You are never too old to join a protest as this grandmother did…

Ruth Carlson at Helms Forest
Ruth Carlson at Helms Forest

Last autumn year the Margaret River Mail reported a political demonstration with a difference.

“More than 40 grandmothers, describing themselves as ‘Nannas for Native Forests’ brought logging to a halt in Helms Forest between Nannup and Margaret River on Tuesday morning 29 September. 

“The Nannas for Native Forests moved in overnight, blocked the roads off with their cars, lit small fires for warmth and set up a marquee decorated by their colourful handmade banners.

“They know they are preventing work in this small patch of forest for a few symbolic hours.”

While waiting for logging workers and police to arrive they took out their knitting, took photographs, shared muffins and wandered into the devastated area where the loggers had been operating.

One of the protesters was 91-year-old Ruth Carlson.

Ruth was brought up on a farm at Waroona and was always interested in nature.

“At 15 I became concerned about the loss of trees and feared the land would become a desert,” she said. 

But then domesticity took over and is still important to her at 91.

“I’m just a housewife. I still cook and do some cleaning. I was never previously involved in politics,” she said.

But Ruth, who has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and cares about their future, has turned to activism as she ages.

“Everywhere the world is in chaos. WA is safe but the world is in crisis with Covid-19 and climate change causing disruption.

“The government is mainly interested in building roads and houses. But we can’t have road and houses if there are no trees.

“Somebody must do something to save our forest.

“We have got to try our hardest to protect forest. Our best forest has gone resulting in loss of shade trees and habitat for birds and other animals.

“It is being cut down and it is not being replanted. We need to take a stand,” she said.

And so she did – joining about 40 other nannas in a symbolic protest where native forest was being felled.

Somebody must do something to save our forest.

Will she do it again?

“I need a heart operation, but I’ll be back when my doctor says I can.”

The police arrived a few hours after the protest started to move the nannas on.

“I was careful not to get arrested,” Ruth said.

She spoke to some of the policemen, who seemed rather embarrassed to be dealing with an elderly mob of protesting ladies. 

“They are just doing their job. We try to be pleasant to everyone. We have got to keep smiling and not get angry to keep people on side.

“We want to encourage other people to do something about the problem. Many people agree with us, but others are busy running their own lives and don’t see the problem.

A WA Police Force spokesperson said members of the community have a right to voice their concerns through lawful protest activity.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.