashed car windscreens because of uncovered loads of gravel). But there was no justification for misleading the Council and community about the nature of the activity, carrying on without approval, exceeding the quota, extending into protected lands and generally neglecting the environmental legislation. All this was occurring on a property which had been so clearly and recently identified by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Lands Department as warranting preservation because of its natural heritage values.

The DA amendment was advertised and available for viewing and submissions would be received up until the 12th of January. As it happened, that was the day before the developer was due to respond to Council’s letter giving reason why the extractive industry licence should not be cancelled.

It was not just the amended DA that was available for viewing over the Christmas break. With the quarry issue obviously still unresolved, the SBS feature had at last gone to air on the 7th of December. The Grafton area didn’t receive SBS television then, so we had the feature video-taped. The Ulmarra councillors were given the chance, by Councillor Glen McCarthy, to view the seven minute SBS documentary at their Christmas party.

What on Earth did the councillors think as they chewed their barbecued sausages, watching in some corner of the Council’s tinsel-draped offices that national television documentary? Its introduction pointedly mentioned the Independent Commission Against Corruption and stated that as a result of ICAC’s involvement some details could not be discussed on the show. What did the Councillors and staff feel when they saw the massive recent scars, largely produced in a ‘haphazard’ fashion apparently under Council's direction on the nearby hillside for Australians all over the country to tut tut about? What did they say to each other when aerial shots of the not-yet-approved quarry expansion flashed before their eyes and when Bob Martin, the Federal Minister for Natural Resources, was interviewed saying that the matter appeared to warrant serious investigation?

When many of the Ulmarra Councillors saw their National Party hero, Ian Causley, twitching, stuttering and shouting on air,

“I say this is an absolute beat up! This is a beat up of the greatest proportions! I, I mean, foh, what the hell are you on about?!”

were they at all concerned? It didn’t appear so, judging by their actions over the next couple of months. Perhaps they were taking his word for it. But Ian Causley was obviously concerned. According to Matthew Carney, Causley ended the interview by bellowing,


The Christmas break tended to attract controversial issues. It had been just before Christmas '92 that Ian Causley held his on- site meeting with the various department officials before the conversion to freehold at Pine Brush was pushed through. It had been Christmas '93 that the two-day flora survey had been carried out in preparation for the signing of the Conservation Agreement over the portion. And now, Christmas '94 the amended quarry development application was passing through the Council’s hands. But, despite this latest inconvenience, responses did arrive from some of the original objectors.

Typically we took the lead. In my submission I reiterated the owner’s various illegal activities relating to the land. I reminded the councillors how Kratz was requesting approval for an already illegally expanded development. He or his son had recently illegally taken tonnes of bushrock from the portion. He had far exceeded the council’s quota for gravel removal. We and the closer neighbours had heard illegal blasting on the site, despite repeated denials from Kratz and his solicitor.

Dyson further elaborated on the absence of ethics on the part of the developer, John Stone.

“...what a happy coincidence for Mr. Stone that submissions about his first D/A were called for during school holidays, and submissions for his amended D/A were called for over the Christmas/New Year's holidays, when most people are away and unlikely to see the public notices, or be here to make submissions...”

But the ever faithful Penny Roberts of the National Parks Association was maintaining the pressure.

“The Association finds it quite disturbing that the wider ranging ecological and aesthetic issues have basically been ignored by the proponent.”

The second submission of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition, a more conservative breakaway group from the Clarence Environment Centre, probably touched a nerve within the Council.

“ Ulmarra Council should be seeking to protect what little it has left of significant vegetation, not letting short-term economic gain deplete further the natural environment”

Stone’s arrogant attitude to these submissions was quickly summed up in his response in early '95.

“ that objections are invited, persons or bodies of persons who resist any activity which could diminish their perception of an ideal world, seize the opportunity to give expression to their views...”

But the Soil Conservation branch of the Department of Conservation and Land Management also had some points to raise about the development. In response on the 12th of January, to an enquiry from Exley about the development, the department stated,

“ The current and proposed extraction sites adjoin and in one case extend into protected lands.”

“Extensive runoff and sediment loss from the site has already occurred and there is an urgent need to implement works immediately”

The letter went on to detail the numerous inadequacies of Stone’s plan of management for the quarry and requested a detailed erosion and sediment control plan, a detailed extraction plan and a detailed rehabilitation plan be provided for the work, as none of these things had been adequately provided. But none of these were to eventuate either.

On the 13th of January 1995, the due date for a justification of their quarrying activities, Kratz’s solicitor wrote to Council requesting an extension of a further 30 days to prepare a response as, they claimed, it had not been possible to attend to it over the Christmas break and the Council’s letter of the 15th of December had not reached their office until the 20th. (This is interesting in view of the timing Stone chose for advertising the DA and its amendment. Apparently everyone else was required to attend to such things over the holiday period!) Gallagher also noted that Exley’s letter had still not mentioned the consent authority for the issuing of “give notice” documents. But apparently ignoring this last letter, or perhaps not having viewed it at all, Exley wrote again on the 17th of January to Gallagher with notice that the Council had no alternative but to proceed to cancel the licence as the developers had not provided any information about the operation.

Appearing like a last ditch effort, a letter arrived the followed day from Gallagher which included a petition to Council, signed by forty-five individuals, apparently representing some of the local community. The petition was in support of the quarry development, needless to say, but provided no reasons.

In various hands, often shaky, the names had gone down. We imagined the list passing, as it undoubtedly had, between friends and family. There were several Kratzes, several of a couple of other local families and several who put hotels in South Grafton as their address. There were assorted others. What did they all really think about the development? Did they believe it was all above board? Did they think that the legal restrictions we were attempting to have acknowledged were unfair or unreasonable? How did they regard our position? Had they been given assurances from somewhere that the development would go ahead regardless? Did they really know what the issues were? How many of the locals were really making a living from that industry?

It is curious to note that throughout the correspondence that followed between the Council and other parties concerning Kratz’s development in the next month and a half, there was no mention of Exley’s letter about cancellation of the SEPP 37 registration. That matter was apparently allowed to slide. Exley continued to address the issue by first writing a letter to the Department of Lands asking for advice regarding the 'continued use' status of the quarry. We couldn’t guess if Exley would accept the advice given in the Statutory Declarations. It was certainly in defiance of the photographic evidence. We didn’t know if post facto Statutory Declarations could be considered valid. But in January the Ombudsman had taken up the issue. There were other points to clarify. The Ombudsman’s representative, Jodie Wauchope, wrote to Ken Exley on the 5th of January.

“Ms Legg and Mr D Devine orally informed Mr K Exley at Council of blasting noises coming from the property on at least six occasions in October 1994. This was confirmed in Ms Legg's letter to Council dated 31 October 1994, which further outlined her complaint.”

"I note Council's response to this letter did not specifically address the issue of blasting.”

She requested details about the nature of those investigations and also the Council’s investigations into my claims about the exceeded gravel quota and the illegal quarry extension. Exley responded later that month. He outlined what investigations he had conducted in relation to the matter and he provided the information that Council had accepted from Kratz and others and on which the original approval of the SEPP 37 registration was based. Wauchope had her work cut out for her. Exley wrote,

“Mr Kratz 's application under SEPP 37 registration was accepted on the basis of the information contained therein (copy attached). Investigations were carried out as to whether the expansion of the operation conforms to the limits imposed under Part 4 of SEPP 37 as can be seen from the attached, Council must therefore accept these statements as confirming that the operation is that of a continued use.”

He had attached, and was, (in the second half of the above phrase) referring to the statutory declarations.

A rather bizarre and trying February then came and went. We were increasingly anxious to have the quarry operation closed down. On the 1st of March I reported again to the Ombudsman’s office, mainly on the remarkable events of the February Council meeting where we had expected to hear the Council’s position on the quarry development. I wrote,

“Here is the agenda for the Ulmarra Shire Council meeting for 22nd February. You will see that the Director for Environmental Services, Ken Exley recommended that the development application for the quarry on portion 183 be approved.”

I was amazed. Presumably Exley was utterly persuaded by the statutory declarations, that the operation should be approved despite the various operational breaches that had been exposed by that time. He had also accepted the validity of the DA, although only a statement of environmental effects had been supplied with it, despite his advice to Stone in May '94 that the development was designated.

I continued in my letter to Wauchope,

“Councillor Glen McCarthy moved that the Council seek legal advice as to the continued operations status of this quarry before they make a decision. This motion was accepted and so we may expect the issue to be raised again next month.”

We were also alarmed to see that although Kratz was requesting that his quarry development be approved for a period of ten years, Council was recommending giving approval for thirty years! In fact Exley, in his report had written,

The proposal as outlined within the attached documents is for the expansion of the existing quarry operation for the removal of 41,374 cubic metres over a 35 ha area for a 30 year period."

We could be charitable and assume that Exley had misread the D.A. document, but considering all the other oversights by Council I have my doubts. Under the title, “RECOMMENDED” Exley wrote,

“18. This consent is valid for a period not exceeding 30 years from the date of the issue of this consent unless otherwise extended by Council"

Another point raised in the agenda of the February meeting, one that we have since repeatedly attempted to have clarified, was that approval had been granted on the 27th July, 1993, shortly after the land's conversion to freehold for a telecommunications tower to be built on top of McCrae's Knob. The tower had been built shortly thereafter but no relevant paperwork was made available although it was requested under Freedom of Information provisions.

Exley had accepted the statutory declarations as adequate proof of the prior existence of the new southern-most gravel pit, over and above the evidence provided by the clear aerial photographs of the Lands Department, and on this basis was prepared to approve the development for the quarry extension! He was not only prepared to approve it. He was prepared to approve a longer period than was being requested. Why was Council bending over backwards for Kratz? What about the developer’s disregard for quotas? What about Exley’s letter of August '94 requiring Kratz to cease all extractive industries until approval was granted for the development? Kratz had demonstrably ignored this advice. What about the obvious recent expansion of the quarry into protected lands? What about the recent media scrutiny? We were astonished.

From the outside it certainly appeared as if Stone and the Council were in league. Each case we raised against the development and directed at Council became somehow diffused or blurred into obscurity. We would hurl a pointed attack at the industry through representations to Exley, but just before it was due to impact it would be forced off its course by some unseen current. A plan had been hatched and was seemingly being carried out regardless. How were we regarded then? Certainly we were a nuisance, undoubtably an unexpected thorn in the side. Who were we? Our home is obscured from the road by the forest, our gate near invisible, our long, winding, sandy track disappearing into the trees. We did not - Dyson did not, as Ian Causley claimed, work for the NPWS. Yet we had inserted our leathery, feet in the door of the Pine Brush development and refused to move them. The developers could not close the door on us, although they steamed on towards their goal.

We certainly were having some influence on proceedings. Yet it wasn't as if we had any physical ability to stop vehicles entering and leaving Kratz's land. His access road is some distance north of ours. We didn't have the power to intercede on a one-to-one level. I hadn't even seen the Kratzs or John Stone in the flesh. Nor had they seen me, as far as I knew. Most of the time we would be about our own business on our own land seeing no-one else during the course of maintaining it. We would be about our place trying to keep the fire hazard and weeds down, maintaining the cattle fencing, to prevent other people's cattle straying onto our land, growing food and keeping wild dogs and the like out so that native wildlife would have a safe haven.

As the quarrying continued close to us we thought more and more of our part of the forest being a wildlife refuge. The chocolate coloured wallabies and grey kangaroos can feed near-by and shelter at the base of scribbly gums or beside fallen trees in the forest. Nervous red-neck wallabies, appearing more frequently now are often heavily burdened with their joeys. I hadn't even begun to search out the nocturnal animals that must live here. A couple of huge trees still stand on our land among the many smaller twisted trees left or which have grown up since the loggers came through years ago. As I look at their massive trunks it isn't hard to imagine how it had once been. It would have been a lot more like the former reserve still is, though never as rich in native species. But it's also easy to imagine, by looking at the thin, straggly forest which dominates most of our land now, how Kratz's new land could become before much longer if it was allowed.

Swampy areas on our land, once periodically grazed by cattle are dominated by blackened paperbarks and swamp mahoganies, although small tuckeroo saplings are emerging now in the cool moist areas, close to the impenetrable clay pans left by many heavy hooves. Each rainforest species represented here is highly prized. The dark, raspy sandpaper fig, the rose-walnut, the creek lilly-pilly and the foambark with its lacy soft foliage are carefully noted as they appear between the turpentines and cheese trees. We fondly watch the cudgerie, aspens and bolwarras emerging from their seedling status. Each one is remembered. We wait impatiently for those trees to rise into the canopy of surrounding eucalypts. Here families of babblers creep noisily up tree trunks. Little wrens flit in and out of prickly shrubs and pardalots nest in exposed banks. Always, of course, the bold kookaburra is somewhere nearby, producing soft gargling sounds or raucous laughter. Somehow he always manages to verbalise my strained thoughts about the Pine Brush saga.

Early in March '95 my thoughts about Pine Brush were about to reach a temporary high. Eventually, based on the information provided to her by Exley, Dyson and myself (and just in time for the March monthly Council meeting) Wauchope sent another letter to Council going into eleven pages of great detail about the inadequacies of Kratz’s SEPP 37 registration and of the Development Application and Council’s acceptance of it. She was kind enough to send us a copy of the letter, (though it was barely in time), so that we were properly prepared for our part in the meeting. This was the best thing that had happened in a long time and we were much relieved as we had had to constantly coax even the Ombudsman's office to follow through with its investigations. Had we simply accepted Wauchope's initial dismissive attitude the quarry episode may never have come to a close.

We had been very anxious to receive the Ombudsman’s letter. The Council meeting, where Dyson would be permitted to speak, had been rapidly approaching without this crucial document. And this time the meeting was many kilometres south in the village of Glenreagh. Relatively isolated in our bush home we had not been in a position then to have even postal deliveries, let alone access to fax machines. As we live twelve or so kilometres from the nearest available photocopying machine, all previous correspondence to do with the land conversion and the quarry development demanded an hour and a half return trip to Grafton, or at least a trip to Ulmarra. It had not been convenient. Even Wauchope had required regular encouragement to complete her report in time for the critical moment when Council was due to determine the outcome of Stone’s Development Application. We were told by the Ombudsman’s office that once the DA was passed, legal or not, it would be almost impossible to annul. The timing was getting dangerously close.

With no computer at home at that stage we arranged to receive a faxed copy of Wauchope’s letter at the Environment Centre in Grafton the very morning of the meeting. A CEC representative who had a key had arranged the night before to meet us there and let us in, but annoyingly there was no sign of him when we arrived. We found ourselves panicked and frustrated, and in the ludicrous situation of having to break in through the already cracked window down the side of the run-down building in order to extract the freshly faxed document. Not concerned ourselves about this action, knowing that our cause and involvement were well known to CEC members, we forced our way in, having unscrewed the security grill. The minutes ticked by before Dyson was due to speak to the Councillors. It was a crazy situation. Without that document the illegal development would very likely go ahead.

Had we not been so preoccupied with our mission we might have been more concerned at the spectacle we were creating in the street, just as shops nearby were opening up for business. Did the people in the street simply presume that we had a legitimate purpose that morning as Dyson's feet disappeared through the window? Certainly nobody approached or attempted to protect the centre from our intrusion. We wondered about the piles of sensitive files, including some relevant to us, that lay within. How easy it would be for an ill-intentioned intruder to wreak havoc, even after we repaired the glass that we had removed that morning. We wondered at people who stand by while crimes are committed. That was the major problem we had faced all along. Few seem prepared to take responsibility for our common good, by interceding when the law and ethics are being flouted.

We had a deadline to meet that morning. Finally we had the Ombudsman’s document in our hands so we could approach the meeting aware of the Mayor’s true position. It was a most satisfying read. And read we did as we sped on our way.

The Ombudsman’s letter succinctly outlined the Council's failings.

“The registration document accepted by Council for this gravel extraction appears to be deficient in information provided. While I understand Council has pursued complaints that the operation has exceeded its quota under the SEPP registration, the deficiencies in the registration information do not appear to have been fully pursued by Council either at the time of registration or upon receiving complaints about the operation.”

“Clause 4 of Schedule 1 requires information to be provided on the nature of operation prior to planning control:

Details of the operation carried out before the coming into force of environmental planning instruments identified in paragraph 3(1) including:

* date of commencement of operation

* location as shown on plan

* quantities of materials produced in each year of operation

* method of operation, type and capacity of equipment used

* transport routes

The information supplied by Mr Kratz in response to this requirement is:

“Particulars are not known to the applicant”

This was typical of the whole application document. The answers that Kratz gave to the substantial questions concerning his large operation were extremely vague and brief, yet the application form required great detail. Point 5(a), for example, required details such as dates, measurements, maps, detailed plans for rehabilitation, safeguards, type and quantity of materials produced, area and depth of operation, loading facilities and hours of operation. Wauchope explained,

“In response to 5(a), the registration form says:

About 100 Acres

About 2-6 feet”

Details, Wauchope continued, were required about the continued use status of the operation including amounts extracted and area of land used each year between '86 and '91.

“In the registration form, in answer to (a) the applicant merely states:

About 100 acres”

“Council is now in the position of having to rely on statutory declarations provided in response to the complaints of expansion, the veracity of which may be questionable, as with any post - facto claim to verification of evidence.”

“Despite the fact that the nature of these assertions is questionable (some in fact say they are ‘informed that the central and southern pits were used’ and then go on to assert ‘if this be so then I say that I loaded gravel from the central and southern pits...prior to 5 September 1969’ which is very indirect and unsatisfactory evidence of the existence of the pits) Council appears to have accepted them as evidence of the prior existence of these pits, over and above the overwhelming, independent evidence of the photographs.”

“In response to many of the required information items the applicant simply wrote details "not known to the applicant".”

“Council was advised on 15 April 1994 that the bush rock removal was unlawful and therefore not a lawful continued use under SEPP 37.”

“Provisions for cancellation of registrations under SEPP 37 require a minimum of 21 days notice within which representations may be made as to why the registration should not be cancelled. It is not clear why Council waited approximately two months to cancel the registration, after not receiving any information.”

“I understand Council maintains a register with some 43 other SEPP 37 registrations. In light of the information provided here, Council may wish to consider reviewing all existing registrations immediately to ensure that the requirements of the SEPP have been complied with and to confirm there were no deficiencies in their assessment.”

We arrived in Glenreigh after the start of the meeting, but fortunately before Dyson’s time arrived to speak to the councillors. We took our places while the Council attended to other matters. Beside us sat a young reporter from the local Examiner. We wondered if our story, which we later painstakingly detailed for her, would make it into print. It did not.

When invited to speak at the meeting, Dyson explained the councillors’ position for them. They had probably not been shown the Ombudsman’s letter, but the Mayor had seen it. Council not only had the Ombudsman and some of the locals breathing down its neck in regard to the Pine Brush development, but also the Independent Commission Against Corruption, who had phoned the council chambers on the 9th of November '94 inquiring about the Development Application and Kratz’s connection with the land. (Although no more was heard from I.C.A.C. their brief presence must surely have had a very significant effect as there was a subsequent wave of resignations and retirements from Councillors.)

Dyson pointed out to the Councillors the discrepancy between the diagram of the quarries, provided by Stone with the D.A., and the aerial photos since taken by us. The southern quarry in the diagram appears slightly smaller than the central pit, but in the recent photo it was obviously significantly larger. How could they claim that there were no illegal developments?

The Ombudsman’s letter was not produced at the meeting, nor referred to by the councillors. But the Mayor, Bill Niland, seemed decidedly uncomfortable. When Dyson had finished speaking, and to the background of an awkward silence one of the long-time councillors, (now Mayor) Kerry Lloyd, asked,

“How long have you been in the area Dyson?”

Dyson, replied,

“About 18 years.”

Staring firmly at the table and with a glow of seniority, Lloyd said,

“Well, I’ve been here forty-five years and I know the area pretty well.”

And that was about the level and extent of debate at the Council chambers that day. Presumably Lloyd felt that his seniority and long term experience in this area gave him and the other long term locals, including the other Councillors, the right to ignore and flout the laws as they see fit.

We had struggled so hard, having to push all the way to have the quarry operation properly scrutinised, so for us that meeting was a very significant occasion, and it was a rare moment of great pleasure knowing that Wauchope had dealt the Council a well deserved blow.

Then after a,

“Please, call me Bill.”

and a,

“Do have a scone.”

from Bill Niland, the Mayor, and a,

“Thank you so much for your input.”

from the Manager, John Duggan, we excused ourselves feeling somewhat triumphant. But the final decision about the development was to be made later in a closed meeting.

Perhaps the most chilling part of the Ombudsman’s March letter for the Ulmarra Councillors was the comparison made between Ulmarra Council’s handling of SEPP 37 registrations to a case in the neighbouring Nambucca Shire. In the Nambucca Shire case serious investigations were carried out by the Ombudsman’s office resulting in the sacking of the entire Council. We would see if this scared the Ulmarra Council at all.

Yet alarmingly the rapacious quarrying continued. And this was despite the presence of Aboriginal artefacts on the site of which we had repeatedly informed the Director General of NPWS. She ignored our advice though was legally obliged to protect these artefacts. It was probably naive of us to think that national television exposure would intimidate the developers or excite the other media, or that the Ombudsman's office and ICAC becoming involved could slow the operation. After-all, why should all that interest slow the pace of destruction when Minister Causley himself had condoned the disposal of the land, knowing very well that it would become more available for exploitation? Why should his supporters then not exploit it? If Causley gave the nod there was presumably little to fear. To quarry gravel, blast rock or tree stumps and remove rocks for sale was presumably the logical progression at Pine Brush after the conservation safeguards had been virtually thrown away. Would the Ombudsman's office have any influence over Council? Slapped on the wrist for accepting what amounted to a registration in name only, would Council change its ways? With the Independent Commission Against Corruption also taking note the matter was very serious. We simply didn't understand.

Just how parochial were these people? How much of their blatant disregard for proper procedure had to do with ignorance and previous isolation from such scrutiny? How was it that they came to think that issues of law could be resolved by throwing a few Statutory Declarations at them or signing petitions? Could they comprehend of the legal penalties which could come about as a result of providing false information that way? How much notice would they take of advice from government departments like, in this case, the disapproving Soil Conservation Service about the unacceptable levels of erosion on the site? Was immunity from the law presumed?

The day the councillors were due to vote on Stone’s quarry development application, the Mayor did not attend, because he was not feeling well. It is not surprising that he was not feeling well. Mayor Niland was probably a little anxious. Several of the Councillors had allegedly been personally up to their necks in the quarry scandal. Niland had apparently revealed a pecuniary interest in the quarry and had appointed councillor Glen McCarthy as deputy Mayor to run the meeting instead. McCarthy was able to ask that all other councillors who might have a pecuniary interest in the Pine Brush quarry to declare them. Several councillors apparently did so. They were therefore not permitted to vote. The application was refused as a result. But it was apparently a matter of just one vote.

According to Councillor Glen McArthy, legislation changed shortly thereafter, requiring that Councillors declare their pecuniary interests in issues before them without first requiring to be asked to do so. It seems astonishing that until that change in the legislation councillors were not required to disclose their interests in a matter before them unless asked. It is also astonishing to me that it was apparently not customary to ask. (A close look at the Local Government Act of 1993 reveals that it requires of Councillors this prior declaration of pecuniary interests.I have yet to determine when this Act officially came into being.but I presume it was 1993.)

Knowing that a body of this quality continues to make decisions about the management of our huge shire leaves us depressed and exasperated. It seemed to us that our councillors were accustomed to behaving in this manner, and unaccustomed to having the critical eye of the public upon them. Why else would they have taken such a risk? It is troubling to think that perhaps there is no significant critical public eye in this local government area. With some councillors, including the Mayor, retiring and resigning shortly after that March council meeting, we think the climate may have improved at the council chambers somewhat. But we remain cynical.

There are still many questions surrounding the Council’s involvement in the Pine Brush quarry. Where did all those sandstone bushrocks, removed from the former Crown reserve by Maclean and Ulmarra Councils, go? Were they sold as landscaping ornaments too? We wonder also if any of the remaining councillors have an interest in the bushrocks still covertly being removed from the same land. For instance, where did the bushrocks, now so decoratively displayed at the Maclean lookout, come from? And what about those now decorating the new roundabouts in Grafton?

It is worth mentioning that the detail in these chapters about the Council’s management of the Pine Brush quarry affair was obtained from its own files, which were obtained through Freedom of Information Legislation by a local community organisation known as Valley Watch. Valley Watch was formed with a view to keeping the Local Councils honest. On their first request for the information from Council, however, only some of the files were provided. A letter from Valley Watch to Council on the 4th of January explains.

“No material dated earlier than August 9th 1993 was supplied. The terms of our original request were ‘. . all documents and records pertaining to the use of the . . land.’ and we would like to obtain copies of material from earlier times.”

“6 No material was supplied relating to the application under SEPP 37 for registration of the property as a source of Bush Rock.”

“7 No information was supplied regarding consent to establish a quarry on the land after September 1969.”

8 No information regarding Ulmarra Council's own quarrying activities on the land was supplied.”

After the second request some more of the files were provided, but none apparently exist at the Council chambers prior to the date referred to above. The explanation given by Exley on the 30th of January '95 was,

“As the land was that controlled by the Crown there are no records available other than those made available to you.”

To this date, no investigations have been undertaken and no action taken to prosecute John Stone or to retrieve the allegedly missing files. The police were apparently informed when the files were first noticed missing. Apparently the Council had said it was a police matter. The police said it was a matter for the Independent Commission Against Corruption. And that was that.



Labor scraped home by one seat in the next New South Wales state election, 25 March 1995.



SEVEN - the National Parks and Wildlife Service

______________________________________________________________________(return to table of contents) 

The role the National Parks and Wildlife Service played in the conversion to freehold of the once proposed nature reserve was of concern to us from the start. Although Ian Causley had been our main focus in the piece initially, followed by the Department of Lands, there was no denying that NPWS had some answering to do as well. The continuing lack of response from Bob Friederich at the regional office to our letter of October '93 and the assurances from Peter Wilson (Acting Manager of NPWS Natural Heritage Conservation Division) to Ulmarra Council in September '94 about the relationship of the proposed quarry expansion to the proposed Conservation Agreement area were real reasons for concern. Ken Exley from Ulmarra Council had confirmed that position of Wilson's in a phone-call.

(File note, Ken Exley, 2.30pm 27/9/94) "Spoke to Peter Wilson NPWS re conservation agreement he advised me that it will take about 26 weeks for the agreement to be completed however he confirm [sic] the proposed extraction area to be expanded is well outside the agreement ..."

It was also worrying that the Conservation Agreement was taking so long to be finalised. But the big question was, why had NPWS agreed to the conversion at all?

Peter Wilson on behalf of NPWS, along with Mike Ockwell of CaLM, consented on the 16th of December '92 to Minister Causley's plan to dispose of the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve, even though there was a moratorium in place at the time to prevent such Crown leases, of high conservation value, from being converted to freehold without an Environmental Impact Statement performed by NPWS. (And there was no Environmental Impact Statement performed for the Pine Brush conversion). Less than a year before Wilson's consent, the Department of Conservation and Land Management had refused to approve a conversion application from Kratz because of the land's heritage values, and then a few months on assured Minister Causley that any further application to convert would be refused for the same reason. Wilson's behaviour, as Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division of NPWS seems highly inappropriate, especially as he made no notes about the meeting with Causley, or his role in it until eight months later, when the media became involved. Only then, did he make a couple of rough file notes.

(Wilson, 10th of August 1993) “NPWS were put on the spot [by Causley]...’and that Parks agreed ... to the conversion as long as ‘an agreement was entered into to protect the vegetation cover’.”

(Wilson, 11th August ‘93)“* I explained to Dailan [ NEFA spokesman] that I was the Service officer who accompanied Minister Causley and Mike Ockwell of CaLM on an inspection of Mr Kratz's lease in early December 1992.

* I also explained that the Service agreed, through me, that conversion could precede [sic] if the Service could be satisfied that Protected Lands mapping and/or a Conservation Agreement could protect the vegetation cover on the Crown Lease.”

Just how did the Minister put NPWS on the spot at the meeting? Why was Wilson persuaded to agree to the conversion? If, as his notes of August '93 convey, he had determined that a conservation agreement had to protect the vegetation cover on the land, why didn't he make sure that agreement was signed promptly? NPWS never entered into any negotiations about the conservation agreement or the protected Lands Mapping with the Department of Lands prior to the conversion. Nor did it respond to the form which was sent from the Lands Department to NPWS in January '93 inviting comment.

We had learned that Grafton NPWS staff had been putting all forms relating to approval of such crown-lease conversions aside because of the moratorium, and the form relating to the Pine Brush conversion joined a pile in the local office. NPWS regional staff could have assumed that the processing of the conversion applications could not, or would not proceed while the moratoruim was in place. Then again, files reveal that NPWS had employed delaying tactics in the past in order to keep a hold on the Pine Brush Reserve. This extract from an undated, NPWS Head Office file (summarising the NPWS history with the Pine Brush Nature Reserve proposal up until August '93) relates to the period when the Forestry Commission was attempting to dedicate the land as State Forest.

"6. 11.87 Note to A/Senior Resources Officer I [sic] asking whether to write another polite delaying letter. A/Senior Resources Officer asks to ring Guy Holloway and ask why it is being ignored and if they have any intention of responding."

But it appears more likely that the NPWS regional office staff knew nothing of Wilson's verbal consent to conversion and it was Wilson who was responsible for the delay. It certainly seems that Wilson, pressured by Causley at the meeting in December '92, had given in to the Minister's wishes, in contradiction of normal NPWS policy. In the absence of more information it is easy for us to conclude that his lack of documentation and follow up were also a result of that pressure.

We were very surprised in April '99 after years of wondering about Wilson's actions, to actually recieve an email from him. Wilson, having just read the sixth edition of this manuscript "The Dobbing Stones", wrote to object to our interpretation of his actions, and to " you better understand the sorry train of events that have occurred." He had accessed this book from our webpage. He is the first, of those involved, to react to it. We had heard from nobody else involved in the conversion process and were apprehensive when that email first showed up on our screen. A new phase in our struggle was beginning.

No longer working for NPWS, Wilson was keen to challenge our views.

(Wilson, 12th of April '99)

"While I was doing some background reading ... I came across reference to Dr Brian Martin’s website on whistleblowing and related matters. When I visited that site I was startled to see a link to your website dealing with the Pine Brush matter. Curious as to what you had to say, and not having had anything to do with the matter for several years, I decided to visit your site.

I was not prepared for what I found – my name mentioned numerous times with many imputations about my morals and motives. Yes, I am THAT Peter Wilson!"

"...contemplating the many points made in that work, ["The Dobbing Stones"] and dredging up recollections of that unpleasant episode in my life, I would like to take up some matters with you that may help you better understand the sorry train of events that have occurred.

I feel that I can now speak more freely on such matters since I left NPWS at the end of July 1998 in state of disappointment, frustration and disillusionment."

In defence of his decision to approve the conversion Wilson recalls,

"That meeting arose hurredly, with no time on my part to be briefed by my staff or others within NPWS. ..As I recall, an urgent verbal request came from the office of the then Minister for the Environment, for a senior NPWS officer to attend. It was passed to me by my superiors. Within 24 hrs I was on the ground in Grafton being picked up at the airport by CALM staff. .. I did not feel comfortable being 'dropped in it' at such short notice, and in such an ill-prepared state for I had only enough time to gather the quickest of overviews of the long history of that matter."

Wilson contends,

"...that the decision I made on the spot was motivated only be[sic] a desire to salvage something for the wider community and future generations from a political and bureaucratic mess."

Similarly on the topic of documentation he is adamant that his actions were not corrupt,

" You make much in the Dobbing Stones of the “secrecy” I showed in not informing superiors and colleagues of the outcome of the meeting. You imply strongly that that was a deliberate action on my part designed to bring about a dishonest or corrupt outcome.

This is simply not so. I assume that I gave verbal instructions to the responsible unit manager when I returned, but cannot be certain of this after so many years... The reason for not making an earlier file note on the outcomes or for issuing written instructions to my staff could only have been due to pressure of other work. And, I am sure that any delays by my then staff within NHCD in following matters up after that meeting came about through the same situation".

It is unfortunate for Wilson's case that what he maintains was an ill-informed decision and heavy work schedule seem to have resulted in a perfect outcome for Minister Causley. Wilson protests,

"I, nor anyone I know or to whom I am related, gained in any way whatsoever from what has happened at Pine Brush."

But unfortunately Wilson's recollections of that time are rather vague. His email raises further questions. For instance, why, if he was so ill prepared for the meeting, didn't he postpone his decision? Why didn't he make even a quick note about the meeting on the ninety minute plane trip back to Sydney? It seems a strange coincidence that all of his immediate staff were also prevented from following up after the meeting? How did he arrive at the decision on the day and what information did he have at hand?

(Wilson, email 4th April '99) "It became apparent to me during that day, that NPWS’s position was very weak given that (1) the moratorium on Crown lease conversion had stalled for lack of funds and a willingness for our masters to resolve things ..."

But the moratorium was still in place over that land in December '92 because of the assessment of its heritage values, as Macdonald of CaLM had explained to Minister Causley in May '92. The moratorium lapsed in May '93. Surely the Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division would know this. As far as the Pine Brush Proposal was concerned, the matter had been resolved in January '92. There was no beauracratic mess. A final decision had been made by the department of Conservation and Land Management - the land would be retained in Crown Ownership.

Wilson continues,

"...(2) Causley, in my opinion, was going to roll NPWS on this matter anyway,. .."

But had Wilson refused consent, and drawn attention to Causley's intentions couldn't he have delayed the process, preventing it from slipping between the moratoriums in May '93?

(3) "...some parts of the lease were degraded (as I dimly recall, in the north by the quarry, and to the south by clearing and grazing activities) and that some parts were well-vegetated and worth fighting to protect,.."

Wilson is mistaken about any clearing in the south of the land, though some quarrying existed in the northern end. It appears that Dailan Pugh's (NEFA) information about where on the land the senior public servants had been taken by Causley that day was confirmed by Wilson's recollections. Wilson recalls that he looked out from above the quarry site. A view of the vegetation cover from above the pits would not have been adequate to determine the portion's values. Why did Wilson make his decision based on that limited perspective?

"...and (4) the NPWS was not in a position to acquire the land outright. Thus, NPWS’s bargaining position of total objection to conversion looked very weak."

But NPWS had successfully objected in 1990 when no funding was available, and in the letter to Kratz of 21st February '92, from the department of CaLM, Steve Macdonald explains the department's decision to retain the land in Crown ownership because of the heritage values assessment. That did not require the NPWS to have even an interest in acquiring the land. Wilson continues,

"Given my views formed on that day that NPWS needed to develop a fallback position that would see the most important values conserved, I took the decision to accept lease conversion provided agreement could be reached to protect the important values."

But the Environment Minister's office was later to inform us that there was no funding available at the time to organise conservation agreements, so how was this likely to help? Unfortunately,Wilson now seems to echo the position adopted by CaLM and the NPWS since that meeting that it was only the important values they were keen to have protected by the CA, rather than all of the vegetation as Wilson had stipulated at the meeting, according to his August '93 notes.

Did Causley pressure Wilson? Wilson explains,

"Certainly I felt I was under pressure at that meeting - that was part of the job. But I was not coerced into that position, and I did not succumb to intimidation or bribery."

At least it is now clearer why the Regional office of NPWS never filled out and returned the form sent by CaLM. It seems that no instructions at all had been issued to them from the Natural Heritage Conservation Division. To add to the mismanagement of this affair, the new Head of the Department of Conservation and Land Management proceeded with the conversion application anyway, before the three months allocated for response had passed, as this internal file note of February '93 indicates.

“RECOMMENDED that a fresh application be invited to purchase Crown Lease 1944/3, Grafton, with an indication that such would be favourably considered, subject to the signing of the conservation agreement previously discussed. However, the processing of the application should not be delayed and if the agreement is not in place upon finalisation of the application, the existing protected lands mapping will be relied upon to protect pertaining conservation values.”

The conservation agreement was clearly not important enough to the Lands Department for it to justify delaying the application processing, nor was the invited response from NPWS.

Wilson’s approval of the conversion to freehold, conditional on “adequate protection of the vegetation cover”, was granted that fateful day in December, 1992 despite NPWS previously earmarking the entire property as a Nature Reserve, and despite it maintaining that interest right up to (and beyond) the date of conversion, NPWS had consistently objected at every previous attempt by Kratz to convert to freehold. It was his very first attempt back in 1974 which had first alerted the NPWS to the land’s merits. In response to that initial attempt to convert in 1974 NPWS staff wrote in a file note in May '74,

“Please advise Land Dept. of importance of the area for nature conservation and that conversion of the Crown lease is opposed pending more detailed investigation (send copy of Ra. Dodkin report)”

And in a recommendation on 10th of December '74,

“In view of the investigating officers comments, it is considered that Portion 183 Parish Coldstream, County Richmond [now Ulmarra], currently held as Crown Lease 44/3 Grafton, should be dedicated as a nature reserve.”

In response to the August 1989 attempt by Kratz to convert to freehold (when he was concerned that the Forestry Commission would claim it for their state forests) NPWS wrote,

“The Service advises that there are strong objections to the conversion of the above lease on nature conservation grounds. A further letter giving substantial reasons for these objections will be forwarded shortly.”

In March 1990, after the Forestry Commission's acquisition proposal was knocked back by Minister Causley, NPWS’s intention, according to a departmental note, was,

“If the purchase of the above lands is not achieved in the first financial year following an offer to sell, the Service would re-list the lands on the acquisition program the subsequent financial year.”

(It is not clear why NPWS assumed that the land was owned. Perhaps they were assuming it would soon be. Then again, in some files of the Lands Department the term "owner" is used to indicate the person who has only a lease over a property. The term seems to have been used to refer specifically to Kratz who had merely a grazing lease, prior to actually owning it, and which allowed him merely to graze cattle.)

The NPWS had been part of the interdepartmental task force which determined, in January '92, that the land must remain in Crown ownership because of its natural heritage values. The sudden change of attitude was apparent in a file note made just before Wilson's on-site inspection with Minister Causley, dated the 15th of December '92 (found in a different file and accessed in September '93 by NPWS FOI staff). Someone, presumably from Wilson's office, had written,

“If applicant is prepared to retain area without further clearing then conversion with CA etc may be appropriate.”

“If applicant is seeking conversion for clearing then we should oppose conversion or seek unilateral ESL [Environmentally Sensitive Lands] mapping etc

It is unlikely that acquisition is an option in the near future but given the relative scarcity? of lowland forests in the Clarence the heritage surveys may show it worth acquiring when money is available.”

It was Causley, according to the NPA journal, who in 1989 axed the Crown Lands conservation policy and forced NPWS to give up any interest in lands they did not have the funding to acquire. Specifically how that translated to the Pine Brush situation is not clear. It seems as if little money would have been required in this case as Kratz would only require compensation for loss of grazing. Also, had the land remained a Crown Reserve, as had been determined by the Lands Department in early January '92, its values would be preserved at no or little cost to NPWS. Nevertheless Wilson seems to think the funding shortage, amongst other things, was a valid explanation.

What levers did Minister Causley have?

Certainly there are further questions that remain unanswered. The Crowley's Creek Nature Reserve, once part of the Pine Brush State Forest, came into existence in 1993, shorty after the Pine Brush conversion. The Crowley’s Creek rainforest remnant just over the hill to the east and surrounded on three sides by the Pine Brush State Forest, actually adjoins the once proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve. It had been of concern to Karen Rooke and the other Clarence Environment Centre members when logging was taking place close to it. It was nominated at that time by the CEC for National Estate Listing, (although never receiving it). Distinct from the riparian rainforest remnant existing on the former public reserve on the valley side of the ridge, the Crowley's Creek Reserve harbors Bangalow Palms and about 50 tree species more typical of the coastal littoral rainforests.

To wander from the point for a moment, it is worth mentioning that the brief study of the fauna at Crowleys Creek sheds light on the likely fauna content of the former Pine Brush reserve, on which no formal fauna surveys were performed in readiness for the conservation agreement. They have yet to be carried out. However the ‘93 Turner, Thomas and Griffith flora survey of the former Pine Brush proposed Nature Reserve, we discovered, did state that,

“Twenty species of endangered fauna (Schedule 12 National Parks and Wildlife Act) are considered likely to occur on the subject land and are considered of state significance.”

In contrast, the Crowley’s Creek survey noted,

“The Palms and other fruiting trees provide an excellent source of food for numerous fruit eating pigeons as well as other fruit eating birds.”

“The core rainforest is surrounded by coastal dry sclerophyll which is the habitat for Greater Gliders Petauroides volans and other arboreal mammals with the majority of the Grey Gums showing deep and numerous claw scratches. While surveying the area there was interesting sighting of the Powerful Owl Ninox strenua quite close to the area in question and Yellow-bellied Gliders have [sic] noted in a [sic] area south of the site with a strong possibility of these gliders in the study area.”

“These values make this site worthy as an extension to the current Pine Brush Nature Reserve Proposal.”

(It would have been a valuable addition in part because of the contrasting rainforest types existing close to eachother, either side of the ridge - the Crowley's Creek littoral rainforest on the east, and what has since been identified as lowland riparian rainforest on the west in the Pine Brush Nature Reserve Proposal.)

A list of 27 birds including pigeons, honey-eaters, bower birds, wrens, whipbirds and cuckoos was provided with that study. We have informally identified about one hundred different bird species sighted on our property.

We haven’t yet been able to access the files regarding Crowley’s Creek Nature Reserve apart from the flora study above, which was performed by local Environmental Consultants, Ecosense, on behalf of a rainforest study group backed by the Clarence Environment Centre. NPWS seem very reluctant to part with the files relevant to the formation of the Crowley’s Creek reserve although formal requests through the Freedom of Information Legislation have been made. NPWS simply did not acknowledge the requests specific to Crowley’s Creek and the matter has not been pursued further.

The Crowley’s Creek reserve coming into existence shortly after Kratz’s Crown-lease conversion to freehold was a suspiciously neat arrangement. Was a deal done? Its acquisition perhaps was designed to placate the NPWS and the CEC while the larger proposed reserve area was sacrificed. Its proximity also served to confuse the Pine Brush issue. The identity of the two areas was blurred at times within the NPWS files and by local conservationists. The truth was further obscured.

 The local office of NPWS, not knowing about Causley’s conversion at Pine Brush until more than two months after it had occurred, would surely have found the news quite shocking. Presumably, as a moratorium had been in place on such conversions they had assumed that Pine Brush was safe, and that no such applications would make any progress until the moratorium was lifted. They didn’t know that the Department of Conservation and Land Management had continued processing the relevant papers during the three-month period given for the NPWS response or that Wilson had given verbal, conditional consent.

The proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve had been, until the on site meeting with Minister Causley, the NPWS regional office’s responsibility. It had been their project. They had dealt with each development regarding the portion in the past eighteen or more years, fighting all along for its conservation and acquisition as a nature reserve. But when questioned by Karen Rooke about the conversion after she had learned of it, staff at the local office actually denied it had happened. The Lands Department, in the same building in Grafton as NPWS, had processed the relevant conversion documents. But the file below reveals local NPWS ignorance two months on.

(NPWS internal file,10th of August , 93)

“* Pine Brush NR proposal.

* Issue now in local media.

* Lease conversion is being pressed by FC and CALM,

* Local greenies are concerned that conversion of lease is preceding [sic] on basis of a ‘verbal agreement from NPWS.’”

A NPWS memorandum of the 23rd of August ‘93, written by the Deputy Director of Policy and Wildlife, addressing Peter Wilson, regarding the conversion arrangements states,

“Mr Kratz has agreed, in writing, * to a Conservation Agreement over that area of land you identified in 1992 with Minister Causley.”

But a note added by Wilson at the bottom of the page reads,

“ The point marked ( * ) above does not appear to have been communicated to the Service ! ?”

So even Wilson was apparently not aware that the Lands Department had gone on without waiting for the original invited response from NPWS. Was the Department of Lands deliberately keeping NPWS in the dark? Whatever the case, Wilson's actions appeared to have encouraged the ignorance. Wilson does concede,

(email, 16th April '99) " ...I accept that my decision failed to secure a good pro-conservation outcome in the Pine Brush case. I also accept that administrative failings by myself and former NPWS colleagues made matters worse. "

Of course Wilson seeks safe ground with the acknowledgement of his quite considerable "administrative failings".

It is worth pointing out that the charge of mis-management, as far as the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption is concerned, is far less serious than the charge of corruption.

(Blalock, J. (1992) Mismanagement and corruption. Police Studies, 15, 184-187.) "Corruption is active and purposeful." while "Intent may be absent with the mismanager..."

Whichever it was for Wilson the result was equally serious.

The fact that NPWS as a department suffered from some internal communication problems was publicly revealed just months after the Pine Brush conversion. In fact, in May '93 (the month of the conversion to freehold) there was a report commissioned by the Environment Minister, Chris Hartcher on the 'structural problems' within NPWS. According to a Sydney Morning Herald article of the 25th of October '93, by Environment Writer Kate Southam, the report from the Premier's Department, which came out in October, '93 was damning. As a result Hartcher ordered a major overhaul of NPWS. The report according to Southam,

"was highly critical of the service, [NPWS] saying it lacked direction and had poor communication with its regional and district offices." ...policies were being developed at head office with little reference to the regions.

The management of the Northern Region, (based in Grafton) was singled out for criticism.

" ... The report described the northern region as a complex and politically sensitive area which was poorly managed by the NPWS.

...the northern region had a poor record of resolving Aboriginal heritage issues and was biased in its dealings with competing land-use groups."

This point, like all the others raised in the article, could have been directly prompted by the Pine Brush conversion, where the Aboriginal significance was not investigated until after the conversion, and then, only by an independent archaeologist on our prompting. In fact the relevant Aboriginal land council was never given an opportunity to comment on the conversion. We were later to discover that this disturbing disregard by the NPWS, of the aborignal significance of Pine Brush, was to continue. Of course in the case of Pine Brush, the competing "land-use groups" to use the government's term, were simply the public versus Ian Causley and his friend.

Mr. Hartcher is reported to have said that,

"the NPWS had not been given support to meet new demands imposed by increased responsibilities over the past few years."

Certainly Wilson, in his email, had alluded to funding difficulties and the great demands of his senior position.

It is unfortunate for Wilson that the NPWS's actions following his decision in '93 only reinforced the perception that NPWS were bending to suit Ian Causley's will. That NPWS had agreed to the conversion was one thing, but of course, then it had an interest in justifying the decision. One of the great values of the former reserve area is the remnant rainforests in some of the gullies, first formally identified by NPWS’s own ranger Dodkin in 1974 when NPWS first attempted to acquire the portion.

“The vegetation is forest ranging from remnant rainforest, depauparete wet schlerophyll to typical dry schlerophyll.”

It has since been explained to us by botanists, with a knowledge of this area, that beside us in the former proposed Nature Reserve lies one of the best and largest of the very few examples of lowland riparian rainforest remaining in the whole Lower Clarence Valley. It’s a relatively small area in total, but that’s one of the reasons it is so important. Because the range of mature rainforest tree species later to be catalogued here is distinct and far more numerous than in Dodkin's report, we can assume he never went into this gully, but described the poorer northernmost gully. (Tragically that one small gully to the north was destroyed by the illegal gravel quarrying, which occurred shortly after the conversion in 1993.)

The one untouched patch of rainforest which still grows here just south of the illegal quarries is extraordinarily scientifically significant. It is distinct from the few other scattered bits of remnant rainforests in the general area.

Unlike the World Heritage classified remnant rainforest on the coast at Iluka, which has littoral (coastal) rainforest species including palms, the rainforest here, most significantly, is characteristic of what botanists believe the riparian (river and creek) lowland rainforest looked like before it was all clear-felled by white men. In the 19th century such rainforest blanketed the entire Lower Clarence Valley. There is a tiny weed-infested and cattle-ruined place called Arandin Flora Reserve well south of here which still clings to life under a Pacific Highway overpass, and which is botanically similar to parts of the pristine Pine Brush rainforest. There is also the uncleared half of Grafton's Susan Island - partly destroyed by crowded flying foxes and exotic trees. And there is the ghost of the school-yard sized "Maclean Rainforest Reserve", devastated by the thousands of flying foxes who were forced into the tiny area, which represented the last of their traditional roosting place. Now only bleached skeletons remain there. And that's it. We will never know whether Pine Brush is the very last example, because there's nothing at all left of the lower valley's rainforest against which it can be compared. But it is botanically distinct from all existing remnants more typical of the coast or the upper valley hills.

If it is indeed the last tiny glowing ember of the biodiversity which was represented throughout the entire Lower Clarence Valley, then it is a living fossil from the dinosaur days when the whole continent was rainforest. On this geological timeframe the valley's rainforest was gone in the blink of an eye. This is the context in which we must consider the future of the Pine Brush remnant.

On the 17th of August 1993, eleven days after the time the conversion issue became public, ABC radio host Yvette Steinhauer interviewed Ian Causley and then the acting NPWS regional head Spencer Smith -White, who was presumably brought up from Sydney to deal more adeptly with all the media attention surrounding the conversion. It was, after all, the Sydney office that was the better informed about the issue. Steinhauer identified in those interviews two very contradictory points of view about the nature of the property. Ian Causley consistently denied the portion’s environmental worth.


“What about, ah, the, rainforest remnant? Now, some of the locals have contacted this station and told us there is a significant patch of rainforest on the land.”


“Well (AHEM!), I’ve walked all over it, Yvette, and I don’t know what they call rainforest..... whether it’s something that rain FALLS on, but, ah, ah, y’ know, it is a, it’s not a great block of land! Ah, I think that the some of the locals have (heh, heh) probably a vested interest in living next door. And I think that, ah, they, they probably have a, a, if they READ the report from, ah, one section of National Parks it’s quite an EMOTIVE report about the value of the land, but, ah, when you WALK on it and see it it’s quite a different, ah, proposition!”

Smith-White wasn't taking the same tack.


(breaks in) “...ah, the ah, rainforest that occurs there.”


“Oh, I’m sorry I missed that. Did you say there was rainforest there?”


“...a small, a small patch of rainforest there, but um, one of the efforts the National Parks and Wildlife Service is taking , is to use other methods to try and conserve the values of these small areas of ah, natural heritage value and this is throughout the conservation agreements that ah, the minister referred to.”


“O.K. well first of all you’re you’re acknowledging there’s a rainforest there. Mr. Causley said he hasn’t seen any rainforest there and he denies there is a patch of rainforest.”


(breaks in) “And ah....marginal rainforest in many of the, of the creek valleys ah, in the Clarence Valley.”

Steinhauer (quite testy at this point),

“But is there rainforest on this land? Mr. Causley has accused our station of broadcasting inaccurate information. I’d like to get this accurate. Is there rainforest there or not?”


“Yes there are small patches of rainforest there.”

So, according to Smith-White, the NPWS acting head for the region, the area given approval by NPWS, during the moratorium, to be converted to freehold contained not just one patch of rainforest but "small patches of rainforest".

While focused on that interview, it is worth pointing out an alarming mind-set revealed by Smith-White in his position as head of a regional NPWS office.


“Well that seems to be at odds with what Mr. Causley’s saying that the land is a pretty poor piece of land. He doesn’t seem to think it has much environmental worth at all.”


“Well I suppose that’s a matter of opinion. Ah, certainly in so far as the responsibilities of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We did recognise it, its value.”

As far as Smith-White was concerned the land’s environmental worth is just a ‘matter of opinion’. Then why did NPWS employ botanists at all? An opinion is primarily defined (Macquarie Dictionary, third edition) as being "a judgement or belief resting on grounds insufficient to produce certainty". Doesn't science play some role in it? Scientists had provided an assessment of the flora at Pine Brush, presumably based on "the deductions and inferences which can be made, and the general laws which can be formulated, from reproducible observations and measurements..." It has been determined, through government-acknowledged work of scientists, that certain characteristics within an ecosystem are rare and vital for a healthy environment. The continued existence of the National Parks and Wildlife Service is a result of the recognition of the need to preserve biodiversity. What qualifies land as having 'environmental worth' has already been determined by them. So Pine Brush's environmental worth is not just a matter of opinion. Anyway, some matters of environmental worth have been laid out in legislation even if government bodies are inclined to ignore policy relevant to their areas of concern. But the 'matter of opinion' regarding the fate of this 492.5 hectare wilderness is really the crux of the whole issue. Ian Causley's opinion, and then that of what has since proven to be a corrupt NPWS management, over the judgement of our community's scientists has led to the likely destruction of this wilderness.

It was encouraging to hear Mr. Causley contradicted that day by Smith-White on the matter of rainforest remnant at Pine Brush. However, since that reluctant admission NPWS offices have persistently denied the existence of any remnant rainforests there. When we managed to get a copy of the two-day, pre-Christmas flora survey, we were outraged to discover that it did not use the word “rainforest” in any context. How could Griffith, Thomas and Turner, on their two-day survey have missed what we had pointed to so clearly from our house that Summer morning? And how could they have contradicted the 1974 Dodkin report, which had been the basis for NPWS acquisition in the first place? Certainly professional assessments can vary, but the '93 report did not even list the seventy or more rainforest tree and plant species which exist in that area. It was all just too neat.

The '93 flora report ‘Vegetation of por.183 Parish Coldstream’ did begin by stating that portion 183, Parish Coldstream has,

“significant natural conservation values at a regional and national level.”

but continued,

"The vegetation of the area includes wet scherophyl [sic] forest in the moister gullies and streamlines, swamp schlerophyl [sic] forest in poorly drained water logged depressions and dry sclerophyl [sic] forest throughout the area.”

The report comprises many pages of detailed description of nine plant communities identified, and details of the five plants found that were, at the time, considered rare, endangered or having a limited distribution. This list included the threatened, schedule one, Quassia species B, which was so newly identified that it had not yet been given a name.

“Quassia spp. B listed nationally as endangered with a restricted distribution and not conserved.”

It has still not been given a name.

But there was no mention of rainforest remnant or more than a handful of rainforest species. This was too convenient to be credible. We had pointed to that rainforest. It was literally right before their eyes. Did the botanists get lost? We subsequently learnt that their areas of botanical expertise are more related to sclerlophyll forest suballiances, and we have been told by an informal source privy to departmental information, that they headed north, just west of the the high north-south ridge line, and did not descend into the tangled gullies where the going is hot and slow and many unfamiliar rainforest species grow. Was it easiest just to go along with Ian Causley’s claim that there is no rainforest on that land?

It had become the rainforest remnant that only we could see, apart from the pigeons, whipbirds and other rainforest-loving birds that reside there or visit there, and of course the fruit bats and various animals. To everyone else involved it had become invisible, like the centuries-old hardwood forest of millable timber that we can see here, but Ian Causley publically and repeatedly maintained didn’t exist. With just a few pen strokes from somewhere in Sydney those special forests seemed to have become our personal delusion. How could we change that? If the professionals didn't want to see what was here how could we convince them otherwise? It seemed like an impossible task.

The issue of the Conservation Agreement was still outstanding. According to Wilson’s file notes of August '93, all of the vegetation on the former reserve should have been protected by the C.A. and/or Protected Lands mapping. But what happened about the mapping? And why did it take so long for the C.A. negotiations to begin? There was a rumour about that the production of fresh protected land mapping was an activity being held up by Minister Causley, but we had no hard evidence of this. Was Wilson really too busy to get the show on the road so that at least a percentage of the former reserve would remain intact? In his email of April '99 Wilson described how disturbed he had been by the meeting with Minister Causley and the position he had been thrust into. He was determined, he said, to make NPWS work better. Then how could he have so completely neglected his duties in that instance? Of course it didn't help that NPWS had not been notified, before the land conversion, that Kratz had agreed in writing to a C.A. over his land? Already, while the negotiations were taking place, more of the vegetation had been destroyed through cattle damage, fires that had been lit and left unchecked, illegal quarrying and (according to the Department of Lands and the NSW Ombudsman) unlawful bushrock removal. But wasn’t NPWS at least keen to save face? According to a file written by local NPWS staff on discovery of the land conversion in August '93, Wilson had thrown up his hands.

“I discussed this with Peter Wilson who said that there was no way we could now salvage this situation.”

This attitude seems consistent with Wilson's earlier approach to the conversion decision. In both cases he demonstrated no desire to deal with the matter further. Yet surely to have done so would have opened it to greater scrutiny and perhaps reveal the extent of Causleys movements, thereby increasing the chances of stopping him in his tracks. But had it not been for our persistent efforts to expose what took place at Pine Brush, Wilson's actions would have probably remained a secret within the NPWS for much longer.

Having the conservation agreement referred to publicly in the media, and with continuing opposition to, and exposure of, the conversion, it seems Minister Causley and his constituent were impatient to have the agreement signed and anxious to have the whole matter laid to rest. This NPWS file indicates Causley’s mood in September '93, three months after the conversion.

“URGENT 3/9 (3rd of September)

Ms Clunies Ross from Minister's Office rang. Mr. Causley is very annoyed about a situation re leashold conversion. The press have got hold of it & there are comment [sic] that the area was too sensitive to convert. Apparently Mr Kratz converted the lease to freehold. Calm said OK provided he entered into a Voluntary Conservation Agreement. (VCA) . [In fact, they eventually only stipulated that he had to enter into negotiations about an agreement.] The land was converted on 23 June '93 [sic, actually 12th of May ‘93] & he still hasn't had any response for VCA. Some are saying NPWS stalling on VCA & press is running with that."

(We were not aware of any press coverage concerning the NPWS stalling with the conservation agreement. Was this more mis-information from Minister Causley motivated by a desire to activate the NPWS?)

"What she wants:

1) copy of property description

2) report on exactly what is happening. ie why NPWS hasn't contacted Mr Kratz. Mr Kratz has sent solicitors to our Grafton office but nothing has happened.

3) has NPWS been talking to media or green groups on this matter or media etc talking to NPWS.

Verbal response OK...”

In its defence, NPWS explains on the 6th of September '93,

“NPWS only became aware of the approval to conversion during a discussion between Deputy Director Papps and Mr Ockwell on 23 August 1993 and instructions are now to be issued to the Regional Manager on the area to be included in the voluntary conservation agreement and that he commence negotiation with the owner on acceptable conditions.”

Meanwhile Causley was keen to direct the attention away from himself and succeeded in adding confusion to the debate.

17th of August '93

“Ah and I think that you have to also take into consideration that ah the heat in this whole issue seems to be being generated by a few people who live adjoining the block. And it’s also interesting to know that one of those people works for the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Grafton.”

This is untrue. It was yet another false assertion from the Minister. Fortunately in that instance Smith-White publically contradicted the Minister's claim. No NPWS employees live anywhere near the former Pine Brush Reserve.

It was alarming to us that the suspiciously inaccurate December '93 , two-day flora survey performed by NPWS, was to form the basis of the conservation agreement. It is noteworthy that according to the file above (of 6th September '93) that instructions on the area to be included in the Conservation Agreement were to come from head office. Yet it was the Regional office that was responsible for assessing its conservation values. Conservation Agreements, are intended to protect the highest conservation values of the land. But as the '93 survey denied the existence of rainforest remnants, what hope was there of that? And what of the ancient Aboriginal stone axe-grinding grooves?

Of course we were angered by the fact that the conversion had gone through despite only an agreement being made at the time to negotiate about an agreement aimed at protecting the natural values, as this March '93 (exact date not clear on file) department of Conservation and Land Management letter to Kratz outlined.

“The Department of Conservation and Land Management is now prepared to give favourable consideration to granting of the above application provided your client formally undertakes to immediately enter into negotiations with the National Parks and Wildlife Service aimed at preparation of an appropriate conservation agreement in respect of the affected lands.”

Dailan Pugh, the spokesman for the North East Forest Alliance, who advised us at the start of our involvement in this whole issue, described the situation on the local radio news report shortly after the conversion.

(18th of August '93)

"My understanding was that ah, the parks Service said they wanted a conservation agreement entered into before the property was converted to freehold. Now that didn’t enc, occur so instead what ah, CaLM have done have got,have got the um, new owner now to ah, sign an agreement that he’ll enter into an agreement that he’ll ent, enter into negotiations with the Parks Service regarding a conservation agreement. Now there’s a big shortfall between having a conservation agreement and just merely negotiating about it."

At the time of the Christmas '93 flora survey even less was required of Kratz, as this excerpt from the survey conveys.

“...the owner has offered to negotiate a Conservation Agreement for parts of the subject land identified as having high conservation value.”

This was hardly the conditional arrangement apparently originally stipulated by the NPWS if Mr. Kratz was merely offering to negotiate, months after the purchase of the land, about parts of the subject land.

But the signing of the Conservation Agreement was obviously an important public relations exercise for both NPWS and Ian Causley. And once it was signed it was theoretically legally enforceable, so a lot was at stake. We were anxious to know what the grazier was prepared to give up, considering his illegal attempts at quarry development and bush rock removal. It might have appeared to be in our interest to encourage the Conservation Agreement along, but as there seemed little chance, in our view, that Kratz would abide by it, and as NPWS was not willing to assess the portion honestly, and since the signing of it would legitimise the conversion further, we felt it should be delayed after all.

But who were we to attempt such a feat? How could we delay it? How could we, as ordinary landowners, attempt to penetrate the tangle of advice and counter advice, untangle the threads and make determinations about the correct course of action regarding the agreement? How were we supposed to assess who was acting inappropriately? We aren't trained professionals. We have no formal qualifications for this work. We were and still are doing it by default - just two locals with a concern for the sustained health of our environment, and who happened to be here to notice the mismanagement occuring.

The whole portion had already been assessed as worthy of conserving. Its conversion to freehold had been disapproved of by government departments only months before the conversion. One of those departments was now in the process of negotiating a type of agreement which was designed to take advantage of a landholder's good will and appreciation for conservation. Yet the agreement had been, in effect, forced upon this landowner who had demonstrated his insensitivity toward preserving the native environment. We shouldn't have expected it to make sense, and it was probably never expected that the procedure would be scrutinised. Still, some logical course of action had to be pursued.

From what we had heard informally through the National Parks Association, the proposed Conservation Agreement boundaries were to encompass an area which included McCraes Knob itself and the plant, Podocarpus spinulosa, which was not as rare as was originally thought. The rainforest remnant, the rarer, yet to be named schedule-one, threatened Quassia species B and the Aboriginal axe grinding grooves were to be left outside its borders, unprotected from tree felling, cattle grazing, fires, or other activities the Kratz family might have had in mind. Over the months ahead we, the National Parks Association and eventually the solicitors who form the Sydney Environmental Defender’s Office, tried and tried again to persuade the NPWS and the NSW Environment Minister to correct the placement of the C.A. area, but we all met with stubborn, although perhaps predictable, resistance.

While NPWS and Trevor Kratz were negotiating the CA, with the National Parks Association, ourselves and the media looking on, our attention was still very much on the reversal of the conversion itself. Apparently almost everyone else regarded that outcome as near impossible and not worth pursuing. Our advisers were focused on the more realistic compromise of organising the agreement. But unfortunately this gave it some legitimacy in the public eye.

To the public the NPWS would now appear to be attempting to conserve Pine Brush in the face of potential development and destruction of habitat. Nature conservationists would be applauding. But we, having srutinised the paperwork available at that time, could see that NPWS was doing much to please the forces responsible for the scandalous conversion. NPWS had identified an area for conservation on the former reserve which coincidentally happens to be less attractive for gravel extraction, and, no doubt, for logging. They selected for conservation the area more visible to the surrounding shire in favour of ones apparently more rich in exploitable resources yet more obscured from view. The damage to wildlife and its habitat would go ahead mostly out of view. While saving face itself, the NPWS would be helping to hide from public view activities at Pine Brush that were morally and environmentally suspect.

 What could we do but continue to push for the botanical and political truth to be acknowledged? But twisted chains of events had led to this sad state of affairs. How could we hope to reverse it? We tried time and time again to force reason into the debate, but with no success.





EIGHT -The National Parks and Whitewash Service

_________________________________________________________________________(return to table of contents)

 We were quite pleased with the exposure the SBS television documentary had given the conversion scandal, even though there had been no obvious results. Carney's concise commentary and forceful imagery was just what we felt was required to quickly persuade people of the issue’s importance, without it being necessary for them to read through the masses of files already accrued by us. We were pleased the coverage would help to distinguish it from myriad small environmental battles raging in the country. The documentary was also a record of invaluable quotes from Ian Causley.

“I mean th, if you’re talking about public interest, then let me say that, if you put something into a National Park, you are not serving the public interest, because what you’re doing is, locking up area that they can’t manage, which - in fact - is left to be destroyed by fire! And that destroys the flora and fauna with it! If you want to have an area managed then you need people like Mr. Kratz! They’ll, at least, manage it!”

Over the months we made numerous copies of the exposé. Every time we copied the video we were sorely reminded of Mr. Kratz’s land management style! It seems that in some regards we weren't alone in our assessment. The Forestry Commission had noted in a memorandum dated 27th of January '89, concerning the dedication of the grazing lease as State Forest,

“At least one neighbour ... said Kratz was always burning off without prior notice and burnt their fences.”

We don't know who that neighbour was. But it wasn't Dyson.

Kratz, as quoted in the '93 NPWS flora report, claims that, apart from controlled burning off, all fires came over the ridge from the State Forest to the east.

The SBS television images of the scars on the hillside exacerbated by the quarrying project, the thinness of the crowns high on the ridges and the no trespassing sign on his main entrance imprinted themselves in our minds a little more each time we stood uncomfortably in the video shop in Grafton for that agonising seven-minute wait.

“It’s about the environment is it?”,

the shop owner asked once as I waited on my own, almost tearful. He was probably more embarrassed by the awkward silence as we watched, than he was by raising the obviously unfamiliar topic. His words came out with the sort of awkward embarrassed tone some Aussie blokes might use when saying,

“It’s about girl’s stuff is it?”

After I offered a few of the main details surrounding the subject of the video he hooted,

“If I could buy land for a dollar an acre I’d have done it too! Ha ha!”

I suspected his was a common view around here. Yet it seemed to me that it should be largely the people of Grafton who should be concerned about the loss of the Pine Brush reserve. It's part of the same valley. It would be a valuable tourist attraction if nothing else. It certainly adds to the natural landscape, so visible from the Pacific Highway. Grafton is a business centre. It is difficult for me to imagine that even from a purely economic point of view this pocket of land would not be seen as valuable to the town. Grafton is where Ministers pass through on public relations exercises. It's where politicians visit to attract support and to be seen among the people. Grafton is also the great local centre for administration. It's where private properties are valued and where departments slice up the task of land management. It is from Grafton that NPWS botanists are dispersed to assess public land.

Famous for its planting of Jacaranda trees, Grafton now appears as a leafy oasis in an often drought ridden, over-cleared valley. In Spring the town turns mauve with the soft Jacaranda blooms. Other trees soften the edges of Grafton's buildings too. Fig birds chirp noisily from huge buttress rooted figs towering over the court house. Even the gaol seems somehow calm, its edges touched by the lush tropical foliage. In contrast, just outside the town on the highway, triumphantly and proudly displayed is a massive erect log. As broad as I am tall and reaching fifteen metres into the air this feature is only the middle of the tree it once was. It's hard to imagine that it once had a huge leafy crown. Now grey and cracked, this section reminds us that the valley was once covered in trees like this giant. It was by harvesting trees like that one that Grafton originally became prosperous. To maintain this prosperity, to ensure diversity of income surely Grafton needs to recognise the remaining natural wealth of the region. I keep expecting that beyond the administration (in this case maladministration) I would find, in Grafton, the salvation of Pine Brush - a concerned group of citizens. They must be there. If only we could somehow get the story to the right people.

We were clearly often naive in our expectations in Grafton and further afield. Still, we felt sure that once the issue was exposed on national television the relevant authorities would be forced to save face and get in and do something about cleaning up the mess. We began by sending the convenient SBS documentary to, among others, the Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It would have been more useful had her office acknowledged receipt. But the National Parks and Wildlife Service proved to have a remarkable amount of trouble receiving certified mail.

It was because the local NPWS had still not responded to our letter sent in December '93 in which Dyson requested that he be able to offer his local knowledge about the conservation values of the land, that Penny Roberts of the NPA, had advised us to write to the Director General of NPWS, Ms Robin Kruk. Following that advice Dyson sent a letter in February 1995 to Kruk, describing the catastrophe occurring. The letter covered a number of points including that the Conservation Agreement seemed to be going ahead over the wrong area. It attempted to alert the Director General to the threat to important Aboriginal sites in the illegal quarry area, especially as the quarry issue had not yet been resolved at the time. It drew Kruk's attention to the fact that the area intended for the conservation agreement did not include the rainforest, or the Aboriginal sites. Dyson pointed out that the original condition of the conversion was never met and so, according to advice we had at the time, the conversion was unlawful and that if a conservation agreement was signed a reversal of the conversion would be made very difficult. It was a well-written letter imploring the Director General to act immediately to halt the destruction. Dyson also mentioned that his appeals to the local Grafton office had been ignored. So as mentioned, this letter to the D.G. was sent as certified mail - just to be sure.

It had been difficult and trying waiting for some response to our earlier letter to the District boss of NPWS and this time to the Director General herself. To our previous letter not even an acknowledgement of receipt had come our way. While parts of the valuable, former reserve were being taken apart before our horrified and disbelieving eyes our bleeding hearts were sitting in a pile on some desk somewhere. Yet there seemed little else we could do but wait. The delay, as well as being maddening, naturally served to make us even more suspicious about the intentions of the NPWS. At least in the meantime we had been contacted by another journalist, Fiona Morrison. Morrison was a student investigative journalist. She needed a story to illustrate the wider problem of Crown land disposal in the state. So once again our hopes were raised. Her magazine, “Snoop”, was produced for investigative journalists by investigative journalists, so there was a chance that the news would spread that way. She would stay with us for a couple of days and while she collated the necessary documentation we could show her the physical subject of our struggle which we hoped would leave a greater impression on her than would just a pile of documents. It all went as planned. But then we had to wait for Morrison’s work to be given the o.k., then to be published, and hopefully read by someone influential. The publishing itself ended up taking some months.

On the 6th of April '95 after two months had passed without a response to our letter to NPWS’s Director General, Dyson wrote again to her Office. We decided to make a complaint to the Ombudsman. Jodie Wauchope, after some persuasion, on behalf of the Ombudsman's office had been a great help with halting the illegal quarry operation. We were hopeful she would be able to deal with NPWS too. Indeed things started to move. Eighteen days after our contact with Wauchope, who made phone contact with NPWS, a letter came for us from the NPWS’s Director General's office. But the DG's office claimed that there was no record of receipt of Dyson's original letter, but that Dyson should be assured that the matters raised were being given consideration. This assurance hardly left us feeling confident. Instead we had to wonder how the office could lose certified mail so easily and just how they could consider the matters we had raised when they had lost the documents in which they had been laid out. Presumably Wauchope had briefed the office.

Taking all that had happened so far into consideration it seemed obvious to us that NPWS were engaging in a cover up. They did, after all, have a lot to hide. Adding to our suspicions, Penny Roberts as well as the Ombudsman's office had been in phone contact with NPWS about our letter and had been told by one of the more junior members of the office with whom she had regular contact, that it had been received. This was not surprising. Penny advised us that it was time for the Environment Minister to be informed. We had waited for another couple of months already in the hope that the DG's office would follow through with its assurance of a response to us. But as we were becoming increasingly doubtful, and so as not to waste more time, Dyson sent a letter to the Environment Minister Pam Allen, in July '95, as certified mail, including a complaint about the Director General of NPWS. It read,

“In spite of the N.P.W.S. Director General's Executive Officer's averment that she has no record of my previous urgent letter of the 7th of February, (sent certified mail, please note enclosed photocopies) informal sources within her department refute her claim. After six months, I have still had no reply.”

We were glad when, in August '95, a response came to us from the Environment Minister’s office. But it appeared that Minister Allan was simply covering for the Director General of NPWS. Allan's office wrote on behalf of the NPWS, and there was no mention of the complaint about the Director General. The Environment Minister’s representative wrote that the NPWS had advised that they consider that,

“...the boundary of the proposed Pine Brush conservation agreement incorporates the principal high conservation values of the subject land”.

Had the NPWS studied their own documentation they would know this was not true. The Minister had seemingly taken advice straight from the NPWS Director General rather than making independent inquiries. According to the Minister's letter, the main conservation values would be protected by the conservation agreement awaiting the Minister’s signature and this would be the best way to protect those values. Elements existing outside the Conservation Agreement area, the Minister contended, would continue to be protected by existing environmental legislation.

But what about the rainforest remnant and the Aboriginal artifacts and the threatened, schedule-one Quassia species B close to these? There was nothing, in practice, protecting any of these endangered components of the former reserve. Certainly they would not be incorporated in the proposed CA area. The Environment Minister's office obviously had no idea what was going on, or was knowingly promoting the official line to avoid upsetting the plan set in train by Minister Causley. Since we had already observed a variety of illegal activities on the property, and there was no sign of any policing by NPWS officers, we had no reason to find comfort in Minister Allan's assurances. Instead it was cause for alarm. She had not even addressed the questions about the validity of the conversion in the first place.

Surely it was irregular that a senior NPWS executive had attended a meeting at Pine Brush with Minister Causley, and given consent, on behalf of NPWS, to its conversion to freehold even though a moratorium, intended to prevent such conversions, was in place at the time. He had not even insisted on an Environmental Impact Statement which presumably would have legitimised the conversion somewhat in the eyes of the Government. Instead, he voiced the condition of a conservation agreement to protect the vegetation cover, but he made no written notes at the time about the meeting or his stance. Later he and the NPWS described the Conservation Agreement as only a recommendation. Then NPWS claimed not to have been advised of the conversion approval by the department of Conservation and Land Management. Only after the conversion did they begin negotiations with the owner about a CA and they worked from a flawed survey (which made no mention of rainforest remnant or even more than a few rainforest species) performed for the purpose. This was despite the acting regional head of NPWS publicly claiming rainforest was present on the land at Pine Brush shortly after the conversion, in contradiction of Causley's claims that there was none. NPWS also appeared to be neglecting the threatened Schedule-One plant species which they had formally acknowledged in the '93 report and stated in that report that it required further investigation. Had there been a trade-off with the Crowley's Creek reserve? Was the NPWS and now the Environment Minister's office attempting to cover for Minister Causley and the Lands Department as well as themselves?

The Conservation Agreement negotiations were at last underway, but now we were attempting to have the brakes applied to the process. In August '95, the National Parks Association also wrote to the Environment Minister and requested that the Association be consulted while the CA area was being negotiated. They also requested that an Interim Protection Order be placed over the land as they felt that the owner’s apparent continued gravel removal and bushrock removal activities were in breach of the conditions of the conversion.

(NPA, 30 th August '95)

“.. it has taken now over two years for a conservation agreement to be drawn up and the Association is concerned that the boundaries are inadequate for the nature conservation of the area.

We are aware that a flora survey was undertaken by NPWS but that the rainforest gullies in the western section of the area were omitted. A detailed fauna survey has not been undertaken nor a thorough archaeological survey.

The NPA requested that surveys be carried out over the omitted areas.

We were becoming increasingly impatient while these matters were supposedly being attended to. It was clear that we would encounter more resistance to our continued efforts. Yet we had to continue to push for conservation at Pine Brush, especially for the remnant rainforest. It was an ambitious task considering the party line seemed to be that no rainforest existed, despite Dodkin's formal identification of remnant rainforest in '74 and NPWS's adherence to that finding up until their '93 flora survey, which suspiciously made no mention of it. Surely part of the problem we were encountering was that those in charge of deciding the fate of these places have little intimate experience of them. Surely if they could experience them as we did they would realise how important it is to conserve them. As it was, it appeared some were more interested in their careers.

We had imagined inviting the executives into the forest where they would be forced to see what we could see. Then they would feel the soft rainforest leaves brush against their cheeks. They would breath the clean air and smell the scented forest. They would stumble along the creeks, tearing their expensive, high powered suits a little on the prickly, rare plants. Then brushing aside the scat of some threatened marsupial they would sit to rest on the beautiful lichen-covered bushrocks deep in the gully, still undisturbed by the Kratzes' industries. They would see the filtered light. They would feel what we could feel. We dreamed this as if it would make them acknowledge the truth, as if their response to the situation was limited by their ignorance rather than any immorality or criminality. If they were, as we suspected, knowingly distorting the truth, this would amount to fraud according to the law.

We had had an opportunity earlier in '95 to express some of our growing frustrations about the Pine Brush scandal at the local shopping centre two days before the State Election while again attempting to expose Ian Causley's misdeeds. It was an ugly encounter with Causley broadcast live on commercial radio. There was no way we could let an opportunity slip by where we might sway the oncoming vote by again exposing Causley’s interference in the fate of Pine Brush.

Reluctantly we organised ourselves. We prepared a map of the area on a placard showing the portion which had been taken from the people by Causley, and which was denied the Forestry Commission as well as the environmentalists. This was to be our point that night. Grafton is identified as a timber cutter’s town. The timber industry had been disadvantaged by the Minister’s actions too. It had also suffered a loss. The Pine Brush property was to have provided a valuable fire buffer zone for State Forest's adjoining silverculturally treated forests which otherwise would directly border private or leasehold land beyond their control. Surely that should have justified its acquisition financially, even without considering the harvestable timber identified there by Forestry officers.

We prepared a photocopied enlargement of the Forestry Commission document which lays out Causley’s conflict of interest. Before the speeches began, Dyson approached the timber industry bigwigs - the Forest Products Association president and the owners of the timber mills. When shown the enlarged document they expressed some sympathy and acknowledged the situation, but explained,

“He’s been very good to us. We have to let him have this one.”

Many people in the crowd seemed to wonder at Dyson’s lone rolled placard. When Causley started speaking, out it came. At that moment Causley lost the attention of the crowd as they read,

“Causley Knocks Back State Forest Extension”.

After a moment of silence Causley laughed,

“Oh, him! He’s stupid!”

and with a laugh from the crowd, he resumed his speech. Catcalls from Causley’s people pointed out that Dyson’s placard came from trees.

Dyson, towering above most people, held the placard with the map on it high over his head. During the event he moved around mirroring the angle of the television camera. That poster was going to get on air! Less recognisable, not at all tall, I positioned myself among the others, although not among the enthusiastic greens. As the speeches began, questions of the candidates were being accepted by the host of the event, Ron Bell. Rumoured to be Causley’s replacement as National Party representative should Causley retire, he would surely have known not to ask any questions of the now recognisable Devine.

I was taking advantage of my relative obscurity. I waited. I deceptively wore my meekest expression. My face lied shamefully about my true intentions and affiliations. That night I was a rosy cheeked timber worker’s wife dressed in nondescript clothes, hair tied up and neat instead of the give-away long hair and home-sewn bushie’s clothes. I hated being dishonest, but at least my mask obscured my true desire to leap upon the stage and grab Causley by his necktie. I was angry, and after all this time I was at last face to face with the chief cause of the devastation occurring at Pine Brush. It wasn't as if he had done it out of ignorance. He should pay, I thought, for all he had done to the environment. It seemed to me that he should pay for all we'd endured in the past two years in our struggle to save Pine Brush. He should even pay, my distraught mind concluded, while he was about it, for all the evils of the numerous bureaucrats who had tossed the political hot potato around since. It wasn’t fair that we were branded trouble-makers who simply enjoyed exposing villains as a hobby!

Of course rationality prevailed. I had to be content with aiming my pointed question Causley’s way and hoping it would deliver a fatal political blow. It had been getting late. We were beginning to think we’d missed our chance. But at last, near the end of the occasion the microphone came my way. But I got it wrong. I botched it. I heard my trembling voice coming over the speakers. What had happened to the confident, forceful tone that I had been reserving for that moment?

“Why, against the advice of three government departments, did you convert the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve to freehold, and sell it for a dollar an acre?”

I rattled. Dyson, somewhere behind me would have gritted his teeth and groaned in frustration, having planned the attack to appeal to the timber workers. Most Grafton people had little sympathy for green issues. I was supposed to ask why the Minister had converted the proposed Pine Brush state forest extension to freehold.

But still, we caused a stir if not quite the one we had in mind.

“Ha, ha, ha! Are you still on about that?! That was settled three years ago. It was all perfectly legal. That’s all over now. I don’t know what you think you’ll achieve by making a fuss....”

Causley taunted.

“Answer the question! Answer the question!”

boomed Dyson with a voice that made all the fluorescent lights in the shopping mall shake, or so it seemed to me.

By this time all the greenies started to chant:

“Answer the question! Answer the question!”

“If you shut up I will!”,

shouted Causley into his microphone. But he never did answer that question. He simply continued waffling on in an attempt to distract the crowd from the issue we had raised.

Dyson finally interjected at the top of his voice, about five metres from Causley.

“You said on the radio that there was not one decent millable log on it, and it's covered with valuable timber, and you know it because you also said on the radio that you’d been over every square foot of it, and you used to take gravel from there yourself, and you told me on the phone that the man who bought the 1217 acres for a dollar an acre was one of your oldest and dearest friends, and you had no doubt that he would clear the whole thing!”,

The Member for Parliament on the metre-high stage had the benefit of the grotesquely loud public address system which boasted the sorts of speakers designed for rock concerts. Now furious, his professional composure deserted him. He screamed,

“I know you! You’re nothing but a stupid, pot-smoking dole-bludger who has never worked and would never own land and doesn’t know anything about our Australian land contracts because if you did then you’d know that it was all perfectly legal. It was a contract...”

Treated to live radio coverage, the Minister might have been forced to recant. He had committed calumny. I knew how hurt Dyson would be by the public accusation that he was less than an Australian. The night moved on and eventually drew to a close, though not without one last painful event. Before Dyson could leave he was confronted by the attention of some of the wives of the timber workers, (presumably on behalf of their husbands). One woman asked if he worked for the NPWS. At about this time he was rocked by a powerful punch from behind, delivered painfully to the upper arm. Whirling to face his attacker he encountered a short but powerfully solid young woman with a nasty leer who said, "see how you like that" before vanishing into the crowd. It seemed like an appropriate end to our experience.

After the event there was nothing we wanted to do more than to go home and forget all about it. We had had enough stress for one weekend. We had had enough stress for one year. But the shopping centre onslaught was not all that was required of us before the election. The local commercial radio station was hosting a talkback show the next morning where none other that Ian Causley would be present for answering yet more questions from his constituents. I shuddered to think what I would be required to do this time. The election was the very next day. We had to do it. Oh, hateful nerves and feelings of insecurity! I couldn’t shirk my responsibility.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t have plenty of material to work with, but why me? Why us? Where was the media? Where were the environmental groups? Where was Causley's political opposition? We really couldn't understand why this man seemed able to move unopposed by the more powerful forces.

If only working for the environment involved patting lots of fluffy animals and monitoring magical bubbling brooks far, far away from shopping centres and talkback shows and big bullies. I had found it all so difficult, barely understanding the issues and with still very little perspective. I could barely hold all the facts in my mind let alone understand them. Looking back I wonder why I had such trouble. But I suppose such bureaucratic and political movements were never designed to be easily scrutinised by the public. Even years later it seems that the more I learn about this scandal the less I understand. Yet I was often the spokesperson for the Upper Coldstream cause.

As it turned out, I played a very minor role on the morning talkback show before the election, focusing on Causley’s unfair personal attacks the night before on the Labor candidate’s appearance. It was another valid criticism of our Parliamentary representative.

“He’s a short fat funny looking man”,

he had said to the attentive crowd assembled.

“What if my children are short, fat and funny looking and they hear the honourable member for parliament drawing attention so disparagingly to those characteristics? You should be ashamed.”

I chastised him on the radio.

“You were there last night.”

he said.

“Heh Heh, it was a rough and tumble kind of debate and you were contributing along with everybody else”.


I said,

“but I didn’t call you a big fat ugly man though Mr. Causley!”

Whoops! I couldn't resist. It was an unfortunate cheap shot but I suppose I made my point. We hoped if we couldn’t interest the listeners in an environmental issue then at least some people would be concerned that such a character was wielding that degree of power. My contribution, we thought, would also add an element of unpredictability to our talkback attack and Causley’s real Pine Brush defence mechanisms would be reserved for Dyson who would be a far better match for him.


“I think, you think you know me, but, um, I, I think you’re confusing me with someone else last night, when you called me a stupid pot smoking dole bludger who’d never owned land, doesn’t work, and couldn’t understand a land contract.”


“Dyson, could I just give a background to the people of what’s been going on for the last two years. You’ve gone to every radio station. You’ve gone to every media outlet in Australia trying to beat up a story about a perpetual lease down at Ulmarra. The point is - by your American accent - you don’t know anythink about Australian title."

In an attempt at washing over his indiscretion of the previous night Causley had delivered another racist remark and a non-sequitur at that.

"Because Australian title is, that a perpetual lease is the next thing to freehold. Now you’re trying to beat up a story that I’ve sold some fra.... leasehold, ah,down there for a dollar an acre. That was in the contract! The contract says very clearly, under the perpetual lease that the person who has the perpetual lease has the right to apply to convert that. The only ca, the only government agency that has any say in that is Forestry. They said they had no interest in the land. National Parks expressed an interest in the land. I had them look at the land, and the, the gentleman agreed that he would enter into a covenant that he wouldn’t clear the area they were concerned about so he had every right to apply to con, to convert that, and every right for it to be sold to him.”

“Well, um, ah, tha, that actually when you said that I’ve been phoning all the, the, radio people, that’s not quite true...”

“Oh look! I’ve had everyone! I’ve had ABC! I’ve had SBS! You’ve been all over the country, trying to beat this up! So I know who you are.”

“No. It’s simply not true. Ah, I’m not stupid. I don’t even smoke tobacco. I’m not on the dole. I’m not a bludger. I’ve owned a hundred acres on the North Coast for about twenty years. ..

...Anyway, um , you say that the Forestry Commission didn’t actually have any interest in this”.

“They, they relinquished their interest! They had a look at it! They went all over it, and they relinquished their interest because, they believed there was no valuable timber on it, and would not be, and would never be!”

“Well, ac, actually, I’ve got a piece of paper in front of me from the Forestry Commission, when you were, ah, the Minister for Natural Resources, and it says the Commission had approved, - as an addition to Pinebrush State Forest - this five hundred hectares here, this Crown lease...”

“Well which-ever letter it was, and what time because I can tell you that, their regional, the regional department of Forestry, the, the, ah, the manager of the regional department came and had a look at it one Saturday morning with me and walked all over it and said, “It’s true. There isn’t a reasonable tree on this. There’s no sense Forestry Commission, ah, continuing an interest in it.” !

“Well, be that as it may, ah, this letter says, “To the Forestry Commission’s disappointment...”

“Well you can bring letters up from anywhere, Dyson! I mean, there’s letters floating around everywhere! And they can be any time an, and at any place, but I mean just t, just to selectively quote from one letter doesn’t mean a thing! I can tell you what happened! And I’ve just explained to you what title means, and there’s nothing obscene about it! The previous government under Bob, ah, when Bob Carr was the minister, ah, I don’t think he was exactly the Minister for Lands, but it was certainly the previous government, sold the same perpetual leases for as low as fifty cents an acre! There’s nothing illegal about it! It’s a contract!”

“Well, ha, you’re basically saying that the Forestry Commission didn’t have an interest in it, bu ...”

“That’s correct!”

“I, eh, the Forestry Commission says that, ‘to its disappointment, the Minister,’.. that, that’s you of course, ‘..noted the dedication submission thus: ‘the forest shouldn’t be dedicated because it is an extremely poor forest.’” And you know John Stone the former Health, er, ah, Inspector, of Ulmarra Shire who did this, ah, Development Application for the quarrying up here, actually refers to it as, “heavily timbered”...”

“Dyson! You have plenty of time to sit, and pore through these documents! You don’t do anything else! Obviously, you’ve got plenty of time to pore through these document!”

“Well, I’m a pretty har..”

“Anyone, anyone that knows the area! Any local that knows the area, knows that it’s a pretty poor piece, piece of country, with a little bit of grazing land on it! And it’s no, of , of ,eh, very little value!”

“Well, “F27 - very durable species” at sixteen hundred dollars per cubic metr...”

“Dyson, I think you’ve beaten the drum enough on this particular issue! I think that’s enough, thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

Ian Causley squeaked into federal office in March '95 despite our frantic efforts to spare the massive electorate from his ‘care’ (although he held a lot smaller majority than the rest of the country’s landslide). Never mind the racial vilification. Never mind the personal slandering. Never mind the ignorance, deceit and arrogance. Never mind the environmental vandalism he was encouraging in the electorate to the detriment of his loyal constituents battling on the land. When Dyson had approached Ron Bell months before in an attempt to give him the Pine Brush story for his radio news, Bell, dismissing the story replied,

“No-one cares at all about the environment”.

Perhaps he was right.






NINE - National Parks and Whitewash Service

- The Rot Sets In

_________________________________________________________________________(back to table of contents)

Despite all the disappointments we had experienced by the second half of '95 we had somehow remained hopeful and had appealed once again to the Labor Government. We had approached the then Labor federal Member, Harry Woods. (Not many months later he lost his seat to Ian Causley who made the decision to enter federal politics shortly after winning his state position. Perhaps Mr. Causley wasn't enjoying being in opposition. At least at a federal level he would be in government, even as only a backbencher. But his move to the federal level led to a bi-election for the state position he vacated. In the absence of any known National Party state candidate at that bi-election, that position was filled by Labor's Harry Woods, leaving some National Party supporters angry at Causley's self indulgence.)

Woods had seemed pleased to meet us when introduced by Lawrie Brown two years before, greeting us warmly with a smile and a searching look. In '95 we thought he might be able to influence the State Environment Minister, being his Labor colleague, to take some positive action over the Pine Brush issue. Woods suggested that he send a letter to her. We were very pleased. Again someone was offering to do something to help. Of course, it soon emerged that the main letter would be written by us, and as Harry Woods was, it turned out, unenthusiastic about signing it himself, it was signed this time by me. There seemed little point in Dyson signing yet another letter to the Minister as his previous appeals to her had produced no results.

This summary was one of many we were asked, by various people, to write along the way. It was obviously naive of us to think that someone else with experience and facilities and, presumably something to gain, would do the work. Yet the land we were fighting for was not our private land. As a public reserve it had belonged to the whole community, and would be a loss at least to the whole shire. Yet it was up to us, with our old typewriter and tippex paper, to do the necessary and very time consuming ground work. The letter was sent to Environment Minister Allan in September '95. Woods' accompanying letter raised the issue of the Director General of NPWS not answering the original letter to her from Dyson and appealed that,

“a full investigation into the cause of the conversion of the land and the rationale behind the decision be instigated.”

Our letter provided a broader perspective.

“On the thin strip of land between Grafton and the sea, isolated pockets of rainforest still lie hidden and untouched. These priceless remnants are all that is left of the vast rainforest that once blanketed the entire valley.

Documents which have been obtained from various government departments ...have laid open to view an astonishing abuse of due process, public service ineptitude, cronyism, and ministerial conflict of interests.”

“The long term environmental and heritage ramifications of the possible loss of the Pine Brush Nature Reserve are incalculable.”

“Without a fauna survey, the rare and endangered native animals so familiar to the adjoining landowners, are also missing out on the protection they deserve. Breeding pairs of quolls exemplify the dynamic health and diversity of this unique area.

A notable absence of feral animals has permitted species like gliders and bettongs to thrive.”

“It is now my understanding that your office is about to finalise a "Clayton’s" conservation agreement which exclude[sic] the very areas identified in 1974 as the reason for the Nature Reserve in the first place.”

“ seems that gross administrative incompetence and an ongoing series of bureaucratic bungles now finds them deliberately misleading your ministry.”

“It remains in the realm of speculation as to why Peter Wilson never did tell anyone in the Grafton office of the N.P.W.S. about their department's abrupt cave in, or indeed about the maps Grafton was meant to provide to C.a.L.M. in order for the conversion to be finalised.”

Unfortunately while writing this letter we were still ignorant of many of the portion’s values. It was not until another two months had passed that we learned that there was much more to the rainforest remnant than even Dodkin had uncovered in '74. And it was not until two more years had passed that we learned that the gully containing the formally identified one specimen of the threatened Quassia species B, was bursting with far more threatened plants than had been formally acknowledged. This made that area still far more significant than the more southern part of the property, chosen by the NPWS as the subject of the Conservation Agreement. But we continued to struggle on in ignorance of these critical points.

In August '95 Dyson had written to the Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner. After archaeologist Herron’s backdown or withdrawal in '93 of his claims about the rare artifacts on the land, we were making little headway with the genuine recognition of these. Dyson included with his letter to Minister Tickner, a large stone hand axe uncovered in our vegetable garden. The effectiveness of posting a ‘protected’ artifact to the Federal Minister was surely going to be greater than simply providing our written claims, especially as to ‘interfere’ with such artifacts was, in fact, illegal. The move was provocative. Dyson wrote,

“ is my fervent hope that this tangible example of what is at stake here will inculcate a little reality into an issue that has become dangerously abstract..”.

It was effective. The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs responded in October stating that it,

“appears to be a relic under the provisions of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.”

So we had acknowledgement at last of its status. This acknowledgement was a great help, as it boosted our credibility. However, Minister Tickner then sent the relic to the New South Wales Environment Minister, Pam Allan, as he had no authority to deal with a state matter. He recommended that we pursue the issue with her. So, in that regard, we were back where we had come from. We had neglected to tell Minister Tickner that we were having no luck with the Environment Minister, and that she was simply maintaining the party line. But at least she, or her staff, would be forced also to view the tool. But we were afraid the artifact would disappear into oblivion much the way the rainforest and hardwood forests seemingly had. What would become of them?

While contemplating our letter to the Environment Minister sent by Harry Wood's office in October, a letter arrived for us from the NPWS Director General’s office, presumably after hearing from the Minister and the Ombudsman who we were keeping informed. With apologies it claimed that,

“There is evidence that your representations were being processed but unfortunately, and without prejudice, the relevant papers were mislaid and, regrettably, your concerns were not revived.”

It went on to explain that the conservation area boundaries had been agreed upon and that the CA's were voluntary agreements. I’m sure they hoped that their attempt at dismissing the real issues would discourage us from pursuing them further. But we were not prepared to accept that the Conservation Agreement over Kratz's land should be regarded as voluntary. Although the arrangements were supposed to be voluntary, and named as such (VCA), the Pine Brush VCA was, according to Peter Wilson, a condition of the conversion, although he himself later referred to it as a recommendation . The embarrassment the NPWS probably felt at not being in a position to enforce the original condition of the Voluntary CA was not helped by their tardy and seemingly corrupt approach to negotiations with Kratz so far.

While we had received this incredible correspondence from the NPWS Director General's office, the NPA had received no written response at all to their request for consultation with the Environment Minister about the CA boundaries. Obviously their scrutiny was not welcomed either.

NPWS had so far apparently lost, ignored, or, we suspected, thrown away three of our pleading certified letters, documents and videos which had been very generously spaced over many months. The Environment Minister had responded to our cries with whitewash and obfuscation. The months were passing. Our faith that somewhere in the organisations would be someone happy to have us reveal the scandal, so that it could be fixed from the outside, was rapidly expiring. Surely a Labor Minister would be enthusiastic about pinning something on her opposition if not enthusiastic about the subject of her portfolio. She was apparently relying completely on the advice of the tainted National Parks and Wildlife Service which was of little use under the circumstances, engaged as they were in a cover-up of the true qualities of the land. By denying the existence of remnant rainforest and significant Aboriginal artifacts they would hope to justify to the public their position at the time of the conversion.

At least in the Spring of '95 we had Morrison’s Snoop magazine article which had at last been published. It dealt with the Pine Brush issue in quite a lot of detail, providing a considerable amount of background on Crown Land management in the state. Unfortunately, Morrison included snippets of personal information to give an extra human interest aspect to the story. As if it wasn’t hard enough battling on with various community members against us, now we had to deal with more personal exposure for our trouble.

“ locals he's still an outsider. His American accent probably doesn't help.”

“Aside from the clearing and a tangled vegetable garden,...”

How easy it is for people to focus attention on our personalities, distorted by the media. Terms like “ferals”, “pot smoking dole bludger” (welfare cheat), “outsider” “American” tend to leave a lasting impression. The (on the surface) less entertaining rafts of documents and policies of politicians are perhaps more difficult to absorb at a glance. This is no doubt what Causley was relying on when he made his personal attacks. It is convenient for people to think of this whole issue as being generated by the ‘American’ ‘outsider’. (My existence didn’t seem to warrant a mention.) We were not about to write the reserve off as a lost cause and we didn’t want others encouraged to do so. So it was unfortunate that Morrison concluded her article with,

“It may well be too late to save the proposed Pine Brush Nature reserve, but it is certainly not too late to learn from its loss.”

While those bureaucrats engaged in their whitewash campaign we pondered daily the likelihood of a bulldozer arriving at the edge of the remnant rainforest, and within just a few hours removing the evidence of our claims altogether. When we would return from a shopping trip or some other outing we would wonder if there would be a great gaping hole at the base of the closest gully. Would there be chainsaws screaming nearby and the last truckload of rare cabinet timber crawling off through the old growth forest?

We felt so alone and helpless, still the only ones who could see what was really going on, in contrast to what was being promoted by NPWS, the Environment Minister's office and Ian Causley as the truth. Our tiny voices were calling out from the bush. Our tired fingers tapped out those urgent, vital messages on the old typewriter. It was easy to imagine a huge, all-powerful establishment, a massive grey creature stubbornly, heartlessly refusing to budge, sending out these letters to taunt us and tire us - just as a tease, while knowing we hadn't a hope. It was so exhausting fighting against that ugly bureaucratic monster which seemed unmoved by our very real concerns. We were repeatedly subjected to its twisted rhetoric, its deceptive diplomatic facade and its calculating mind. It had grown too big, too insensitive - too powerful. It was so foreign to me - too difficult to understand.

But although what was happening was a fault of a flawed system there is no denying that the actions of a few individuals were contributing mightily to this tragic outcome. What were they really thinking at the NPWS Director General's office while disposing of our latest appeals? It was so hard to get to the truth. Sometimes we wondered if anyone cared in the bureaucracy? Was it all just a game? Did it trouble them that another special place had been allowed to slip away? Certain of those individuals seemed to have their own agendas, their own plans relating to the Pine Brush issue, and so removed were they from what was really happening down on the ground. Ian Causley had performed a selfish, unethical deed and that had set in train a great series of unethical deeds, each triggering the next, like dominoes. Each domino represents only one step, but the overall effect is profound.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service had managed to delay dealing properly with our enquiries about the Pine Brush conversion for two years by the time Dyson wrote his reply on the 16th of October '95 to their latest letter to us.

“I accept that it was without prejudice that my registered documents to you were repeatedly mislaid, as I accept the eight month delay in responding to them and your apologies therefore.

What does concern me is, with respect, that you have still not addressed the issues.”

Unfailingly polite, patient and diplomatic, Dyson painstakingly laid out the issues again.

Had they received the documents, magazines and videos? What ‘existing environmental legislation’ would protect those natural and cultural values outside of the C.A. area? The Soil Conservation Service letter of the 12th of January ’95 revealed that those areas were not being protected. How could the NPWS know what they should be protecting when no formal fauna, archaeological and anthropological surveys had been conducted? When would they acknowledge and protect the Aboriginal sites? The failure to make a Conservation Agreement conditional to the conversion of the land threw the whole thing into question. How could they claim it was a voluntary CA? If , as we had been told informally, the CA would provide protection over about sixty percent of the property, was this significant, given that sixty percent was already, in theory, protected by soil conservation legislation, though clearly not in practise?

We noticed that no file number had been put on the latest letter from NPWS. This became a common practise of that office and others, we suspect, to make recovery of the ‘Pine Brush’ files as good as impossible. The Director General had previously written,

“the natural and cultural values of the areas that lie outside of the proposed conservation agreement boundaries will, ‘..continue to be protected under the existing environmental legislation’”.

But the NPA, according to Penny Roberts, hadn’t heard of any such legislation other than the already ignored Protected Lands restrictions which stipulate that any land over a slope of 18 degrees may not be felled, quarried, etc. Kratz and the Council before him had ignored that legislation in their quarry operations and bushrock removal. The letter that had been produced by the Soil Conservation Service for the Council during the quarry episode indicated that the excavation site extended into protected lands. Despite this Kratz was never ordered to rehabilitate the area. Who would prevent him from going wherever he liked?

The argument that the VCA negotiations couldn’t be pushed for fear of alienating landowners was, we felt, inappropriate, unfair and intended as a distraction. They clearly hoped to identify our complaints as a destructive impedence to further nature conservation in NSW, shifting the onus of responsibility onto us. Why had they made an unenforceable agreement a condition in the first place?

Our letter, remarkably, was responded to just three days later on the 19th of October '95 with a note promising a future response to the matters raised, and also making a reference to documents, magazines and videos forwarded to the office.

“I regret that...a search of my records does show receipt of such items at my office”

This was unbelievable though it may well have been a genuine misprint. But we could barely accept that it was a legitimate error in light of all the deceit that had emerged from the NPWS’s head office over the the last couple of years. It was easy to believe it was another delaying tactic. After all, the longer they could delay the matter, the less interest the public, the Ombudsman and maybe even we would have in pursuing it. And if the reserve could be ruined beyond recognition we could no longer prove that they had acted corruptly. NPWS wasn’t keen to face its own mistakes.

As months frequently passed between these various exchanges our sense of urgency was compounded. In October '95 the Environment Minister sent a note to us in response to our letter sent from Wood’s office on the 27th of September. The Minister had initiated further enquiries and would respond as soon as possible.

Should we have been glad? Should we have been hopeful that this time Environment Minister Allan would do the right thing? Or should we just assume that she was giving reassurance without substance in order to keep her federal colleague Harry Woods happy? Our hopes had been raised too many times already and then been dashed. We weren’t prepared to ride the emotional roller coaster again. But then, the thought of finally having the Pine Brush Scandal exposed was just too irresistible...

Would the Environment Minister and the Director General of NPWS co-ordinate their responses? Were they playing the same game? What followed in the next few weeks was a battle between the Ombudsman and the NPWS. The NPWS was behaving like a naughty child, only responding when forced to by the authority figure. The Environment Minister, meanwhile, continued to ignore the requests from the NPA to be included in discussion about the Conservation Agreement.



TEN- The Secret of the National Estate Listing

___________________________________________________________________(back to table of contents)

 It was becoming obvious that the NPWS’s Director General and the Environment Minister were determined to maintain their ignorance of the true values of the Pine Brush land and so in November '95 we arranged for the rainforest remnant on Kratz's new land, close to our house to be surveyed by another botanist from the community. With that survey we could at least learn more, or have confirmed, what really existed in the nearby gully and make better informed claims as to the merit of its conservation. Our new acquaintance was keen and capable. He had a special interest in the rainforest peculiar to the Clarence area and was excited at the thought of uncovering a hidden pocket, considering there is so little left. He was also incensed at the NPWS’s cover-up and that Griffith, Turner and Thomas had apparently avoided viewing that particular gully when they went on the land for their pre-Conservation Agreement survey.

His report which resulted from this new gully inspection describes a narrow strip of closed canopy rainforest with much regeneration and the possible presence of a rare grouping of tree species (sub-alliance 29, a classification devised by New South Wales rainforest expert Alex Floyd). A rare sub-alliance would certainly help our cause. It was possible, if the remnant proved to contain sub-alliance 29, that it would qualify independently for eventual protection under the Threatened Species Conservation Act along with the Quassia sp B. Our new acquaintance also identified as many as seventy rainforest species in that gully. This was very encouraging news and in obvious contrast to the finds of the NPWS in '93. How would NPWS react to the species list included with this new report listing the seventy rainforest species, thirty-two of which are trees, when their own survey by Griffith, Turner and Thomas uncovered only a handful of rainforest species, far fewer than Dodkin in '74. It was unfortunate that this botanist needed to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from NPWS. This could work against us.

In '93 the NPWS rangers apparently never even approached the rainforest gully to which we pointed and which lies two hundred metres north-east of our house. They must instead have explored the drier areas. Yet even in those drier gullies exist rainforest trees overlooked by the trio. If it wasn't for the NPWS Director General's resistance to our enquiries and the inexplicable approval given by NPWS for the land conversion in the first place we would not have felt so sure that that survey amounted to intentional scientific fraud. How boldly corrupt the NPWS employees would appear when their flawed assessment at Pine Brush eventually became exposed to the public. Why had they taken such a risk?

Walking into the dark corner of the forest to inquire into the specific identity of those lively remnant occupants seemed somehow sacrilegious. What had taken place over the years in that vegetative world with its lichens, epiphytes and mouldy forest floor bursting with surprises? In the darkness are tangles of lianas, loops swaying or stretched. Subtle smells of some kind of marsupial lurk here or there. Micro-bats hang in a tree trunk beneath the canopy of all hues of green, interlacing fronds. Moist velvet plates let the sun through their oil dots, glistening when the trees are touched by the breeze. Some have been feasts for myriad flying, wriggling insects so far escaping record. How could this organism, a green promise for the future, filled with all kinds of growths, be converted into a list of Latin words? It would have seemed to me like an offence against nature but for the fact that at least those printed Latin classifications of the natural world can mean something to people in a modern world of compartments.

Passionate and with almost religious zeal our botanist had stepped among the plants, respectfully coaxing their secrets from them, amazed by what is hidden there. His mission was inspired by admirable hope and courage and a good deal of curiosity. But we suspected he would become another victim of the whitewash campaign, his efforts rewarded only by a clear conscience. Despite the somewhat ludicrous nature of the exercise of attempting to prove on paper the existence and relevance of a three-dimensional world, we were pleased and excited at his assessment. This area is apparently even more critical than was originally documented by Dodkin in 1974. It seems likely that Dodkin didn’t see this particular gully either. The rainforest species he named were more characteristic of the drier gullies on this land. If Dodkin described the other gullies as containing rainforest remnant, this demonstrates even more the validity of our claims about the closer one.

Our new discoveries made us more frustrated by the NPWS’s sudden unwillingness, since the conversion, to acknowledge the remnant’s existence. Still, at least we had something it would be forced to refute. We would send the species list to NPWS and the Environment Minister and wait for their responses which would undoubtedly, at least, be more grist for our mill. This was assuming, of course, that they would even acknowledge receipt of our letter.

But first to be cleared up was the astonishing matter of the NPWS’s receipt or lack of receipt of the earlier documents, magazines and videos that we had sent them. Dyson wrote again to the NPWS on the 6th of November to try to sort it out and sent a copy of his letter, as usual, to the Ombudsman’s office. Having completed preliminary enquiries the Ombudsman’s office responded in a letter on the 11th of November. Wauchope had discussed the matters with NPWS staff and followed our numerous complaints with a letter to them on the 22nd of November.

“...given the problems encountered with his first complaint, and given concerns Mr Devine raised in that complaint do not appear to have been fully addressed in the reply to his letter (or later correspondence), Mr Devine's concerns about further replies appear to be well founded.”

In her letter to us Wauchope detailed the NPWS's obligations and discussed the various points we had made and their validity. Unfortunately for Pine Brush, it was her view that there was little point in the Ombudsman’s office addressing the issue of the conversion as it had occurred years ago and had been approved by a Minister. The Ombudsman’s office is unable to investigate the conduct of Ministers. Wauchope felt there was little point inquiring into the details surrounding the Conservation Agreement since her office accepted that the CA was a voluntary agreement. But she did not take Wilson to task for presenting it as a condition while knowing that it was unenforceable, or for not informing anyone within the organisation of his position in the first place and not documenting events.

Wauchope stated,

“ is not clear at what point NPWS was informed of the conversion,...”

Had she investigated how NPWS handled the conversion in the first place she would have discovered Wilson’s mismanagement and the CA matter would have more relevance. Instead she concentrated on pressuring the office to respond to our enquiries. But that was something at least.

A letter written on the 15th of November '95 from NPWS to us appeared to clarify the lost items situation, or rather, revealed just which story the office wished us to swallow at that time. After writing in their letter of the 19th of October that the documents regrettably had been received at their office, they now wrote,

“As explained in the Director-General's letter of 19 October 1995, the video and magazine articles to which you refer have not been received at this office. Unfortunately it must be presumed that they have gone astray.”

Still we were really none the wiser. Did they have them or didn’t they? Their credibility shot by this time, we had no way of knowing whether NPWS had received the files, as the previous letter claimed, or the files really had not been received. But either way they were sticking to their claim that they had gone astray, and, no doubt, the whole affair was regrettable. NPWS had still not responded to the issues raised as promised two months before and so Dyson wrote again. With more costly photocopying, another copying of the SBS video and with another expensive registered mailing we prepared yet another set of the elusive files.

(Dyson, 4th of December, '95)

“Please find herewith S.B.S. video, magazine articles and various N.P.W.S. documents obtained through F.O.I. With the exception of the article from SNOOP, all of this was sent to you registered mail last February and again in April. Some of the memoranda have also been sent subsequently, (16/10/95).” (16th of October '95)

“...Given the problems your office has with receiving registered mail,etc, I hope that you won't think that I'm being petty in trying to determine exactly what has "gone astray" and what you actually have. The perceived communication shortcomings within your organisation don't help. I trust that now that all this has been sorted out, I will be receiving a considered response to my letters before much longer.”

We had heard no more at this time from the Environment Minister’s office and neither had the NPA. A familiar and disturbing pattern was emerging. Ignoring difficult correspondence was clearly the preferred way of dealing with it. On the 22nd of December the NPA wrote again to the Environment Minister.

“We have not as yet received a written reply to this letter. However Grahame Douglas who attended the last 'peak environment groups' meeting was advised that NPA would be consulted over the boundaries and could view the proposed conservation agreement document and its boundaries before it receives your signature.

Subsequently, this has been confirmed by your office in telephone conversations between Liz Phelps and Penny Roberts (NPA Research Officer).”

The deaf ear approach from the NPWS and the Environment Minister was wearying and probably designed to be. But despite the emotional exhaustion from the lack of reward for our efforts we persevered, or rather, Dyson persevered. Any ‘ordinary’ person, in my opinion would probably have given up. What can you do when the head of a department and a Minister repeatedly demonstrate that they don’t want to know? Who can you turn to then? Perhaps you decide that you’ve tried and failed, and that it’s a lost cause. Had I shared Dyson’s peculiar optimism and experience I would perhaps have been keener, but I could see little point. There seemed to be no way we could force the properly address this important matter. So sometimes with a distinct lack of encouragement from his own spouse, Dyson continued doggedly.

In addition to my perhaps often reasonable doubts about our chances of success I have an inhibiting and irritating fear of pushing issues. It scares me to approach people who don’t want to be approached. It scares me when there is hostility. It scares me to the point that it blinds me to more rational assessment of a situation. Like so many people I am anxious about troubling those important, busy department heads and cowed by their often sophistry riddled diatribes. All this, even though in this instance it is they who are acting with dishonesty, which causes harm to the community. It is they who are supposedly working for us. Our taxes pay their salaries. But riddled with self doubt about pointing the finger in case it is pointed back at me, not having the confidence that I could be in the right, I recede sheepishly into a more comfortable mind space.

But then we can expect to witness the toppling of forest giants, the rumbling of trucks, the screaming of chainsaws and the wrenching of more bushrocks. This would amount to the devastation of a precious and rare ecosystem including, perhaps, the last of the representative lower Clarence Valley rainforest. It could mean the destruction of one of the largest populations of a plant so newly identified it hasn’t been given a name and wildlife too numerous to mention - a number of which are certainly threatened and endangered. So I have to constantly coach myself, push myself - force myself to be brave and faithful and try again despite the odds. Because of Dyson’s greater experience and capacity for standing firm against the increasing resistance to our efforts, he was, and is often left with the bulk of the responsibility for planning and carrying out moves towards saving Pine Brush. He is a lot less prone to unreasonable self doubt.

In 1996 this was especially so. It was a year full of lengthy correspondences with a number of state government Ministers and even Federal politicians. It was a significant year in that the Pine Brush issue attracted some legal representation, was briefly aired in the Federal Senate and very significant new information came to light about the conservation value of the land. Even the Conservation Agreement was finally signed. But 1996 was a trying and dispiriting year.

The first correspondence we received, at the start of 1996 was posted on the 5th of February '96, (overnight express) but dated the 31st of December '96 (were NPWS employing time travellers?), a lengthy detailed letter arrived from NPWS written by the Acting Executive Director, Jonathan Saunders. It was addressed to Mr. Dyson. Mr. Dyson? This was not a good start.

“No formal advice of the terms of conversion were received by the Service, and it was left with no other course of action than to undertake the negotiations in order to establish a measure of protection for the land. These took place at a time when the Service had no staff allocated to conservation agreements and this contributed to delays in negotiations.”

“...there are no records of the proposed nature or terms of this agreement so there is no basis on which to suggest what it was intended to include in the conservation agreement.”

“ was Mr Kratz's prerogative to withdraw from the negotiation process at any stage.”

“Any action on the part of the Service which would appear to compel Mr Kratz to enter into an agreement risks alienating a wider section of the community from such initiatives.”

“The conservation agreement negotiations were therefore undertaken in less than ideal circumstances.”

‘No formal advice of the terms of conversion were received by the Service’ because the Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division didn’t present them to his own department! His inaction had kept them in the dark. NPWS were excusing their handling of the Conservation Agreement by stating their ignorance of the terms of the conversion, even though that was largely their own fault. Unfortunately this is how the Ombudsman had assessed it too. At least NPWS was now admitting that its role in the conversion was ineffective. Wilson, with no follow up action or documentation, had made a voluntary conservation agreement a condition of the conversion knowing, presumably, that there was no funding to carry out the negotiations of the CA anyway. The stories we were being told by the various officials were evasive and excruciating.

Becoming increasingly familiar with the devious approach to the Pine Brush issue that the Ministers and departments were maintaining was leading me to become somewhat apathetic. Corruption had become a more normal state of affairs. It had become less shocking to me. At that point I simply expected it. So what was the big deal? One reason behind our success as a species is apparently our ability to adapt. But what happens when we adapt to a culture of corruption? If it becomes normal aren't we less likely to question it? If it becomes common aren't those who react against it going to appear more and more hysterical, more like whingers (complainers)? We were starting to hear lines like 'Well that happens all over the place'. 'Yours isn't the only scandal you know'. 'Are you still going on about that?' But what if we stopped complaining? What if we gave in, which was increasingly tempting, at least to me? If we did that, yet another pocket of corruption with wide ranging ramifications would go unnoticed and perhaps another significant natural environment destroyed forever. People would still see little reason to take a stand and encourage change. Someone other than the government has to expose these things so that they can be treated accordingly. At least we had to show people what was going on behind the facade of good intent and honest concern presented by the major power brokers in the Pine Brush fiasco.

We needed more publicity. After pursuing this line of thought we had some good news which buoyed our hopes again for a while. SBS television’s Matthew Carney had gone to work at the ABC for the respected national current affairs program, the Seven Thirty Report. He told us that the host of the show, Kerry O’Brien, was keen and interested in running our story, as was his producer. So we waited, holding our breath. If O’Brien himself was keen, this had to be good. In anticipation of the ABC coverage we refrained from approaching other media groups about the story. If the story wasn’t going to be an exclusive it didn’t have the same appeal to the industry, we discovered. We were prepared to hold our tongues under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, still not having heard from the Environment Minister four months after her last contact with us and inflamed by Mr. Saunders' letter, in February Dyson wrote again to Minister Allan.

“There appear to be several obvious errors of fact, and a tacit admission that failures by his department in the proper execution of procedures were beyond their control.”

Dyson laid out the flaws in the NPWS's stance in this letter and sent a 'please explain' letter to NPWS.

Had Wilson just been giving lip service to these conservation measures while knowing in all practicality that they would mean nothing? Did he really have any intention at all of attempting to conserve the land after the sale? He contends, in his email to us of 12.4.99 that,

"the decision I made on the spot was motivated only by a desire to salvage something for the wider community and future generations from a political and bureaucratic mess."

Yet he went on to immediately contribute to that mess by his inaction. Considering NPWS’s lack of action concerning providing protected land mapping to CaLM we would have to conclude that Wilson had allowed himself to be bullied all along the way. Would a Conservation Agreement have ever been drawn up even over the wrong area had we not pursued the issue?

In February '96, the NPA, also still not having heard from the Environment Minister, wrote again to her office requesting that proper flora surveys be done on the land. Our informal rainforest species list was included with their letter.

“It is of great concern to the Association that a conservation agreement and boundaries are being finalised without sufficient and comprehensive information about the diversity of flora that can be found in this area. In addition a fauna survey has not been undertaken at all.”

In preparation for writing this letter, and on viewing our own flora survey, Penny Roberts had phoned the local Grafton ranger, Owen Turner, for his explanation of why the remnant rainforest had been omitted in the NPWS 1993 report. On the phone to us Penny told us tearfully that Turner had become abusive in that call and stated,

“That rainforest’s been destroyed.”

Penny was obviously deeply upset by his outrageous false assertion (and one which he later contradicted), presumably believing it to be true. After his remarkable claim she said Turner's tone changed dramatically and he then asked timidly,

“What’s going to happen now?”

We wondered too, when the whole story was eventually exposed publicly.

All along Penny Roberts of the NPA had stood apart from other Sydney officers with whom we dealt. She demonstrated a genuine, heartfelt concern for the environment, seemingly less compromised by personal ambition and ‘the party line’. Meanwhile she was under pressure from her own organisation to spend less time on the Pine Brush issue, as the NPA apparently felt that no more could be achieved with it. They did not appear willing to confront the NPWS and Environment Minister’s office further on their stance. But at the risk of upsetting her superiors Penny allowed her heart and her head to tell her what she should do and continued the fight, often in her lunch hour and late in the evening.

At last, as a result of her perseverance, a letter later in February '96 from the Environment Minister, responded to the NPA’s points. In particular, regarding consultation, the letter read,

“In this instance I will release the details of the conservation agreement to you prior to my signature however I request that you treat this with sensitivity bearing in mind the implications for the wider negotiation of conservation agreements.”

The Minister was in effect asking the NPA not to publicise the fact that the NPWS identified a lesser area for the CA than the one containing remnant rainforest and a Schedule-One threatened species, and that it was this lesser area that Kratz was agreeing to protect. What else were they afraid to reveal? That Kratz was annoyed by the NPWS delaying and confusing the agreement would have been an issue, but the claim that all VCA negotiations would be threatened, as a result of publicising this one, was surely a disguise for the real reason. How would the NPWS be judged on their assessment of the property and their stance on its conversion considering its original importance to them?

The NPA was never given the details of the conservation agreement prior to its signing by the Environment Minister, despite the Minister’s promise of February the 22nd. In fact the Minister, extraordinarily, had given that assurance a day after the signing of the agreement! The agreement was signed by the Minister on the 21st of February 1996.

The Conservation Agreement was signed two years and nine months after the land was converted to freehold, conditional, according to NPWS’s Peter Wilson, on a conservation agreement adequately protecting its vegetation. The agreement documentation explains of the area chosen for conservation,

“The subject land contains species that are regionally important including the largest known population of Podocarpus spinulosus which is at the northern extent of its range.

The subject land contains rare plants or plants of limited distribution in north-eastern NSW including Grevillea quaricuauda ms., Eucalyptus rummeryi, Macrozamia fawcetti and Callistemon rigidus.”

This is true, but the C.A.border excluded the remnant rainforest, the Aboriginal axe grinding grooves and the schedule-one threatened species, Quassia species B. It did not include the significant conservation values.

To publicise the signing of the Conservation Agreement, Kratz had been photographed by the Grafton Examiner, (apparently scowling) and shaking hands with Owen Turner from the NPWS. He would be seen as one of the new enlightened landowners willing to sacrifice part of his land for nature conservation, prepared to give up part of his own hard-won acreage for the good of the whole community. He was doing a community service. He clearly recognised the need to preserve biodiversity for future generations. But the newspaper did not explain to its readership that the portion now owned by Kratz was too sensitive to convert to freehold in the first place and the conversion was condemned by National Green senator Bob Brown? It did not explain that Kratz had breached various extractive industry regulations on his property in the past two years resulting in terrible damage to the land? It did not explain that stolen sandstone bushrocks, characteristic of McCraes Knob were still appearing in gardens in the nearby towns and villages? It did not explain that we had been told by the former Minister for Natural Resources that Kratz would clear the whole property? We couldn't find a copy of that article although we searched the papers at the Grafton Examiner office. But in early '99 a copy of the article was anonymously placed in our letter box.

As the Conservation Agreement had been signed, it was in the Environment Minister’s interest, as she had endorsed it, to end the dispute about it. Her policy advisor, Patrick Holland, responded to Dyson’s February '96 letter three months later in May, saying,

“The Acting Minister believes that every effort has been made to provide you with full and factual details of events.”

“...the matter is now deemed to be closed.”

“The Acting Minister has asked me to reassure you that the Service will continue to monitor the conservation area to see that the agreement conditions are being met.”

We would see about that. Their record so far with Pine Brush was very poor. Incompetence and/or corruption had resulted in NPWS agreeing to the conversion to freehold of their proposed nature reserve. Then they produced a deeply flawed assessment of its flora. They remain ignorant of its fauna. They had given assurance that the area for conservation would not be effected by the quarry development after being informed by me that the development was expanding illegally. They had selected an area for conservation which excludes the most threatened plant which was noted in their latest flora survey, ('93). They had ignored some of the findings of Ranger Dodkin on whose survey in '74 the NPWS's first plans of acquisition were based, giving no explanation for the disappearance of rainforest remnant other than that Dodkin's survey was performed nineteen years before when NPWS were considering acquisition.

On top of all this we were about to learn of another failure of the system involving the NPWS and the Environment Minister's office, among other government bodies. It was about a month after the Environment Minister’s signing of the Conservation Agreement and her attempt to end the dispute surrounding it that we got hold of some new vital information about Mr. Kratz’s lucrative new freehold property. As long as fifteen years before the conversion from its Crown Reserve status, the property at Pine Brush had achieved National Heritage Listing! It had been deemed worthy, by the Australian Heritage Commission, to be part of Australia's National Estate. This information had only just come to light after almost three years of us battling to prove the land's significant conservation worth. Why wasn’t the documentation relevant to this listing, included with the NPWS files obtained through the Freedom of Information Legislation? Why was there no mention of it in the Ulmarra Council files? Why didn’t the Clarence Environment Centre know? Why hadn’t the Heritage Commission been alerted and consulted at the time of the conversion? Upon learning of this news in June '96, we spoke on the phone to the Heritage Commission staff. We were the first to tell them of the conversion and sale of the former Crown reserve. They seemed angry too.

The Australian Heritage Commission file number relevant to Pine Brush had been leaked to us. We learned that it was one of the NPWS’s own employees who had actually made the application in 1978 for the Heritage Listing! The Heritage Commission’s brief documentation, since acquired by us from them on the former Pine Brush Reserve, states,

“The vegetation is forest ranging from remnant rainforest, depauparete wet sclerophyll to typical dry sclerophyll.”

All the time the debate had been raging about the existence of rainforest remnants at Pine Brush the Heritage Commission’s files confirmed the original assessment according to Dodkin in '74. Now that they had been, at last, informed about the conversion, they were keen to update their files. But they did not remove and still have not removed the reference to remnant rainforest.

According to the Heritage Commission's pamphlets,

A Register listing means that a place has been recognised as part of Australia's natural and/or cultural heritage, and that it deserves to be conserved. Listing helps people to appreciate why such a place is a significant part of Australia's heritage. All of these places - the internationally renowned, the locally treasured and the sometimes unappreciated gems - are what make us distinctively Australian. They form our National Estate - the natural and cultural places which should be kept for the future and which have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community.

The listing,

"obliges the Commonwealth Government to avoid damaging national estate places (unless there are no feasible and prudent alternatives) and to consult with the Commission before taking any action which could harm or affect a registered place;"

Among places achieving this listing are the Sydney Opera House, Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef- all well known overseas. More local places on the list are the Illuka Rainforest Reserve, Red Rock National Park and Yiraygir National Park. So the 'Pine Brush Nature Reserve Proposal' as it is identified in Heritage Commission files, is in good company.

But an unfortunate truth that we didn't fully appreciate until later was,

"The Commonwealth Government is the only level of government whose actions are directly bound by listing places in the Register. The way in which State and local government, and private owners of registered places manage or dispose of their properties is not affected if a place is registered, unless there is a Commonwealth responsibility or approval involved in such decisions."

All the same, the fact that it had acquired such a listing, which it shared with various internationally known and spectacular natural places, should have been sufficient reason alone for the conversion to have been refused, or at least for a greater outcry from the public. It is also noteworthy that the Crowley's Creek Nature Reserve, (over the ridge and surrounded by Pine Brush State Forest) did not recieve Heritage Listing although it had been nominated for it. This perhaps gives some indication of how the two adjacent areas compare.

By the time the heritage listing news came about we had more copies of our informal rainforest species list ready to send to NPWS and the Environment Minister with further demands for explanation as to why none of those elements were included in the proposed CA area. We asked, had the Heritage Listing documentation been removed from all the files before we purchased them under Freedom of Information legislation? This would be a very serious crime indeed. Further, there was the newly identified plant, known only as Quassia species B, which had been discovered on the '93 survey. It is classed as a ‘Schedule #1 Threatened Species’ which meant that NPWS was legally obliged to protect it regardless of which land it occurred on. How could it be that the C.A. area would not include it? Those letters were sent on the 11th of June '96.

Even with our own rainforest survey and the news of Heritage Listing we were ignorant about even greater values which exist hidden between the ridges and which were to emerge later.

We thought again of the earlier false claim by the NPWS that the boundary of the proposed Pine Brush conservation agreement incorporates the principal high conservation values of the subject land. Since then they had acknowledged that “the negotiations had been carried out under less than ideal circumstances”. But they hadn’t come as far as acknowledging the true nature of the portion, or that they themselves had engaged in deceit. Instead they conveniently blamed Kratz for not being willing to conserve the area of our concern. We recall more of Causley’s words on commercial radio back in August of '93.

“...the gentleman agreed that he would enter into a covenant that he wouldn’t clear the area they were concerned about...”

Just which area were they concerned about then in '93? Was it a particular area? If so why? At the time Causley delivered those words there had not been a survey to determine the prime conservation values. So what was he talking about? NPWS’s concerns were not, it seems, primarily conservation of the important vegetation on the land or of the still neglected fauna. Their concerns seemed to be primarily about saving face and establishing the justification for agreeing to the conversion in the first place. And, no doubt, in bending to Ian Causley's wishes.

NPWS considered the troublesome Pine Brush matter to be in the Minister’s hands by this time so, after ignoring our correspondence for a while longer, they responded in July '96 with just that advice. Then naturally our focus was shifted more onto the Environment Minister who tried and tried again to shrug us off. But we were not finished.



ELEVEN - More Labor Ministers involved in the cover up

_________________________________________________(return to table of contents)

While Dyson had been pursuing the Environment Minister, the NPWS and the Ombudsman’s office in the first half of '96 there were various other correspondences taking place. Our letter to the Environment Minister, which had been written at the behest of Harry Woods the previous year, had been forwarded to the State Minister for Land and Water Conservation, KimYeadon. This initiative had been taken by Harry Woods' staff on our behalf, presumably as we were getting nowhere with the Environment Minister's office. It was also considered that some of the matters we raised about the conversion were more appropriate to Yeadon’s portfolio. Yeadon gave us a written assurance in February '96 that a response to that forwarded letter would be provided to us ‘shortly’.

Even though it was Causley's previous state opposition now in government, his conflict of interest, while he was State Minister for Natural Resources, still remained officially unacknowledged by the State Government, its ministers and departments. To the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption it was apparently too insignificant a matter to pursue. The state Ombudsman was unable to police the action of ministers and, after all, it all took place years ago. But we felt there was still a chance that the Minister for Land and Water Conservation would deal more directly with that matter. But it was the Department of Lands who had processed the conversion application. Would Minister Yeadon now be prepared to open that process to scrutiny and would the Labor Ministers be able to work independently? Or would there be the understanding not to follow the issue in any department, after Premier Carr’s back down on parliamentary questions in '94?

The Environment Minister had already attempted to close the matter by the time we eventually received an answer from Minister Yeadon in August '96. We had waited a long six months since his February letter of acknowledgement and during that wait I had written him with more developments, including news of the Heritage Listing. Yet after all that time Yeadon's amazing claim was,

“On the information available to me, it appears that your allegations of irregularities concerning the conversion of Crown Lease 1944/3, Grafton, to freehold cannot be substantiated.”

Who had advised him? How disturbing to have the Labor Minister for Land and Water Conservation adopt the same interpretation of events as the NPWS had and find nothing irregular with the Causley conversion itself. Didn’t Yeadon even have an interest in exposing the National Party heavyweight? Was the conflict of interest in this context not an irregularity? Was Causley’s demonstrable bias towards his constituent not an irregularity? Minister Yeadon explained about the Forestry Commission’s dedication:

“...the Commission apparently failed to justify the dedication on economic grounds...”

The Forestry Commission documentation shows that the dedication would serve to protect the neighbouring state forests, the adjoining private landholders and villages from wildfires as well as provide timber. It was Ian Causley as the Minister for Natural Resources who claimed the forest was ‘extremely poor’ and refused the dedication on those false grounds (not economic grounds), although he referred to no documentation to back up his claims. He had made no acknowledgement of the portion’s value to the Forestry Commission as a fire buffer zone, nor any reference to its actual supply of millable timber as assessed by the Forestry Commission.

On Causley’s personal representations, Yeadon wrote,

“Representations were made concerning certain of those leases by virtually every Member holding a rural seat,...”

But ‘virtually every Member’ was not the Minister for Natural Resources in charge of forests at the time, and not every member went to such lengths to have the application succeed, and Causley did not merely represent Kratz. He actually, in his own words on ABC radio in August '93, ‘steered through’ the issue for Kratz (through that ten day window of opportunity). Yeadon continued,

“I have been advised that a valid application was approved following due processing, which did not require the completion of a conservation agreement or fresh protected land mapping.”

Well, his own department would tell him that. It was true that the Lands Department, (contrary to initial advice from NEFA spokesman Dailan Pugh) were not legally obliged to heed the NPWS’s concerns in order to convert the land at Pine Brush. But how could Yeadon claim that its disregard for these protective measures was not irregular? Was it normal for the Lands Department to ignore the wishes of the NPWS? The Lands Department had been newly named the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CaLM) a year or so before the conversion of portion 183. Was conservation not something CaLM were obliged to discuss with NPWS? Then we had to deal with Yeadon's claim that there was a valid application and due processing of the documentation. How could Yeadon claim that when CaLM invited a fresh application for conversion, apparently on realising that a CA would not be signed within a couple of weeks in February? CaLM appear to have altered the conditions in order to hurry the process along.

In a file note of the 16th of February 1992 CaLM staff had written,

“... the processing of the application should not be delayed and if the agreement is not in place upon finalisation of the application, the existing protected lands mapping will be relied upon to protect pertaining conservation values.”

Yeadon had responded to our concerns with no acknowledgement of his rival parties' Minister for Natural Resources' conflict of interest and how this might have affected his judgment. What about the irregularity of the on-site meeting Causley arranged with Sydney-based department heads? Yeadon apparently considered this to be standard procedure too. What about the coincidental transfer from the regional Lands Office of Stephen Macdonald, who persisted with his department's position despite Minister Causley's 'deep concerns'? What about the fact that advice, to conserve the land, from three departments was overridden by the Minister and that the conversion application process was put in train during a State-imposed moratorium on all such land conversions? We remember also the roughly written note at the bottom of the Forestry Commission document which had laid out the Forestry Commission’s reasons for wishing to acquire the land in February '89,

‘...if I believe Mr. Kratz, this is bullshit. If it is PITY HELP WHOEVER PREPARED THIS REPORT. Ian’

Was this a regular way for a Minister to note a report prepared by his department?

Perhaps Yeadon simply took advice from the departments involved without carrying out an independent study of the documents. This seemed to be the preferred method of ‘investigation’ among the various officials with whom we dealt. Of course, he might have had an interest in covering up the role his own department played in the process as it had demonstrated a willingness to time the paperwork exquisitely to push the conversion through in the ten days between the moratoriums on such conversions. I would have thought that in six months it should have been possible for Yeadon to scrutinised the files very thoroughly. But, of course, it would have been rather awkward for the former opposition leader (now Labor Premier), if the Minister for Land and Water Conservation had exposed the former National Party Minister's improper behaviour when he, having been fully informed about it, had not.

Yeadon’s either deliberately evasive or incompetently prepared letter contained some outstanding points to which we had to draw attention before any more could be achieved. On the topic of the Heritage Listing, for example, he claimed,

“Even if the legislative provisions had applied in the case in question, they would not necessarily have prevented the conversion because that action, in itself, would have had no adverse affect [sic] on the land.”

Do we assume then that Kratz's ownership of the land in those circumstances, would be treated as a completely separate issue from the land conversion issue, or that it would be judged as of no threat to the natural values of the land? What would his purpose be then for aquiring the portion. Surely Yeadon was not suggesting that Kratz would purchase it for nature conservation. The Heritage Listing might not " necessarily have prevented the conversion", had legislative provisions applied, but it certainly should have, considering it would oblige the Commonwealth Government,

"to avoid damaging national estate places (unless there are no feasible and prudent alternatives) and to consult with the Commission before taking any action which could harm or affect a registered place;"

We were not impressed with the Minister's grasp of logic. And so began our grueling task of writing, in sequence, each matter of concern to us regarding the conversion and attaching the appropriate document for the Minister. Clearly he was not able or willing to do his investigation properly so we would do it for him. That letter was an enormous forty pages in total. We sent it in September '96. Apparently as the Labor party had dropped the ball two years previously in parliament they were now interested in burying the impropriety surrounding the sale of the Pine Brush property. We were more than a little aware that we now had both sides of government against us in our pursuit of justice. But at least we could attempt to have them show their colours on paper. It would all be painstakingly recorded for someone, somewhere, who had the desire to expose the story. Surely someone would take it.

But the Federal election had been and gone and Kerry O’Brien had still not done the Pine Brush story. In fact the interest that was expressed from the staff of the Seven Thirty Report halted rather abruptly and seemed to coincide with the (now) Prime Minister, John Howard, deciding that O’Brien was unfit to host a nationally televised election debate because he had some affiliation with the Labor Party in the 70’s, and was therefore biased against him.

The new Prime Minister of Australia had persuaded even some conservationists before the election that he was their man with his attractive sounding Natural Heritage Fund, (conditional on the part sale of our national telecommunications service), but his party shows no real concern for nature conservation. Instead they demonstrate a lunatic insularity from those critical issues. They also demonstrate a disturbing intolerance of media scrutiny. In spite of repeated promises to the contrary, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was one of the first public areas to receive funding cuts from the Howard government. There was no obvious merit in this move and it was predictably interpreted by the media and the concerned public as blatant media manipulation. The commercial stations naturally provide a more right-wing interpretation of government machinations, being supported by, and supporters of, big business. This would suit Howard very well.

Despite the change of Government and the funding cuts at the ABC, for some time we continued to desperately cling to the possibility that a time slot would emerge for the Pine Brush story on the Seven Thirty Report. But eventually we had to accept that we were out of luck. Again we were terribly disappointed. We had waited months and resisted offering the story elsewhere. Fiona Morrison's Snoop article so far hadn’t produced any obvious results either, although perhaps its existence had served to demonstrate the perceived importance of the story, at least by some of the independent media. It had, after all, been another convenient package to mail around. It had been sent with the letter Dyson had written to the Environment Minister in June '96 along with the one to the NPWS.

The Environment Minister's policy adviser, Patrick Holland, had not answered a number of Dyson’s questions in previous correspondence and so in June he had asked them again.

“Did Minister Tickner send you a stone hand tool found in this area? (Please see enclosed correspondence.)

Are there, or are there not, rainforest remnants on this land?

Have you seen my rainforest species list? (Copy enclosed F.Y.I.)

What monitoring has taken place over this land since 21/12/93?

How is the N.P.W.S. currently protecting the quassia species "B" from damage from overgrazing?”

Dyson asked why there was no mention of the Heritage Listing in any of the NPWS files. Also, he asked for a copy of the Conservation Agreement, and finished with,

“I am sincerely sorry about ‘the considerable correspondence these (issues) have generated’ to quote your policy advisor, but this issue will not be resolved until the public receives answers to the many valid questions which have been generated by the disposal of this piece of our National Heritage.”

How long could we maintain our repeated requests for information from these consistently deceitful individuals? Perhaps the only hope we had was that there would be inconsistencies within their deceit. We would catch them out eventually, we were sure, and then we would have something more useful to present to the media, if that’s what it took. But we so needed to have real acknowledgement of the actual former reserve. We wanted to bring the focus back onto the land. It had been already too long just a battle of words. We shuddered to think of all the resources this dispute was taking up. The files, if not already conveniently disposed of, would be stacking up in the various offices. Hours of office time would be going into producing the maddening responses to our desperate cries - and a great deal of tax payers' money would be going into it too.

Still those office workers had no idea what the property was really like. They hadn’t heard its bird song. They hadn’t seen it as we had as the gentle forested hillsides rising up out of the morning fog from the valley below. They hadn’t seen how in the heat of the day it stands handsomely clothed in obvious contrast to the stark and wasted paddocks of the valley. The protective insulating forest layer has all but been removed down on the floodplains. Only some areas in the valley, already claimed for logging by the timber industry and the steep hilly areas, up out of the flood plains are still largely tree-covered. But even those are being stripped, tree by tree, by locals like Kratz who still can’t understand, or who won’t take the time to see, if the damage they do might affect fellow human beings. Where is the community spirit there?

We waited for all the letters due from Sydney, as the temperatures continued to increase and scald our tender garden crops and as the rains came more erratically with little left of the valley’s original vegetative sponge to regulate their impact. The drought, the worst on record, certainly made the threat to the environment caused by the destruction of Pine Brush National Estate seem more critical to us. We continued to hope against all evidence that someone powerful would come to her or his senses and trigger a vital response to the illegal environmental catastrophe occurring in this context of a much wider environmental catastrophe.

A response had come to Dyson’s pointed June '96 letter to the Environment Minister, two months later in August, again from Patrick Holland. We had to assume to some extent that Holland was largely responsible, as policy advisor, for the Minister's stance. Dyson had asked a number of clear questions. What happened to the stone tool she had apparently received from Tickner? Are there rainforest remnants on this land or not? Had they seen our rainforest species list? What monitoring had been done on the land? How were NPWS protecting the Quassia species B? Did they know about the Heritage Listing? Why wasn’t it mentioned in any of the files? Could we see the Conservation Agreement?

At last Holland wrote that the stone tool we had sent to Tickner had been sent to the Aboriginal Sites Officer at Grafton. The artifacts future would be determined in consultation with the Aboriginal custodians of the area. (We weren’t sure if we should believe that.) Holland reiterated that the classification by consultant botanist Steve Griffith was of Wet Sclerophyll Forest on the property. The NPWS now acknowledged the existence of rainforest 'elements', whereas the '93 flora survey did not use the word “rainforest” in any context. Griffith’s estimation, Holland told us, was that these [elements] do not constitute 'rainforest' in its commonly accepted sense. Holland restated the NPWS attitude which was that forcing a voluntary conservation agreement would be counterproductive for the overall VCA program. On the Quassia species B he wrote,

“Under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 as amended by the TSC Act, there are a number of potential avenues for the protection of Quassia sp. B (Moonee Creek). These are currently being explored, and an application has been lodged for funding under the Australian Nature Conservation Agency's Endangered Species Program to enable survey and preparation of a recovery plan.”

If we could believe any of what Holland said, while the funding had eventually been made available for a ‘Claytons’ conservation agreement, no money was yet available for the NPWS to carry out their legal responsibility towards schedule-one threatened species on the land. According to law and policy, these species are threatened with extinction within ten years unless land use changes and are to be the NPWS’s highest priority for conservation. This did not seem to add up.

Holland claimed that NPWS was previously unaware of the National Estate Listing. Regarding the Conservation Agreement, he advised us to purchase a copy from the NPWS Hurstville (Sydney) office or arrange to view it at the Grafton office.

Holland concluded that,

“...the fact remains that the conversion of this Crown lease has now been effected, and cannot be reversed. The efforts of the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be directed towards ensuring that the conservation agreement operates as effectively as possible to protect the acknowledged natural and cultural heritage values of this land.”

We would be comforted if we could believe it. How could Holland claim that the acknowledged natural and cultural heritage values will be protected when the primary values exist unpoliced and unacknowledged outside the CA boundaries?! It’s too bad NPWS staff energies were not going to be directed towards protecting the natural and cultural heritage values that they had not acknowledged. And why should we have any reason to expect that they would be monitoring the CA area for signs of breaches of the now legally enforceable agreement? The law seemed to have little bearing on how NPWS had behaved so far with their lack of protection of the Quassia species B and fraudulent assessment of the land. Of course, no-one, (apart from Peter Wilson himself years later), was willing to explain Wilson's behaviour regarding verbal consent to the conversion in the first place.

Holland did not acknowledge receipt of the rainforest species list. Had he done so, he would not have been able to claim that the area contained only rainforest ‘elements’. The species list, of course, revealed an embarrassment of riches. A closed canopy of foam barks, cudgeries, rose walnut, lilly pillys, snow woods, quandong, blueberry ash, figs, myrtles, native frangipani and silky oak grow there among other species in the one gully by our boundary. These rather substantial ‘elements’ would hopefully eventually speak for themselves and prove the fraudulent nature of the actions of the NPWS and Environment Minister. But when? Holland also neglected to list the occasions when NPWS staff inspected the property. Presumably this information would be too revealing. It would be too hard to explain why they repeatedly avoided the rainforest gully. Holland’s advice about protecting the Quassia species B was sketchy to say the least. Certainly NPWS could not be blamed if the funding for proper protection for endangered species was simply not there, but as they had engaged in such a degree of deceit we felt little sympathy.

All this to-ing and fro-ing was exhausting. The details surrounding the Pine Brush conversion, the cover-up, and its real values were increasingly confusing. The most natural recurring reaction for me was to give up. It had all become just too messy. It had gone well beyond the point of no return as far as I could see. Wouldn’t it be better to leave it, hold it up as an example, and work on preventing other catastrophes? Although in reality the idea of the former forest reserve beside us being destroyed bit by bit was unacceptable to me, certainly without trying something else. Dyson certainly wasn’t about to give up. In August Dyson prompty made a formal complaint to the Environment Minister about Holland’s handling of the issue. But presumably Holland dealt with that. It remains unacknowledged to this day. The Minister did, however, initiate ‘further enquiries’.

The letters that followed from the Environment Minister to us were also sent by her office to other involved parties and I cover those in the next part of this book.

The year 1996 seemed to be dominated by letters travelling to and from Sydney Government offices. How abstract and distorted the issue had become and how removed these people were from the reality we experienced. Our walks simply down our gentle hill to our mailbox at the end of our dirt track provided us with opportunities for reflection. The forest was still recovering from the terrible arson attack of Spring '93, yet new growth glowed all around. The kangaroos were never far away, lounging in the middle of the day in sandy wallows beneath the tallowoods and scribbly gums. Oblivious to the important looking envelopes we had gone to collect they were privy to gasps of disgust, rage and exasperation or heavy sighs as we made our return trek.

It was mostly the more reclusive wildlife that had reason for concern. The endangered yellow-bellied gliders and other arboreal mammals, micro-bats, the fierce, carnivorous marsupial quolls (known as tiger-cats) and tiny phascagails would have their already limited habitat reduced once more by the tree felling, grazing and general disturbance we could expect next door.We could anticipate another increase in heat, wind and die back of our own forest trees, as if the droughts weren’t taking enough of a toll. Already the effects of the northern neighbouring property owner poisoning his 100 acre hardwood forest giants eighteen years ago, to try to provide pasture for another few head of cattle, were evident. That increased exposure from the north has stressed our once vibrant casuarina, ironbark, tallowwood and bloodwood trees along our fenceline. Even the 1:25000 topographical map shows the incursion of death.

This was just a small example of what would be happening all around the country. It was not just our problem. We know it is worth struggling on with this issue, not just for our own survival, but in the hope of influencing law all over the state if not the whole of Australia. Then some changes might be expected. It seems that in order to get what seem like small matters corrected you have to change whole departments or whole laws. Nothing seems straight-forward. The corruption of the system is not just on the surface. It goes right to the core.

Another correspondence that took place in 1996 while we pursued the issue with the Environment Minister and the Minister for Land and Water Conservation was a correspondence I had with the Minister for Local Government Ernie Page, in the hope of having the unfinished Ulmarra Council business dealt with.

In my letter in March '96 to the Minister for Local Government I asked about the local Council’s responsibilities when complaints are made of illegal activity on a parcel of freehold land. I wanted to know whether the Council is obliged to enter the property concerned. On one occasion Ken Exley, the Director of Environmental Services from Ulmarra Council had avoided going onto Kratz’s property because he didn’t have a four wheel drive vehicle available to him. Another time he claimed that he would be accused of harassing Kratz. This made me wonder again about the effectiveness of the laws. By this time I had formed the opinion that they were not much more than a cruel joke, leaving us falsely reassured. At least around here it appears to be Rafferty’s rules. I outlined, to the Minister for Local Government, the council’s poor behaviour surrounding the quarry Development Application of '94 - '95 as largely confirmed by the Ombudsman. But perhaps predictably, Minister Page replied in May that the Ombudsman had dealt sufficiently with the matter and that in order for the Council to investigate complaints without being accused of harassment we would have to furnish evidence like photos of the bushrocks leaving the portion. We had heard this before from Ken Exley.

We had visions of perching up trees, hiding in holes, rigging up hidden cameras and doing dare-devil flights in light aircraft over the property, at our own expense, of course, avoiding trespassing again for this required ‘evidence’, only to find that it had no more effect against Statutory Declarations and the like than our expensive incriminating quarry photos had two years previously with Council. Anyway, Ken Exley had also told us that mere photographs would not suffice, as they would be open to interpretation. We were never sure whose advice to believe.

I wrote again to Minister Page in June. The Ombudsman had not dealt at all with the missing Council files issue, nor the Council’s own history with bushrock removal nor Council’s ignorance of the Heritage Listing of Pine Brush. I hoped the Minister would tackle these things. After all, he was the Minister for local government. Surely he should attempt to right these wrongs before the Ombudsman was called back in. Strangely, Ken Exley has also informed us that the only reason that the proposed expansion of the illegal quarries did not proceed was because Ulmarra Shire Council should have obtained a Development Application approval before they undertook their own operation previously. I included this interesting tidbit in my letter. But Page, in August '96, considered that,

“ is not appropriate for the Department to revisit the complaint.”

Through our continued contact with Labor’s Harry Woods, (who, by this time, was the State Member for parliament in the position previously held by Ian Causley), we also corresponded with the now State Premier, Bob Carr. We had been advised by the NPA to write to the Premier because his Environment Minister wouldn't address her errors of fact. This letter to the Premier, dated April '96 also arose from being fed up with the lack of effect Harry Woods' office was having in dealing with the various Labor Ministers. Woods was clearly not willing to expose the conversion issue himself. Although he was Causley's political opponent his own party now had too much to hide on the issue. To expose Causley was to expose the Premier as well as the Environment Minister who was promoting NPWS's position.

“Despite prolonged investigations by three of your government Ministers and intervention from I.C.A.C. and the Ombudsman, we are now faced with the immanent [sic] destruction of a unique rainforest remnant and an exceedingly rare plant.”

And there was the matter of Carr’s press secretary, David Britton, after the Labor Party gave up the Causley issue in Parliament in '93, passing our borrowed files on to the Sydney Morning Herald office where they were shredded. Taking the NPA’s advice, Dyson brought the Premier up to speed on the Pine Brush scandal including the news of Heritage Listing, and his Environment Minister’s inaction. But despite our hard work for Carr two years before and despite Woods' personal appeal to the Premier on the issue, the Premier, in July '96, simply referred the issue back to the State Environment Minister saying,

“You may be sure that the matter will receive close consideration.”

This is exactly what happened when we complained to the Environment Minister about her Director-General’s inaction. She simply sent our complaint to the Director General to deal with.

As we witnessed these seemingly endless exchanges of twisted correspondence we became more and more dispirited. Each time our attempts to inspire some genuine concern about our local environment were knocked back, our faith in humanity dropped a little more. Could all these public servants we had dealt with really be so consistently corrupt, immoral or incompetent? Was it just Pine Brush which was being treated to this behaviour. I never imagined before that our country was functioning in such a haphazard way. I know I have been naive. But next time someone says, ‘you’re so cynical’, I’ll simply have to agree.







Questions in the Federal Senate /Environmental Law

______________________________________________________________________(back to table of contents)


Amid the continually disappointing results from our appeals to the various supposedly responsible officials with whom we corresponded in '96, it occurred to us to aim our focus even higher in the political hierarchy. Although we had no real reason to assume that would get us any closer to a resolution of the Pine Brush situation we had nothing to lose. So, in June '96 we contacted Carmen Lawrence, the Federal shadow Minister for the Environment. After all, we were still of the opinion that as the Pine Brush reserve had been recognised to be worthy of National Estate Listing it was surely, to some extent, a Federal matter. We needed a very different perspective from somewhere. We needed to approach this ugly tangled web from a fresh direction. We were pleased to recieve a response from Lawrence a month later and had a degree of renewed hope as she told us she would look into the matter. She described our account of the Pine Brush saga as ‘most extraordinary’.

By ‘extraordinary’, was Lawrence trying to tell us that our story was outstanding and worth pursuing, or did she actually doubt our credibility? It was a growing concern of ours that the longer we continued to pursue the issue alone the more ‘extraordinary’ it was seeming, as department after department, official after official attempted to shrug it off. Our credibility was ever more likely to be questioned. It was becoming easier for people to write us off as a couple of cranks or fanatics. Lawrence eventually wrote again to us in October '96. She explained she was unable to question Ian Causley in Federal Parliament because he was now a backbencher. Only current Ministers could be questioned. Lawrence informed us that she ‘lacked the resources’ to do a thorough investigation into the issue, especially as much of it fell within the jurisdiction of the state, but she wished us good luck.

Fortunately over the previous two years we had continued a correspondence with Federal Greens Senator Bob Brown, reminding him of his promise at the Grafton vegetarian restaurant meeting of '94 that he would raise the Pine Brush issue in parliament if the Labor Party didn’t. We were thankful that he was willing to do that. It was wonderful and almost unbelievable that someone was actually following through with a course of action appropriate to his position. We were probably inappropriately grateful. Although the resources available to Brown were certainly no greater than those available to Carmen Lawrence, he did, to our great relief, in October '96 ask Questions With Notice of the Federal Senator and Environment Minister, Robert Hill.

“(1) is the Minister aware of threats from fires and grazing to the Pine Brush National Estate area (Lot 193 in deposited plan, formerly Portion 183, Parish of Coldstream, Country of Clarence) in New South Wales.

(2) Is the Australian Heritage Commission aware of threats to this National Estate area from fires and grazing.

(3) What action will be taken to avert the threats to this National Estate area.”

Hill’s response, in essence was,

“The NSW government was not required to consult the Australian Heritage Commission before changing the status of the land.”

“In the case of Pine Brush it is difficult to identify a Commonwealth action or decision which would trigger the application of the Australian Heritage Commission Act in such a way as to allow me to intervene.”

It had seemed a great thing to us that the Pine Brush issue was finally receiving federal attention. This had to be significant. It was, for me, further confirmation that our cause was legitimate even though so many people had turned their backs on it. But the result of that Federal questioning was typically disappointing. It had attracted no publicity. Few details of the scandal had been revealed at any rate as they apparently didn't have relevance federally. According to Federal Environment Minister Hill, it made little difference whether he, as the Federal Environment Minister, or the Australian Heritage Commission knew of these threats to the National Estate land at Pine Brush. He certainly didn’t bother to answer that question. He simply considered it too ‘difficult’ to intervene. It is small consolation that a few Senators that October day might have been made aware of the ineffectiveness of Heritage Listing from the distance of the National Capital. Senator Brown did not pursue the matter. There was little more he could do in parliament. Perhaps it was up to his state colleague to follow through with exposure of Causley's actions and the state Labor party cover-up of the affair. But it was months later that we eventually made contact again with state Greens M.P. Ian Cohen.

Trying to have policy and law applied to this situation has been like trying to push a string. It is as if the legislation is just a facade - an illusion to keep the majority of Australians complacent. It certainly seems to have had that effect. At least we were able to demonstrate with the documentation from the Federal Senate that Senator Brown had considered our claims credible enough and the matter important enough to raise. This was a huge bonus, if largely psychological.

But before long something was to begin that would effect us pyschologically in the opposite direction. We did not know, as we read Brown's correspondence to us, that in just a matter of weeks, as well as fire and grazing threatening the National Estate, there would be logging too. The horribly inevitable was looming large. We did not realise, at that point, to what extent our degree of optimism at that time was due in part to ignorance of what was just around the corner. In that ignorance we could still rest easy in the 'knowledge' that the former reserve was still largely intact. It was still not too late. Someone somewhere would still have time to step in and act to preserve this vibrant and ancient world, rare in its wholeness, not yet significantly damaged. Those special forests had not yet been invaded. They had not been violated.

Bursting out of the infertile, sandy soil the giants still towered, touching the clouds, their age alone demanding respect. Those solid pillars still stood, holding back the winds. Smooth, straight, magnificent stems topped with green, bronze, silver and red, harbored numerous tree top inhabitants. The busy ecosystem charged with life, charged with an unpredictable mobile chorus of feathered musicians and other marvelous creatures had been largely forgotten, largely bypassed, but could still be rescued. This hidden glistening treasure - not yet noticed by the broader community, would still have a chance before it was too late, we thought.

But soon a significant part of that forest was to become no more that a memory. It would be gone in a flash. That sensory explosion had been obscured by its remoteness or misrepresented one way or another since white settlement. Soon it would become another misunderstood and exhausted resource.

We didn’t know that our hateful work would soon be accompanied by the sound of screaming chainsaw and heavy trucks dragging the National Estate logs away. Perhaps that would have made little difference to the Federal Senators had Brown been able to raise that matter as well. It appears as if it would have made no difference at all. It seems extraordinary to us that the National Heritage listing doesn’t hold any more weight legally or, apparently, in policy. Although in light of the March '98 Australian Federal Government moves to remove legislation allowing intervention in the development of World Heritage Areas, it is not so surprising. Now, the Howard government, with Senator Hill as Environment Minister, is allowing uranium mining to go ahead at Jabiluka, part of the world-famous, World Heritage Listed, Kakadu National Park in northern Australia. This gives some perspective to the Pine Brush issue. What hope did we really have in light of that?

It should be no surprise to us that we have been up against a brick wall with our attempts to save our local wilderness. Australia has distinguished itself recently by taking its retrograde stance on greenhouse gas reduction at the Kyoto summit, against the tide of global pressure to reduce emissions. In the face of international scientific agreement on the necessity of global reduction of greenhouse gasses Prime Minister Howard is standing firm. According to Sydney Morning Herald writers, Murray Hogarth and Leigh Dayton,

“Australia was allowed to buck the emission reduction trend set for most other industrialised nations and to increase its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent over 1990 levels..”

Prime Minister Howard, it is said, ignored requests to meet with the heads of Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Australian Conservation Foundation, before the Kyoto summit. The Herald claims that the head of climate research at the CSIRO, Dr Graeme Pearman, has never been asked to brief the Government on that matter. According to Hogarth and Dayton,

“Australia's position conflicts with the rest of the developed world and many developing nations, ignores the failure of voluntary targets from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and mimics the wishes of the threatened fossil fuel industries.”

These alarming, retrograde, national moves concerning our fragile environment leave us so dismayed and sometimes almost without hope. I could go on about the Australian Government’s devastating, selfish, backward steps and the harm they will cause to our society, not the least being the further destruction of our necessary environment, but suffice to say that it is within this current political framework that we struggle on in obscurity.

Just how the National Heritage Listing affected things ethically was apparently not even a matter for consideration by our government correspondents. But why should we be surprised? Most of the time it seems to hardly occur to us that ethics are missing from these issues. Also we are so used to hearing the voice of the economic rationalist. (Yet the government’s stance is insane on even those grounds, the health of our environment being critical for a healthy agricultural industry and tourism, among other things.) Are we, as ordinary citizens, absorbing the selfish, soulless mentality of our government? Perhaps. We obviously voted it in. Most of our government correspondents seemed to be briefed to only assess matters according to what is allowable and legal, as opposed to what is proper. What is proper in modern Australian society?

Bob Brown provided some relief from such scorching, rationalistic rhetoric when he visited Grafton in '94. Local media coverage of Brown’s visit in November, before the state election, captured his perspective on the Pine Brush situation.

(3rd of November '94, ABC, 2NR news)

“It seems on the face of it to be totally wrong. Both on environmental, on an environmental basis, but on a justice basis for those people ah, within the bureaucracy as well as who are neighbouring this land who could see its value and believed it was going to be made a reserve for all times.”

(23rd of November ‘94, Channel Ten commercial television)

“If you don’t get a socially just society, at the end of the day you’ll fail to get it right with the environment.”

Surely a different agenda must be set by the government. How disturbing that Brown’s comments stick out as the exception and had apparently such little weight in the scheme of things. Doesn’t this tell us something about ourselves as well as the politicians?

Senator Brown asking questions in Parliament may have helped a great deal in maintaining the interest of another participant in the Pine Brush saga, the New South Wales Environmental Defender’s Office. This was a body to whom Federal Environment Minister, Carmen Lawrence had referred when responding to our pleas in October '96. She had said,

"I'm pleased that you are making use of the Environmental Defender's Office (while it remains funded by the Coalition Government!) and hope that your efforts to attract media attention are successful."

We had been advised to contact the Environmental Defender's Office at the start of our battle, but having no money to pay solicitors, and being too ignorant about the legal issues, we had put it off. But since then a situation had developed where the Environment Minister was engaged in a cover-up with the NPWS and environmental law was demonstrably being ignored. Describing itself as ‘an independent public interest legal centre specialising in environment law’, the EDO was the organisation for the job. We knew, in mid '96, we could at least start with some free telephone advice.

EDO solicitor, Andrew Sorenson was very helpful, and began laying out the issues for us to see if we had a case. At last we had help with the legal details of our claims. This was especially important since the NSW Ombudsman ‘for fairness, integrity and improved public administration’ had had enough of the Pine Brush scandal at this point. Having the EDO take on the Minister for us was a huge weight lifted off our backs. In our considerable ignorance we had pushed the issue along for three years, wasting time, often groping in the dark. We were immensely relieved that the load would now be shared by an organisation who knew the ropes and had the necessary infrastructure to carry out the task efficiently, and who had the will. Naturally though, they would require a small payment from us.

Fortunately, while we provided the funds the National Parks Association played the role of client to the EDO as their own attempts to persuade the Environment Minister to attend to the issues surrounding the Pine Brush property had also been unsuccessful. It was helpful to our cause that a respected environmental organisation was pursuing the matter. The EDO, the NPA thought, could take the matter a step further. So on the NPA’s behalf, the EDO detailed in a letter to the NPWS their legal responsibilities.

The EDO considered that the NPWS had the power to issue a Stop Work Order or an Interim Protection Order, (both temporary rulings, the former by the Director General of NPWS and the latter by the Environment Minister), while necessary measures could be taken to protect the threatened species on the land. A Stop Work Order has the duration of 40 days and can then be extended by the Director General. The EDO explained in its advice to us dated the 26th of August '96,

“She [the director general] may impose it if in her opinion ‘any action is being taken which will harm threatened species, populations, ecological communities or their habitats. Prior notification of intent to make the order is not required.”

During that time further action can be taken to protect the threatened species. The Interim Protection Order has the duration of two years and must be recommended by the Director General if she considers there are no satisfactory methods of protection for the subject of the Stop Work Order.

But as these temporary protection orders are subject to the discretion of the Director General and Environment Minister, whose offices had by this time proved themselves to be negligent and deceitful in their dealings with Pine Brush, the whole exercise was really one of seeing how much influence the EDO had on these government bodies. We were again hopeful and trusting of our representatives. Sorenson sent his correspondence to the NPWS Director General on the 3rd of September '96.

“We urge the NPWS to take immediate action in this matter, either through the use of a Stop Work Order or Interim Protection Order in relation to the subject property”

As the Schedule-One threatened species, Quassia species B, identified by NPWS on the Pine Brush property still remained unprotected, Sorenson wrote,

“It is also stated in the 1993 Griffith report that "the distribution and extent of Quassia species B on the subject land should be further investigated. Following such an investigation, modification of conservation measures for the species may be necessary." It seems clear that this recommendation has been ignored by the NPWS.”

The EDO brought to the DG’s attention the discrepancy between the earlier flora surveys and the more recent flora surveys performed on the property, particularly in regard to the remnant rainforest.

“...your response to this apparent discrepancy is to deny the existence of the rainforest remnant, referring instead to "rainforest elements".”

“Furthermore, the failure of the 1993 Griffith report to identify the remnant rainforest present on the property demonstrates that the NPWS has acted on imperfect information in determining the "principal high conservation values of the subject land"”.

The EDO also noted that the remnant rainforest and the Schedule-One threatened species both lay outside the Conservation Agreement area but that NPWS’s previous claims were that ‘the boundary of the proposed Pine Brush conservation agreement incorporates the principal high conservation values of the subject land.’

The EDO took NPWS to task over their claim that preserving the voluntary principle of the VCAs must take precedence over securing an optimum outcome in any one particular case. Sorenson also criticised their decision to regard the Pine Brush matter closed because the Conservation Agreement had been signed. The Pine Brush matter was far from being closed as far as we were concerned.


“We do not understand how the Service can refuse to take any action in relation to the possible obliteration of the only known population of an endangered species in the region, and ignore the existence of another potentially endangered ecological community which is equally in danger of destruction.

In our view, by allowing this to occur, the NPWS is not acting in conformity with the objects of the TSC (Threatened Species Conservation) Act, in particular the objects contained in section 3(a), namely to conserve biological diversity and promote ecologically sustainable development.”

Sorenson concluded,

“Please reply in writing as to your intended course of action.”

As mentioned, this detailed letter from the Environmental Defender's Office was sent to the NPWS in September '96.

At about that time, Spring '96, Sorenson produced an article for the EDO’s newsletter ‘Defender’ in which he cited the Pine Brush issue as an example of the ineffectiveness of certain environmental laws. The heading read,

“Threatened Species Act in Action”

Pine Brush was one of two examples, listed by Sorenson, of how the 1995 Threatened Species Act wasn’t working. Sorenson wrote how the Threatened Species Conservation Act ignores the potential threat of routine agricultural activities as is the case at Pine Brush.

“..the TSC Act provides a blanket exception to the requirement for licensing in the case of ‘routine agricultural activities’.”

“...activities that would otherwise be offences under the act are permissible [sic] and carried out possibly to the detriment of the threatened species and communities present possibly destroying the only representatives of the threatened species and ecological community in the region.”

At Pine Brush, fire and grazing were the obvious threats at the time. Sorenson explained the potential for damage to the Quassia species B, the rainforest remnant and even the species within the Conservation Agreement area, from these routine agricultural activities. (He had earlier received a report from senior plant ecologist at the Botanical Gardens, John Benson, which stated that cattle could damage the Quassia species B. Sorenson had included this information in his earlier letter to NPWS.) He went on to relay the news that a wildfire had been lit recently on the property ‘destroying large tracts of it’ and that it would probably have been in contravention of the the CA agreement, the Bushfires Act and the SEPP 46 legislation on clearing of forests and the Threatened Species Conservation act prohibiting damage to the habitat of threatened species.

Sorenson also mentioned that no reply to the EDO’s letter had been forthcoming from the NPWS. We were grateful for this extra public record of events. The article was also helpful in once again reinforcing the fact that the issue was not forgotten, but it was unfortunate that Sorenson inaccurately described the Pine Brush land as being inland of Grafton. The fact that it is actually north-east of Grafton and visible from the Pacific Highway, and the coast, is one we were hoping would give it relevance to more people. However the error was not corrected.

Then we waited on and on for some further response from the accused.

The Pine Brush issue was one that would not go away despite the NPWS and the Environment Minister’s repeated attempts at closing it. No doubt our existence was felt in some of those government offices. Word was apparently travelling informally between Sydney organisations about Pine Brush, although all was relatively quiet locally. But we were shortly to learn that someone somewhere during the year became very nervous.

We had slogged on, largely alone with the issue for over three years and having to fight City Hall was no breeze. We needed occasionally to concentrate on pleasurable activities for a change. With this thought in mind we went along to a music festival in Spring '96. It was a whole weekend of very good folk music, dance and drumming - the perfect antidote. Apparently we were not the only ones to think so. Karen Rooke from the Clarence Environment Centre was at the festival too, perhaps to let the party atmosphere of the event penetrate her skin, thickened (metaphorically) by years of fighting environmental corruption. I had wondered how she managed to withstand the flak and inevitable depression caused by her full-time work. I remember how, when we had told her months before of the fire lit at our gate, she responded in a rather casual manner saying,

“Oh, they do that to everyone.”


“I’m followed wherever I go.”

as if it was an accepted fact of life and more a nuisance than a sinister threat. I suppose that’s the attitude necessary for perseverance. I suppose we have since adopted a similar attitude ourselves.

Surrounded by the colourful stalls selling folk instruments, clothes and ethnic foods, and immersed in the varied and polyglot sound, it was possible to forget for a while the tragedy occurring next to our home. Bright and diverse costumes from musicians from all over the world - folk musicians with soul, distracted us from somber thoughts. Among those folk musicians, with simple messages about freedom and love or even oppression and tragedy, we felt renewed hope. People capable of such creativity and communication would naturally be thoughtful about the environment, we thought hopefully. These people were acknowledging the commonality of need across the globe and were also capable of expressing joy and celebrating when life is good. It was such a forward thinking, creative environment and such a contrast to the meanness and shortsightedness we had been dealing with for months on end. We marveled at how closely these two distinct worlds seemed to exist, just kilometres apart, and how awful it was that we would have to return to the latter where our weekend experience would be forced to fade.

At the close of the festival, certainly refreshed from our weekend and singing all the way home, new drums on board among our bedding and bags, we were not too concerned about another fire, given rain over night, although the thought often crossed our minds after being away somewhere. What we did find though, was the front glass door of our house ajar. Soon we discovered that the back door lock had been thwarted. We had told no-one that we were going away. We didn’t know what to expect when we got inside. None of our glass had been broken so it wasn’t a case of vandalism, but two very muddy sets of foot-prints trailing all through the house provided a fairly clear picture of the intentions of the intruders. We had suffered the violation of our home. The intrusion alone was an attack on our morale.

Back and forth, back and forth went the muddy trails, into cupboards, behind curtains, and over a pile of laundry I had left on the floor in our rush to get away. There was even mud smeared on our linen and on the edge of the bath tub. What was gone? The camera and a small, easily pocketed cut glass bauble had been taken. Then we looked at the file cabinet in the corner. It had felt great violence. Something powerful had pulled the heavy duty steel hasp and combination padlock free of the heavy gauge steel locker so forcefully that the industrial grade pop rivets ripped away like toys. The faceless intruders had left their mark. Who were they? How well planned had their break-in been? How did they know we would be away? We were almost always at home.

After a very close look through the file cabinet we noticed just one particular document missing. Nothing else appeared to be missing. Nothing else was spoilt or broken. Even a gold watch, the only thing of any modest value, in the same drawer, was left. Someone within the system seemed anxious that we might attempt to extend our exposé. And, like the fire carefully lit at our gate two years before, this incident delivered to us a clear message. Whoever it was seemed to want us to know that we were being watched closely.

We alerted the police to the break in. On inspecting the situation the police officer asked if we knew what had motivated the intruders, instructing us to touch nothing until he got back to us about fingerprinting the area.We explained that we were involved in trying to expose some corruption, and he seemed surprised. Having heard nothing further we eventually phoned the police station to enquire about it. The police officer involved explained that the fingerprints would be too old to test. We had been gone two and a half days.

Meanwhile, more than a month had passed since the EDO had sent its letter to the NPWS and no answer had been forthcoming, and so, irritated, Andrew Sorenson directed his attention to the Heritage Council which, he explained to us, is the body primarily responsible for the making of conservation orders and is constituted under the Heritage Act. Sorenson had told us in a letter that,

“The fact that the Australian Heritage Commission has registered the land as part of the National Estate is an argument in favour of a PRO [Permanent Conservation Order] being granted.”

However, he added that,

“The [Heritage] Council will only recommend the making of a PRO to the Minister if it is considered ‘necessary’.”

Presumably the matter of a Stop Work Order and an Interim Protection Order had to be addressed first. To the Heritage Council on the 18th of October Sorenson wrote,

“Although this matter is one which would normally fall within the jurisdiction of the NPWS, the Service has failed to reply to our correspondence of 3 September 1996 and does not appear to have any intention of addressing the issue. We therefore urge the Heritage Council to take action, through the use of an Interim Conservation Order in relation to the property.”

“We consider that the attitude of the NPWS in refusing to review the issue is unacceptable.”

“Consequently, we urge the Council to utilise the powers it has at its disposal to enforce further conservation measures in relation to the Property, namely the making of interim and permanent conservation orders.”

There was no response from NPWS to the EDO that year, ('96). No response had come from the Heritage Council either. This inaction was hardly surprising as the Director General of NPWS holds a prominent position on the Heritage Council and the final decision regarding conservation orders is made by the Environment Minister (although she is advised by the Heritage Council). There were increasing connections between the various bodies we had approached over the months to help us save Pine Brush. As they referred more and more to each other for advice, the situation became more ludicrous. We needed a way of breaking free of this incestuous bureaucratic world. But a way free continued to elude us.

During the excruciating wait for responses and action from the Environment Minister’s office we regularly thought of the Pine Brush land. So much of our effort had gone into attempting to make the laws work to protect its recognised and unrecognised values. But the laws, even when applied, still seem to provide quite artificial and biased assessments. There are a number of classifications of forest types to which anomalies are made to conform. As with any system of categorisation there are unnatural cut-off points. There is no time or funding given by the government for more individual assessments of wilderness. But why should it be so necessary? There is so little left. Where has the heart gone in these procedures? Why is it so difficult to persuade people to regard our natural heritage more intuitively? It seems so obvious that our fates are connected and yet we have still such a limited understanding of the things that bind us together.

The remnant rainforest seemed almost to heave a sigh there beside the larger hardwood forest, soon to become a timber supply. I absorbed the remnant's beauty while I still could, fearful that it would disappear before much longer. I could hear the pigeons join in the breaths from the depths of the forest. In the calm darkness under the canopy are tiny points of bright bird sound - squeaks, chirps and spiralling chains of expression. It is otherwise almost silent. This land still has remarkable diversity unknown in man-made worlds. In order to sense this vital organism more intimately I climb on the fence, balancing briefly on the rotting, mossy topped posts. Even without the rains, shaggy, velvet-green carpet clothes the old fallen logs and a few new figs emerge among them. There are feathery ferns spread flat between the trees, like green suspended stars.

I might step among the knee-high seedlings, though fearful of treading the shorter glossy sprouts into the soft earth. I tread and trip on the spongy feet of their huge ancestors too, their grey and knotted branches towering above and organic plumbing winding down their trunks. Down on the floor are numerous kinds of orchids. The cheese-tree trunks, splattered with shades of grey-brown, amaze me with their beauty and the walls of swamp turpentine, in the lower end of the gully, with bark like charred, flaky pastry emphasise the relative insignificance of my lifespan. What dazzling, kaleidoscopic complexity. The saplings in that remnant rainforest display all heights. The tall cudgerie leaves are like floppy streamers or flags on five metre tall poles, the smaller leafed tree species are like lacy green doilies or table cloths draped over irregular frames. My eyes explore many of the leaves at eye-level, not even beginning to investigate their crawling undersides.

Isn’t it self-explanatory, in the context of vanishing biodiversity and ever-accelerating species extinction? Isn’t it the bleeding obvious that these last remnants must be saved?





________________________________________________________________________(back to table of contents)

The Environmental Defender's Office sent a fax to the Environment Minister on 13th January '97. Yet another year had begun.

“Despite the assurances of Ms Sherrie-Lee Evans of your Office on 31 October 1996 and 19 December 1996 that a reply would be shortly forthcoming, we have still not received a response. It seems from the manner in which our correspondence has been treated that your Office and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are unwilling to address the concerns raised on behalf of our client [The National Parks Association].

The EDO also notified the Minister at this time that the owner of the portion had begun his logging operations in late November ('96) in the vicinity of the Schedule-One threatened species and the remnant rainforest.

Crowns of some of the once great kings of the forest are strewn on the ground now. Through the pillars of slim brushbox low on the hill, slender grey gums and massive, ancient bronze-barked tallowoods I can see those brown, dead crowns. At the sight a knot tightens in my stomach. Only recently we could have seen those same crowns, green and vibrant from the road a kilometre away. Kookaburras seemed to laugh hysterically above me as I contemplated that scene of destruction the first time.

We had heard the chainsaw roar into action. Our ears just didn’t want to believe it. The hopes raised by our various, if short-lived, bursts of progress, had somehow insulated our thoughts from the likelihood of logging beginning beside us. But I always knew at some level that it was inevitable. At first when we heard the sawing we told ourselves it was probably just a couple of trees going down for fenceposts, just small ones, not the massive giants. Dyson expected the logging more than I did. He accepted it as a given under the circumstances. After all, wasn't it what Ian Causley had privately told him would happen. But I hadn’t heard Causley’s words myself. It was heart wrenching to actually hear the felling begin, and feel the Earth tremble upon impact. How difficult to maintain any degree of serenity then. But how we tried. After all, it was useless just standing facing the forest and begging inwardly for it to stop. To hear the machines taking their first bites into the massive tree trunks and then the crack.....crack.... .......................BOOM,......... only made us so much more anxious to do more to stop further destruction.

Towards that forest, north of the remnant the newer rainforest trees find the light, especially now that some of their shady neighbours are gone. The moisture sucked from the hillside feeds their insatiable roots. The trees higher up that have not yet been cut shelter them from the winds. One tree there, one of the few big ones left is so huge I am compelled to hug it. Even with my arms at full stretch, I can’t span a third of it. It’s funny how we are driven to hug trees. Is it the girth, the smooth texture and the awesome strength? Or maybe I’m hoping it will hug me back and tell me everything will be o.k.

We would pass old banksias up there, with cracked and pimply bark. I wonder how many tree-dwelling animals are still hiding in those hollows above. The turpentine on the corner is tall and straight. Maybe it will go as timber soon. Its branches are raised and outstretched as if in an accepting shrug, or maybe in praise of some Higher Power. The turpentine had better say a prayer, for itself and all its anachronistic neighbours. Below on the track, where its root is exposed, bird-nest ferns are lined up - displaying a sort of foliar hope, until the next herd of heavy-footed beasts come through ringing their bells or until "the red steer" - fire - screams through, burning them to a cinder. Or perhaps they will soon be covered in sawdust and dead leaves from another fallen crown.

We were mindful of these images and a numbness and an inner panic accompanied us for the next leg of our journey for justice. While the EDO pursued the Environment Minister we also continued our desperate communications with her office. I sent another formal complaint about her Policy adviser Holland, to her in January '97 concerning his continued distortions of the truth about the Conservation Agreement area and the land's threatened species. We sent a copy of that complaint to the National Parks Association. But the NPA by this time had relieved Penny Roberts of her duties, or rather, ‘farewelled’ her. Penny had been expecting this. She had been under pressure from the executives for spending too much time on things like the Pine Brush issue. She knew some ‘restructuring’ was imminent within the office. As NPA’s research officer she had had her work cut out for her, and by the time she was due to leave she was weary and disillusioned. We were very sorry to see her go and wondered how much of a role we had played in this. She had been with the NPA for six years.

Penny’s replacement, Executive Officer Noel Plumb, on reading our recent forceful letter to the Minister, phoned us. He didn’t think he really had much time to help us and he expressed concern at the tone we had adopted for the Minister. This letter was one we had written in desperation. We had not been able to get through to Minister Allan. We were pulling no punches.

“As long as Patrick Holland continues to rely on the disinformation which continues to issue from the NPWS we adjoining landowners here will never be able to inform you that what we are on about are areas OUTSIDE THE CONSERVATION AREA, which you are failing to protect under your 1995 Threatened Species Act. Until this simple fact can be brought home to you, Minister, you will continue to be remiss in your duties.”

“Patrick Holland (according to the National Parks Association of N,S,W, Inc.) was apparently under the impression that the whole of Por. 183 was to be protected by a Conservation Agreement and his continual botanical descriptions of land within the real Conservation Area, while making it appear that he is referring to the #29 remnant (OUTSIDE the C/A) is beneath contempt, and is inexcusable given that he has been informed again and again that the area in question is OUTSIDE the C/A. Please consult the maps and species lists which have been sent to you repeatedly.”

“Minister Allan, have you so little regard to your political position that you are prepared to endure further public scrutiny into the role you are playing in the illegal destruction of this piece of our National Estate?”

Among other things, Plumb was concerned that we had made reference in the letter to the NPA passing on information to us from the Environment Minister’s office. He told us that,

“We need friends in the Environment Minister’s Office”.

We were appalled. Whose side were the NPA on? While they have probably achieved a considerable amount in the name of conservation by gently working along-side the NPWS, exchanging favours, they are now guilty of playing down the degree of destruction for which the NPWS is itself responsible. Perhaps much more would have been achieved for nature conservation if the NPWS was identified, by respected groups like the NPA, as the corrupt organisation it often is. The tragedy of Pine Brush was continuing because of the repeated lies and cover-ups that had occurred through all the departments involved. For the NPA to add to the disinformation and cover up was simply unacceptable to us. We would have to go on without them, and without Penny Roberts.

We were saddened and sickened by this turn of events. Although we were aware that Penny did not always have the total support of the NPA executive in her work for Pine Brush, she had persuaded it to stay involved in one way or another since the beginning, and it was help much appreciated. But now, with Penny gone it was obvious that the NPA had changed its tune. Even the NPA, one of the few obviously ‘green’ organisations prepared to help in saving the Pine Brush National Estate, had turned its back on us.

More predictably, in January '97, the Minister for Land and Water Conservation responded to our forty-page letter which had been prompted by his ludicrous claim in August '96 that there were no irregularities surrounding the conversion of the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve. He was still obviously indifferent to our strongly expressed feelings and concerns. In this January letter the Minister Yeadon still did not address our concerns. He was maintaining his original position, which included avoiding the most obvious issue of Minister Causley's conflict of interest. Yeadon wrote,

“ is not apparent what action you seek to have implemented.”

What more could we do? If Yeadon couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge the misdeeds of the Minister and others, documented in the forty pages we had provided, and take appropriate action, there seemed very little more we could do. We were simply being fobbed off by one department after another. We were so fed up and frustrated by all the misinformation being fed to us which was getting us nowhere. This letter which Dyson wrote and sent to the Environmental Defender's Office on the 20th of January '97 summed up our feelings at the time.

“I enclose also the most recent outpourings from Minister Yeadon's office, and the indefatigable Patrick Holland. We hardly know how to respond to such ill informed sophistry. The continued refusal to acknowledge the receipt of our species list and map of "the rainforest remnant" is a worry. These letters from Sydney must LOOK like considered and informed responses, but to us living here and familiar with what's happening on 183, they are a sick joke, or would be if it were not so serious. Taken in context these two letters are an affront and further suggest that what could originally be construed as simple incompetence is now looking like serious ethics violations. The history is long and complicated, but the issue is very straightforward: protect these threatened places from destruction. If the sale is indeed irreversible, then 183 must be bought back.”

“Vivienne and I have almost reached the point where it seems that all the government officials who are employed or elected to protect places like this are hell-bent on destroying them. Certainly the state relinquishing its timber rights before 2003 will speed this process.”

“We look forward to a serious response from Minister Allan if she is capable of it.”

The Forestry Commission had intended to maintain its timber rights on the former reserve for ten years. This was the normal procedure with alienated Crown lands under the Forestry legislation. But we eventually learned that it had given up its rights as early as September '95, just over two years after the conversion. This was another powerful blow to the future of the former reserve. The level of protection given to the forest by the Forestry Commission maintaining its interest was one we had been relying on, while the matter received the attention it deserved. We were of the impression that the Commission would not log it. But Kratz most certainly would. By that time he had begun in earnest. Back in '93 when Forestry was asked by the Lands Department about the conversion to freehold, a Forestry document of the 12th of March '93 explains that,

“While there are strong protection reasons for adding this area to Pine Brush State forest, other factors including the intervention of the local member [Ian Causley] has tended to override them.”

A letter from Kratz’s solicitor on 6th of December '93 reveals further details of the Minister’s intervention and sheds some light on why the Conservation Agreement negotiations had been handled as they had by the NPWS.

“Our client has informed us that at the time of the inspection of the property on 16th December 1992 by Mr. Ian Causley, our client, Mr. Ian Webb [Forestry] and the Director General [Lands?], Mr. Mike Ockwell stated that the Crown had no interest in the timber on the land other than that situated on the area which was to be subject to a Conservation Agreement with the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Mr. Ian Causley has confirmed that our client’s advice in this regard is correct.”

"We are holding a letter from Mr. Causley confirmatory of Mr. Ockwell’s statement.”

At that meeting before the conversion, it had already been decided where the CA boundaries would be! Minister Causley had decided. How convenient that at that time (according to Minister Causley) the Crown, presumably the Forestry Commission (now State Forests) didn’t want any of the trees that grew outside the CA area, those then being largely available for harvesting by Kratz. This is especially strange when remembering that the most impressive timber trees are actually close to the remnant rainforest, outside the CA boundary. Why wasn't the Forestry Commission interested in the timber which had so taken Kratz's interest?

Two weeks after that letter of 6th December '93, the NPWS botanists performed their flora survey supposedly in readiness for the CA. That was the survey in which any reference to the rainforest remnant we had shown them was completely omitted. That was the survey from which the decision was ostensibly made to place the CA over what is demonstrably the botanically less critical area and the former reserve which also happens to have the less commercially valuable trees.

With the advice from the Minister for Natural Resources that Forestry was not interested in the bulk of the timber on his land, Kratz’s solicitor requested that Forestry relinquish its rights to the timber in those areas outside the CA area, even though the CA boundaries had ostensibly not yet been determined. And how interesting that Kratz was so keen to have the timber rights to this area when Mr. Causley had told the public, to whom it belonged, that there was ‘not one decent millable log’ on the portion and that the intended use by the new owner was 'a little bit of grazing'.

Despite Causley’s assurances to Kratz, Forestry still had no intention in '93 and '94 of releasing its timber rights to Kratz, although they were prepared to negotiate about royalties Kratz might pay for the timber he wished to take. The District Forester, R. J. Williams, responded to solicitor Gallagher on the 25th of January '94, seeming to contradict Minister Causley’s advice.

“I am not aware to what extent the Conservation agreement yet to be concluded with the National Parks and Wildlife Service would impact on the timber value. The agreement would be considered when the assessment of timber value is made.

Should your client indicate that he wishes to proceed with the purchase of the timber on the lease then we would also require full details of the agreement with NPWS if this was to be taken into account.”

It wasn’t until early 1995 that the Conservation Agreement was signed. In anticipation of that signing, NPWS approached the Forestry Commission asking if they would relinquish their rights over the timber within the CA area, to ensure its conservation. Forestry recommended the profit á prendre (Forestry timber rights) remain in place in that area in order to conserve the timber, reassuring NPWS that they would not take it themselves while the CA was in place. Presumably they felt it was possible Kratz would take that timber.

However, later in the year a decision was made to review that profit á prendre. This advice came from the Northern Region’s operations manager in June, during a period when the Independent Commission Against Corruption, at our urging, were scrutinising the Forestry files. Shortly after, the Forestry Commission released its timber rights on the Pine Brush land altogether.

(5th of September ‘95)“Given the relatively small quantity of timber on this lease, the prohibitive cost of harvesting planning which would make any operation uneconomic, and the almost certain refusal of NPWS to issue a 120 licence - there is no pont [sic] in retaining the profit a prendre over this lease.”

This meant that Kratz was now free to take the timber himself in the areas that were not steep and therefore protected by soil conservation legislation, or he could take it in areas where the removal of timber would not impact on the environment of the Schedule-One threatened species. But as NPWS was, in effect, turning a blind eye to the whereabouts of these, that would hardly be an issue for Kratz. Naturally he was not permitted to log in the area which had been selected for the conservation agreement, although as the timber in that area is far inferior to the stands in the more northern gully, unprotected by the CA, that wasn’t likely to bother Kratz greatly.

The NPWS had never followed up its investigations into the position and extent of Quassia species B on the property, and the only specimen it identified is placed in at least two different positions on at least two different maps within their files. It would be difficult to convince Kratz, or anyone else, just where he could or couldn’t log and almost impossible to persuade any authority to police the activity, let alone acknowledge it. At any rate he had already begun logging the biggest of the tall forest on the property. Time was seriously against us. We would never be able to prove the value of the property if its values were destroyed. It is easy to think that the NPWS hoped for this outcome and were actually encouraging it. Had they clearly known all along where the CA boundaries would be and prepared the reports of the land’s botanical value to suit?

We couldn’t tell what made the recalcitrant NPWS eventually react to its pursuers, but in January '97 letters from the Environment Minister’s office, written again by Policy Adviser Holland on the NPWS’s behalf, were received by Harry Woods, Dyson and the EDO. To Woods, Holland wrote,

“As you know, this matter has a long history and Mr Devine disputes the information provided in previous replies to his letters, particularly in regard to the characteristics of the vegetation outside the area covered by the Voluntary Conservation Agreement which is in force on part of the property.”

Our formal complaints, about which NPA's Noel Plumb had had such difficulty, concerning the Environment Minister’s Policy Adviser, were completely ignored, in spite of Harry Woods’ personal appeals. Holland himself responded once more to Dyson’s latest letter. We had tried to have him say outright whether there was rainforest on the land, yes or no. But instead he continued to provide indirect responses.

“...there are elements of rainforest species on this land, distributed through wet sclerophyll species. A survey in September 1996 describes this as "wet sclerophyll with a rainforest understorey", where rainforest species make up only 5 to 10% of the canopy. It is commonly accepted that the dominant canopy vegetation is used to describe vegetation type, and under this definition the area cannot be strictly described as a rainforest remnant.”

We have been informally advised by qualified botanists that New South Wales' pre-eminant rainforest expert Alex Floyd does not support the notion that the dominant canopy vegetation should be used to describe the vegetation type of a forest. Even if it was a large section of this rainforest remnant on the former reserve has a canopy which is dominated by rainforest species. Only sections to the west, (towards our property) have a canopy dominated by sclerophyllous species.

“The survey conducted by Dodkin was undertaken when the area was being considered for transfer to the Service estate. The brief report generated (2 1/2 pages) is not detailed enough to draw major conclusions regarding the area surveyed, especially after a period of 22 years.”

At long last Holland had finally acknowledged receipt of the species list, which he admitted had been ‘sent on several occasions’. The Minister’s office, he told us, had sent it on to the NPWS for their information. Holland acknowledged also that there had been three more on-site inspections of the land by NPWS since the 1993 report. With this in mind, it is even more noteworthy that NPWS could not locate the thirty-two rainforest tree species during any of those visits. The whole portion, after all, is only 492.5 hectares. Holland also stated that it was considered that the current level of grazing would not threaten the Quassia species B.

“...conservation of areas outside the agreed acreage will continue to be managed by the laws which apply to every other piece of freehold land in NSW.”

But those laws were obviously useless if they were not enforced.

In response to EDO's Andrew Sorenson’s concerns about fires lit on the property recently and how that would breach the conditions of the management of the CA area (implying that the CA area had been invaded by the fire), Holland claimed that the legislation to which the EDO referred was only relevant to wildfires, and unfortunately and astonishingly,

“Griffith 1994 recommended that by ‘...maintaining grazing and fire regimes at similar levels to those experienced in the past...’ this would ‘ general also favour other plant species and communities of conservation value on the subject lands.’”

But there had been many wildfires lit on the property over the years. Lit from horseback with no warning to adjoining property owners, including ourselves, the fires would race through the former reserve or race into our property forcing us to regularly do a controlled burn of our property so that it wasn’t burnt uncontrollably. The Kratz families live on the river flats several kilometres away from this danger, and it did not seem to concern them that there are a number of residences, including ours, close to his former grazing lease. Kratz did not even acknowledge their existence in his original Development Application for the quarry extension. The fires were unchecked, usually lit in hot windy weather and often travelled for weeks through the hills. This, to our astonishment, was being recommended by the NPWS. The Environment Minister had been told that the owner did not light the recent bushfires and doesn’t know who did. We think we know.

To have the Environment Minister continue to refute claims about the existence of rainforest remnant, while referring to the findings of the flawed '93 report and playing down the significance of the '74 Dodkin report was maddening. We would have thought the greater time allocated to the '93 report would have been more likely, rather than less likely, to facilitate the discovery of different forest types, especially since the officers involved were given specific directions from us about where to find the remnant. We had pointed to it. It is plainly visible at the edge of our clearing. Having never even seen the place, Sydney-based NPWS rainforest ecologist, John Hunter, was quoted by Holland, in his letter to the EDO, as denying that there existed a rare suballiance within what they were now calling ‘wet sclerophyll with rainforest understory’, but Hunter did concede that the area,

“... is likely to be inadequately conserved in the north of the State.”

Again Holland referred to the previous reason given as to why the Schedule-One threatened species was not included in the CA area. The owner, we were told on several occasions, had apparently refused to agree to include that area having already agreed to the original proposal. We had no way of knowing if this was true. Considering Minister Causley’s claim in '92 that the Forestry Commission was only interested in the timber which would be subject to the CA, it is no surprise that Kratz wouldn’t agree to moving it’s perimeters to incorporate the more commercially valuable trees making them unavailable to him for saw logs. NPWS’s continued inaction in relation to protecting the Schedule-One threatened species is in contravention of the legislation which requires NPWS to protect such plants regardless of the C.A. boundaries. It is also in contravention of Australia’s international responsibilities detailed in the United Nations biodiversity protection agreement signed in Rio de Janeiro.

Despite Sorenson informing the NPWS by fax three weeks earlier of the logging in the vicinity of the Quassia species B and the remnant, Holland simply responded,

“In the opinion of the Director-General, no current activity is likely to significantly affect either the wet sclerophyll community or the Quassia sp. B therefore the issue of a stop work order under Section 91AA of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 is not a matter for consideration.”

They had seemingly simply ignored that critical advice about logging. Or they saw logging as no threat to the environment of the threatened species. How could the Environment Minister possibly know what the nature of the current activity was? Were her staff monitoring the activity on a daily basis? We hadn’t seen them hiding between the trees. Or were they taking advice from the owner whose reputation for illegal development has already been raised formally, repeatedly and at length? The fact that they did not mention logging in that letter suggests that they had chosen to ignore Sorenson's correspondence. As far as we could tell the logging project was intensifying daily. Were the Minister and NPWS taking advice from Ian Causley?

NPWS had claimed previously that it was not aware of the National Estate Listing and the Minister had apparently accepted this advice, adding that, as the listing occurred before computerisation of the files, it could easily have been overlooked or misplaced. It is strange for NPWS to be ignorant of the listing when one of its own people lodged the application. Apparently there was no formal notification process of listings in place. In fact even the Heritage Commission gave us the impression that the process of Heritage Listing is not all it could be.

(June '96) "The place was registered in 1978 and like many earlier listings the Commission has limited information about the place."

Even so, the legalities of the listing seemed to be the only thing of concern to the Minister. Typically Holland made no mention of the ethical position.

These were questions that still needed pursuing but, as Dyson wrote to Sorenson on the 17th of February '97, after Sorenson had indicated the EDO’s distressing inability to pursue the matter,

“...trying to respond to Pam Allan's letter with yet another explanatory letter is wasting everybody's time, and at the rate of destruction here, we no longer have that time.”

Sorenson’s negative attitude towards the project coincided with the Federal Attorney General threatening to cut the funding that the government had provided to EDOs all over the country. The cuts were implemented and some EDOs were reportedly forced to close as a result. Although the Sydney EDO was only partly affected by the funding cuts, Sorenson was very disheartened and did not look like being able to fight on. The Sydney Morning Herald presented that story in February '97.

“Australia's publicly funded Environmental Defenders Offices (EDO) have been told they will be stripped of funding unless they stop taking legal action against State and Federal Government to enforce environmental laws.”

This was hardly subtle. It was one of those articles I had to read and read again to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

“The warning from the Attorney-General, Mr Williams, follows intense pressure from conservative State Governments and Federal backbenchers to end EDO funding, after their court wins to stop woodchipping, enforce forest codes of practice on loggers and force Governments to follow their own environment impact assessment laws.”

(It was a bit like the ABC radio news item we had heard in '94 where Paul Kylie read that when Mr. Kratz was in court that year, charged with an offence not directly related to his property management, he had told the court that he was under a lot of pressure because environmentalists were harrassing him about his illegal bush rock removal. Could he really have said that? And if so, why was there no more interest in that 'illegal' bush-rock removal?)

We wondered at the likelihood of Ian Causley being one of those Federal backbenchers who had pressured the Attourney General about cutting EDO funding. I couldn’t believe the blatancy of this move, but this kind of interference has since taken on a disturbing familiarity under the present government. I am alarmed to find that I have since become accustomed to decisions of that nature. The Government had dealt another blow to the environmental conservation movement and we had lost another vital ally in the battle of Pine Brush. First Penny Roberts had been pushed aside, now Andrew Sorenson had been pressured to get off the case. Without the National Parks Association, the Environmental Defender's Office or the Ombudsman, we were quite alone, left to observe the secret destruction of part of Australia’s National Estate. Certainly worse than the quarrying - worse for me than the illegal bush rock theft was the nearby logging of the majestic stand of old, mainly tallowood and mahogany trees just a couple of hundred metres north of the remnant rainforest. That had been the thickest hillside as could be seen from old and recent aerial photos. A map from early in the century described that area as heavily timbered, in contrast to the area now protected by the CA. Kratz obviously believed there to be millable logs for the taking even if his mate, the Honorable Ian Causley, didn’t.

I wonder about the red mahogany among those 'timber trees', which is known to be a feed tree for the beautiful, threatened yellow-bellied glider, said to be in the area. As well as the prime timber trees falling, I thought of the mention, in the 1993 flora survey, of habitat trees on the property which could very likely house other threatened species.

“A number of habitat (hollow bearing) trees occur on the subject land. Arboreal mammals such as possums were observed to frequent such trees (scats seen). However, they also provide potential habitat for endangered species (micro bats, Yellow Bellied Glider, Brush Tailed Phascogale, Koala). The habitat trees are obviously important.”

Those trees could be removed too if Kratz wanted to clear for grazing. And again our thoughts raced to the likelihood of the remnant rainforest being removed at any time while the high-flying officials continued with their cover-up.

How could we concentrate on anything else at our home while chainsaws screamed on and on nearby? So infuriating was the lack of action from the supposedly responsible officials. They do nothing to prosecute Kratz for his illegal quarry extension which reaches far into areas supposedly protected by the soil conservation legislation. They had never issued notice. They do nothing to prosecute him for his continued illegal bush rock removal. No rehabilitation had been enforced. They were doing nothing to ensure the protection of the rare Schedule-One threatened species in the gully so far. They were pretending not to know about the logging or its real threat to the environment.

I would continue to tend our vegetables, collect mulch and plan the next season’s garden. But how could my thoughts stay with those things? To the sound of centuries-old specimens crashing to the ground a few hundred metres away, I would plant on more tiny tree seedlings that I had germinated to plant on our own land, in a mad hope that the good they would eventually do - provided we had adequate rains - would compensate for the damage done next door. But this activity only accentuated the problem in my mind. It was crazy. We felt so helpless, like people trying to hold back a tide.

If it had been just a matter of aesthetics it would have been possible to come to terms with it. Had it been only we who would be affected by the degradation of the immediate environment I could have learned to live with it, or moved away. Had the destruction been witnessed by a large, aware public who still didn’t act, I would have been forced to accept the tragedy of human stupidity as well as the loss of wilderness. But the issue affects far more people than just us, and so few are aware. We alone do not seem to have the power to make enough people aware.





FOURTEEN - The Internet: Publishing on the World Wide Web

_____________________________________________________________________ (return to table of contents)

We were running out of ideas. It seemed that we’d tried everything within our meagre finances and imagination to right the wrong of three and a half years before, against a growing tide of resistance. Causley’s behaviour remained unchallenged. Not even his political opponents were willing to expose his misdeeds. The organisations who had helped us challenge the NPWS had now abandoned the issue. Even the media seemed afraid to touch it. There seemed to be no further way ahead within our grasp. But as we were regularly listening to chainsaws close by the idea of giving up was unthinkable. We knew there must be something else. There must be another way to go, we thought.

We were learning that the only useful approach to this tangle of corruption and incompetence was to come down from the top. To our dismay, we had discovered that this dysfunctional, layered network was utterly impenetrable from below. To add to the difficulty we were slowly being submerged in hundreds of documents which seemed written with that very idea in mind. But always one to think big, Dyson decided that, if only somehow we could turn a revealing spotlight of national and even international scrutiny upon these activities - which were seemingly invisible to everyone but ourselves - things might finally start to change.

Taken by his frightening new idea, Dyson worked out the logistics. He had read quite a lot about the Internet. Internet web pages could be viewed all over the world and by hundreds of people at a time, people who had a special reason to be out looking. We could convert all our documents into electronic form and reveal them to the world. The birth of this idea alone was cause for celebration, Dyson claimed. I had to admit, despite my usual apprehension, that I was pleased at the thought of a more effective way of dispersing our information. It would surely be a more effective way of connecting with relevant organisations and individuals within Australia.

The glorious Internet - the voice of the people. It was like when the Freedom of Information Legislation had come in. How many of those public servants pushing papers in the 70’s and 80’s imagined that their work could largely be made available to members of the public on request further down the track? How many of those revealing office memoranda were written with a view to possible exposure in the mainstream media? How many high ranking officials could have imagined the powerful communication that the Internet now provided? Up until then, the sheer bulk of our material prevented us from sending it all over the place, and prevented people from taking on the issue. But all that was about to change.

We imagined keen international investigative journalists would see our revealing files. They would be interested in Australia’s record on the environment, in the climate of our Prime Minister’s stance on greenhouse gas reductions. They would also be interested to hear about his treatment of indigenous people, whose rights had been scorned at Pine Brush. Eyes were also focused, we thought, on Federal National Party backbencher, Ian Causley, whose views on environment and indigenous rights were becoming more and more apparent as the Wik native title debate heated up. Would Causley have any comprehension of the potential damage the Internet could do to him?

There was such a mixture of emotion following the Internet idea. We were always anxious to find more tools to use in our work, and relieved to discover powerful ones. But the thought of the time involved and the emotional, financial and intellectual drain that this next plan would require was extremely deflating. When would we be free of it? Why did we have to push the whole issue along on our own? And yet the idea was fresh enough and different enough that we were certainly encouraged to try. There was really no alternative. We were sure we had exhausted all the other avenues.

It always seemed that we had to take responsibility for getting all the work done, whether it was pushing others who offered help from time to time or simply doing the lot ourselves. We had naively hoped that one of these organisations somewhere along the line, which had become involved would take over the job we had been doing. But we were mistaken again. The Internet, at least, would make it possible for us to bypass the government departments and the media and speak directly to the newly empowered individuals at a grass roots level. But we didn’t even own a computer, nor were we connected to mains power. Nor did we know how to use one or even type. And so began the costly and time consuming hunt for the right gear and the right instruction. What an investment! When we eventually chose our purchase and took it home we were momentarily dazzled by the coloured lights, temporarily distracted from our true purpose by the hypnotising display. Yes, this made our lives better. The soothing, pulsing, silent movement of electrons, the attraction of fantastic cyberspace...

It had been expensive to get the compact notebook computer necessary for our twelve volt system. It had been extremely difficult understanding what software we needed for processing all the documentation. My limited school training on computers fourteen years ago was little use. I felt as much a babe in the woods as Dyson, who had had no computer experience at all. Being a former radar technician at least he has an understanding about electronics. There was some satisfaction knowing that our work was being powered by the light of the sun. New solar panels sucked energy from the fireball in the sky to bring life to this leg of our Pine Brush journey. Fortunately we had a lot of sun that winter.

The reality of sorting and processing the mass of files we had accrued over the past four years was truly a nightmare. We were bumbling our way along with the new software necessary for the job, but with little comprehension of how these strange new tools rated in the broader technological context. Again there was little choice, in our ignorance, and we had only a country town computer shop to give us sporadic guidance. In fact, the bulk of our job was done before we found someone able to give us competent technical advice. We wasted a lot of time in those first weeks of work.

As well as suffering the inevitable technical hair-tearing experiences, we were forced to immerse ourselves in the dreaded paperwork once again. It had been all we could do, at the outset, to file the paper copies of sordid correspondences as they arrived, in a rough sort of order in some cardboard file. So disgusting and repulsive had been the task of dealing at all with them, that we constantly fought against the temptation to just fling them in the nearest corner. Fortunately the thought of having the files in electronic form and therefore at the tips of our fingers was attractive enough to keep us at the job of converting them. Once it was done we could be free of the paper explosions that had periodically interrupted our work up until then. We were sure it would all be worth it. Maybe we would be free of the whole thing after this leg of the journey. Maybe our dreams would come true.

Two months passed, each of us doing ten hour shifts around the clock, seven days a week before that task in itself was completed. How it had come to this we shuddered to think. We were forced to re-live each traumatic moment, each strained exchange of written words, each reflection we had produced for the media or for other potential saviours over the past three and a half years as we scanned, checked, and rechecked the often very poorly photocopied documents. This was where our hearts had gone. This was where our energy had been endlessly channelled month after month. It had been so tiring. But at least we could see some reward from it all. We had managed, after all, to stop the illegal quarry development of '94 - '95 from proceeding. We had, at least temporarily, slowed the Kratz’s bushrock industry. We had probably concentrated a lot of minds on the issue and possibly influenced other decisions that we were not aware of. We had probably slowed the general destruction of Pine Brush by continuing our campaign and perhaps we would have persuaded a few National Party voters to turn their backs in protest on their long-standing Member for Parliament. Yet what a tragedy was still occurring beside us as we furiously typed and categorised.

The chainsaw were wailing heartlessly in the wintry background. I tried to imagine how Kratz would be feeling at these times. We had heard that he was bitter. Certainly most of his great plans for the former reserve had been thwarted. He would have made a packet from that quarry project. Up to fifty thousand tonnes of gravel a year was to legally leave those pits! He and his son would be doing very well out of the bushrock enterprise too. The hardwoods he was felling now would certainly be very valuable. Did he realise, I wonder, how privileged he had been to be sold the portion at all, and for next to nothing? He had been handed a block of land for $1217 which contained a variety of valuable resources to exploit, and he has had a go at most of them.

But we had heard Ian Causley say that the old leaseholders believed they owned the land anyway and expected to have the same sort of rights as freehold landowners, and some sort of compensation if they were denied those “rights”. In Forestry Commission files, Causley is quoted as saying that many leases have been held by the same family for many years and there has been a general expectation that conversion was a right. Of course, Causley and his government had encouraged this myth by advertising a 'right' of conversion of leases. Causley also claimed that Forestry Dedication proposals have had “a somewhat traumatic effect on some lessees”.

Kratz had been encouraged to believe that it was his right as a grazing leaseholder to make the portion freehold. That was certainly the line pedalled repeatedly by his mate Causley. Kratz had seemed to think of the land as his. But all along, he actually only had the right to apply for freehold conversion. This was no more of a right than having the right to apply for a pilot’s licence. An application is only an application. Kratz had only held the lease himself for a year before his first attempt to convert. Why was it right for Trevor Kratz to receive this handout? The land contract had been periodically noted as reserved from sale. Who had given him the assurance that it would be made his outright? Was it Minister Causley? It was not a privilege most of the rest of us enjoy. And yet Ian Causley claimed that if Kratz was denied it as freehold land he should receive compensation.

(24 of March, '95, ABC radio talkback)

“Well! It’s interesting to say that they, they wanted it preserved, but they didn’t want to give any compensation to the owner! I mean, that’s very fine, isn’t it? We sit, next door, and say, “ Well! We want that locked up! We won’t compensate the owner!”

What about compensation to the public for having our National Estate ripped away?

In about March or April '97, with our electronic files getting close to being in order, it was time for us to go again to the State Labor Member for Parliament, Harry Woods. We now had something we didn’t have before, when we had first enlisted his help. We had the threat of exposure, on the World Wide Web, of all correspondence that we had generated and received. We guessed that Woods probably had little experience with the Internet and the news might be a little unsettling, given his relative inactivity despite - or rather, because of his political affiliations. It is important to remember that Woods had never spoken out against his political opponent, Ian Causley, despite Causley's conflict of interest and abuse of public trust. Whose responsibility was it to draw attention to these things if not the current State member for parliament's. He had failed to inform the electorate and Causley was now the Federal representative for the area.

Under renewed pressure from us, Woods offered to organise, with NPWS, a survey of the gully near our house to at last determine exactly what our claims were based on. But there was clearly no point in having NPWS carry out more surveys on the former reserve without the close scrutiny of a number of witnesses. So we requested that an independent botanist accompany NPWS officers and that we be allowed to have community representatives there. Woods was agreeable to this idea. The independent botanist, it was agreed, would be the highly respected but now retired rainforest expert of New South Wales, Alex Floyd, if he was willing. In fact we had heard that he was willing and interested, but he would only come on invitation by the NPWS. We were greatly encouraged by his interest. If he independently judged the area to be something other than rainforest remnant then the NPWS might have a case, but we were confident it would be otherwise.

We had heard that Floyd would not be compromised by the system. It was his well-known texts on rainforests that had been used as reference in our informal assessment of the rainforest in '95. We were hopeful of the truth finally surfacing. It would be a great embarrassment to NPWS. Not surprisingly, however, during the negotiations with Wood he declined our invitation to put his intentions and promises down in print, and that has made it all the more difficult to now demonstrate what took place and to what extent Woods recapitulated. But we weren’t in a position to argue. It would be this survey or nothing as far as we could tell. We would ask respected representatives from the community to take part as witnesses of the survey. This would not only put the NPWS on the spot but it would force these community organisations to take a stand. We needed to demonstrate that this issue is of importance to the whole community, although it had certainly seemed that it was of little importance to more than a very few individuals besides ourselves.

While the negotiations with Bob Frederich and Harry Woods’ office continued, we were inspired to re-approach a Sydney barrister, whose name had been given to us by Senator Bob Brown in '94. Brown had written the words ‘Tim Robertson, Earth Law Office’ on a scrap of envelope which we somehow maintained intact within our paper nightmare. On NPA advice, we had approached Robertson months before, and he knew of Dyson from reading Fiona Morrison’s Snoop article of Spring '95, and had actually unsuccessfully attempted to contact her about it. We were gratified to hear that her story had eventually been of some use. But Robertson was very busy back then and we were not in a position to pay barristers for their services. However, since we now had the information so conveniently arranged on computer, we decided to approach him again. At any rate things had developed since we originally spoke with him and we were a little wiser about the legal issues. In Autumn '97 we sent him an introductory summary and appeal for help.

“If this case cannot be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, it will demonstrate the utter ineffectiveness of existing environmental laws in protecting any public land which has become the target of greedy speculators.”

“...we can substantiate all aspects. As you will note from the accompanying disc of sample documents, we have built a case from Freedom of Information material. The processes of departmental corruption are clearly shown.”

“We feel that the level of bureaucratic and political obstruction is now too much for ordinary citizens, with moderate financial resources. We believe that Bob Brown understood this when he gave your name to us.

We need the advice and moral support of someone who knows the political and legal system, and can guide our quest through the perpetual obstructions which thwart it.”

Robertson’s intentions with our case would influence how we presented material on the World Wide Web. There were tricky libel details we needed to know about. We desperately needed advice about what we were getting ourselves into. Robertson was ‘most interested’ and encouraged us to send a floppy disc of our carefully selected files for him to look at. He assured us he wouldn’t have any trouble translating the files with his computer.

But there was trouble. We had no experience with file interpretation between different programs and operating systems. His computer was Macintosh. Ours is IBM. A number of phone calls between Robertson’s staff and ourselves revealed a troubling degree of ignorance at both ends. We tried different formats, even having a friend with a Mac spend hours reinterpreting all of the files to then be saved to a Mac formatted disc. Day after day we worked at crafting our presentation for this high-powered gentleman. But then after a couple of weeks of work all up, and a near perfect result, we were told by his office that the files would have to be printed out for Mr. Robertson, because he wasn’t comfortable working from a computer, and there were “sooo many”.

After recovering from the trauma of having wasted hours and hours presenting the package digitally, only to have a print-out requested, we thought it best that we print the files out for Robertson’s office, just to be sure. And so after a solid day of printing we sent the pile of papers as required, in trying anticipation of some further interest from the barrister. It was excruciating, but no doubt a learning experience. But then, there was no response. Mr Robertson was very busy in court.

Our telephone calls to his chambers revealed that Mr. Robertson continued to be very busy one way or another, apparently indefinitely. We didn’t receive any further comment from him either about the issue or his intentions with it. Nor was there acknowledgement of receipt of the files. There was just simply nothing. Many months later, his private secretary sent us an email asking us whether we still required advice, and - if not - could she please return our bulky files. We hastily replied that we certainly did still need advice, but if that could not be provided, we at least would like our printouts back. We never heard from Mr. Robertson’s chambers again nor were our files returned to us.

It’s not as if we weren’t accustomed to repeated disappointment, but it was always especially distressing when it came from the organisations who we would usually consider to be on “our side”. Licking our wounds, though, while still attempting to reignite Robertson’s enthusiasm, we had news from NPWS’s Bob Friederich. The survey, initiated by Harry Woods, was finally arranged for May. It was very disappointing to us that there had been a lot of watering down of the original conditions. We were not allowed the community representatives we had been originally promised by Woods. This didn't surprise us but we failed to see why these should be denied us. Was there something to hide? If everything was above board, why couldn’t there be any number of onlookers? Woods' assistant dealt very begrudgingly with our continued requests. He didn’t attempt to hide the fact that he felt very put out. In phone-calls with the ever-persistent Dyson, leading up to the survey, he seemed determined to portray us as the generators of all the trouble, and he felt that his office was doing us an enormous personal favour. Admirably holding his ground Dyson repeatedly pointed out Woods’ obligations to the community and his failure to take a public stand so far.

I remember Harry's assistant's red-faced look of injured innocence when we had met in Woods’ office weeks before. How incredulous he had seemed that we would demand such intervention from the State Member for Parliament. He had whined on the phone,

“This has all happened because of you!”


“Why don’t you go save some other Heritage-listed land?”

But after a number of calls, the arrangements for the survey, though not very satisfactory, were more or less finalised. At least Floyd would be there and have a chance to give his independent assessment.

Alex Floyd would attend the survey, but after a messy series of negotiations we were told that Kratz was now angry and only Dyson was permitted to accompany the botanists. Ranger Owen Turner, who was quoted as telling Penny Roberts, by way of explanation months before, that ‘that rainforest’s been destroyed’ phoned our home prior to the survey in May. Unbelievably, he began the call by saying,

"You know that rainforest right there behind your house?”

“Well, we're coming to see if we can find out where it is once and for all."

....that rainforest behind our house.... What a filthy game was being played. So much was revealed to us on the phone about the internal strategies employed by NPWS et al that would never have made it into their correspondence with us. So many games and lies dirtied every corner of the debate. It really became very hard to see any light through those grey clouds.

Although we were now not permitted to have the community representatives witness the survey which was about to occur in the nearby rainforest remnant, we made sure that a few friends and neighbours were there to greet the botanists as they passed through our property. They would witness their entrance into the remnant which is easy to see from our side of the fence. I took photos of the big event from that perspective. We made great note, later, of the fact that Dyson was strangely not permitted to take a tape recorder on the walk to 'verify the long and unfamiliar Latin names' of those rare rainforest plants. He was allowed to take a camera though.

I did not envy the ludicrous role he was assigned, with no botanical training and not even recent prior legal access to the place, to try to herd these professionals around through the thick foliage, showing them everything of botanical interest. He told me later it was one of the hardest things ever asked of him. And how secretive the NPWS officers were that day. I was comforted by the company of the neighbours and a friend from up north while waiting for the survey to begin. It was reassuring to know that the whole saga wasn't just some personal illusion of ours. We walked along beside the remnant's edge on our side of the fence, climbing on a fallen log for a better view. The rainforest trees are gradually taking the place of the old paperbarks and swamp turpentines there. Some of the old swamp species have collapsed onto our side of the fence forming a bridge from the forbidden land. But even from our side the thick tangle of vines and emerging plants are unmistakable as rainforest species like those in the heart of the remnant next door.

A chain of sandy white hollows gouged by water from the hills passes under the fence. It acts as another highway for the fleshy seeds and nutrients from the forest beyond. In time, if Kratz's remnant remains, there will be a new rainforest inside our boundary. Who will have the task in years to come of judging it as rainforest and worthy of conservation? Even now the glossy, dense growth, mainly in the lower stories, promises a luxurious future. Among the knotted vines dragging on the mouldy floor, multi textured plants compete for the light. Leeches suck at our ankles. Beneath the watervine, wrapped around a slippery log, seedlings emerge through golden strips of rotting bark and leaves. It is a busy, untidy tangle of foliage and pumping trunks shading yams, swamp-palms and orchids. From here, our side of the fence, we gaze wistfully, anxiously across at the green, dazzling dancing lights in the real remnant rainforest, so close to the sclerophyl giants being felled for timber and fenceposts. God help us if we don't all evolve to be better stewards.

Before the botanists arrived for that inspection in May '97 we had been sorely tempted to vent our frustrations and anger by erecting huge signs and arrows pointing to the remnant, just in case they missed it again - just in case they headed in the complete opposite direction. We were sorely tempted to sneer sarcastic remarks,

“No boys. No, no! Over here! Yes that’s right. Oh. No, no! Over here! Yes, that green, shady, lush looking place in the low area.”

but of course, we refrained.

The temptation to thrust the blame for the travesty of Pine Brush on various individuals frequently tempts us. So many people, by neglecting perhaps relatively small duties, have added and continue to add to the overall disaster. Of course many of those people would have been put under considerable pressure by their superiors. Now some were under pressure from us too. Many of them would have been understandably fearful of losing their jobs if they didn’t toe the party line. Some would be parents and have mortgages. Others would perhaps be blissfully ignorant of the implications of the procedures they had been directed to carry out. At least I like to think so. But on the other hand perhaps they did have a choice.

So is it forgivable? What do we do about that degree of human error? We simply can't afford to leave it unexposed. We are dealing with an issue in which we only get one chance. Once our environment is disturbed it's natural state will never be returned. And this far down the track as a species, it appears that we are on our way down a very slippery slide. So it’s a brutal activity we have found ourselves caught up in. While simply trying to have justice and common sense brought about, some generally well-meaning people may suffer along with less well meaning people. This possibility torments me. It’s a loathsome position we find ourselves in. Of course, nobody caught up in a scandal is left untainted by it, and that includes us.

I waited with the neighbours as the rainforest survey with Alex Floyd went ahead. It didn’t take long, just an hour and three quarters. Then, on returning to our group, Alex Floyd remarked simply,

"You have a lovely bit of rainforest there. Very interesting. Very complex."

A flush of pleasure must have passed across our faces. Would Floyd’s observation make it into the resulting NPWS report? We turned his lines over and over in our minds, tasting the words, savouring their glorious flavours.

"You have a lovely bit of rainforest there. Very interesting. Very complex."

It was music to our ears. After more than three years trying to tell the relevant authorities just that, the famous New South Wales rainforest expert had said it in the company of several witnesses, including the other visiting rainforest specialist, John Hunter, and regional NPWS staff, Griffith and Turner. I didn’t look to see the inevitable shades of crimson on their faces. On that inspection they had shown little sign of any genuine desire to get to the truth of the matter, Turner repeatedly trying to lead the group away from the obvious area of botanical interest.

Dyson had written in a letter to Barrister Tim Robertson about the survey,

“I asked if they had all brought their maps. None carried any, nor compasses, but later I noticed John consulting a dog-eared photocopy of our species list. He told me that no map was attached, but I was unable to determine whether the other pages (which include dimensions and the botanical suballiance descriptions ) had also been removed.”

NPWS were giving nothing away that day.

The Pine Brush mess just became more and more unmanageable as each development took place. Nothing, it seems, has been clear cut. The long pauses between surveys or serious correspondence has just made it harder to deal with efficiently. People forget. It’s too difficult to maintain any passion about something that goes on and on and on without resolution. It’s difficult for us to maintain our efforts when they are constantly met with obstruction and closed doors. We are supposed to have tired of it well before now. We’re supposed to have given up the fight and have recognised the uselessness of fighting City Hall. We’re supposed to have gone back to tending bananas and hoeing the cabbages. We would have learned from our experience and conveyed to our friends and acquaintances how pointless the exercise was. They would be convinced by our attitude and would be loathe to attempt any similar task. They would know it would be a waste of time.

For the government workers involved, we must remain a thorn in their sides. They haven’t been able to dissuade us by repeatedly mislaying our correspondence or by filling their responses to us with slush and drivel or by repeatedly referring the matter on to different departments. We weren't deterred by the shredding of the files, our property burning or having our home invaded and file cabinet smashed open. We have been disheartened though. It has been an oppressive burden to carry with no guaranteed result in the end. I can understand why people are reluctant to deal with these things. I can understand why we’ve been largely alone in our work and why others involved in these kinds of struggles are left to do it largely alone.

I think this story has become as intriguing as it has because in our drive to have it resolved, we keep stumbling upon more and more filth. The filth is spread far and wide and leaves me surprised that anything works at all in this state. But I suppose things can be made to work when the will is there.








FIFTEEN - Launching the WEBPAGE/ The LAW

________________________________________________________________________(back to table of contents)

The winter of '97 was bright, sunny and dry. In our house where we spent the entire, trying year the sunlight bounced off the walls cheerily providing warmth. It is so beautiful here in the winter time. It was winter when I first arrived several years ago. I was so thrilled at being able to look right out at the forest giants and dense scrub that I hardly went out that year either. Little pardalots sit at the windows chirping their crystal clear messages. Wood ducks nervously plod through the undergrowth around the house. Small birds emerge from the shrubby areas close by and chase eachother swiftly through the garden in relative safety, replacing the larger birds which populate the area in the hotter months. We can watch the fogs rise up from the valley in the mornings. The days are still, quiet - calm, in such contrast to the way we felt that winter. Our morale was decidedly low. We were rapidly reaching a point where we had to embark on a particular approach with our webpage presentation. Everything was so new and strange and unpredictable - and so difficult.

At least we finally had the raw material ready, but what could we risk publishing? We had heard that the law hadn’t really caught up with the Internet. And, as we had observed with Tim Robertson, some legal professionals were not very computer literate. But we really needed advice from somewhere, so we decided to approach the Whistle Blowers Association of Australia. After all, whistle blowing is exactly what we had been doing.

We had known about the Whistle Blowers Association for a long time and had read various articles about other whistle blowers sent to us by friends and family. “You might be interested in this article, given the sort of work that you’re doing”, they’d say. After months or even years of trying to expose some serious corruption, the subject of the article would invariably have made little or no progress. Instead he or she would be outcast and demoralised, and the situation requiring exposure would be continuing unchecked. The whistle-blower would be vilified and harassed, and in some cases sent death threats. His or her family would be suffering, their money would be disappearing into the cause and their employment would have ceased. There was nothing encouraging about these stories except that there are people around who are prepared to resist being corrupted. But the dominant message conveyed, time and time again, was simply - don’t bother to try to change these things. It’s too hard, and you’ll never get anywhere anyway. Don’t be a martyr. No-one wants to know. Dobbers aren’t welcome here.

There seems an instinctive desire among some people to discourage us - for our safety and sanity, and, perhaps for theirs. After all, we are engaged in exposing criminal or negligent behaviour. Who would we next try to expose?

What drew our attention to the Whistleblowers Association this time was the news that they now had their own web page. We needed someone or some organisation on the Internet to host our material for us and in the possible event of us being sued, to maintain a complete set of our electronic files somewhere. We were also really in need of moral support, or really, any support at all they were able to give us. We approached them with ever renewed hope.

The Whistleblowers’ president, Doctor Brian Martin, seemed to have the answer and plenty of advice about our legal situation. He had been using a ‘mirror site’ in the U.S. for his material and thereby avoiding Australian law. He was prepared to put our message on his own site in Australia and also on the U.S. one. This was a great relief to us. Again someone was prepared to take us under his wing and take some responsibility for the situation. For so long we had had to take initiative and maintain the fight although we were working well beyond our experience.

But although we were grateful to Martin for his interest and the time he gave us, we found that what he advised was a far more cautious approach than we were prepared to take. This became a problem. We had already mentally prepared ourselves for a more unrestrained approach. It seemed the only effective way forward. Martin was understandably concerned for people naively getting themselves deeply into legal trouble in attempting to expose wrong. In his position as Whistle Blower president he was naturally loath to suggest an unrestrained approach. Martin conceded that Causley could sue us but he thought it was more likely that he would put pressure on our Internet provider, the host of our material. To get around that he suggested that we put our material on several Internet providers and then announce its availability. Presumably Causley couldn’t sue them all at once. Martin had had personal experience with the difficulties we were encountering.

“Due to defamation threats relating to my own site, I realise I need to find more overseas mirrors, and will be working on this in coming weeks.”

Even he was not immune, despite his knowledge of the hazards. We were quite naive about the potential of the Internet to disseminate information. Dyson was convinced that we would have an almost immediate and positive response to our exposé. We were sure there were many people who’d be concerned enough to act if only they knew what was going on. But Martin advised,

“I wish you were right that once the documents are on the web that the issue will gain lots of attention. Unfortunately, my experience is that it's still difficult to get people to take notice. Web publication is the beginning of the process.”

I was counting on it being the end of the process. He cautioned,

“There is no guarantee of safety. You could always be hit with a suit for harassment purposes. But if Causley sues, there are probably a number of lawyers around who would be pleased to defend you at little or no cost, since it would be a free speech case.”

We weren’t sure if we were comforted or not by these statements. I, for one, was quite uneasy and fearful. On viewing our material, Martin said he felt there was too much and we needed a neat summary. He didn’t have the time to process our material or scrutinise much of it.

We had been up against this problem time and time again. There was too much material and too little time. Everyone wants a summary. Of course if it had been that easy we wouldn’t have needed the Internet. We had taken great pains to categorise the material and make it accessible in a way it had never been before. The recurring problem with this issue is that it has gone on and on and on, and all the developments are more, rather than less, important. The story needs to be told in full, but that’s too much for people to digest in one sitting. We aren’t sure that Martin managed to view our draft website as we arranged it. Problems we had with getting our material to him via floppy disks prevented that originally. He concluded,

“So my general advice is: continue with cautious preparation to make solid and relatively safe material available.”

I suppose we eventually felt, and still do feel, that we were doing just that, considering the people who's deeds we were exposing were not likely to want to draw attention to themselves and we did have documents to back up our accusations. But no-one had time to check our work. We were so frustrated by the endless censorship that had occurred at the hands of the various bodies involved in the Pine Brush scandal, that we were in no mood to add to it ourselves by editing out bits of the story. Besides, the material was so voluminous at this time that it was felt that no current comprehensive summary was really feasible. And it was just so much more work. We had reached our limit.

In the end Martin didn’t take our material. Our package was too big for him to host and he was no doubt unhappy about the content. Also his overseas site vanished. So we were back to figuring it out for ourselves, and facing the scary dilemma of how to release our material without drawing legal threats that would disable us. Martin did link to our site from his own and at least that would bring it more publicity and credibility.

There were a variety of doubts that plagued me then. I never quite felt convinced that we couldn’t provide a satisfactory summarised version of events (although I am sure of it now). Nor was I convinced that there would be great interest in our site, especially internationally, although Dyson seemed certain of both these things. I never really shared his optimism. I never believed that this issue had the importance he felt certain that it had nationally. I continued to think, that in order to interest people, we needed to keep it as simple as we could and keep the task manageable. But my conservative approach perhaps only reflected my own inability to handle it all. Anyway, you just can't put fifty pounds of mud in a five pound bag. But there would hopefully be others out there who could see the material fresh and tackle it with a new perspective. I was encouraged by Dyson’s optimism.

I felt so out of my depth. For months I hadn't touched the garden which had absorbed most of my energy in previous years. But it was there that I felt I was qualified, poking around in the bean vines and trialling new small-scale crops. Amongst the compost, pots and seedlings I was in my element. But amongst the government files and computer equipment I felt way above my head. My confidence continued to waver throughout the Internet episode. I was confused and exhausted. Day in and day out we had awkwardly typed and categorised. At night I would often wake to see the eerie glow of the computer screen beside my head on Dyson's lap, the warm buzzing box acting like a hot water bottle. The tap tap tappity tappity tap invaded my sleep. Outside in the pond the 'ping- pong' frogs relayed their messages repeatedly too. The clack clack of the little black plastic keys of the computer became the clack clack of the frogs. I wasn't asleep but I couldn't stop that sound. Clack clack. It ate my sleep away. The frogs tapped away all night at that computer. Clack clack clack clack. Then the working day would begin. Tangles of wires beside the bed, the desk in the clothes closet, the bleeping telephone - and then ... Oh God! Next was the sound of the little computer crashing against the office chair and concrete floor. Another set back. A very expensive one. What a lot of heart-ache and all for what? (We had our work saved adequately to floppy discs, so after a trip to Sydney for repairs we resumed our work.)

Perhaps without Dyson’s strangely unfailing faith in humanity we wouldn’t have achieved what we had to that point. But at any rate I was willing to try each new approach just in case it produced results. It had to be given a go.

Adding to our anxiety about web presentation were bits of conflicting advice from other people working in the legal profession. A solicitor from Legal Aid, who Brian Martin had put us onto, told us that we would be sued immediately. Others told us that no legal action could be taken against us unless the material was published in other sectors. We had mixed feelings about being sued. Aside from the financial devastation it could cause we had been told that the material considered to be libellous would not be available for use in the public arena while the court action took place. We know that such court proceedings are drawn out. But at the same time we felt that if we were sued the necessary attention might finally be brought to this long neglected issue. In the end we had to conclude that nobody really knew what was likely to happen. The forum was all too new and none of our advisers were able or willing to take the time to study our material in depth. The thought of actually paying a solicitor and risking debt and more corruption was not considered for long especially as we simply didn’t have the necessary money. All of it had gone into the computer and repairs.

We endured a few nervous weeks of this kind of indecision. The thought of losing our own land as a result of attempting to save the land next door was all too horrible. There were so many unknowns and for a short while I sank into a black, pre-webpage depression. What kind of personal sacrifice were we about to make? Were we going to pursue this issue to the end regardless of personal cost? Would we become further endangered by desperadoes hoping to save their skins by physically thwarting us? The imagined possibilities were endless. Then in the end there was only one way to go. In the absence of some experienced body able to take us under its wing we would release directly through our local Internet provider all of the files in our possession complete with our damning summaries and conclusions, and hope for the best. We knew our claims were well founded. We felt that we could do that much at least until we received the first letter from Causley’s solicitors. But there were other things to think about first.

A month after the NPWS botanist’s May '97 inspection of the rainforest remnant near our home their written report arrived in the mail, as promised. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid responsibility for the event the accompanying letter from local Manager R J Friederich to Dyson read,

“I refer to your inspection of Portion 183 ...”

Dyson’s inspection? That did seem to take the onus off the NPWS. The report itself stated,

“Because there were some differences of opinion regarding the true nature of the small area of moist forest situated on Portion 183 adjoining Portion 90, we inspected the site on Monday, 12th May, 1997 after obtaining approval from the owner, Mr T. Kratz. The owner of Portion 90, Mr D.Devine acted as guide so that we would be able to inspect all points of interest.”

Moist forest! Moist forest? What about Floyd's remark on the day of the survey?

We were not completely surprised at the findings of the report but any hopes we had that some forces within the system might have taken this opportunity to right some wrongs were quickly dashed. Still refusing to call it rainforest in print the visiting botanists had come up with the expression, ‘moist forest’. The botanists we had spoken to informally in this area, not involved in the cover-up were baffled by this term. They said it was botanically unheard of. Moist forest. If it hadn’t been so serious it would have been laughable.

The tone of the letter trivialised the dispute. It was about rather more than simply 'some differences of opinion'. And how could the NPWS expect a mere adjoining landowner to lead them towards all points of interest?

“In summary, this moist forest may be classified as either "Sclerophyll Forest with a Rainforest understorey" or as "Developing Rainforest with a Sclerophyll Forest overstorey". Both classifications have their supporters and appear equally valid depending on their management objectives.”

Depending on their management objectives!? They wanted it both ways! So were they saying that it’s all right to change the classification of an ecological community depending on one’s plans for the place? This was a remarkable admission by the National Parks and Wildlife Service about their apparent moral flexibility. Surely a place is classified on an assessment of its components, not on an assessment of its owner’s management objectives. Did they even realise what they were saying?

Disturbingly, to draw the blame away from themselves the NPWS employees also concluded with the comment that,

“... it is an interesting area aesthetically which could so easily have been conserved and enhanced by a co-operative approach between neighbours.”

What cheek! What a nerve! Surely it could much more easily have been conserved if NPWS had objected to the conversion of the reserve in the first place. It could so easily have been conserved if NPWS had provided the relevant protected lands mapping and got the CA negotiations under way before the conversion took place. It could so easily have been conserved if NPWS had acknowledged its true identity after the conversion and assured the Conservation Agreement boundaries would surround it instead of the botanically poorer gully to the south now supposedly protected by it. It could so easily have been conserved if the Director General of NPWS had issued a Stop Work Order while measures could be taken to protect the Schedule-One threatened species in the vicinity!

There were some interesting comments contained in the report regarding the nature of the ‘moist forest’.

“Beneath and between this upper layer [discontinuous layer of tall trees] there is a rather complicated assemblage of rainforest species which have probably arisen from a number of past disturbance events. They are presently in a very dynamic state with some species showing signs of expansion into the surrounding open forest, whilst others appear to have retreated from their past position.”

However, they didn’t make a list of these rainforest species.

“The claim that this moist forest is an example of Floyd's subailiance [sic] not supported... Even if it was referable to suballiance 29 which was regarded in 1990 as inadequately conserved on the North Coast, the situation has been rectified in part by the recent dedication of Chaelundi N.P. The other area recommended for conservation at Morgans Gully near Evans Head is of special importance because of the occurrence of three species of plants of great scientific interest. They were not seen on Portion 183 during our visit.”

These arguments were not scientifically sound. We are informed that you couldn’t expect to find those particular plants here as that would represent an unlikely and disjunct extension of their known habitat. At any rate, if the NPWS had made an honest assessment of the property, as a whole, at the time of its conversion to freehold they would certainly have seen merit in conserving this remnant ‘moist forest’ and would no doubt have uncovered some of the plants existing here that are of great scientific interest.

There were numerous points made in that two-page ‘moist forest’ report which required professional rebuttal, not the least being the refusal to acknowledge the forest as rainforest remnant. They had come close with ‘moist forest’ or ‘rainforest understorey’ or ‘developing rainforest’ but not close enough. What a response! We had tried to guess how NPWS would treat this new development. It was just too difficult to imagine. I couldn't have predicted the introduction of the term 'moist forest'. Why had Alex Floyd said to us on the day of the survey that it was “a lovely bit of rainforest”? Was he just humouring us? Was he using the term loosely? Or was the New South Wales rainforest expert mistaken? I don’t think so. A collaboration of independent botanists demanding anonymity prepared a detailed response to the ‘Moist Forest Report’ and Dyson signed it and sent it to Floyd for comment. The letter read,

“I fully support the statement made on page 93 of volume one of your 1990 publication that the preservation of rainforest in NSW could only be regarded as adequate if all subformations and floristic suballiances are well represented over their full geographic, altitudinal and edaphic ranges.”

“I would not dispute the application of the structural classifications provided in the report summary to the greater part of the area inspected. However, when the floristic groupings described on page two of the report are considered against the relevant literature (i.e. your 1990 publication) and observations at other locations of plant communities to which floristic classifications have already been applied, it would appear that there are at least three types of forest occupying this site, one of which is referable to suballiance no. 29.”

In August Floyd responded politely to that letter,

“...because I was commissioned to report to N.P.&W.S. upon the status of this forest, it would be ethically unacceptable for me to make further comment to either of the disputing parties on the matter.”

Well this was hardly being independent ! What had happened to the promise that Floyd would come on invitation by NPWS to inspect the area? He was not supposed to be commissioned! No wonder the report was such a disappointment. We should have known better than to expect the arrangements to go ahead as planned.

Floyd forwarded our letter on to the NPWS Regional office where Manager Bob Friederich refused to address it, writing,

"The report by recognised experts in this field has clarified the points of concern raised by Mr Devine in discussion with me, and in correspondence. In the matter of rainforest classification, Messrs Floyd and Hunter are acknowledged authorities in this field and I am not in a position to dispute their findings. I consider the matter of the location, status and classification of the forest of concern to Mr Devine now closed."

Floyd had never been acting independently in this matter. And rather than demonstrating the validity of our claims by having The Great Man back them up, our stance appeared less valid because of his unwillingness to comment further. Once again our attempts at clarifying the situation only seemed to cloud them. Penny Roberts and the NPA had fallen away, the EDO had abandonded us, Tim Robertson had given us great hope and then dropped us without explanation, and now Alex Floyd, who we could never once have hoped imagine could be invited to offer an opinion on the matter was, by his silence and through his lack of real independence, supporting the NPWS. This latest move had backfired. It was heartbreaking to see the quiet and widely respected elderly gentleman turn his back on the Pine Brush National Estate as well. The botanists we had had informal advice from seemed shocked and dismayed by Floyd’s scientifically inexplicable stance.

If Alex Floyd’s involvement would not expose this scandal we would have to try to approach the State Green MP, Ian Cohen, again. We knew the Greens were under-funded and under-staffed. We knew they would have an already very difficult task before them. The whole country, as far as the environment was concerned, seemed to be coming apart. But wouldn’t exposing the corrupt government bodies responsible for the environment have to be a high priority for the Greens? The New South Wales Environment Minister was engaged in a cover-up for the NPWS. Surely the success of all other moves would depend on who held the top office. Her continued false assertions that ‘the significant conservation values of the site are adequately protected by the Conservation Agreement’ required challenging, and the EDO, NPA and The Earth Law Office for which Tim Robertson worked were unwilling or simply incapable of doing so.

We hoped that our Internet presence might inspire the Greens to act in this instance. After all, they have a responsibility, having accepted their position in parliament. We approached the State Greens soon after launching our cyberspace ship. Meanwhile on the web we asked, "Where are the Greens?"

Uploading our initially tame webpage brought back emotions in me that I hadn’t experienced since I underwent music exams as a teenager. Sickening nervousness filled my bones as we sat at our private little terminal pressing the mysterious and frightening buttons necessary to release our material onto the World Wide Web where we imagined thousands of critical eyes ready to scrutinise every square millimetre of our page. How did we know who was out there waiting? What would we do if someone actually responded? Would we even know how to receive their electronic messages? But somehow, miraculously we stumbled our way through the electronic barrier and the webpage was launched with only a few hiccups and the inevitable debates between us about the details of presentation.

Our very first desperately hurried webpage comprised an advertisement of our intentions to present damning and potentially libellous information in the near future. This, we hoped, would be enough to scare those with guilty consciences and influence things somewhere. It also allowed us to try out the new technology before dealing with the really critical material. Perhaps it would not be necessary to do more. Perhaps the destruction next door would grind to a halt with the threat of exposure too much for the guilty parties to handle.

A dark starry sky was the background for our intriguing message. Black and white photos of ourselves as innocent seven-year -olds headed the page and set the scene. This was designed to provide a sense of personal reality without invading our privacy too much. It also reflected how we felt on one hand. Innocent, out of our depth, still ignorant of the extent of corruption surrounding us, we were calling on the Internet community to protect us with its presence. Still babes in the woods of cyberspace, ours was a plea for help. We needed a big hand to reach out from the inky blackness and take command. We needed protection. This story had become a huge monster well out of our control but we were still gripping the reins, just two adjoining landowners. It was really quite frightening that the very next morning we had a response. There was an email waiting for us from Texas. Not a legal threat from some powerful party but some desperately needed moral support from a lady named Carol who had come across our page while searching out information about this area. She was moved and interested by our material. We were so encouraged and greedily soaked up the moral support she gave us and continued to give us over the very lonely next few months. She wrote,

"We would LOVE to live in Australia. It sounds like heaven because it has so much land and so few people. There seems to be much more wilderness that hasn't been RUINED yet like here in the USA."

Carol generously spread our urgent message around where she could on her travels through the World Wide Web and no doubt generated some more interest for our cause. But for us it seemed very much like she was the only one out there. She was our lifeline for a considerable time.

The very first few days of webpage publication had been quite scary. A little later, after adding more detail to our page, we had written in an email to Brian Martin of the Whistle Blowers Association, on the 15th of September,

“Our page, in one form or another, has been up ... for a couple of weeks. We have heard nothing from Causley yet. As soon as we do, it will go straight out onto the Net.”

I had focused, the previous months, on preparing the documentation for the webpage as soon as possible, knowing that when the job was done we would be able to sit back and watch for some response. I had worked like a dog on it and badly needed a break. We would soon add the whole collection of neatly categorised files to our display and I would sigh a huge, if apprehensive, sigh of relief. But no sooner was the precious, damning display launched in full than Dyson was preparing the next version, and the next. There was no rest for the weary.

Dyson wanted our message to be big, bold and constant. It was how he felt. But I wasn’t sure I was quite that big or bold. I felt very small and scared sharing the wheel of our new exposure device with my highly motivated, indomitably spirited companion. What effect would we have? We couldn’t know. I wanted a plain and serious presentation with serious and straight-to-the-point explanations, demonstrating that there was no time to waste on frivolous excursions and to show that we were just interested in getting the job done. We didn’t have the energy for extravagant displays. We needed a quick and clear response to our cries. People who were easily bored by a plain layout were not the sort who could really give us substantial help anyway, I argued.

But Dyson was thinking big. At his hands the page became bright, animated and extravagant. Huge type and seemingly endless commentary stretched on and on down the page. Leery colours generously described our outrage. It was all singing, all dancing with high resolution and data-expensive imagery. The message was uncompromising. The whole world was invited - was implored - to take action and to take responsibility. The world would change because of the Internet. The global community would embrace the issues of importance to the people and the greedy few at the top would be overwhelmed. It was breathtaking to watch and be part of, as Dyson prepared page after page, with me checking them, each to replace the last. He explained that he thought that merely the very narrow focus on the Pine Brush issue would never attract the great mass of people more interested in more exciting things and once attracted to our site by those, they would be moved to act by the main mission. With constantly changing wording and imagery we kept the monster alive week after week.

Dyson stotted like a gazelle pursued by lions. Leaping from article to abstract, from excerpt to exposé, from commentary to imagery, he aimed to demonstrate that his energy far exceeded that necessary for the task of simply exposing the departmental villains. He could do it while exploring various abstruse interests, which he shared in quantity with the Internet surfers. He could do it while amusing himself with a variety of frivolous animated images and cartoons. Maybe he could do it standing on his head. I had no doubt that Dyson could stott on and on. But I had committed myself to remaining by his side so I had reason to be concerned. It was an anxious and stressful period. The weeks became months.

In October, we persisted with our project, which by then involved presenting various snippets of the scandal to ignite the interest of the visitors to the site. We felt it was also time to approach Chris Masters, one of the main forces behind ABC TV’s current affairs program, Four Corners. Often in the past it had been suggested to us that we contact Four Corners. But there had been other media possibilities which we didn’t want to threaten, and we probably didn’t feel we had a hope under the circumstances. But in '97 we had heard, through a mutual friend, that Masters would very likely be interested.

Almost impossible to reach by phone, we eventually learned that Masters and his producer were very interested in the Pine Brush battle but had few time slots left that year. Again we thought we could see a little light at the end of the tunnel but were determined not to let ourselves be disappointed once more by having our hopes raised high and then dashed. If only it was that simple. But soon our minds were exploring that light in the tunnel. Never had the material been so easily accessible by the media. Masters could research the issue on the Internet. But would he? Wouldn’t this idea, instead, fall flat on its face too after the initial encouragement, as everything else seemed to have done?

Meanwhile with our intentions clearly laid out on the web page, we made contact with State Greens M.P., Ian Cohen, in September, to urge him to present questions in Parliament to the Environment Minister. We had, with help, composed questions for her which would be impossible for her to answer without either damning herself or misleading parliament. Cohen took our advice and asked the questions that same month.

“Has the ALP Government taken action over former Minister Ian Causley's conversion of the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve to freehold?

a) Is it true this was against the advice of three government departments?

b) Did the National Parks and Wildlife service conduct surveys on portion 183 prior to it being converted to freehold? If so what were the results? If not, why not?

Is the Minister aware of the illegal logging currently taking place on this land?”

Another great waiting period then began. When would the Environment Minister answer the questions? How would she answer them? How would she expose her wrong? If she fully revealed the results of NPWS surveys prior to the conversion she would have to expose the discovery of rainforest remnant. This potential revelation would demonstrate that since the conversion the NPWS and Environment Minister's office had been covering up that discovery. Alternatively, the Minister might offer a less than honest description of the NPWS findings prior to the conversion. Either way it would look bad and could be challenged by the Greens. Would the media be alerted to these inevitable inconsistencies or would we be left with the obscure secret yet again?

The webpage, while this was going on, was becoming ever more monstrous with arms and legs going in every direction. Our lives seemed to be channelled into this little black box. Our complete collection of files, we found, had to be presented as a compressed file because of it’s huge size. This meant that it could be downloaded and un-compressed by anyone interested in saving the information in their own computers. We urged people to do this in case we were sued and prevented from pursuing our goal further. The compressed file sat nestled in the ever-changing topical presentation largely fuelled by Dyson’s formidable spirit.

As the weeks passed with no legal correspondence arriving at our door we became more and more bold with our presentation. Even the compressed file, somehow safer in it’s less directly accessible form, we considered presenting unzipped as space permitted. Where would it all end?





SIXTEEN - Pine Brush, The Invisible

_________________________________________________________________________(back to table of contents)

We were hungry for more current Pine Brush and Crowleys Creek Nature Reserve files from NPWS. We knew we had added to them enormously over the past four years with our persistent correspondence. We had heard that government departments didn’t make intra-departmental memoranda on paper very much any more. It could, of course, be scrutinised in FOI’d files. Now it is apparently largely done with email. How would the organisation cope with a request for all email on the topic? It wouldn’t take much processing time to organise - the stated main stumbling block in providing information - and could simply come on a floppy disk. But the sensitivity of the material would certainly be an issue. But did the NPWS and Environment Minister’s offices archive their digital correspondence as they are required to do by law for their paperwork? Attempts to extract these files from the NPWS were put in train in '97.

Exposing the Pine Brush National Estate scandal has become a nightmare that refuses to end. We are still attempting to gain access to files about things that happened five or more years ago. We have approached all the major (and several minor) political parties, and every possible relevant government department in an attempt to clean up this situation put in motion by Ian Causley in 1993. Now, all those parties and government bodies have soiled themselves by participating one way or another in the great Pine Brush cover-up. Even the Environmental Defender's Office and the National Parks Association have withdrawn their support and have ignored our requests for the files in their possession to be sent to us for our use. Even so, we continued through '97 and '98 to expose the issue and its villains and to try to find a way to bring Pine Brush National Estate the protection it deserves.

A request in July '97, for the NPWS Pine Brush files was discouraged by the NPWS FOI coordinator, Bart Barrack, who claimed that the file is now ‘five feet high’. It is not surprising that it is very large. But five feet? After some exchange of correspondence in an attempt to narrow down the request, Barrack compiled a detailed price list. The total cost for the documents came to $810. The matter was left to slide. Interestingly in the price list there appeared to be no mention of the Crowley’s Creek files, which had been requested along with the others.

Then months passed and the parliamentary questions for the Environment Minister, asked in September '97 by the Greens, seemingly remained unanswered. We continued to make much of this point on the webpage and presented the questions ourselves on the Internet for the public to consider. Cohen informed us that the fact that the Minister hadn’t answered yet was quite unusual. We thought this was a story in itself. Why weren’t the media interested?


demanded our webpage, week after week, month after month. Clearly, the longer Allen delayed in parliament, the more attention she was drawing to herself. We thought this might even eventually work in our favour. But things were looking typically gloomy during the wait for a Ministerial response. We had waited so many times before.

And yet another couple of doors seemed to open for us. Our greatest hope for an outcome to the Pine Brush saga had, for a long time, been that the NPWS would acquire the property after all. It had been explained to us that if the will was there, there were ways that the NPWS could influence the state of affairs sufficiently to finally create their planned Nature Reserve over the land. They would be forced to pay market prices for the land but perhaps to save face they would decide that the price (about $100,000 at current government valuation) was not unreasonable. But we were beginning to think that the NPWS would not be the ideal steward for this National Estate, considering its record with it in the past five years. We wondered if there were any other possibilities. We wondered if there was some private body or individual who could be persuaded to offer Kratz an irresistible price for the land in order for it to be conserved.

Then we discovered the Australian Bush Heritage Fund. We watched ABC's Kerry O’Brien’s Seven Thirty Report item about the Tasmanian-based organisation, and how it was formed with a view to purchasing properties like Pine Brush for conservation. Naturally we approached them, trying once again not to get our hopes raised. But it was a long time before we heard from the Fund. They had received so many requests as a result of the television coverage, and were snowed under with proposals. However, they eventually told us they were ‘very interested’. Naturally there were still a lot of procedures to go through before they could tell us whether they would attempt to acquire Pine Brush. We just couldn't help imagining how it would be if that place was purchased by the fund. The thought was so pleasing.

Again we waited. Of course, Kratz would have to be willing to sell. But he had already been thwarted in carrying out nearly all of the activities he had begun on the property. Apparently a fairly recent letter sent from the NPWS zone team in Coffs Harbour warned him of the penalties if he damages the threatened species on the property. They wouldn't have identified its location. But since that letter was sent, and possibly as a result of our continued webpage presentation, there seemed to be an almost complete halt to his logging operation. For this we were very grateful.

A great help in gaining the interest of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund was another flora report which came about after an accidental visit to the property in 1997 by another independent botanist, who was sometimes contracted by the NPWS. On making some quite outstanding discoveries at Pine Brush, this rare plant expert noted them in the NPWS files. A letter resulting from these observations was prepared on request from the Heritage Fund who had phoned the northern zone NPWS office to learn about the conservation values of Pine Brush. This letter confirmed a much greater botanical importance of the property than we had imagined, and certainly more than had ever been acknowledged outwardly by NPWS. The Heritage Fund passed a copy of the report on to us.

“The population of Quassia sp. B is about 500 plants, and as such it is one of the largest known populations of this species. It is also a disjunct population from the other known occurrences which are in the coastal foothills between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga.”

(Turner, Thomas and Griffith only managed to find one plant of the Schedule-One Quassia species B in '93.)

“2) Grevillea quadricauda which is listed on Schedule 2 as vulnerable. The population of this species is at least 1000 plants and on current knowledge this represents the largest population of the species. Other populations occur north of Grafton in the Banyabba and Mt. Neville Nature Reserves and in SE Queensland.”

Turner, Thomas and Griffith noted only ‘a few’ Grevillea quadricauda plants growing in association with Podocarpus Spinulosa, currently inside the Conservation Agreement area.

A number of other threatened plants were listed in the independent botanist’s letter to the Bush Heritage Fund.

“The plant community containing Eucalyptus psammitica and Corymbia henryi is unusual, and the areas where Grevillea quadricauda and Podocarpus spinulosus occur in the understory are also unusual.”

Disappointingly, that letter still referred only to ‘rainforest elements’ and was not specific about the location of the threatened plant populations. However, we knew them to be in the vicinity of the remnant riparian rainforest.

It concluded,

“Given the number and significance of the plant species that occur on portion 183 I have no hesitation in saying that this area is of very high conservation value.”

Would the report ever hold the weight required to persuade NPWS to conserve the land, if only to save face, or would the Bush Heritage Fund be able to acquire it? Whatever the outcome, we hoped it would be soon. We had no idea when Kratz would resume his logging. Meanwhile we were still waiting for the Environment Minister to answer her questions in parliament. How would the independent report, now in the hands of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund, affect that outcome?

During that year we had become more and more aware of the disappearing forest beside us. There are now gaps through the tree canopies that had never been there before.We eventually pulled ourselves together enough to look at the logging site again. I had played down in my mind the extent of the disturbance, but finally it was again there in front of my eyes. Dyson’s predictions were right. It was too late for a lot of it. The damage was done. The huge old tallowoods, rare in their maturity and quantity, had been felled in devastating numbers. A dangerously flammable understory of scrubby bushes had already sprung up to take advantage of the bright sunlight among the huge stumps and dead fallen crowns of ancient old growth forest. All we could do was look, trying to put the pieces back together with our eyes - trying to somehow reverse the tragedy with our minds.

We were choking back the tears. How selfish these people had been. How short-sighted. How unreconcilable the sight before us was with our understanding of how it should be. How helpless we felt standing there looking at the logs and the piles of loose sawdust. A disabling numb anger invaded my mind at that point. I had to do something with it.


Orange circles, raw and bright,

We heard the screaming the other night,

Deep, fresh, ochre slices,

Monuments to men's devices,


Orange circles, fresh and new,

Cannot repair with brace and glue,

They took some middles for their fences,

Crush the soul, dull the senses,


I was grieving. I was angry. I was despairing and felt helpless.


Tallowoods, so huge, so old,

So short-sighted, leaves me cold,

Small time villains, are you blind, Did you,

Ask your children if they mind!?

When I’d finished singing the song we had a long-overdue and well-deserved cry.

And cry we might. Impatient to have the Environment Minister’s situation in parliament resolved, we called Ian Cohen’s office once again in late April '98. Seven months had passed since the questions had been asked! Things were getting very serious. We had continued to publicise the Minister’s inaction on our webpage. We couldn’t understand why no-one seemed to be reacting to this situation. Then Cohen telephoned us,

“There’s been a big stuff up. The Minister did answer the questions, but we didn’t find out.”

She had answered them on the 11th of November '97.

We were stunned. How could it be? We had been waiting anxiously for those answers for almost eight months, completely unaware that the Minister had answered them almost six months before! We couldn’t believe it. Why did everything, that had anything to do with Pine Brush, have to go off the rails? Didn’t anything work? Couldn’t the Greens even get it right? For months we had been inaccurately accusing the Minister of avoiding the questions put to her by Cohen. Cohen told us that the Greens had been having trouble with their computer. Well, we could relate to that. Not allocated sufficient funding by the government, their office was clearly inadequately equipped. Cohen eventually sent us a copy of the Minister’s answers.

She most certainly had misled the parliament with her response.

“A Voluntary Conservation Agreement was negotiated and finalised covering a portion of this parcel of land which adequately protects the significant conservation values of the site.”

This is demonstrably untrue. Yet she had remarkably persisted with this untruth. NPWS’s own files contradict the Minister’s statement. Only some of the conservation values of the former reserve are covered by the CA. The most significant ones, including the Schedule-One Quassia species B (which NPWS does acknowledge the existence of) are OUTSIDE the CA boundaries. Their own maps show this. Their own survey explains this. The Minister’s parliamentary answers to Cohen even include a mention of Quassia species B.

In answer to Cohen’s question,

“Has the Australian Labor Party Government taken action over former Minister Ian Causley's conversion of the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve to freehold?”

Minister Allen’s response was,

“Action has not been taken as this Crown lease conversion occurred under the previous government.”

Since when did that justify not taking action? Is a Government free to ignore catastrophes that are put in train by their predecessors? The Minister ignored Cohen’s question,

“Is it true that this [conversion] was against the advice of three government departments?”

Of course, NPWS was originally one of those departments. The Minister listed the flora surveys conducted on the land prior to the conversion, as requested. She made mention of some of the findings of those surveys. But she did not mention rainforest remnant, as recorded by Dodkin in '74. Rather she only listed,

“...dry sclerophyll forest on the ridges and exposed aspects, dry sclerophyll forest on the low slope areas at the base of ridges and wet sclerophyll/ swamp forest on sheltered aspects, drainage lines and depressions;...”

The Minister volunteered a list of ‘further’ surveys performed at Pine Brush but neglected to mention the May '97 “Moist Forest” survey. Perhaps this was because it was really only an “inspection”. Or more likely it was because it made mention of ‘rainforest elements’.

The Minister was maintaining that,

“...NPWS was advised to proceed with a conservation agreement only after the lease was converted to freehold. No formal advice of the terms of conversion was received by the NPWS.”

Their own Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division did not inform them of what took place at the meeting he attended at Pine Brush with Causley, the Minister for Natural Resources. The NPWS did not, in effect, inform itself. This had been explained repeatedly by us in letters to the Minister’s office and to the Ombudsman.

Anticipating difficulty with communicating all these issues to the Greens, we prepared a clear and brief explanation (with diagrams and maps), of how the Minister had misled parliament, so that Cohen could at last challenge her. We posted it, as well as emailed it to the Greens on the 7th of May '98. We were worried that after all that time had passed, a reaction to her answers in parliament would have less impact.

“Thanks again for asking the questions of the Environment Minister on 24/9/97.

We have identified as simply and clearly as possible in the following pages how Allan has mislead parliament. We have created the enclosed presentation for our web page as well as to mail to you. The documents we refer to are all represented in full, (apart from some maps) on our webpage if you need to refer to them more thoroughly, (see the zip file). Otherwise we presume you can obtain copies from the appropriate departments or we can make hard copies ourselves if necessary.

Please let us know how you go with this. There are many people watching this issue closely....

You may be interested to know that the Australian Bush Heritage Fund has expressed an encouraging amount of interest in the property.

Keep up the good work.”

We wondered how effective this would be, considering so much time had been allowed to pass already. Still we were keen to have the matter attended to at last. We waited again.

On the 28th of May '98 Cohen raised these matters with the Environment Minister in a meeting. Then this letter, of the 28th of June, was written by Cohen's office because she did not respond to his May request for clarification.

“As discussed in the meeting I would appreciate further information regarding Pine Brush Nature Reserve, particularly regarding the response you gave to the Question I asked in Parliament on the 24th September, 1997.

As discussed in the meeting concerns have been raised regarding the response you gave and I seek clarification regarding the protection of endangered flora, Quassia species B listed in Schedule 1 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

Please find information enclosed concerning the location of the Endangered species and their positioning outside the Conservation Agreement, could this point be clarified as it contradicts the response you gave to my question and I therefore consider it to be a priority.”

She did not respond and Cohen did not adequately follow up his inquiries. On a more positive note, in early July we heard from the Bush Heritage Fund. Encouragingly, they had taken their Pine Brush proposal to their Budget Meeting in Adelaide. It had progressed that far! Greg Blake, who had been working on the proposal for the Fund, said that the report he had received about Pine Brush’s “very high conservation value” was “glowing”. He told us that there was probably a 50/50 chance that the Fund would attempt to acquire it. This was better than I had dared to hope and we were greatly heartened. Off rushed my hopes despite my efforts to hold them at bay.

How neat it would be to have the Fund acquire Pine Brush. It’s conservation would be secured. There would be no more anxiety about its trees being felled, its bushrocks stolen and its endangered species being killed. There would be no more anxiety about NPWS’s neglect of it. It would be a happy ending to the Pine Brush saga. All along our aim had been to preserve the Pine Brush Proposed Nature Reserve. But in attempting this we had been forced to deal with widespread corruption which itself threatened to occlude the original issue. We were not out on a witch hunt. And if we could secure the conservation of our National Estate while bypassing the continuing sordid bureacratic red tape, in which we were becoming increasingly tangled, then that is what we'd strive for. Naturally we hoped, in such an instance, that the perpetrators of the abuse of the public trust over Pine Brush would still be exposed for their actions, so that the chance of them doing more damage in our country would be reduced, if not removed entirely. But the immediate bottom line for us is preserving this place before it's too late. We won't get a second chance. If we achieved this, with the help of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund or some such body, we would at last be free to get back to our lives and hopefully let paid officials continue with the job we had been doing all this time by default.

How wonderful if we had all our years of persistence rewarded by such an outcome. It would demonstrate that it is worth fighting for what you believe is right. The Australian Bush Heritage Fund’s acquisition of Pine Brush would also demonstrate its conservation merit. That would be very difficult for Ian Causley, NPWS and the Environment Minister to explain. It was these happy thoughts that enabled me to persist with the soul destroying job of writing the whole affair down in this book form. The hope had kept me going for weeks in the absence of any further news from the Greens. I needed something to spur me on. (Writing a book was another thing I felt underqualified to do. But it had to be done.) It seemed to me that we had really just about come to the end of the line.

With a Federal election looming, we worried that the Greens would be less willing to expose the Labor Minister, knowing that her Coalition opponents would have an even worse attitude towards the environment and the social issues of concern to them. I remained cynical about the outcome of the Greens’ challenge of the Environment Minister’s answers in parliament. Then while we pondered this, during another waiting period, Greg Blake phoned us with his news. The Adelaide meeting of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund was finished. A decision had been reached. At the edge of our chairs, we had urged him to tell us the result of the meeting as soon as he could. We were grateful that he made the effort to get back to us so promptly. So many times we had been left twisting in the wind.

“This is the only part of my job that I don’t enjoy.” he said.

It really seemed like the last straw.

I tried not to be disappointed. I tried not to cry. But another light had gone out. The Fund had found a place in Queensland which boasted even greater botanical significance than did Pine Brush, and their budget was to be committed to that. We thanked Blake for his efforts and he offered to write an account of the Fund’s interest in Pine Brush so that we could demonstrate to others that it had qualified for their serious consideration. The letter which in fact arrived some months later read,

"Our failure to purchase the Pine Brush block does not in any way imply that it does not have significant conservation values, but rather that there are a number of blocks (such as those outlined above) competing for Bush Heritage's funds, and that we have allocated a higher conservation priority to some of these. This decision was not taken lightly, and as you know was considered for some time. "

Where did that leave us? We couldn't help reflecting on the fact that five long years had passed since this land was converted to freehold. Our job had been sickening, scary, dirty and oppressive. We were disgusted by it. And still the Pine Brush National Estate scandal had not been adequately exposed. It wouldn't have been an ongoing issue at all if we hadn't pushed stubbornly against the tide. It was our persistence which had prompted the offending departments to continue to reveal more and more of their duplicity which had added so alarmingly to the original issue.

There were still one or two more developments to unfold in the saga before the October Federal election.

That Winter ('98) Ulmarra Council, the NPWS and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning (DUAP) began squabbling over who has responsibility for the policing of bushrock theft, which appears to continue over this land in the neighbourhood of the threatened plants. In fact we had seen a truckload of the rocks parked outside Allan Kratz's house in July '98. We finally got a look at his loot. There it was. Bold as brass. His flatbed truck was parked outside his house loaded with two layers of very broad, magnificent, lichen covered bushrocks! What a familiar sight, but how incongruous. What a blatant display of contempt for the law and the natural environment. But how were we going to get the appropriate official to sight them? We didn't have our camera with us and it was growing dark. The obvious next step was to phone Ken Exley at the Council chambers. And this action set in train a ludicrous degree of shirking responsibility from one department to another and eventually the Ombudsman once again became involved. As Dyson explained in a letter to Harry Woods months later,

(9th of February '99)

"Last July we raised this matter there [NPWS's Grafton District office and more recently to the Northern Zone office in Coffs Harbour] at the behest of Mr. Ken Exley, Ulmarra Council Director of Environmental Services, who denied any local government responsibility, stating that it was the responsibility of the NPWS Regional office. Mr. Bob Friedrich, Manager of the NPWS Grafton Regional Office told us it was the responsibility of their Coffs Harbour Northern Zone office. Mr. Gary Davey, Manager, (Threatened Species) of their Coffs Harbour Northern Zone office told us it was the responsibility of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. The Department of Urban Affairs and Planning told NPWS that it was the responsibility of Local Government, namely, Ulmarra Council. Ulmarra Council continued to deny any responsibility for the policing of this ongoing unlawful sandstone rock removal..."

While carrying out initial investigations, the Ombudsman's representative was fed a number of variations on the truth by those involved, and required the usual prompting and persistence to follow through with our complaints. Interestingly, the Manager of the Northern Zone Office of NPWS Gary Davey, informed the Ombudsman that the 'rainforest' had been inspected on several occasions but no bushrock removal was evident there. As well as confusing the areas and issues of concern to us, Davey had brought further question into the whole argument of the existence of rainforest at Pine Brush National Estate. It seems that not all of the NPWS staff are familiar with the party line. The matter of illegal bushrock removal at Pine Brush continued on into the many months ahead. When we wrote to the Ombudsman in October we voiced our distress about the delay.

"It is alarming to us that during the considerable time this issue is taking to be resolved, sandstone bush rock theft may continue with impunity, (presumably all over the state!)"

The National Parks Association drew more attention to itself in June '98 by soliciting from Dyson, then heavily editing, a 200 word update of the Pine Brush scandal, for their August '98 Journal. Meanwhile the NPA completely ignored our continued email correspondence which questioned Plum's stance on not pursuing the Environment Minister. (Interestingly the NPA scrapbook, a feature of their webpage, claimed to accept postings from anyone, but it did not accept ours.) We had named the NPA in the article, requested by the editor, as one of the organisations unwilling to pursue its own formal assertions about the Environment Minister’s errors of fact. But the NPA (not surprisingly) edited out that reference to them, replacing it with the less specific term ‘Conservation organisations.' They, in several ways, altered the article significantly, changing its factual content, though claiming,

(Glyn Mather, Editor NPA) “We did some minor editing of it to avoid getting myself and NPA caught in a libel suit, but the substance of it was left alone - it was just specific names that were left out.”

But there were substantial differences in meaning. As well as removing the reference to their own demonstrable inaction, they removed a reference to the fact that it was their own formal assertions that were not pursued. So while we continued to accept responsibility for our stance, based on the more that adequate NPWS documentation, the NPA was not. By not owning up to taking part in the recent dealings with the Environment Minister, with the EDO, on behalf of the Pine Brush National Estate, the NPA did much to unfairly damage our credibility. We found their position very weak and unhelpful. It may have been more understandable had they written explaining funding problems or some such difficulty, but they continued, while producing this heavily edited article, to completely ignore anything from us not directly to do with that article. We were not impressed.

Perhaps the worst alteration to the meaning of our original article was, as Dyson pointed out in an email to the NPA editor following the publication of that article,

"... the dreaded insertion of 'alleged' in front of 'errors of fact'. They are INDISPUTABLE FACTUAL ERRORS, NOT ALLEGATIONS (ie:assertions unsupported, and by implication, regarded as unsupportable)!!!!!!"

Of course, Dyson's name was still placed at the end of the article, further damaging our credibility. Despite all this however, we were glad and surprised the article was printed at all, and the NPA did not cut out our inclusion of our webpage address (URL), although it did contain a minor typographical inaccuracy. So the whole story could be revealed to anyone with Internet access, prepared to read more than two hundred words. Our webpage also explained in full what the NPA had done. But it also says a lot that nobody (with one exception) from the NPA Journal readership ever responded to it. That one individual who did respond apparently wrote letters about the issue with a promise to send us any responses she recieved, but we heard no more from her.

Ian Causley, in October '98 ran for the second time as National Party Member for the Federal seat of Page. We had gone to vote at the local Tucabia Primary School, a pleasantly refreshing place of innocent minds. A school, especially a primary school, is a place of nurturing where extra care is taken to set a good example. It always seems incongruous to perch at the cardboard polling booths where one is forced to consider the inadequacies of the country's leaders while surrounded by bright, innocent paintings and collages of stick figures, twinkly stars, smiley dogs and colourful, wobbly representations of what happened on the weekend. Then how strange to leave through the safe sheltered yard past safely constructed play equipment and innocuous bench seats only to be greeted once again by an array of propaganda competing at the gate for your favour. But that day the discrepancy was more jarring than usual. There, nestled quietly in the neat school garden by the walkway, were several broad, dark, lichen covered bushrocks of the type so familiar to us. Of course we had to make enquiries.

We wrote a letter to the school principal, but got no response. Many months later we expressed our continued frustrations to the Ombudsman.

"...we feel very strongly that landscaping a public primary school with vital fauna habitat stolen from its neighbouring National Estate sends the wrong message to Australia’s future decision makers."

(Months later we were still struggling with the Ombudsman, the Tucabia school Principal and various distortions of the truth generated by these further enquiries.)

Ian Causley held on to his seat in October '98 and again went unchallenged about the Pine Brush scandal. His political opponents seemingly went for cover. Even our conservative Grafton Daily Examiner angrily editorialised on October 3rd, 1998 about how, during the campaign, there had been no public meetings and no visits from politicians in this important regional centre and volitile electorate. Why?

Causley performed a favour for a mate, at the expense of the whole country. But nobody wants to know. Every party has been tainted by this affair. Causley’s seat was contested in the Federal Election by candidates from the Labor Party, the Democrats, the One Nation Party, and the Greens to name a few. Those who were informed about the Pine Brush scandal, a continuing abuse of public trust, joined Causley in concealing his dishonesty from the electorate. They shirked their responsibility of informing the people of Page about the true character of the current Member for Federal Parliament and his actions.


  Premier Promises Enquiries/Allan Dumped   (Return to table of contents)

    Nearly a year had passed since the Australian Federal election of October 1998. And in that time we continued, with the help of a very few people, our wearisome struggle to expose the Pine Brush National Estate scandal. Like an infectious disease it continued its horrible growth, apparently corrupting each new body with which it had come into contact. The pattern of disappointments, raised hopes and more disappointments, so characteristic of the previous few years also continued. Those flashes of real hope appeared and from unexpected sources. Even so, I confess I experienced a greatly increasing sense of despair as the tree felling on the former proposed Nature Reserve proceeded (after months without logging) through its richest old growth forest and coming within metres of the edge of the as yet untouched remnant rainforest. I wonderered if anyone else remembered what Ian Causley told the community on the radio back in 1993. "The intended use is very clear. It's a little bit of grazing. ...there's not one decent millable log on it" "...they (the Forestry Commission) believed there was no valuable timber on it, and would not be, and would never be!" Does it matter to the residents of the Clarence Valley that this is clearly not true?

The logging activity has not penetrated that remnant yet. There is still time for action to be taken to halt the destruction. The Pine Brush National Estate, with its Kangaroo Creek sandstone rock outcrops and caves, its many untouched ancient hardwood forest areas, biodiverse gullies and rare plants still boasts a natural beauty, I think, far in excess of the surrounding valley area and much of the coastal range.

Clearly, as revealed in these chapters, there are huge, unaddressed issues of morality and law here. Or should I say immorality and lawlessness? And as clearly revealed in our massive collection of government files, (compressed in the zip file within our web site), there is also evidence of disastrous widespread incompetence in the New South Wales public sector. It certainly appears that there is no sufficient will and no adequate recognition of the importance of preserving this remaining Australian Natural Heritage, no matter how special it is - not among our leaders, nor among those departmental officers involved and ordinary people who know the story.

We expected to experience great resistance to our continued pursuit of justice with Pine Brush. On top of the obvious desire of the government to keep the Pine Brush story quiet, we expected that it would attempt to make an example of us and our Internet whistle blowing, so that others who may be inclined to follow our path are warned away. A clear example of the sort of resistance we continued to experience was brought about by our further appeals, in September '98, to our state Labor Member for Parliament, Harry Woods. Woods forwarded this latest letter, to him from us, on to the Environment Minister's office which responded, in January '99, by producing further demonstrable errors of fact. (Typically we promptly published this correspondence on the Internet so that these dishonest responses from the government will not be concealed from the public, which can judge the situation for itself).

This Minister's letter succeeded in thoroughly confusing the issues we raised, and it clearly attempted to discredit us.

"The Director-General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has advised that the range of matters which Mr Devine raises in his letter to you dated 20 September 1998 have previously been investigated but no firm evidence was disclosed of any breaches warranting prosecution by the NPWS. Notwithstanding this, Mr Devine has continued to represent these matters to the NPWS's Grafton District office and more recently to the Northern Zone office in Coffs Harbour."

The matters we raised with the NPWS's Grafton District office and the Northern Zone office in Coffs Harbour had not been investigated by NPWS as they were matters to do with the ongoing removal of bushrock from the former reserve, a practice which had previously been declared by the Lands Department and the Ombudsman to be unlawful. And of course it was the NPWS and the Environment Minister's office about whose other "investigations" we were complaining. Also we were identifying the duplicity of Woods' office when, in 1997, it dealt with the organisation of the 'moist forest' inspection. We had written to Woods that Alex Floyd, the retired rainforest expert, rather than being "independent" on the 'moist forest' inspection was, (in his own words to us in a letter of 4th August '97), "...commissioned to report to N.P.&W.S. upon the status of this forest..." which was unlikely to result in an unbiased report. The Environment Minister's office has never addressed this point. Neither has Wood's office.

In our letter we had also reiterated the clear misleading of parliament by the Environment Minister. By saying that the significant conservation values were protected by the Conservation Agreement she had led parliament to believe that the Quassia sp. B was included in the CA area, because it is, by its classification as a Schedule One endangered species, the prime conservation value of the land. But the Minister's office did not acknowledge that point either. It merely claimed that the Gilmour report, which identifies the large population of Quassia species B outside the CA area, "...has not been made available to the NPWS", and so, they claimed, they could not comment. But we had repeatedly drawn their attention to the document's existence in our website. (The Environment Minister's office clearly does have Internet access, as is demonstrated in a more recent letter from them on the topic of Pine Brush.) But in the January '99 letter they referred to Gilmour as merely "another person" although his name and description, (rare plant expert) was supplied in our letter to them and to Woods. Also, Gilmour reportedly entered his observations into the NPWS database shortly after he made them. (The Coffs Harbour NPWS team were later to acknowledge his findings in an email to us.) The Minister did not acknowledge our point that the earlier NPWS botanical survey of 1993 also identified Quassia species B outside the CA area and was alone, therefore, sufficient evidence that the Minister had misled parliament.

This letter from the Environment Minister's office to Woods included a wildly inaccurate map, produced by the NPWS. In the letter it was claimed that the map shows the area inspected by rainforest specialists Floyd and Hunter in May '97 (accompanied by Dyson and the other NPWS rangers). But the map clearly indicates an area six times larger than was actually inspected (and documented in their written report) and it indicated that Floyd and Hunter had visited the site of the Quassia species B. In fact they had refused to inspect that area, as their brief had been only to visit what was subsequently identified as the 'moist forest' area. Had they actually inspected the Quassia area they should have discovered as Gilmour did, that it's population stretches impressively across the ridge side, making a mockery of the claims resulting from the '93 inspection by Turner, Thomas and Griffith that just one plant existed. Also, had they really inspected that area, the elderly Mr. Floyd would have had to scale a third of the way up Mcraes Knob and back in less than two hours. When we drew attention to the errors in the map it was explained (by regional NPWS Manager Bob Friederich) that " the map was never intended to be precise". But NPWS never told Harry Woods that. In the context of all the other examples of misinformation in this letter from the Minister's office it seems clear that NPWS had intended their map to mislead. Any other explanation seems implausible under the circumstances.

The Environment Minister's office and the NPWS had been attempting for years to prevent light being shed on their involvement in the Pine Brush scandal and cover up, as we had tried and tried again to expose their actions. That latest misleading map and the accompanying distortions of the truth were to be expected and were simply the manifestations of this cover up extending into yet another year.

It was very disappointing that the New South Wales Greens Member for Parliament, Ian Cohen, never publicly challenged the Environment Minister for misleading parliament on the 11th of November '97 with her replies to his parliamentary questions. He did try to "clarify" the matter in private meetings and letters to her. Of course, in the lead-up to the state election in March '99 it would presumably not have been in the interests of the Greens to tempt the electorate to have her replaced by a Minister from the right wing and less environmentally sympathetic Liberal/National coalition. But that doesn't explain why it was not attended to after the election, which returned Labor. On the 1st of March '99, just prior to that State election, Clarence Valley Greens candidate Karen Rooke wrote to us saying that Cohen believed he had done everything he could on this matter. To our complaints to her that he never did reply to our repeated correspondence she wrote,

" He [Cohen] has unfortunately had nothing positive to feed back. His challenge to Pam Allan over her misleading parliament remains ignored and he has exhausted all avenues within parliament to pursue her. "

In December '98 Cohen had this to say in an angry email response to Ecofem 2000, an overseas environmental organisation which vehemently criticised the Greens for their inaction.

"No one has tried harder to convince the NSW Environment Min than me."

But at that point it was clear that the Environment Minister did not need to be convinced that she was mistaken. She needed to be exposed, for knowingly providing false information to parliament. As a Green, why wasn't Cohen able (or willing) to raise the issue again in parliament, or,at the very least, go to the media about it? Surely environmentally aware Australians placed him in his lucrative and responsible parliamentary position in order for him to take just such action. Why begin something you're not prepared to finish?

So the Environment Minister was left publicly unchallenged. If there is one thing which is consistent in this battle it is that most participants fail to follow up their actions. Once ignored by the official or body with whom they have found fault, the matter is generally left to slide. No wonder it is apparently common practice for Ministers and their departments to ignore unwanted correspondence. It is clearly a method that works, more often than not.

Another development which surprised us and greatly frustrated our efforts, is that the Ombudsman's office, (headed by Irene Moss) while dealing with a request from us to investigate what that office previously determined was illegal bush rock removal at Pine Brush, joined the growing number of government and non-government bodies who, rather than resolving the problem, add to the flood of misinformation which already submerges this issue. Having inexplicably misinformed the local Tucabia public school principal (whose school garden is decorated with the characteristic sandstone boulders) that there is "no evidence that bushrock has been illegally removed" from Pine Brush, the Ombudsman's office now seems hostile to our enquiries which attempt to correct her. Moss will not acknowledge that her office is now partly in error and she maintains, (after a long period of not answering our mail) that bushrock removal on this land never was illegal! She eventually claimed that all advice to the contrary, including that from her own office in 1995, was in error. This not only meant that the current bushrock removal was quite lawful, but that it was also lawful for Kratz's son and his business partner to remove the bushrock from our Public (Crown) land in 1987 before Kratz obtained freehold title! If that advice from the Ombudsman's was correct it would mean that any private individual or organisation could take rock from public land without breaking any laws! What about the period after the land was freeholded but before the court case took place in early '94 which determined that the collection of bushrock is not an extractive industry? Surely the law can't be changed retrospectively. We had a new bundle of conflicting information to try to untangle.

We remained hopeful that Moss would investigate this matter further because we felt certain that that latest advice couldn't be correct. We put the above conclusion to her, but she did not reply. Much later, in fact as late as September 1999, the new Environment Minister was formally advising the NSW Shadow Minister for the Environment that bushrock removal is a matter for the local council. But this contradicts Moss's advice that it is not council responsibility because a court case in 1994 demonstrated that bushrock removal is not an extractive industry, (the domain of local council). It is so difficult to expose the truth when even the policing bodies distort the facts, intentionally or otherwise. The lack of co-operation from the Ombudsman left us and still leaves us in an absurd situation as we struggle to expose the continuing corruption of the NPWS. It seems that we now have nobody to whom we can appeal for justice.

Adding to our frustrations, the world's environmentalists seem too preoccupied to aid us. A particularly unpleasant surprise, especially for Dyson early in the year had been the lack of response to his calls for help, sent out over the Internet, to the countless media, environmental organisations and individuals who are represented there. We imagined we could at least have some good advice from some of these groups with the added convenience and access provided by the Internet. But only a handful even acknowledge receipt. This was quite an eye-opener. We had hoped that the Internet would allow us to communicate more directly with at least the larger global organisations who might offer some assistance, after advertising on their web pages the need for global action and awareness. But this belief proved to be typically naive. Now we receive mail - outs from some of those giant faceless organisations asking us for money and help, but we continue to receive no help from them and still no acknowledgement of our mail. 

There is a very special exception to this outcome. Fortunately, Pine Brush National Estate does now have the support of a dedicated overseas team who run the Networld/Netzwelt - Project, United States/European based Internet servers, catering for environmentalists on-line. Clearly moved by our plight and the terrible fate of Pine Brush if nobody intervenes, these people took up the fight in September '98. In response to Dyson's mail-out pleading for international help we received a very heart warming and practical email from their German affiliate, Netzwelt - Projekt team member, Anne Heck,

"You two stay strong and don't give are NOT alone....there are lots of people out there, who are feeling the same as we do...we just need to have them moving their darn butts.....I'll do my best..."

Anne and her U.S. collaborator Trisha have done a number of things to secure our information and spread the word. With Networld-Project's welcome support we have been able to increase pressure on those responsible for investigating the various developments of this Pine Brush saga. In October '98 Networld-Project wrote to Premier Carr and the Minister for the Olympics, Michael Knight appealing to them to take this matter seriously in light of the scrutiny that is now focused on Australia as a result of the Sydney Olympic bid scandals. Those letters were forwarded on to the Environment Minister's office where they were 'addressed' on the 5th of January '99 by the Environment Minister's recently promoted Senior Policy Advisor Patrick Holland.

Holland, who now has a well deserved reputation for his mastery of sophistry on behalf of his Minister, really outdid himself that time by producing a whole new layer of misinformation which far more clearly identifies him as unbelievably incapable, demonstrably corrupt or both. He succeeded in injecting as many as twenty-one factual errors into his two and a half page response concerning such fundamental points as the location, title, size of the land and even the year it was converted to freehold. If anyone should have been sure to get those details correct by that time, apart from us, it would be Patrick Holland. It seems that in the light of a possible investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, (prompted by further representations by Networld Project) those who could be accused of being corrupt were furiously attempting to appear to merely be incompetent. There is no law against incompetence.

The Networld-Project also wrote again in February '99 to Premier Carr with a lengthy detailed dissection and refutation of Holland's incredible letter. The Premier's Office responded on February 18th, 1999,

"Mr Carr has asked me to let you know that enquiries are being made and a reply will be forwarded to you as soon as possible."

This was more commitment and involvement than we or Harry Woods had ever successfully received from Carr. But seven months on there had been no reply from Carr to Networld-Project, or any more word of those enquiries, although Networld - Project did send a reminder to Carr. Similarly, Woods still will not respond to our latest letter written in February '99 which covers the many points which have been left unaddressed by the Environment Minister.

Although all our efforts have not secured enough protection for the natural heritage of the Pine Brush National Estate, it seems to us that they have had some influence which is showing up further afield. Although some of these developments are disturbing, others are positive and quite substantial. Of the former, we read an article in the Grafton Daily Examiner describing some of the new National Parks and Nature Reserves in this area, which have come about as a result of the New South Wales North East Forestry Agreement recently finalised. Curiously, we noticed in several of the article's brief botanical descriptions of those places, a use by the NPWS of the innovative and non-scientific term 'moist forest'. Perhaps now the NPWS is attempting to make its first ever use by them, in the Pine Brush report of May '97, less conspicuous. Similarly, we understand from reliable informal sources there has recently been quite a search in the region by the NPWS for more examples of the endangered Quassia species B. This appears to be an attempt to make the very large, northern disjunct population here less significant. (However apparently a discovery elsewhere of a population of this size is very unlikely.) This development does not surprise us in light of Patrick Holland's astonishing and untrue advice, in his letter to the Networld - Project in January, that the endangered species which exist here are not unique and are adequately represented in other reserves. By definition, these species are officially listed as endangered precisely BECAUSE they are not adequately represented elsewhere.

In late '98 and early in '99 the Ombudsman had informed us that discussions were taking place among the NPWS, the Department of Local Government and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning (DUAP) concerning bushrock legislation in order to resolve just which department is responsible for policing the removal of bushrock. We are certain the discussions between departments would not have come about had we not alerted the Ombudsman's office, in October '98, to the confusion and shirking of responsibility which we encountered while attempting to have the bushrock removal finally halted here. Of course, we anxiously awaited some resolution to those discussions, because in the meantime no department at all was assuming responsibility for the monitoring of this activity. And as mentioned, even the Ombudsman' s office had deemed the practice legal. Unfortunately, the Ombudsman, who set these discussions in train, was not responding to our continued correspondence which attempted to deal with this very unfinished business, leaving our credibility in tatters locally.

Probably the most noteworthy recent event of the time, for which we can probably claim a little responsibility, is Premier Carr's timely surprise removal of his Environment Minister Pam Allan from his Cabinet. This happened immediately after the New South Wales state election of March '99. Unfortunately, as is often the case in politics, it seems that the real reasons for that sacking were obscured from or by the media. There were some brief revelations in the media about Allan using a NPWS aircraft for a family excursion, and this was in the recent climate of government wanting to be seen to be cracking down on Ministers who falsely claim entitlements. After-all, ICAC had been investigating these matters. Interestingly, in Carr's mid-term (1997) report, printed in the Sydney Morning Herald, left faction leader Pam Allan had been described as "the government's biggest flop". But the March '99 sacking was simply described in the newspapers as the result of a left faction vote in caucus. Allan, who protested vigorously against this action by her colleagues, (in fact, she stormed out of the caucus meeting) has still not been exposed, other than by us, for misleading parliament in '97 about the nature of protection given by the Conservation Agreement to the "significant conservation values" on the Pine Brush National Estate. Of course, as a result of this sacking, it will become even more difficult to have her actions scrutinised. Allan's Senior Policy Adviser Patrick Holland, being her appointee, has also been replaced. We understand that he returned to his legal practice in the private sector.

However, in April '99, shortly after the state election, Dyson, with stubborn persistence, managed to illicit a response to the latest developments from the now State Shadow Environment Minister Peta Seaton, who has taken some steps, albeit after some encouragement, towards exposing Allan's deceit, and the Carr government's whitewash thereof. I'll cover that in detail shortly, but first, more about the State election which secured the Labor government another term in office.

The March '99 State election provided another opportunity for political parties to show where they stand on this issue. This issue is certainly the very business of local candidates and elected representatives, and it would clearly provide plenty of material for some to run with. We wrote an open letter for Internet publication to all the local candidates and some of the party leaders, asking their views on the subject. The Greens, Democrats, and EarthSave (a peculiar party with a green facade) were sympathetic, though fairly non-committal in their responses. The Christian Democrats ("promoting ethics") refrained from commenting, claiming a lack of familiarity with the issue, although we informed them in detail and naturally drew their attention to our extensive web page exposé. Eventually they asked for money and mailed us voluminous creationist literature. After three explanatory letters to him from us the Liberal Party candidate, Bill Day, eventually described our "story" as "interesting" and our stance as "courageous", although was predictably non-committal. The Clarence Valley Greens candidate Karen Rooke, though barely mentioning the environment in her campaign, did promise to make Pine Brush a campaign issue. Eventually, two days before the election and after some reminder emails from us, the local Greens did produce a press release for the Grafton Daily Examiner, drawing attention to the Environment Minister's misleading of Parliament. (They had already publicly voiced their disappointment with the Labor Party, which did not receive Rooke's preferences in the election.) Much to our surprise, and probably because the land and issue was not well identified, the Examiner printed that press release in full, except the last sentence, (below) presumably cut out to make the article fit.

(Rooke) "If Labor is genuinely concerned for the environment, Pam Allan should explain to Clarence residents why she has failed to protect this land, and spell out immediately any steps she intends to take in repairing the situation."

To our knowledge there was not a single published response from any sector to Rooke's press release, despite the seriousness of her claims, which included a mention of logging and bushrock theft still occurring here.

We were grateful to the new local Democrat candidate, Alec York, who presented, in a letter, the Pine Brush issues to his leaders at a state and federal level. York lives very close to the former Pine Brush Reserve and so has some local perspective. His party at a national level could have had much to gain politically in the short term by exposing this issue, and to do so would only be to act in accordance with the Democrat's environmental platform and their well-known commitment to "keeping the bastards honest". We thought speaking publicly about what had taken place here would have drawn all his competitors into question. We hoped he would do this. (The Democrats have somewhat less to answer for in regard to this matter than the other parties.) It remains to be seen whether the New South Wales Democrats pursue this abuse of parliament by their Labor colleague, Pam Allan or by her replacement, who was soon to demonstrate a very similar attitude toward the issue. The State Democrat leader Arthur Chesterfield - Evans, for months did not reply to further letters sent to him (which followed York's unanswered letter) although he once wrote on the 16th of May '99,

"I have receive your letter to [party leader] Meg Lees re the allegedly dishonest reply by Pam Allan re endangered plants. Our computer was not able to read any of the attachments, so I will have to wait for your snailmail to reply properly. My view is that some good ministers who tried to help the environment were simply rolled in the party room, and then wore the flak in public. Be that as it may the government must be held to account."

Chesterfield Evans was motivated to contact us much later though with a show of initiative, when the issue eventually went back to parliament for a third time in November '99.

With the exception of the Green's press release being printed in the Grafton Examiner prior to the state election, the media maintained its silence on Pine Brush, although we sent media releases and miscellaneous correspondence keeping it informed. The Networld-Project also sent media releases in the United States. (In '98 even the Federal Democrats told us that they had tried to activate the press, but to no avail.) We did have an encouraging, though short lived, indication of interest in February '99 from a well known and highly respected Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist, Pilita Clark. Prior to the state election Clark had asked readers to alert her to evidence of Premier Carr's secrecy on important state matters. Of course we contacted her. In response, she wrote in an email to us,

"Excellent web page. I will take a closer look at it shortly, Pilita"

but then we heard no more from her.

But we did hear again from Matthew Carney of the ABC TV's Seven Thirty Report . Carney, previously from SBS TV, was responsible for the 1994 Newsextra feature story. He was again interested in the developments, now relating to the recent outstanding botanical discoveries by Gilmour at Pine Brush, clearly existing outside the Conservation Agreement on the National Estate. But Carney's producer reportedly lost interest when Gilmour was not prepared to be filmed for television. Surely the fact that he is not prepared, for fear of retribution, to speak publicly about his remarkable scientific discoveries here is newsworthy in itself. After all, his scientific discoveries have been officially added to the NPWS database. And certainly the Environment Minister misleading parliament is an important issue, but apparently not considered important enough for the media to inform the public about. We also heard from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC's) other popular current affairs program, Four Corners. Four Corners' Chris Masters (Australia's preeminent television current affairs and investigative journalist) wrote to us that he has "energetically canvassed" the story on two occasions, but explains that Four Corners has many important issues competing for attention. At least it is comforting to know that Masters believes that the Pine Brush scandal is a worthy story. But unfortunately that opinion alone doesn't seem to be helping the cause.

We still have some hope that the story will become palatable to the media with the involvement of Peta Seaton, the Liberal Shadow Environment Minister of New South Wales. Initially we found her refreshingly acquainted with the Internet and email. She had responded promptly to our first email to her in April '99 and said she would study the information that we had directed her to and get back to us. But she didn't get back to us, so we eventually wrote again, at which time she wrote that she would phone us before emailing again. By this stage we had grown suspicious of such suggestions. A phone-call allows for an exchange which is not recorded and we are not prepared to make our silent phone number well known. Seaton did not phone, however, until we had waited two months and reminded her of her promise.

In the phone call which eventually occurred despite our written reservations Seaton expressed interest in challenging the current Environment Minister Bob Debus on his predecessor's misleading of parliament. We could not be sure if Seaton properly understood that this whole mess began when her state coalition partner's Ian Causley disposed of the National Estate in 1993. We hoped this awkward situation would not inhibit her pursuit of the truth about the more recent cover-up by her opposition, the Labor Party. In a prompt letter to the current Environment Minister, Seaton raised the issue of Allan's parliamentary performance. Seaton allowed herself a three week wait for a response before she issued a press release. With no reply forthcoming, pleasingly true to her word, she then told us she had distributed a media release outlining this state of affairs, and asking how long we would have to wait for answers. Her office advised us that this media release was sent to thirty Sydney media outlets as well as to our local media. Unfortunately, perhaps suspiciously, there were some factual errors from her office concerning the timing of the media release and the location of the Cabinet Meeting with which it was to coincide. This further damaged our already bruised local credibility as we passed the news on, and of course it didn't look very good for Seaton either.

Nothing came of Seaton's press release. I felt doubtful at the time that her office had sent it to the appropriate outlets, as those that Dyson checked locally knew nothing about it and we were getting inconsistent advice from Martin Laverty, Seatons office staffer.

Seaton was and still is in an awkward situation. She is politically and morally obliged to pursue this matter concerning the Labor Government's cover-up as it is quite transparent and widespread at this point. So are Seaton's actions as far as the Internet goes. But she risks upsetting her own party by drawing attention to the original crime acted out over Pine Brush, which was its conversion to freehold by National Party's Ian Causley. The Liberal/National coalition is an uncomfortable but necessary one. However, in opposition they can probably afford to air a few differences and seem to be doing so on a number of issues. We hoped this would give Seaton the room she needs to do her job. Of course, that assumed that she was sincere in her voiced intentions. Unfortunately she has since demonstrated , not surprisingly, that she is far less than sincere. She originally told us she would take any opportunity that arose to pursue this matter in parliament and suggested that a Notice of Motion could be the most appropriate course of action. We were anxious to see her suggestions turn into actions. We eventually did, but not without suffering some personal attacks from her as the year drew to a close. More on that later.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and personally disturbing developments in the first trying and dispiriting months of 1999 was recieving an unsolicited email from Peter Wilson, the former Acting Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Wilson (perhaps the most pivotal individual in the initial land deal) is no longer in the Public Service and is the first of the cast of characters in the Pine Brush saga to initiate direct contact with us. He did this in April '99, well aware of our extensive and thorough webpage presentation of the story. As well as objecting to our webpage implications that he was corrupt, he took exception to my account in this book of his actions. He wrote that his contact with us was motivated by his desire to "help us better understand" his role in the saga. We think it did help us better understand. And in order to give readers the opportunity to judge the situation on more than just my interpretation of the files in our possession, I altered this manuscript soon after Wilson's first contact with us to include his explanations for his actions. But I have still indicated my continuing view, having reassessed the information, that he acted dishonestly and not in the interest of the public he was intended to serve in his managerial position. Clearly my own judgments are also open to scrutiny.

We soon wrote back to Wilson in the hope of learning more and posed a number of questions to him regarding points he had not addressed in his letter to us. He responded soon after (after some impatient prodding from us), apparently shedding some more light on the situation, but his response raised further questions and still left many points untouched. Wilson explained that he couldn't recall many of the details we required concerning the NPWS's position at the time and would follow the matter up on our behalf with former NPWS colleagues. He explained "this will take some time as I have no immediate access to any of the information - I am now just a member of the public as far as NPWS are concerned. I'm also rather pressed for time to spend on such tasks."

Still hopeful that Wilson, despite the seemingly illogical and contradictory nature of much of his advice to us, was really keen to help us better understand, we immediately wrote back to him with a further question about his role in the conversion approval. With that email we included the letter from Kratz's solicitor to the Land's Department (obtained under the Freedom of Information Legislation) which suggests that a deal was done at that onsite meeting with Causley prior to the conversion, to partition the land a certain way, freeing much of it for logging. We asked Wilson if he could shed any light on this document. The document reveals that the position of the Conservation Agreement area, in effect, was determined at that meeting, if not before. This was clearly well before the NPWS had begun its botanical assessments after the conversion, which were ostensibly to determine which area should be selected for the Conservation Agreement. The aforementioned letter does not mention Peter Wilson but it clearly identifies that same meeting which occurred between Causley and the department heads, and also that Kratz's solicitor had a letter from Ian Causley confirming this quite clear promise of timber for Kratz.

Wilson did not respond to our letter concerning this matter. As he had been annoyed by our previous prompting for a response we waited almost five months before sending a reminder email to him. But it was also not acknowledged. Finally, three weeks after that, on the 22nd of September, knowing that our previous emails had reached their destination, and as we were being driven to distraction by the sound of forest giants hitting the ground nearby, we wrote again to Wilson. This time we included an excerpt from this book, newly updated to include Wilson's lack of response and our criticism thereof. It was a provocative move, inspired by our exposure to the increasingly compelling evidence against his much touted good intentions. However we also wanted him to take the opportunity to clear his name if he could. We wrote,

"His suggestions that he was victimised by "the system", and was merely administratively remiss due to the terrible pressure of his job, as opposed to being actively corrupt, now ring very hollow indeed.

Peter, if you're reading this now, please enlighten us. ("

Furious, Wilson responded immediately. He began by offering an unenlightening explanation for the letter we had asked him about, suggesting that it was simply a misunderstanding on the part of Mr. Kratz. While that letter does not prove that Wilson had been party to this arrangement, it does cast serious doubt over his claims. It could also explain why Wilson did absolutely nothing to follow up his advice at that meeting. He did nothing which would have prevented that plan of Causley's, to convert and partition the land, although he had the power to do so and was aware at the time, as his NPWS briefing note clearly explained, that "Causley has a vested interest". Causley's plan, according to this letter, was to divide the land, presumably preserving the poorer southern end while leaving the richer northern end open to logging, (and, it would seem, for quarrying and bushrock removal.) And despite all the evidence which came to light after the conversion, about the higher conservation value of the northern end, that plan has now become reality where the law has not been amenable to thwarting it. (It is the refusal of the NPWS and Environment Minister to acknowledge that the current CA area is the poorer one, even according to their own data, that has led us to conclude that it was the southern end that was selected for conservation prior to the conversion.)

In this latest email to us, entitled "The Last Word" Wilson continued to express his frustration and indignation at our interpretation of his actions and angrily declared that he had a good reason for not responding to us earlier. However, he said, because we had "caused him so much pain and anger with our words" he will not tell us what it is. And so, I am afraid we cannot tell you what it is. Of course Wilson knows, as do others, that if he has information that will clear his name we will gratefully publish it. As it stands, he has ignored central questions we put to him surrounding the contradictions in his explanations, and while he is adamant that his motives were beyond reproach, he is unable to properly recall (among other things) what was said at the on site meeting, or why he didn't document it as he was required to do. He also cannot recall the details of the relevant policies in place at the time which, he says, influenced his decision to consent to the conversion, and he never has followed these matters up as he promised us he would do. It is also important to remember that this lack of recollection comes from a man who for three years held one of the most senior positions in the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, as Manager of the Natural Heritage Conservation Division.

There was a public outcry over Wilson's decision to abandon the proposed Nature Reserve, when it was finally revealed, after the conversion. And this was well before we discovered and publicly revealed its 1978 Heritage Listing. A NPWS shake-up and government report (which seems to refer very obviously to this incident) ensued shortly after Wilson's decision, as I have documented in an earlier chapter. Wilson himself explains how dirtied and upset he felt after the meeting with Causley.

"One thing I clearly recall discussing with my partner when I returned home late that evening was how “soiled” I felt having to deal with Causley, and how used by the bureaucratic system I felt..."

Under these circumstances it is difficult to understand how he could remember so little about the occasion.

There have been many developments in this struggle which could not have had a future without this Internet presence. Initially we felt that Shadow Minister Seaton was also anxious that our web page presentation of her efforts was not unflattering, but more recently she seems to have demonstrated quite the reverse. Hopefully, our ability to expose on the Internet what we have experienced, will also inspire others working for public accountability. Certainly the Internet will change the way these bodies function in the future.

An unexpected bonus of having Internet access is that it provides easy access to Government legislation. Of course, legislation is constantly undergoing modification. Since we began this work, six years ago, some has evolved in quite a positive way. This has been very helpful in our most recent dealings with the Ulmarra Shire Council, that body which so boldly attempted to defy the law, in 1995, by knowingly pushing approval of the grossly unlawful quarry expansion at Pine Brush. In August '99, with a new highway upgrade in progress nearby at Tyndale, and physical evidence that quarrying may have resumed on the National Estate, we contacted the council to make sure that another Development Application for gravel quarrying had not been lodged or approved.

Our phone calls and emails to Ken Exley, the Director of Environmental Services, were not returned. This made us suspicious, as Exley had always been conscientious in the past. Eventually Dyson managed to speak to his assistant, Janet Purcell, who said she thought that gravel quarrying here was occurring, and promised to find out for certain, and let us know if Kratz had a new operation running. When she didn't phone back Dyson phoned Purcell to ask what she had learned. To give some indication of the sort of behaviour we were then exposed to I include part of the resulting conversation.

Purcell said, "Dyson, I'm sorry I didn't ring back as I said I would. I have to be honest with you. I completely forgot!" Dyson said, "That's OK, Janet. I was on the line almost all morning, so even if you had tried to ring, the line would probably have been busy." Janet said "Yes. I rang and rang, but couldn't get through."

At the very least, we were left with the impression that our enquiries were not welcome. In that phone call Purcell unequivocally informed Dyson that there was indeed an approved Development Application for gravel quarrying on Kratz's portion 183, (the National Estate) and that it had been lodged in '95 and approved in '96. Alarmed, we began our long attempts to procure the relevant photocopied documentation, as is our right. A 1996 approved Development Application for sand mining over another one of Kratz's extensive private real estate holdings was sent to us by email from the Council chambers. We were told in an email that the other documents must be obtained through the Freedom of Information Legislation. We contacted Council again, only to have Purcell insist that she had never told us there was gravel quarrying approval on the National Estate, but she was still unable to actually confirm or deny whether there was indeed a current authorised development on Pine Brush.

Luckily, while studying the Local Government Act of 1993 recently, we discovered that Development Applications and associated documents, held at the Council Chambers, must be made available to the public upon request, free of charge (apart from possible photocopying costs). Pleased that we did not have to use the expensive Freedom of Information Legislation after all for these, we decided to request any quarrying DA's which were current for Kratz's portion 183. While we were about it we also requested the DA and approval of the telecommunications tower on Mcraes Knob, previously purchased documentation which had never been forthcoming. We quoted from the Local Government Act in our correspondence to the Council.

Rather than simply, as required by law, copying the existing documents for us, the council, (specifically the Director of Corporate Services, Neil Baldwin) wrote to Kratz to ask if his DA's contain any information which, if viewed, may threaten his commercial interests, as the documents had been requested. Baldwin claims this letter was written after receiving legal advice. It is unfortunate that Baldwin did not simply follow the very clear legal advice provided by the Local Government Act of 1993.

After all that, there appears to be no current approval for gravel quarrying on portion 183. Curiously, however, we were given the Development Application and associated documents for the telecommunications tower on Mcraes Knob. These had not been forthcoming in 1994 when Valley Watch requested all files associated with that land. At the time it was explained that no other files existed than the ones provided, and that files regarding portion 183 did not exist prior to August '93 because the land was previously Crown Land. It is curious that the tower DA has now appeared.

And so on and on it goes. Our original enquiry was merely to try to determine if commercial gravel quarrying over Portion 183 is indeed a currently authorised activity. We have only now apparently had the simple truth confirmed after more than a month of telephone calls, emails and hand delivered letters to Ulmarra Council. We don't understand why the Council staff couldn't simply check their files and advise us accordingly to begin with. We hope that they are now better acquainted with their obligations under the Local Government Act. And we hope that valley residents will, after reading this information, now be more aware of the manner in which the Ulmarra Shire Council tends to carry out its business.

On August 10th 1999, we made two more applications for information from the NPWS and Department of Land and Water Conservation through the Freedom of Information Legislation. From the NPWS we requested the report resulting from a recent inspection (reported to us by the Ombudsman) of the Quassia sp. B site, checking for evidence of recent bushrock removal. From the Department of Land and Water Conservation we requested the documentation we needed for the Ombudsman of their halting of Kratz's bushrock theft here in 1987. We also sought to purchase from them field records of the recent inspection of the logging operation in the vicinity of the threatened species. In spite of the fact that the law requires a determination of each request be made within twenty-one days of receipt, our request to the NPWS, accompanied by the required $30.00 money order was only just responded to (dated 16th September) more than two weeks late, and this was after we appealed once again to the reluctant Ombudsman's office. That letter to the Ombudsman was emailed to her on the 14th of September with a copy also sent by ordinary mail.

Also belatedly, in a letter dated the 7th of September which arrived here on the 16th of September the Department of Land and Water Conservation wrote that it will indeed provide us with the files we requested upon receipt of our additional $97.50 money order. Again it has been helpful to have access to the relevant legislation so that at least we can ourselves determine whether our rights are being acknowledged.

Files arrived from the Department of Land and Water Conservation, but not all the ones we had asked for. While we did receive the documentation of the recent field inspection of the logging here, we did not receive the documentation of the 1987 halting of the bushrock theft on the then Crown (public) Land. Though labelled "BUSHROCK ISSUE 1987" those files are about the events which took place in 1994, subsequent to the conversion, generated by a complaint by local conservationist, Peter Right. Of course we have most of these files already as they were part of a previous request under the Freedom of Information Legislation. Curiously though, there is a revealing file among these which we have not seen before. The document dated 28 April 1994 contains the following paragraph.

"It is understood that a complaint received in the late 1980s led to a former Departmental officer being involved in halting the unauthorised removal of bushrock by bulldozer form the subject lands although formal documentation of this case cannot be located at this stage."

What happened to this formal documentation? We know the halting, referred to above, took place because it was Dyson in 1987 who made the complaint. He witnessed the halting and photographed the resulting dumped load of rocks, still there. Was the event not documented? Were the files lost? Or was it, after the conversion scandal became public, removed from the files?

This is very problematic. Ms Irene Moss, the NSW Ombudsman, insisted that no evidence exists that bushrock was ever illegally removed from Pine Brush. She also pointedly wrote to us that she could see nothing in the Pine Brush matter which would warrant an investigation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. (For some context there it is worth noting that in 1998 the head of ICAC publicly bitterly complained that the very people he was supposed to be monitoring - namely high ranking pubic authorities - had slashed his operating budget so ruthlessly that ICAC could no longer do the job the public expected of it. 1997 saw only sixteen cases investigated statewide. In 1998 that had fallen to ten. That being so , I would expect the Pine Brush scandal to be well down the list of priorities.We were later to learn that the Ombudsman's office and ICAC had more interests in common that Moss would have us believe.)

We remain frustrated about the lack of media coverage of this issue. On that note in late '99 we received an message from an insulted Mr Peter Cronau, formerly of the Australian Institue of Investigative Journalists. It was he who, back in 1995, instigated the Pine Brush article in SNOOP, Australia's magazine for investigative journalists. Peter now speaks for them through his Bushfire Media organisation. He has told us that the worthiness of the Pine Brush story is not in dispute. He says he thinks that it is actually our offensive World Wide Web critcism of the mainstream media's inaction that is the real reason that this scandal still remains largely hidden from public view. Frankly we find the suggestion that journalists would avoid covering a story because someone associated with it was critical of them is an offensive one.

At least we have the Internet.

Perhaps, as more of the people who appear in these pages respond to this work, as Peter Wilson has done, it can take on a life of its own. Perhaps, as this book evolves into further editions, we will all move closer towards the truth of the matter, and we will achieve what we originally set out to achieve - community recognition of the importance of our local Natural Heritage and its subsequent protection. There must be acknowledgement of the science involved and recognition and rectification of the many factors that contribute to the ignorance and neglect of this vital remnant at Pine Brush, and other vital remnants of our natural world on which we ultimately rely for our very existence.



Debus Misleads Parliament (please note: some unfinished sections have been temporarily ommitted from this chapter. back to table of contents


At the turn of the century Premier Carr took the opportunity to speak boldly to the press, in fact, to write a long article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 6th 2000, rather cheekily declaring some fairly profound beliefs to do with the state of the environment. While there were substantial elements of truth in his concerns for over-population, it seemed to us to be a clever public relations initiative to dilute the issues of his own environmental catastrophes here. He has broadened the debate by approaching it from the other end.

" Over the next 100 years the planet will become for a packed-tight humanity even more crowded and degraded. It is likely to be hotter as well, with much more desert and less arable land. There will certainly be a whole lot less nature around at the turn of the next century - a huge loss of plant and animal life, biodiversity, as the scientists call it."

"Population growth, of course, is the factor that drives or multiplies or accelerates global warming. And deforestation and loss of groundwater and every other indicator of environmental damage."

Sydney Morning Herald writer Mark Robinson, on Jan 6th wrote, " Mr Carr said he believed Australia had an opportunity to lead the world in the protection of its environment and should become the leading green voice at international forums."

Needless to say, there were some cries of "fix up your own back yard", from Carr's political opponents, and of course from others, like us, on our web page. It is so easy for high profile politicians to leave an impression with the public of their concerns, without having to back it up with action. But it is so difficult for anyone else outside of the media to demonstrate that they are being two-faced. But we try. Premier Carr still has not produced the results of his enquiries, promised in February 1999 to the US based Networld Project, about the Pine Brush scandal.

Examining the months approaching the turn of the century seems a useful way to measure progress. On October 2nd 1999 the Carr government, as if to demonstrate its increasing lack of accountability, unexpectedly appointed the former Ombudsman, Irene Moss to the position of the head of the Independent Commission against Corruption. Moss wasn't due to vacate her role as Ombudsman for another two years and had not been known to be under consideration as a candidate for the position at ICAC. She began her new position with ICAC in November, a month after the appointment. This new appointment looked a little fishy to some of us. And as if to reinforce the impression of a cosy arrangement Moss requested in a letter to the Premier on October 29, barely a month after her appointment, that she be given both roles of Ombudsman and Commissioner for ICAC. The idea of the merger was rumoured to have been around for months but the government claims that Moss was first to raise it. The Premier publicly agreed on the 16th of November. As a result of this plan, non-government members of the committee that overseas ICAC wanted to reconsider Moss's ICAC appointment and said they wouldn't have voted for her if they knew she might retain the role of Ombudsman. Carr would have followed through with Moss's appointment had he not been prevented by the opposition, who seeing the arrangement for what it was, voted against the necessary legislation on the 18th of November.

There have also been reported moves afoot by the parliamentary committee to wind back ICAC's public hearings, reportedly to obtain a higher prosecution rate in subsequent criminal court cases. But this means less public accountability and exposure of high profile public wrongdoers. Linda Doherty writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 13th,1999 "Under the act establishing ICAC, forwarding admissible evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions is a secondary function of the commission. The main focus is on exposing and preventing corruption rather than prosecuting offenders." The argument for reducing public hearings is that by having the hearings public, the accused cannot have a fair trial, and those who are innocent have their reputations damaged along with those who are guilty. These seem valid arguments but we have to be suspicious of any moves by the government to cut back public accountability. It was certainly the public opinion of Barry O'Keef, the outgoing ICAC commissioner, that this was a move by some members of parliament to reduce the opportunity for the public scrutiny of their affairs.

It is alarming that neither the Premier nor Irene Moss would acknowledge that this sharing of roles by Moss would compromise the effectiveness of both watchdog organisations. One person with twice the responsibility for assessing corruption clearly threatens a larger number of critical decisions with any existing bias or other inadequacy. And what would happen, for instance, if the ICAC was asked to investigate the Ombudsman or vice versa?



In 1999 the New Environment Minister Bob Debus, was refreshing the Pine Brush scandal with his maintenance of the transparently illogical party line. This was prompted by Shadow Environment Minister Seaton's August 19th (unpublished) press release which stated,

"Local residents living near to the Pine Brush Estate sought clarification that a conservation agreement was in place to protect endangered species.

The [former] Environment Minister responded that such an agreement was in place to protect the 'significant conservation values', but further evidence suggests the conservation agreement does not cover the necessary areas so as to protect the endangered species.")

Minister Debus stubbornly insisted, as the previous Minister had, that although the Quassia sp. B, which has the highest classification for threatened species as a schedule #1 Endangered species, lies outside the CA boundary, the principal conservation values are included within it. (Debus never did respond to correspondence from us, written in April 99.)

(6.9.99 Debus to Seaton)

"The NPWS considers that the principal conservation values of the property were included in the area covered by the Voluntary Conservation Agreement. However, the Quassia sp B, to which your correspondents refer, occurs outside the area covered by this Voluntary Conservation Agreement. Nevertheless, the NPWS considers that existing State environmental legislation and local council environmental planning instruments can more than adequately protect conservation values over other parts of the property."

As it happens, FOI documents indicate that this letter was written word for word by the NPWS. Debus simply signed it. Unfortunately for Minister Debus, we also soon learned and published on the Internet the fact that in May '99 the NPWS had conducted a survey of the area known to be the Quassia sp. B habitat, but only located 15 of the plants. What had happened to the 500 found by rare plant expert Gilmour in '98? Apparently the existing legislation had not adequately protected these. Interestingly, after that inspection the NPWS had indicated to the Ombudsman its intention to renegotiate the CA borders with Kratz in an effort to ensure the protection of the Quassia species B.

Obviously the NPWS was still persisting with its bizarre distortions of the truth, as fed to the new Environment Minister, but without enough polish to conceal its duplicity from scrutiny. We received a number of files from NPWS through the FOI legislation relating to that NPWS inspection of the Quassia area in May '99, ordered by the Ombudsman, for evidence of damage to the Quassia and of bushrock removal. NPWS's current problem lies in the fact that it provided the Ombudsman with one explanation of events and us with another, and that six NPWS staff, some threatened plant specialists, only located 15 plants of the Quassia species B.

On 4.5.99 Davey wrote to the Ombudsman but made no mention of Gilmour's discovery of the 500 Quassias in 1998.

"There was no evidence noted during the inspection that the plants had been affected by the alleged activities and, despite some 24 person-hours of searching nearby, no additional populations of the plant were found. However, there was another plant identified, Rapanea sp., that is broadly similar to Quassia, and which is probably more widespread in the locality. It is possible that the distribution of this species, may be contributing to the complainant's assertion that Quassia is common in the area. "

However, curiously, and quite gratuitously, Davey did make mention of Gilmour's work in an email to us on 29.9.99, in response to an enquiry by us about the abovementioned Rapanea species.

"There remains some uncertainty regarding the Quassia population on Kratz's property. Staff from this office have searched suitable habitat but have been unable to locate the large population referred to by Gilmour. We shall follow up this matter separately."

Davey had misled the Ombudsman into thinking that our Quassia claims were based on an amateurish botanical misidentification by us rather than being based on our knowledge of Gilmour's discovery. Then, quite gratuitously he had offered the above advice to us thus providing clear documentation of NPWS's deceitful tactics.

What good is it for the Ombudsman to simply accept that all is well because the NPWS, who had already been shown to have misled her previously (implying that the rainforest inspection had relevance to the bushrock and Quassia matter), says it is?

The accompanying map provided for this survey was characteristically inadequate in detail and clearly at odds with what it was later described to us by Davey to be meant to represent. As well as being crudely and inexactly marked, one concern was that it showed that the six NPWS officers had gone around, not through, the heavily logged area on this inspection which Davey said was partly intended to check for damage to the threatened species from logging. And yet the map indicated that they had followed the border east and north as if to check for fallen logs for fencing, demonstrably away from the known Quassia area. This seemed on one hand to reinforce the story from NPWS that logs had only ever been felled for fencing purposes. But it also contradicted Davey's claim, made since, that the surveyors only inspected areas where the Quassia were known to exist.

Despite 24 hours in total being spent by these six people on the survey, no field notes were taken, at least none that would be acknowledged by NPWS or provided to us in our FOI request. Another concern about this survey was that Gilmour was not consulted. Surely he would be the man for NPWS to employ if it was really serious about finding the Quassia population.

It is probably important to point out that when a 'copy' of this map was first sent to us through the Freedom of Information Legislation it was effectively unmarked, as the coloured (presumably highlighter pen) shading indicated by the key was not reproduced by the black and white photocopy. When we challenged this point another copy was sent, this time with the areas freshly drawn in. This seemed a highly unprofessional, and, under the circumstances, highly suspicious method of reproduction in this day of colour photocopy machines.

Where did the 500 Quassias, reported by Gilmour in '98, go? And why were NPWS again attempting to expand the CA area when Debus insists that the threatened species are protected by existing legislation. And what of that new map? Davey was later to explain to us that the proposed expansion of the CA area (subsequently refused by Kratz) was intended to compliment the existing protective legislation and in no way suggested that the scheduled plants were endangered.

It was of great interest to us, and of great concern to many people, that in November '99 the Director General of NPWS Brian Gilligan, initiated a massive reorganisation of the department, claiming that many Area Managers were not performing adequately. He was not offering many of his middle managers jobs in the radical restructure. This led to general outrage among the staff and widespread union action.

Nov 29 James Woodford, SMH, writes,

"Of greatest concern to the director-general is the way that his staff operate threatened species legislation and protect cultural heritage.

''At the moment there has been a perception of those things as significant constraints on development proposals and fundamental activity in areas - sometimes just farming activity,'' Mr Gilligan said.

''That's been perceived very, very negatively.'' "

"Under the restructure, about 40 of the parks service's most experienced and highly regarded officers from middle and upper management have been restructured out of a job, taken redundancies or resigned in frustration."

These comments are alarming to anyone concerned for the preservation of threatened species.

Did the Coffs Harbour and Grafton district managers retain their positions? Were they to be rewarded or punished under this new system? What does this mean for Pine Brush? As it happened Grafton's Area Manager, Bob Freiderich was soon given a new position out west in the tablelands.

Although the Ombudsman's office has not seen fit to pursue further Pine Brush related matters, the alarming revelation and duplicity by the NPWS about the threatened species warranted more questions being asked in parliament, this time by shadow Environment Minister Peta Seaton. On the 9th of November 1999 she asked Minister Debus,

1) Will he confirm whether colonies of threatened and endangered species of Grevillea quadricauda [sic] and Quassia species *B* have been found near to the Pine Bush State Forest in northern NSW on land covered partially by a Voluntary Conservation Agreement concluded with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the owner of land, and that the species have been found near to, but outside of the Agreement area?

(2) (a) Will he confirm that a National Parks and Wildlife inspection conducted on or about 30 April 1999 established that only 15 plants of the above mentioned threatened or endangered species were found?

(b) Given evidence of there being more than 500 such plants in the area in 1998, will he confirm this represents a 97% reduction in the number of plant stocks?

(c) What reason can he give for the reduction in these plant stocks?

(3) Does he remain satisfied that the area covered by the Voluntary Conservation Agreement, and that adjacent to the Agreement area, is more than adequately protected?

(4) Acknowledging an absence of a power to compel a land owner to extend or alter a Voluntary Conservation Agreement, will he advise of his intention to seek a review of the Voluntary Conservation Agreement with the land owner?

Although Seaton had gratefully accepted our corrections to her press release in August, she did not make her draft questions for parliament available to us to attempt to correct until we eventually asked for them, just days before she intended to submit them. We were too late. There are a number of errors in these questions which clearly threatened to sabotage some of their effect. The most obvious and irritating one is the absence of any reference to Pine Brush's National Estate listing. We had sent the relevant documentation of the Heritage Listing to Seaton on numerous occasions. Why did she leave it out? Her staffer, Martin Laverty, insisted that this had happened because Debus repeatedly denied that the land had been Heritage Listed. Surely the shadow Environment Minister wasn't taking her advice from Debus, who was after-all the author of a letter on the topic to Seaton that she had referred to as bull...t. Curiously, on the phone to us, Seaton was later to angrily insist that Pine Brush is not National Estate. The demonstrable fact that it is is proving to be very difficult for these people to digest. We eventually were to see, not surprisingly, that the answers to Seaton's questions also avoided referring to the Heritage Listing.

Although we feel that the impact of these questions was deliberately reduced by Seaton, Debus seemed to be reluctant to have his response scrutinised. He responded by the due date, but took advantage of a new loophole in legislation which permitted him to refrain from revealing his response until the next parliamentary sitting, which was April 2000. The question must be asked, why was he reluctant to have his response scrutinised? Did he have something to hide? Of course, it is clear that he did. Why was it left to us to draw attention to this delay in making his response available. Needless to say, we were the only people to be outwardly concerned by this.

Apparently Peta Seaton has something of her own to fear. After receiving a number of emails from Pine Brush supporters and a prompting from her leader Kerry Chikarovski, who also received emails, to respond to our concerns about the questions to parliament, Seaton phoned us. She was livid. She screamed repeatedly, " I'm getting all these emails from lunatics. Why don't you cut your bullshit". She left no opportunity for a rational discussion and clearly had no intention of dealing with the issue in any other way. As mentioned she insisted that Pine Brush is not Heritage Listed and claimed that she couldn't read our informative correspondence because when she sees a Pine Brush email her eyes glaze over. Of course by then we had been providing her with sound documentation for eight months and she had done little with it in that time. This performance being over the phone of course makes it easy for her to deny. This is why we had discouraged telephone contact in the first place. Despite her rage, Seaton did prepare a press release on the 23rd of December, confronting Premier Carr on his inaction regarding his ministers' scandalous behaviour over Pine Brush. The Christmas Eve timing of this press release was not lost on us.


Shadow Minister for the Environment Peta Seaton called on NSW Premier Bob Carr to explain why he has not yet provided a promised response to questions about the Government's handling of environmental issues raised by conservationists Anne Heck and Patricia Riga regarding Pine Brush National Estate in northern NSW.

On February 18th 1999 the Premier's Office responded on his behalf undertaking to look into the issues raised in a letter to him by Heck and Riga and said 'and a reply will be forwarded to you as soon as possible'.

Nearly one year later there is still no answer from the Premier to questions about the legitimacy of answers given in Parliament on behalf of the former Environment Minister Hon Pam Allan regarding concerns about endangered tree species and the area covered by a Voluntary Conservation Agreement with the present land-owner.

Conservationists are concerned that a Schedule 1 endangered species Quassia sp. "B" is found outside the VCA and which they believe deserves protection, and have asked the Premier and the Environment Minister to comment on their belief that the answer given in Parliament by the Hon Jeff Shaw on 11 November 1997 was 'misleading' in relation to the presence or absence of such an endangered species.

'The facts of this matter have yet to be properly addressed by the Carr Government and conservationists have been waiting for nearly a year for promised answers from the Premier'.

'The Premier must explain his reasons for the delay in providing the answers he promised', said Ms Seaton."

The Premier did not respond to this challenge.

We were upset by Seaton's abusive telephone call, though it did not really surprise us. It wasn't the first time we had been exposed to her wrath. We can't help concluding that she deals with many problematic issues this way, no doubt succeeding much of the time in putting off those who might dare to pressure her. But we think it didn't serve her this time. Her own party was to soon, perhaps inadvertently, make our account of this incident available to the Internet public via its own web-page.

One of Seaton's concerns, no doubt, apart from the indignancy of having her leader asked to check her progress, was the email we had sent to forty of her parliamentary colleagues after her questions had been submitted to parliament. Our email was to inform Seaton's colleagues that the questions had misled them because of the omission of a mention of Pine Brush's National Estate listing. Some MPs responded to this email advising that they would pass it on to Ms. Seaton.

It was with some surprise that among the handful of responses we received to that email was one from state Democrat Chesterfield Evans, and one from state Greens MP Lee Rhiannon, both offering support. Where had they been all this time? Why did it take more questions in parliament to motivate them to pledge support for the cause which clearly identifies the government as corrupt in its 1997 misleading of parliament, with the subsequent and continued cover-up.

(28.11.99 email from Rhiannon)

"[sic] the greens are committed to helping save the pine brush national estate so we would like to clarify and rectify if there has been any problem with our work to date."

Well, we responded, explaining to Rhiannon that the problem is the Green's basic lack of work on this. Why had Cohen abandoned his challenge of Pam Allan's stance? Why did the Greens have no interest in exposing the governments negligence, duplicity and clear failing to protect our National Estate. Had they attempted a press release? Cohen had never even responded to our enquiries with even a brief explanation for his inaction, rather he left it to local candidate and former Clarence Environment Centre spokesperson Karen Rooke to give us the message that he'd had nothing positive to feed back. Rhiannon promised to get back to us regarding these matters.

The email from the office of Democrat Chesterfield Evans had a similar tone.

(1.12.99) " I am very sorry we haven't responded to your emails earlier. Arthur keeps on saying he's been meaning to contact you, but he has been extremely busy lately."

Chesterfield -Evan's email explained that his office had taken the initiative of contacting the Environmental Defender's Office who he reported to be quite interested. But it sounds as if his office told the EDO it was a matter of a breech of the Conservation Agreement. This is not true. We have repeatedly informed these people that the issues concern threatened species and other values which lie outside the CA area. The Democrat email continued.

" If I can get a copy of the agreement and prove the lease holder is violating the terms of the agreement, then something may be done to stop it."

They had clearly still not bothered to study the information we had previously sent them. It is important to point out again that the focus here by the Democrats is on what they view as a possible fix for the endangered plants, (which would be welcome were it correct) but no real acknowledgement of the Government's abuse of public trust, or any intention to try to expose the government for this. These parties will not hear what the real issues are. We see these importantly timed responses from the minor parties, who have been kept informed for years, as clever and intentional misunderstandings of the issues so that they can appear to be concerned while remaining ineffective. In fact they are worse that ineffective because while they appear to be reacting appropriately others don't see a need to act.

In January 2000 the NPWS had once again declared and end to this Pine Brush issue. Gary Davey concluded, in response to more cutting questions from us, with the typically alarming assertion, that, regardless of the number of Quassia Species exiting on the site at Pine Brush they are adequately protected outside the CA area by existing legislation.

So despite the fact that in 1999 six officers from NPWS could only find 15 Quassia sp. B plants, when about 500 had been recorded by rare plant expert Phil Gilmour a year before, NPWS considers that they remain adequately protected. Similarly they report that there is no evidence of damage to them by the 'alleged' activities even though the NPWS map indicating the area of the 1999 survey shows that the team circumnavigated the main area of serious tree felling.

This highly questionable position is where the NPWS chose once again to abandon the matter. With no more heard from the Greens and the Democrats, after their rather anxious notes of support when the questions were asked of Debus in Parliament in October '99 we assumed that this is where the matter would be left by everyone until April when the law demanded that Debus release his response to those questions.

We heard no more from either the Greens or the Democrats. At first we could think that everyone was waiting for the April 2000 sitting of parliament to scrutinise Debus's answers to Seaton's questions, or maybe everyone was again waiting for the issue to get old and tired. But the answers became available in April, as predicted. We accessed a copy from hansard on the Internet, and were then sent a copy by Seaton, who didn't bother to add a note indicating any action she might take. There was no reaction from any others involved.

The most blatant misinformation provided by Minister Debus in his answers to parliament was the following statement.

"The Agreement was negotiated prior to the discovery of the species in the area."

We can only assume that Debus had either blithely taken advice, without question, from the NPWS or he was banking on the likelihood of there being no media interest, or even interest by the opposition to pursue this further breach of public trust. The Quassia sp. B specimen was clearly discovered and documented more than a year before negotiations ended (according to NPWS) files about the conservation agreement. The Quassia sp. B was thoroughly documented in the NPWS 1993 report on the vegetation on portion 183. The conservation agreement was not signed by the owner until February 1995 and not by the Environment Minister until February 1996. This fact is easily proven. Would we hear from the Greens or the Democrats now?

In his answers Debus acknowledged that the population of Quassia sp. B is located outside the CA area, but stated,

"(b) The inspection was not aimed at estimating the population of Quassia sp. B.. nor did it cover the entire area which the species inhabits. The contention that 500 plants were previously present has not been verified"

And yet an email to us NPWS's Gary Davey had acknowledged the Gilmour report which found the population of 500. Even so NPWS had decided to ignore the findings of their respected rare plants expert who had more experience with the Quassia sp. B than any of those six NPWS employees sent on the '99 survey which found 15 plants.

Why had NPWS referred to the Quassias as a substantial population in a letter early in 2000 to a Victorian couple who had written to the Premier? Is 15 plants a substantial population?

In that letter NPWS still refused to refer to the land as National Estate, calling it "privately owned bushland adjoining the Pine Brush State Forest". Our whistle blowing web page got a mention,

"I am aware of certain statements published on the Internet and I appreciate this opportunity to present some facts on the matter."

" Parts of Pine Brush State Forest and part of the property have been listed by the Commonwealth Government on the register of the National Estate. Any lands, including private land, can be so listed."

None of Pine Brush State Forest has been registered on the National Estate. All of 'the property' has. Any lands can be listed. But only rarely are they actually registered.

For the first time we learned the NPWS's official position on acquiring the land. It would not be acquiring this property, it said, because the owner hadn't indicated a willingness to sell, the conservation values are adequately protected as they are and it is not a viable size to be managed as it is isolated from other reserves. (We know, of course, that it is adjacent to the far smaller Crowley's Creek Nature Reserve.) They went on to explain that the North East region of NSW is well catered for as far as reserves go with representative samples of the vegetation present on this property and attention must now go to conserving land in the West of the state.

The presentation or misrepresentation of the facts about the various discoveries at Pine Brush was looking like a huge and sinister game of Chinese whispers. While we analysed the parliamentary response from Debus we were posting comments on the Liberal Party web page.

At the start of the year 2000, during the period when Australia typically goes to sleep, we had searched again for other avenues to pursue the matter, in anticipation of further degradation of the once largely pristine and diverse National Estate Listed Public Reserve. In January, the state opposition leader Kerry Chikarovski, took it upon herself to hold an online realtime interview with the Internet public. Of course we participated, although we were very doubtful that our question would get past the ominously titled 'mediator' . Surely Mrs. Chikarovski wouldn't open herself to any questioning by the public. But our rather lengthy and studied question was duly posted and a response given, albeit a rather brief one.

"As I've said in previous correspondence, we will continue to follow up this issue."

Though this statement is extremely non-specific, and she had not said any such thing in previous correspondence, we felt that having this record on the Liberal Party's web page was a very positive step. This is especially so as we had included our web page address in our question, which is consequently 'hotlinked' to that Liberal Party Web page. Anyone interested in the Liberal Party's tactics and progress with the Internet would be sure to notice our contribution, and we are sure to get more traffic. The idea of having the Liberal Partly, in effect, linking to our web page, in which we roast the Liberal Partly among others, is quite bizarre. Our account, for instance, of the Shadow Environment Minister's abusive telephone call to us is fairly prominently positioned on our website. What will Liberal voters think of that?

We continued to post notes demanding to know why the Liberal Party leader persisted in ignoring this issue after publicly stating that her party "would continue to follow up the issue". Although this web page invited the public to raise any issues of concern there several of our messages were simply deleted. How easy it still is for politicians to create a facade of openness. How brave to invite the public to add messages to a Party web page. But how easy it is to delete the problematic ones.

Obviously this kind of close and public association between politicians and individual members of the public could not have happened before these very recent times of mass Internet use. Will the mainstream media take notice of the Pine Brush issue now? If not, why not? Chikarovski had given the issue credibility with her statement. She had indicated that the Liberal Party were taking it seriously and she had committed herself, though rather vaguely, to pursuing the issue. Interestingly, she had, by this action, also increased the likelihood of another party or body, perhaps the media, taking on the issue, thereby possibly receiving her Liberal Party of the odious task, which were they to pursue, would reflect very badly on them as well as on the Carr government.

On one hand, with the recent questions and answers in parliament, it looked like we might soon see the Pine Brush scandal finally attracting enough heat to become an issue which requires resolution for the comfort of the politicians involved, if not for some higher reason. But still, at times, I often found myself wondering if there was much point in continuing.

We were comforted by the knowledge that we have had some influence on a state level if not yet what we had hoped to have here. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Premier Carr's removal of Environment Minister Allan was timely and significant. And on the 5th of November '99 we read with some surprise in the Sydney Morning Herald the gratifying news that the removal of sandstone bushrock is to be listed as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act. This means, in theory, that to remove it is illegal......again! Our surprise about this is probably due to the fact that we have been exposed so relentlessly to a system of government that has failed almost consistently to do what it is intended to do in the case of the proposed Pine Brush Nature Reserve. The fact that bushrock removal had been effectively legal for a period of almost six years, as a result of a legal loophole, is still a source of amazement to us. Also amazing is the fact that it took the two of us, ignorantly working outside the system to draw attention to this apparent oversight. Moss can take credit for prompting the departmental meetings which led to this new listing, but we (or more correctly, Dyson) can take credit for persisting with the reluctant Ombudsman's office, which repeatedly accepted advice, apparently without question, from the various departments about which we were complaining. This is clearly a flawed but frequently employed government investigative process.

 Perhaps I should only have needed to consider the broader implications of what has happened here to find motivation to continue. In regards to our Internet use to fight government corruption we are forging a path that others can presumably follow. The going is tough and all along the way torturous decisions must be made as to how to proceed. This can be an agonising process as we ignorantly consider the possible ramifications of each decision. I find it daunting and burdensome. It feels like too much responsibility, and it is. But other people will probably follow our progress and use some of the routes we have tried.

 What would happen if we did not expose these things so relentlessly? That's the question that has to be asked. The terrible damage here would continue at a greater rate and in total obscurity. It appears there would be nothing in the way of this irreversible damage and, no doubt, to other places suffering at the hands of the same officials. Already the pace of change to our environment is too great. In that sense I suppose there is no time to waste on wondering if our effort will be largely fruitless or insignificant. The chance of succeeding is worth the effort in terms of the preservation of this environment and exposure of corruption with its other extremely serious and negative ramifications for people and our environment.

Premier Carr's lack of openness about this scandal will take it's toll. The media are beginning to become interested again.

 To end this chapter I insert (temporarily at least) a letter just written by us to Environment Minister Debus, following a meeting we had with him on the 27th of June 2000 in Maclean, which is the next main town north of Grafton on the Pacific Highway.


Dear Minister Debus,


As you well know, your files on Pine Brush show you that since July 12th,1995 we

have been writing the Environment Minister’s office to inform it of the NPWS’s

failure to honestly assess and protect the former proposed Pine Brush Nature

Reserve, (since revealed to have acquired National Estate Listing in 1978 from the

Australian Heritage Commission.) The facts we presented for this purpose were

largely ignored by Minister Allan and her staff and this attitude by the Minister

eventually resulted in her misleading parliament on November 11th, 1997. She then

ignored a written challenge from Greens MP Ian Cohen.


Our most recent letter to the Environment Minister’s office, dated April 9th,1999,

was addressed to you. We informed you that it was an open letter, published on the

Internet. In it we attempted to draw your attention to the folly of your predecessor

and/or her staff in order that you could correct for these past errors and not

implicate yourself in the scandal. You are ignoring that letter. As it appeared to us

that your choice was to follow in the footsteps of your predecessor, we approached

the Shadow Environment Minister who challenged your position and conveyed to

you some of our concerns. You responded with errors of fact. You still did not

respond to our letter to you. Despite a challenge from Shadow Minister Seaton and

ourselves and despite having access to numerous lengthy correspondences from

us to your predecessor, and also from the EDO and NPA on the same topic: that

being the blatant and provable errors of fact issuing from the NPWS and the

Environment Minister’s offices, you went on to mislead parliament yourself.


In our meeting with you at Maclean on the 27th of June 2000 you claimed to have a

letter in front of you that was sent to us (presumably in response to the one we

addressed to you). When we asked if we could see it you immediately took the

position that we were not prepared to negotiate. You did not produce the letter.

Instead you asked us to start again. You said that we should write down our

concerns in a letter and fax it to you the next day so that you could respond to it.

We did not choose to follow that path for obvious reasons.


To even suggest to us that after us spending hundreds of unpaid hours, over five

years, repeatedly trying to put your office straight on the facts about the Pine Brush

National Estate scandal, that we should START AGAIN, is simply to make it plain

yet again to the broader community that you treat your environmental responsibility,

and those who genuinely try to promote it, with contempt. It is for this reason that

we have posted this letter, along with all previous ones to your office, on the

Internet. There the community, to whom you are answerable, can observe your

position, which would otherwise be largely hidden from scrutiny, as it is within the

walls of private meetings. Our meeting with you was not private, as you knew at the

time. We recorded it and it has become a public record as it should always have



What we ask of you Minister Debus, is that you honour the truth and serve the

community of New South Wales. Study the information available to you. Correct the

mistruths that you delivered to Parliament. Use your power to reacquire the Pine

Brush National Estate for all the people of Australia. First we want you to implement

a Stop Work Order or Interim Protection/Conservation Order over Pine Brush

National Estate, as requested by the NSW Environmental Defender's Office Ltd.

Begin erosion control immediately as requested by the NSW Soil Conservation

Service. Start the negotiations to buy back Pine Brush National Estate at a fair

price. Then resign forthwith with a full Parliamentary explanation of your April 4th,

2000 Parliamentary errors of fact.


You know you cannot guarantee the safety of endangered species outside of the

Conservation Agreement area. You know that you can prevent them from being



Correct your position, Minister Debus. Serve the people, not your predecessor.


Yours Sincerely,




Vivienne Legg & Dyson Devine