Book Review: Fight for the Forests, by Paul Bensemann

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fight_for_the_Forests.jpgNew Zealand is proud of the Clean Green ideal we like to project to the world. Scenes from the Lord of the Rings, travel posters and Great Walks promotions all include images of pristine forests and snow-capped mountains. Paul Bensemann writes passionately about the battle to ensure these forests were not destroyed by logging and hydro schemes. He describes himself as a conservation foot soldier, beginning when as a 19-year-old, he became involved in the Save Manapouri campaign. Bensemann went on to work for the Forest Service to gather confidential information for the fight ahead.

This book charts conservation events, beginning in the early 1970’s. He interviews the key players, many of whom have gone on to work in the Conservation field. These were young, intelligent student activists. Many had a science background and all became seasoned campaigners as they took on the Government’s schemes for forestry and power. The Beech Forest Action Committee was set up to challenge the logging of huge areas of Beech forest on the South Island’s West Coast. Much of this land was to be replanted in pine. At the time The Forest & Bird Society was seen as the guardian of NZ Flora and Fauna. Bensemann comments that they were more interested in picnics than campaigns. And so the early campaigners lead marches, took field trips to the Coast, lobbied politicians, sought air time on TV and radio and generally stirred the consciousness of many New Zealanders.

This was not a pretty time to be a conservationist. It was hard, it was scary and there was little money to be made by the campaigners. In fact, many delayed jobs and families to focus on the issue. The book follows the development of the fledgling groups as they grew in numbers and resources. It is a detailed account of the campaigns, the conflicts which arose within the groups and the variety of projects undertaken across 20 years.

Eventually, the Forest & Bird Society became part of the campaign as the young Conservationists sought places on the board. Gerry McSweeney, an early member of the protest group, eventually became Director of F &B. In fact, the book finishes with a superb summary of the lives of the protestors today. It reads like a Who’s Who of the Conservation movement in New Zealand. These were not activists making a noise for the sake of it. Each had a personal involvement and a passion for the environment. That they chose to continue to be involved long after the major campaigns were won, is evidence of this.

I loved this book, because it shows a huge move in New Zealand identity and I was part of it. I attended the Easter field trip in 1975, I knew many of those involved and I know how hard and bitter the struggles were. I marched, I wrote, I walked and talked. This was a long campaign, and one that is not over. There are still those in New Zealand who wish to destroy the environment for economic or convenience reasons. All credit to Craig Potton for instigating the book and for the superb pictures included in the publication.

The photos of the very young-looking protestors and the detailed maps and posters added to the enjoyment of my read. Paul Bensemann has done a wonderful job of documenting this story so we can all celebrate success. But his epilogue reminds us that the job will never be done. There are always new campaigns, and new challenges ahead if we are truly to be Clean and Green New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Fight for the Forests: The Pivotal Campaigns that Saved New Zealand’s Native Forests
by Paul Bensemann
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503130

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