For 33 years now Friends of the Mongarlowe River (FMR) have protected its crystal clear cloud-fed waters, its source in the Monga Forest, its journey to the Shoalhaven as part of Sydney’s drinking water catchment and the life it contain and supports.
Judith Wright, poet and activist, was its energiser back in the eighties along with Solvig Bass Becking, renowned weaver, when it became evident that mining/dredging of the river for gold may be approved. This would have caused poisoning of river life by stirring up mercury in the river bed – leached from 19th century mining but now stable while untouched. Undaunted a court challenge mounted by FMR halted this endeavour in its tracks. Friends of the Mongarlowe River combined the passion and truth-telling of artists with the method of scientists. Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe (CSIRO) and Sam Lake (Monash) were active contributors at this stage. The FMR continues to combine these forces in its valuable work.
Two further battles in the 90s concerned protecting the river from the planned dumping of toxic waste from the Olympic site on land that drains into the Mongarlowe River. Protest meetings were organised. The plan was dropped. Next the spectre of an open cut gold mine “Alma”which was to use large volumes of water containing cyanide washing into the Mongarlowe. FMR gave notice of protest; plus lack of viability and inadequacy of pumps to manage the high volumes of water ended this next chapter.
Philosophers and scientists Val Plumwood and Peter Herbst alerted FMR of plans to log three old growth compartments of the Monga Forest where Gondwanan remnant plumwoods were to be found . A music and poetry festival was held to assist in funding action to protect the forest – the source of the Mongarlowe river. FMR sought and was allocated a seat for 5 years on the Regional Forest Assessment. The South East Region was the only one – with our representative Alison Sexton-Green working collaboratively with AST, South East Forest Alliance and ACF – to reach an agreement. Meanwhile Marina Tyndale-Biscoe, zoologist and Nigel Weiss, botanist, worked on finding evidence of the animals and plants likely endangered by the logging plans. Later Robyn Steller, psychologist, led people into the forest to teach them and monitored logging activity warning activists in readiness for resistance. She was responsible for the extraordinary 2005 publication “Monga Intacta” which illustrates the fight. Poet, comedian and FMR’s secretary, Harry Laing, joined with the other activists in the Monga Forest – ending up in a paddy wagon ride down the Clyde Mountain and a day in court while artists Christine Payne and Michael Gill worked on unforgettable activist posters and artwork in action after action. By mid-2000 100% of the forest was declared National Park by Premier Bob Carr.
In the most recent decade FMR secretary Di Bott coordinated a number of significant projects aimed at monitoring the water quality of the river, restoring habitats, and repairing riparian zones. Mark Lintermans, marine biologist focused on the Macquarie Perch. Sue Wild- River, environmental scientist, with Paul Bott and Paul Dann travelled the length of the Mongarlowe River on water measuring and mapping various aspects of life on/in the river with results showing outstanding biodiversity and river health. Felicity Sturgiss worked on “The Bank Job” repairing erosion along the river bank, engaging with traditional Yuin custodians as part of her work. Mary Appleby, botanist, has led plant identification tours along the paths of the races built by Chinese miners over 150 years ago.
Right now we’re fighting logging on a steep-sided compartment above the ancient Corn Trail. We estimate up to 100 Greater Gliders may have died with this loss of habitat. We’re also working towards having these compartments and the last remaining State Conservation Area on the Mongarlowe River reclassified as part of the Monga National Park. And we remain ever-vigilant as a new licence to explore for gold has just been approved covering the northern end of this pristine Mongarlowe river.
We’ve sadly lost many of the artists/scientists/activists who made invaluable contributions to the protection of this beautiful environment through advocacy, creative campaigning, protecting communities and empowering organisational methods. Their legacy empowers us.
Audio produced by Gretchen Miller, sound engineering by Judy Rapley. Recorded by Vanessa Barrett.
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