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Daintree protest a catalyst for change

Bill Wilkie

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Images from the Daintree Blockade

To prevent people from destroying the coast at Cape Tribulation in 1982 a group of eight residents, many of them members of the Cape Tribulation Community Council (CTCC) took matters into their own hands.  They were concerned about the degradation of the delicate rainforest bordering the beach resulting from people chopping down trees and saplings for firewood and tarpaulin frames, lighting fires on buttress roots and holding car races up and down the beach.

The local residents visited all the campers on the beach one Thursday morning and told them they would be erecting a barricade at 3pm, after which there would be no further access.Using a tractor they dragged abandoned car bodies to form the barricade, blocking beach access.  Previous barricades erected by Council had been cut through with a chainsaw and removed.  The CTCC circulated a brochure for visitors outlining the unique ecological features of the area and asking people to respect the natural environment.

Degradation the beach was just one of the CTCC’s many concerns: subdivision of large rural blocks with inadequate planning;plans for resort developments inconsistent with the natural surroundings; talk of a bridge over the Daintree River; and the ever present threat that many of these issues would be compounded by the completion of the Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield road, a rough track that had first been bulldozed through in 1968.By the early 1980s this track was gaining attention as a walking track with great tourist potential.  The ‘new settlers’ of Cape Tribulation understoodthat the economic future of the area lay in the conservation of the Daintree coast, not just the development of it.

When CAFNEC was formed in March 1981 as an umbrella organisation for the many smaller conservation organisations across the far north, it took on many of the issues north of the Daintree River, including ‘the road’.Their concerns were well founded, for in 1983 Douglas Shire Council announced plans to build the road to Bloomfield, the so-called ‘missing link’ of highway along the east coast of Australia

CAFNEC commenced a campaign of letter writing, petitioning, lobbying politicians, including Douglas Shire Chairman Tony Mijo, and public awareness.  From a film night and information session a local group, the Douglas Shire Wilderness Action Group (WAG), was formed to try and stop the road.Their lobbying efforts didn’t work, and as a last resort they planned a blockade.

When work commenced on the road it was a small group of local people who showed up to form a non-violent protest in an attempt to stop work.  They reported feeling ‘small, helpless and green’.Through most of December of 1983 and then again in August of 1984 the protesters sought to stop the road going through.  They lay in the path of the dozers, chained themselves to trees and pleaded with all levels of government.They failed to stop the road being built, but in staging the protest they gained the attention of the media, politicians and the Australian public.  As public awareness changed, an opportunity arose, and the years of campaigning, mapping, developing a scientific case for conservation, and public education paid off.

It was individuals who barricaded the beach at Cape Tribulation, who formed CAFNEC and WAG and staged the Daintree protest, and who campaigned for a decade and finally achieved World Heritage listing for Queensland’s wet tropics.  In doing so they not only protected the region’s rainforests,they changed the cultural and social landscape of the far north for generations to come.There is much to learn from their commitment, determination and foresight.

Bill Wilkie is a Mossman based author currently writing on a book about the Daintree Blockade.  Follow progress on his book at www.facebook.com/daintreebook or contact him at billwilkie2012@gmail.com.

Permanent link to this article: https://cafnec.org.au/2013/12/05/daintree-protest-catalyst-change/