Gunaikurnai candidate opposes logging in Gippsland


Marjorie Thorpe visiting the aftermath of fresh logging on Mount Delusion. Photo: Friends of Bats and Habitats

Gunaikurnai elder Marjorie Thorpe is contesting the federal seat of Gippsland for the Greens, to oppose the logging of native forests.  

Thorpe’s candidacy sees her following in her daughter’s political footsteps. In 2017, Lidia Thorpe became the first Aboriginal woman in the Victorian state parliament and, in 2020, she was the Greens appointee to the federal senate seat vacated by Richard Di Natale.  

Marjorie Thorpe is committed to public service and protecting the environment for the good of the people. “The health of our environment is essential for social well-being, but it is under threat. As an elder my responsibility is to protect the land and people,” she wrote on the Greens website. 

Before she ran for parliament, Thorpe worked in the public and community sectors and as an activist for social justice and the environment. 

She was a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Victoria’s Co-Commissioner for the Stolen Generations Inquiry and a director of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency. 

Court challenge 

In 2020, Thorpe challenged the construction of part of the Western Freeway by Transport Victoria, which planned to cross Djab Wurrung traditional land and remove six sacred Aboriginal trees. The Supreme Court has suspended further Transport Victoria activity until a new cultural heritage management plan is approved.   

Thorpe’s legal efforts are part of a larger battle to prevent logging in Aboriginal heritage sites on Djab Wurrung land.  

The Greens party aims to strengthen the Aboriginal Heritage Act and to give Aboriginal Victorians a primary role in land and heritage management.  

The party has recently come under scrutiny for having what some in the Aboriginal community regard as obstinate First Nations policies. 

ANU fellow of indigenous diplomacies and former Greens member James Blackwell is a Wiradyuri man who was recently quoted in The Age saying: “There’s no room for debate or disagreement over policy within the party anymore”.  

Blackwell said that the Greens’ Aboriginal policies are often shaped by Senator Lidia Thorpe’s personal views, and resigned from the Greens in April 2022.  

A cultural landscape 

For local environmental activist Lisa Roberts, Thorpe’s decision to contest Gippsland is a step in the right direction. She is a spokesperson for Friends of Bats and Habitats Gippsland, which supports the local flying-fox colony and surveys the wellbeing of forests in East Gippsland.  

 “It’s really great to have a First Nations person, a Gunaikurnai person who’s from here, putting her hand up,” she said.  

Roberts, who described Gippsland as a “cultural landscape”, recently escorted Thorpe to Mount Delusion to see the result of recent logging. 

“It’s really old-growth forest, it really is. There’s been no logging history, no bushfires for over 100 years and it’s really beautiful. When you see what they’ve done to it … it’s just appalling.”   

“The Greens and Marj are against logging and she’s the only candidate that’s been interested in coming and having a look and seeing what’s going on, and she’s really passionate about the forests and the water.”  

Thorpe recently shared details of her trip with Friends of Bats and Habitats Gippsland on Facebook. She listed some of the local wildlife and described the aftermath of recent logging in their habitat as “heartbreaking”. 

Impact of logging 

“I was recently taken to Mt Delusion and Dargo to see the ‘sustainable timber industry’ which Darren Chester MP boasts about. There is nothing sustainable about what I witnessed,” she posted.  

The Federal seat of Gippsland is currently occupied by the National Party’s Darren Chester, who supports the logging industry to sustain local jobs.  

In an interview with the Gippsland Lakes Region’s local paper, Lakes Post, Thorpe said, “The Nationals have let us down. I don’t think they’re looking after the environment or the country like they should be.” 

In 2019, Chester addressed the government’s decision to stop logging in Gippsland’s native forests by 2030 on his website. 

 “It is terrible news for hard-working families in the timber industry, our timber towns and small business owners,” he said. 

Local resident and owner of Gippsland Beehives James Knaggs uses sustainable materials and practices in his beekeeping business, but feels the locals’ concerns for the environment are not currently matched by action.  

“Government policies seem to lag behind the public sentiment. The public recognises the problem and then after they’ve recognised it, 20 years later, then [politicians] say, ‘I guess we can do this’, to please the crowd rather than being a good proactive leader.”