A Study in Pavement, Perth City (Funeral for Forests and Wildlife)
Written by Noni Oldfield
The paving of Yagan Square still looks fresh and new. Although rain-darkened on Saturday morning, it dried to its usual slate grey by the time funeral proceedings began at midday. The crowd, convened by WA Forest Alliance (WAFA), gathered to mourn the death and destruction of irreplaceable old growth forests. Accumulated grief over decades of campaigning to protect the life of Australia’s south-west was clinched by the recent renewal of the RFA (Regional Forest Agreement) under the McGowan government. Under this agreement, logging of old growth forests will continue for another twenty years.
“[The funeral] comes from an experience of feeling angry, and dismayed, and frustrated that all the usual ways of trying to get through to government and policy and decision makers and law makers just doesn’t seem to make a difference. If it’s a rally with thousands of people or if it’s a mass petition with 15 000 signatures that we did last year… the forest is still being clear-felled and burned,” said Shona Hunter, key WAFA member and spokesperson of the event. “It felt fitting to have a funeral and a wake for the forests and wildlife to acknowledge what’s been lost, and to acknowledge the grief that everyone’s feeling, and to acknowledge that sentient beings have feelings and energies too, and that it must be devastating for them in their way…”
The procession, lead by pall bearers, marched in silence to the slow beat of drums. Head bowed and following the feet of the person in front of me, I was given a rare opportunity to study the green-flecked pavers of Forrest Place. I thought of the soil underneath, compacted and pounded down. It supports life not by living - I am sure that soil is long dead - but by holding up our grey buildings and black roads. I thought of what used to be there, long before I was born. Trees, undergrowth, animals, birds, all long gone.
In the spirit of this action, I do not wish to engage in facts and figures. Displaying the gradual decline of ecosystems, habitat, soil quality, carbon sequestration, and water cycles in numbers misses the point. Noongar leader and storyteller Shaun Nannup made this point in the middle of Murray Street mall.
“Today I want you to know when you mourn the tree you mourn our people […]
When my grannies were on this country, and they wanted them to destroy the land, so they could sow the seed and put the animals, and put the fences up, some of our family – they sat down. They said no. We can’t. Because we’ve done this for thousands of years, we’ve loved that tree, you don’t understand that tree, what it actually is giving us! ... No matter what you do to us, our children, to our families, our loved ones, we will not destroy that tree. We will not poison that river. Let our story today be the story that has been going on for many many years. We stand for something. We sit for something. We scream for something. We demand something. Let it be the greatest one, and that is love for all. Freedom for all.”
The value of forests is not quantifiable. The health or devastation of the forests reflects the health of humanity. Mr Nannup’s words were compelling, and in remembrance of the old grannies some of the gathered crowd sat down in in the centre of William and Murray St intersection. They refused to shift even when told to move on by police. It was so simple. What’s a blue ticket in the face of ecocide?
The march continued up to Parliament house, empty and austere. A eulogy was given by Reverend Ruth Vertigan, which lovingly celebrated the old Karri, Marri, Jarrah and Wandoo trees that have been lost, and offerings were placed on the steps. In those moments I remembered my cousin placing a lamington on my Grandfather’s coffin, years ago. People were grieving, truly, for the utter destruction and cruelty that we have so far witnessed, for the continuing deaths of centuries old trees for low-value woodchips, and for the birds and mammals and insects that also lose their right to life. It is terrible and hard to deal with loss.
But as Shaun Nannup said to us, when we know there is an injustice, we keep showing up with love and graciousness, and we don’t give in.