Every morning at dawn Lucy Landon-Lane walks her beagle cross, Truffi, through bushland on her organic walnut farm up a hill overlooking Tasmania’s Tamar River just 2km from the site of Australia’s biggest proposed pulp mill, at Bell Bay.
“It’s a stunningly beautiful place,” Ms Landon-Lane says. “It’s very beautiful and very peaceful and there’s lots of wildlife.”
Landon-Lane, whose parents started one of the first vineyards in the valley, returned there to live 15 years ago with husband Chris. The space and fresh air, she says, have made it a great place to bring up their two sons.
The Tamar Valley, stretching 50 kilometres from Launceston to Tasmania’s northern coastline, is one of the state’s main winegrowing areas and is home to boutique food and tourist industries.
The Landon-Lanes count award-winning wineries, truffle and lavender farms, a chemical-free beef producer and peach and cherry growers amongst their near neighbours.
Since federal environment minister Tony Burke earlier this month signed off on marine permits for the pulp mill —with stricter environmental standards than were originally proposed— the project is a step closer to realisation.
But Landon-Lane, who has been fighting it “since the very beginning”, in 2004, is adamant it won’t go ahead.
“We’re not going to let it happen. People are totally determined,” she says, pointing out that forestry company Gunns still has to find finance for the project.
While the spectre of the pulp mill has brought the community together, it has taken a heavy toll on people whose livelihoods as well as lifestyles depend on the region’s clean, green credentials.
A psychological survey found many in the area were experiencing depression and anxiety, and Landon-Lane knows several people who have suffered breakdowns as property values plummeted.
Community concerns about the pulp mill include air pollution and rotten egg gas, poisonous effluent being pumped into Bass Strait, and the massive drain the mill would have on the region’s water supply.
What’s really galvanised opposition, though, is the perception that the Tasmanian government colluded with the company to fast-track the project, bypassing the state’s normal assessment process.
“Yes, there are environmental concerns, but it’s also the corruption we’ve had to put up with around this,” says Landon-Lane, who took unsuccessful legal action to challenge the state’s Pulp Mill Assessment legislation.
A sense of government indifference to public opinion has also inflamed the issue.
“Even though every poll that’s been done has shown there are more people against the mill than for it, we’re just not being heard. People are absolutely furious about this.”
Landon-Lane, who is spokesperson for the protest group Pulp the Mill, acknowledges she’s defending her own turf, but says that doesn’t stop at the edges of the Tamar Valley.
“Tasmania’s value is not in heavy industry. People love Tasmania because we are clean and green and we have wilderness and pristine ocean.”
”Yeah, I am a NIMBY, but the whole of Tasmania is my backyard.”