Thursday, 7 June 2018


"No Pump Mill" memorabilia - image supplied

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition celebrated its “almost” thirty years of activity at a Re-Weavers’ Awards Dinner in Grafton on 1st June.

The Re-Weavers Awards, which are held annually on the Friday nearest to World Environment Day, recognise the valuable contribution individuals and groups have made to environmental protection over many years.

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition was founded almost thirty years ago because of a proposal for a chemical pulp mill in the Clarence Valley.

On 30th August 1988 The Daily Examiner’s front page headline shouted: “$450m valley mill planned by Japanese”.  Daishowa International had made an in-principle decision to build a chemical pulp mill on the Clarence River near Grafton. This, it was claimed, would create about 1200 direct and indirect jobs in the region.

This fired up the local community.  Some community members welcomed the announcement, claiming the mill would provide an enormous boost to the local economy. 

But not everyone welcomed it.  Many feared the impact such a large industrial development would have on the local environment – not just of the Clarence Valley but of the whole North Coast because it was obvious that such a large mill would be drawing its feedstock from across the region.  Concerns included the amount of water this mill would use, the decimation of the forests, the likelihood of poisonous effluent being released into either the river or the ocean and air pollution.

On 19 September 1988 concerned people met in Grafton to discuss the proposal and consider what action should be taken.  This meeting resulted in the formation of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition (CVCC).

Rosie Richards became its President.  She was an ideal person for the job in many ways.  In the conservative Clarence community she was not publicly associated with any of the recent or on-going conservation issues. While she was concerned about environmental impacts, both short and long-term, and made no secret of the fact, she did not look like a greenie – or the conservative view of what a greenie looked like. Rosie was 56 years old.  She was a grandmother. Her background was not that of a stereotype greenie either. She grew up in Pymble and in the early fifties was a member of the Liberal Party Younger Set.  Her other life experiences included years as a farmer’s wife and the wife of a professional fisherman.  (Her husband Geoff had been both.)

Rosie’s personality also qualified her for this leadership role in the pulp mill campaign.  She ran both the CVCC committee and general meetings efficiently.  She was calm, sincere, friendly, articulate and very much “a lady” in old-fashioned terms.  But she was also determined and possessed a “steel backbone”.  This “steel backbone” and her courage were very necessary in the campaign to obtain information and disseminate it to the North Coast community. 

Courage was necessary to the campaigners because those promoting the benefits of Daishowa’s plans attacked the CVCC, referring to its spokespersons as scaremongers and “a benighted group who distort the facts.” Those in power locally and at the state level weren’t in any hurry to provide facts but they decried the efforts of community members who were trying to find information on pulp mill operations.  However, this did not deter the CVCC.  It sought information on pulp mills and pulping processes from around the world, asked questions of those in power and disseminated information to the community.

Other important campaigners included media spokesperson Martin Frohlich and Bruce Tucker whose time in Gippsland had shown him what it was like to live near the Maryvale Pulp Mill. Others who played vital roles were John Kelemec, Rob Lans, Geoff Richards and Bill Noonan as well as core members of the Clarence Valley Branch of the National Parks Association. These included Peter Morgan, Stan Mussared, Celia Smith and Greg Clancy.

Public meetings were held in Grafton, Iluka, Maclean and Minnie Water as well as in other North Coast towns.  In addition the group produced information sheets, issued many media releases, participated in media interviews, distributed bumper stickers, circulated a petition, met with politicians both in the local area and beyond, and wrote letters to politicians and The Daily Examiner.

And there were many others who wrote letters of concern to the paper as well as some who wrote supporting the proposal.  It was an amazing time as there was a deluge of letters to the Examiner. There has been nothing like it since!!

One of my memories is taking part in a Jacaranda procession, probably in 1989.  We used Geoff Welham’s truck which was decorated with eucalypt branches, and driven by Rob Lans with Bill Noonan beside him. Others of us, wearing koala masks, were on the back.  As we drove down Prince Street, Bill had his ghetto blaster on full volume blaring out John Williamson singing “Rip, rip woodchip.” I think we drowned out music of the marching bands.

Following Daishowa’s announcement that it would not be proceeding with its pulp mill proposal, CVCC President Rosie wrote to the Examiner (4 April 1990) praising the efforts of the community in defeating the proposal:

“It has been an interesting nineteen months; a period that has seen the resolve of north coast people come to the fore; we have seen People Power used in a democratic way to say ‘No’  to something that we knew would harm our existing industries and our air and water.  If it had not been for the people of the Clarence Valley and their attendance at public meetings, their letters to politicians, to newspapers in Tokyo and our own Daily Examiner, and their strong support of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition, we may have had a huge polluting industrial complex set down in our midst, without a whimper.”

People Power did do the job – but Rosie Richards and the others on the Coalition Committee played a very important part in organizing and channelling that people power.

The lessons of history never seem to be learned.  Those campaigning to protect the environment from the greed of pillagers face the same problem today.

What Rosie wrote in a letter to The Daily Examiner in November 1990 still applies today:

“It seems that every time we stop for breath another issue crops up that summons us to speak up for common sense and common interest.  Most of us would much rather be doing other things besides acting as watchdogs for what we see as poor bureaucratic decisions and flawed advice to governments.”

In the same letter she answered a criticism that conservationists were “greedy”:

“We speak out as we do because we believe that the people of today’s and tomorrow’s Australia will not be well served by a country whose finite resources have been exhausted by sectional interests that have until now not had to make long term plans for the sustainability of their industries.”

The pulp mill campaign was significant both in the Clarence and further afield.  It reinforced the message of the other earlier environmental victory – the success of the Clarence Valley Branch of the National Parks Association in campaigning to save the Washpool Rainforest.  Both of these campaigns showed the state government and local councils as well as the North Coast community in general that there were people who were prepared to campaign strongly for effective protection of the natural environment.

            - Leonie Blain

Leonie Blain (left) & Lynette Eggins (right) - image supplied

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