By Catheryn Thompson
The announcement of the new Brataualung Forest Park for the Strzeleckis was ‘bitter sweet’ according to Julie Constable, a long term campaigner for the permanent protection of the Strzelecki Native forest “Cores & Links” as a National Park. This handback is the first of two (the other is the already protected Gunyah Rainforest Reserve) out of approx. 9000 ha that the community has been fighting for in a campaign that for some, now spans decades.
The breadth of Community Support for protecting the Strzelecki Forest during this long campaign has been far reaching and there was a large crowd at the launch when elder Aunty Doris Paton explained the significance of the area to the Gunai Kurnai people who would’ve travelled along the ridges and rivers from the Prom coast to the Latrobe River. Representing the Labour Party, MP.Lily D’Ambrosia made the announcement at the edge of the Forest Park near Gunyah Gunyah.
Some people & groups definitely need top praise for their tireless efforts, and these include (but probably not limited to ) the following – Friends of the Gippsland Bush’s Susie Zent who along with Elaina Fraser mapped many of the rainforest areas. Friends of the Earth’s Anthony Amis for his dedication to the protection of forest and who with Susie Zent has monitored many of the forestry activities in the Strzeleckis and negotiated strongly for their protection. Along with the notable work of Ann Westwood (ex Trust for Nature) are determined campaigners Julie Constable and Kim Devenish who wrote the booklet "Strzelecki Blue" and collected 7000 signatures for a Proposal for a Strzelecki National Park in 1998, and tirelessly communicated about the plight (& complicated tenure) of the Strzelecki Native Forests to NGO's, Government and Community alike.
The Strzelecki Working Group (SWG) chaired by Sth.Gippsland Shire's David Lewis commissioned the Strzelecki Ranges Biodiversity Study which identified the 'Cores and Links' Reserve Proposal. The SWG was made up of Conservation, HVP & Shire representatives. HVP agreed to the proposal as long as they were compensated - that was the sticking point - the money for compensation. Thus the need for political action.
Julie Constable, Kim Devenish and Catheryn Thompson were all members of the SOS - Save our Strzeleckis Coaltion - and were in the SWG. The SOS organised bus tours to areas of the Cores & Links, and held a forest rally at Parliament House in 2003 at which Dr.Bob Brown spoke.
Friends of the Gippsland Bush, Friends of the Earth, Environment Victoria, Victoria National Parks Assoc, Wilderness Society, Field Nats Club of Vic, Gipps Local Govt Network, Society for Growing Aus Plants, South Gippsland Conservation Society, Friends of Tarra Bula NP, Mt. Best Concerned Residents Associ, Latrobe Valley Fields Nats, Strzelecki Hills and Wonthaggi/Bass branches of the ALP, Prom Coast Tourism, Prof. David Bellamy and the Aust. Greens (Vic) all expressed their support for a greater reserve system in the Strzeleleckis.
The Reserve Proposal has been a focus for many State election campaigns and there have been countless media releases over the year on the "Cores & Links" campaign to protect these Core High Biodiversity areas of the Upper Catchment of the Strzelecki Ranges
This is a community campaign of extraordinary depth spanning 2-3 decades of work a Forest Park is not a National Park. According to DELWP a Special Protection Zone has been placed on the area and this prevents timber harvesting & firewood collection, let’s hope this is enough to protect Brataualung Forest Park and other Parks that have cool temperate rainforest and endangered, vulnerable and threatened species in an area that until recently had only 2% protected in reserves – which makes it the smallest reserved bioregion in Victoria.