Alan Ashbarry has a deep commitment to people in communities that depend upon the sustainable management of Australian forests and acknowledges the pride that forest scientists, professional foresters and timber workers have in providing a renewable resource and in creating jobs that have long term benefit for society, the economy and the environment.
Alan was a researcher for the 15 branches of Timber Communities Australia (TCA) in Tasmania and describes himself as more of a people person than a technician. He has told me that he got involved with TCA intially through “helping a mate”.
If you are trying to find a forestry related statistic, I discovered some months ago that an email to Alan was a good place to start.
When I first asked Alan to tell readers of this blog something about himself he declined. He said he prefered to stay in the background. But he’s since decided to come out and tell us that he occasionally posts a comment at this blog under the pen name “Cinders”.
Alan is concerned that the people who know the forest best and depend upon it for their daily family income are often dwarfed by the media coverage of well orchestrated campaigns.
Cinders posted the following comment last December at this blog:
“For those interested in propaganda icons by the extreme green movement this boastful extract from one of their books is worth a read.
THE REST OF THE WORLD IS WATCHING GREEN IMAGES
by Richard Flanagan and Cassandra Pybus
Innovation has been a hallmark of the Tasmanian Green movement, not only in its political orientation, but also in its appropriation of the marketing methods of capitalism to win its battles. Long before any other radical movement in Australia, the Tasmanian Greens were using market research, sophisticated advertising techniques, direct-sell catalogues and photographic images of the highest quality to sell their message. “We have grabbed ideas from wherever we could,” Bob Brown explained in a 1983 interview. “We looked at the way other people who sell cheese and paper tissues, how they do it, and thought that if that sells an idea then how much more important that [it] be grafted by us into saving wilderness”. In an era vaunted as the age of communications (and all the contradictions that this implies) the Tasmanian Greens have been a measure of their time.
… The campaign to protect Lake Pedder brought forth a range of aesthetic responses which drew from the Romantic tradition and also the newer modernist abstract aesthetics. The most potent expression of the beauty of Pedder was in the work of Lithuanian-born bushwalker, Olegas Truchanas, who regularly packed the Town Hall with his slide shows. Truchanas’ magnificent collections of photographs of the Tasmanian wilderness had been lost, along with his home, in the 1967 bushfires. He determined to rebuild his collection to show people just what it was that would be destroyed by hydro schemes in the south-west.
Truchanas returned again and again to the southwest. In 1972 he lost his life in the Gordon River he wished to save. “He had been destroyed by biblical simplicity by two of the elements: fire and water,” wrote his friend, artist Max Angus. “Classical mythology affords no stronger example of the drama of the incorruptible man who passes into legend.”
Olegas Truchanas became the Greens’ archetypal hero: the man who returns from of the wilderness with an aesthetic and a political vision which challenges the established order, and then is returned to the wilderness in the most profound and final way. It is a reincarnation of the great Romantic figure: the artist as hero, the essence of which is starkly captured in Ralph Hope-Johnstone’s photograph of Truchanas taken days before his death.
The posthumous publication of Truchanas’ seminal work in The World of Olegas Truchanas (1975) was an impressive beginning to the Greens’ role as a major cultural interpreter. Books, films, photographic ephemera poured out of the movement during the late 1970s and early 1980s. These were the nub of a political-commercial-aesthetic nexus which the Tasmanian Greens skillfully nurtured, creating their own national distribution through the very successful Wilderness shops. The Greens made wilderness a commodity whose commercial nakedness they clothed in the Romantic aesthetic borrowed from Piguenit and refined by the wilderness photographers who followed in Truchanas’ footsteps.
The leading exponent of this school was Truchanas’ student and disciple, Peter Dombrovskis. The political Romantic vision has its apotheosis in his photo of Rock Island Bend, the most famous photograph ever taken of the Franklin River. It was used to illustrate a full-colour supplement in all major newspapers on the eve of the 1983 federal election. The ALP judged the Franklin issue to have been critical in the outcome of that election. In 1990, when once again Green issues looked to determine the federal election outcome, Rock Island Bend was prominent in glossy advertising promoting the ALP as the environmentally responsible choice.
Amanda Lohrey has suggested that in Tasmania the Greens have fused the Utopian and Romantic visions of Tasmania into a new vision that is greater and different from both of them. This new vision finds eloquent expression in a well-publicised photo of Christine Milne taken at the height of the Wesley Vale controversy. This high Romantic image – a solitary woman on a blasted heath – became charged, in the context of a highly charged environmental and political battle, with a whole new array of rich meanings.
In this image is also the idea of the Green leader as a solitary prophet, remote from the movement which creates and sustains such leaders. Images of mass action, such as the 20,000-strong rally in Hobart in 1983, have never fascinated the media in the same way as the image of a messianic leader.
Long-time Green strategist, Chris Harries, has written of the problems and contradictions of using the media during the Franklin campaign. Faced with a media “which demands superstars and which has conditioned society to think in terms of hierarchies and heroes … Bob Brown played out The Life of Brian. His pre-eminence in the media campaign was always understood as a means to an end, not an end in itself, and he was painfully aware of the contradiction”.
A media that creates a messiah must logically have its tale told in full, replete with a crucifixion. When forestry workers at Farmhouse Creek dragged Bob Brown (one of many protesters) away from the bulldozer, they were enacting their set roles in a passion play cum photo opportunity par excellence- The powerful image of this photo, shown over and over again across the nation and across the world, is full of falsities, not the least of which is the idea of the prophet being destroyed by a stupid and vicious common people.
The Farmhouse Creek photo does also point to a change in the political aesthetic in Green promotion in the late 1980s. Forests do not lend themselves to Romantic vistas in quite the same way as do wild rivers, but images of the violence done to majestic native forests do, and these became more prominent than the images of the forests themselves.
Stark monochrome vistas of burnt-over clearfells became the staple of Green publications throughout the forestry battles. Likewise, as the forestry industry and government strengthened their armoury against the Green protest, images of confrontation loomed large, both in the media and the Green press. The workers, not the bosses, are portrayed as the enemy in graphic close-ups of chainsaw-wielding forestry workers or alarmed police cordons.“
Alan left TCA at the end of 2007 and now is an independent consultant specialising in Tasmania’s forest and natural resource management sector
Alan Ashbarry lives in Tasmania with his wife and four inspirational children.
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This post was updated on May 14, 2008