Anna Krien

Into the Woods

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Into the Woods Summary

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Anna Krien’s 2012 novel, Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests, is heralded as a riveting piece of prose and journalism. Krien herself ventures into Tasmania to explore the people living there and their relationship to the environment. What began as a story about activists and loggers quickly became a story about a woodchipping company’s stranglehold on the Tasmanian government and the entire island.

Into the Woods begins with an account of the treatment of Tasmanian Devils (the native marsupials on the island). A local Tasmanian man, Geoff, allows Krien to stay with him. He tells her of how mistreated these animals are, that some people try to kill them with their cars. This makes Krien emotional and it becomes clear to her that the issue is larger than activists and loggers. The entire state seems to have a flippant attitude towards nature.

In the next section of the novel, titled, “Ratbags,” Krien investigates the environmental activists of the same name to learn what drives them. She stays with them in “The Pink Palace,” sleeping on the floor or in campgrounds and eating food they gather from dumpsters. These “ratbags” are also referred to as “ferals” by their opposition. They’re a misunderstood group that seeks to protect patches of nature one piece at a time. Most of the ratbags are on welfare; they’re mostly educated people who seek to preserve their homeland. They’re aware that the way in which they protest is aimed at the wrong people. Their tactics include creating blockades, sitting in trees, or locking on (to trees). This directly affects sawmill and logging company workers, but it’s the only level on which they can operate. If they could get a grander government body to pay attention they would, but at the end of the day they stress to Krien that these actions have already preserved the land on which they live.

The section entitled “Loggers” covers just that, the viewpoint of the loggers. She first encounters them in a bar and probes them for their experiences and viewpoints. They’re hesitant, worried to be portrayed in a negative light, worried Krien is a “greenie.” Nevertheless, they express their love for their work, how much the industry has changed, how incorrect the conservationist arguments are, and how much they hate the conservationists. Krien listens but admits to the reader that she will betray both logger and ratbags alike. They are both immensely loyal to what they believe and Krien summarizes the issue by saying “the forest debate is a minefield. You need a bullshit detector to pick your way across it.” That is to say that each side has statistics that negate the other. It’s a multi-faceted issue that’s near impossible to navigate.

In the subsequent section, “The Company,” Krien attempts to explore Gunns Limited, a major forestry company in Australia. Unfortunately, they decline or ignore every attempt at communication, so Krien is left only to information she can research or glean from Tasmanians. What she does learn is Gunns’ shady business dealing. How they’re closely tied with the media (so they’re always portrayed in a positive light) and their close ties with the government (and how this gives them immense tax benefits). This proves Gunns control on Australia and more specifically Tasmania. In a chapter titled “Gunns 20,” Krien explains a strategy Gunns executed, suing 20 individuals they claimed had caused them damages in excess of millions. Including Bob Brown, a politician running on the platform of environmental preservation and calling out Gunns for their shady grip on the Australian government. Gunns prolonged litigation effectively halted other “greenies” from attempting to take Gunns on.

In “Groundswell,” Krien delves deeper into the corruption. She talks with forestry insider Bill Manning, who was a whistleblower claiming most of the deforestation was actually happening illegally. As you might expect, he was taken down for this viewpoint. His mental illness was outed, and he was publicly ridiculed. This section describes other activists and how they attempt to stop this immense attack on the environment and how. How baiting and spraying in the forest hurts both animals and humans alike. The section ends with Krien recounting how the Wilderness Society and Jim Bacon (former premier of Tasmania) urged corporations to pull funding from Gunns. Cultural views were finally beginning to shift in the proper direction.

The next section, “The Mill,” continues to deal with corruption. Krien meticulously details Gunns rushed sawmill, how the government sped up processes to allow Gunns to build a sawmill even though there was a mountain of evidence suggesting that a mill would have a negative impact on the environment, the wine industry, and tourism. But at the end of the day, Gunns was able to use its power to achieve what it wanted, all at the cost of the Tasmanian people.

Into the Woods ends with Krien visiting her friend Miranda who had been living in a tree for nearly 500 days. The tree is being cut down. Krien then explores the forest where she first met the ratbags only to find that it has been entirely destroyed. She meets back up with Miranda and despite fear and paranoia, joins in a blockade. The last moment of the novel is Krien at a camp with ratbags, cutting off a dreadlock she had grown in the months she spent in the forest. She throws it into a fire.

This novel is an expansive journalistic account of the corruption rampant in Tasmania. It’s an account of how public issues are rarely black and white, and how loggers and activists are being hurt. What Krien does make clear is how susceptible people are to coercion and how a multi-million-dollar industry will always have pull in government, and how we as a people need to be aware and fight back.