But it didn’t take long for the strategy consultant to realise his piece of Chapple Vale paradise was under major threat. “You assume when you come to a place like this that the forest is well managed but you’re naive, you don’t understand what’s going on,’’ Chris says. “Within a few months of living here I started hearing chainsaws in the distance and I wondered what was going on. My part-time farm manager took me to a nearby clear-felling coupe and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like a bomb had gone off’’.
That started Chris on a five-year journey of discovery and political wrangling that eventually resulted in the protection of 150,000 hectares of Otway Ranges forest.
“I didn’t like what they were doing, I didn’t believe in it and I was determined to stop it – for the sake of the Otway forests and Gellibrand River. I had the financial resources to mount a determined effort and I did a lot of public presentations, analysis, and supported direct action in the forests. I became one of the guys the government loved to hate and always wanted to nail,’’ he smiles.
The 61-year-old now sits content with wife Carol on their stunning 130-acre property where he designs and makes wooden furniture, farms beef cattle and poultry, as well as growing vegetables and 40 varieties of heritage apples.
“We’re largely self-sufficient here and a registered A-grade organic farm. That means no chemicals and no artificial fertilisers – I don’t trust them. I put composted pig manure on the paddocks and it works great.”
“We’ve come to love this place and we’re hoping to do less commuting to the city’’.
Despite the win over the logging industry, Chris knows the threats to the Gellibrand River, which borders his property, are growing. “The Gellibrand is a beautiful, strong and interesting river. But it can’t possibility cope with all the demands people are putting on it. What you realise when you live here is that it’s not as robust as it looks. It’s pretty finely balanced and you don’t have to do a lot to bugger it up’’.
Chris says he is bemused by how much the Gellibrand changes during the seasons.
“It’s hard to believe the volume of water that comes down it during the flood periods. But in summer you can walk across it and barely get your knees wet and that terrifies me. I don’t need some sort of instrument or laptop to tell me that the river is too low and they’re taking too much water out of it. Commonsense tells me that”.
These things get into your blood and you’re constantly aware and part of it. When the river struggles you feel that struggle and it makes my heart sink when I see it under such stress. City people need to reconnect with the land and understand where our water and food comes from’’.