September 2010

Arts & Letters

‘Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests’ by Anna Krien

By John Birmingham

Tasmania is another country, sometimes another world. To move beyond the edge of settlement, which largely peters out a short drive from the fairytale towns of Hobart and Launceston, is to pass into an antipodean Middle Earth.

As quickly becomes clear in Into the Woods, Anna Krien’s closely observed and beautifully written first book, Tasmania is a deeply riven place. In the very first pages, the reader – still reeling from the incredible amount of detail Krien can finesse into her prose – is presented with a glimpse of internecine struggle so deep that it brings to mind the standard cliché of all civil conflict: of brother set against brother.

The Tasmanian wilderness came to political prominence in the early 1980s when a small local movement opposed to the building of the Franklin Dam went viral and leapt across Bass Strait into the national consciousness and, eventually, into the federal election that saw off Malcolm Fraser. Bob Brown, then a young, unknown GP, became famous along with it. He appears here, “his blue eyes slightly misted as the steam from his tea curls upwards”.

Now the leader of a genuine third force in politics, it can be easy to forget what a radical threat to the established system Brown and his colleagues were thought to represent in the early days. The former Labor premier Michael Field recounts to Krien the difficulties of the doomed alliance struck between his party and the Greens to defeat Robin Gray’s Liberal government. The Greens, he complained, did not have policies so much as ideological positions from which they would not budge.

The politically active did not always respond to the challenge as a contest of ideas, however. Brown was bashed, shot at and openly threatened with more beatings while in the company of ministers and public servants. Krien reminds us of the bribery scandal that saw Tasmania’s mini-media mogul Edmund Rouse jailed for attempting to pay off a Labor MP to collapse the uneasy alliance between the ALP and the Greens in the state parliament.

In spite of the damning evidence Krien brings against Tasmania’s old, pro-development power structure, the great value of Into the Woods is balance. Krien likes trees but she is not a tree-hugging polemicist. Her ability to find fault and virtue on both sides of the divide in Tasmania make her an unusual but valuable contributor to the debate. She has a fine facility for understanding the humanity and motivations of everyone she speaks to. And she speaks to everyone: loggers, politicians, greenies, believers and players, and activists of all stripes.

If Into the Woods had been written in the 1960s, it would have been described as an adventure in New Journalism, Tom Wolfe’s famous project in applying the techniques of literary fiction to the ends of journalism. The technique is no longer new but Krien’s voice is still fresh. As with Anna Funder’s Stasiland or Jack Marx’s Sorry: Thee Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright – two of the best examples of Australian narrative non-fiction in this vein – Krien makes remarkable shifts between interview, pure narrative, profiling and discourse that testify to how stale is much of what passes for reportage in the Australian media.

John Birmingham

John Birmingham is an author, a columnist and a journalist. His books include He Died With a Felafel in His Hand and Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney.

@JohnBirmingham

'Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania's Forests' by Anna Krien, Black Inc., 304pp; $29.95
Cover: September 2010

September 2010

From the front page

Illustration

You’re the voice

Helping trans and non-binary gendered people define their vocal identity

Joint pain

Is bipartisanship on national security cracking?

Illustration

Tear gas returns to Don Dale

Rolling back the reforms since the youth detention royal commission

Image of Buzz Aldrin next to flag on the Moon

Shooting beyond the Moon

Reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission as Mars beckons


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Doctor Who & Gai Waterhouse

Land of the long black cloud

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Means of production

'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen, Fourth Estate, 562pp; $32.99

‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum: A true journalistic believer

Celebrating the contribution of an Australian media legend

Image from 'Never Look Away'

Art life: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘Never Look Away’ and Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’

By barely disguising an account of the life of Gerhard Richter, the German director fails the artist and filmgoers

Image from 'Mystify: Michael Hutchence'

All veils and misty: Richard Lowenstein’s ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’

The insider documentary that wipes clear the myths obscuring the INXS singer

Photo of Blackpink at Coachella

Seoul trained: K-pop and Blackpink

Trying to find meaning in the carefully formulated culture of K-pop


More in Noted

Detail of 'Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Two Eagles', by Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘The Transient Landscape’ and the Terracotta Warriors at the National Gallery of Victoria

The incendiary Chinese artist connects contemporary concerns with cultural history

Cover image of ‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami

‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami

An accidental death in a tale of immigrant generations highlights fractures in the promise of America

Still image from ‘Assembly’ by Angelica Mesiti

‘Assembly’ by Angelica Mesiti at Venice Biennale

The democratic ideal is explored in the Australian Pavilion’s video installation

Cover image of 'Animalia' by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

‘Animalia’ by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

The French author delivers a pastoral that turns on human cruelty


Read on

Image of Buzz Aldrin next to flag on the Moon

Shooting beyond the Moon

Reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission as Mars beckons

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and CFMEU Victoria secretary John Setka

Judge stymies Albanese’s plans to expel Setka from ALP

A protracted battle is the last thing the Opposition needs

Image from ‘Booksmart’

Meritocracy rules in ‘Booksmart’

Those who work hard learn to play hard in Olivia Wilde’s high-school comedy

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

The government’s perverse pursuit of surplus

Aiming to be back in black in the current climate is bad economics


×
×