December 11, 2005
SEVERAL years ago, the Sabine Falls were doomed. The walking track was closed and picnic tables were removed.
The waterfall was designated a star tourist attraction, but the Government had eyes only for the timber surrounding the spectacular 130-metre cascade.
That was when the timber industry swore it would not let the Government give any more ground for conservation. Now the tables are back, the path is repaired and logging is no longer an issue. Once the scene of battles between environmentalists and state foresters, the Sabine and other sites are safe in the new Great Otway National Park.
Old adversaries will rub shoulders today in celebrations at Triplet Falls, where Environment Minister John Thwaites will declare the 100,000 hectare park open. The park incorporates the existing Otway National Park, the Angahook-Lorne, Carlisle and Melba Gully state parks, and another 60,000 hectares of state forest and Crown land.
Logging will continue in the Otway Forest Park, a 40,000 hectare area where dogs and horse riding, and other activities are allowed. But logging will be phased out by 2008, when the licence expires for the last sawmill left in nearby Colac.
Trisha Caswell, chief executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, had regrets. She said the Otways could have been a model for sustainable forestry. "Basically, the Otways are 1939 regrowth, they are gorgeous forests and they relate to all kinds of industries and jobs," she said.
"It is a pity we hadn't struggled through to an accommodation to have the forest and ecological views understood, and have some forestry production because everyone has wood products in every room in their house, and it is better they be sustainably harvested and produced than not."
Simon Birrell, spokesman for the Otway Ranges Environment Network, said logging in the Otways was not sustainable once water, community and other factors were considered.
He said poor stewardship was to blame for logging's demise. "The greatest adversary was the forestry bureaucracy," he said. "They were the staunchest recalcitrants who did not understand what community compromise and liaison was about.
"The loggers were constantly being the meat in the sandwich when the issue was about the Government's administration."
He said the Otways experience had big lessons for forestry elsewhere in Victoria, lessons the Victorian Association of Forestry Industries was learning. "Who is this for?" he said. "It is not really for us … it is a gift for the children of the future. They will have the benefit of it long after we have all been forgotten.""