Judge Ross on the vigilante rioters of Goolengook
In late February 2000, 50 loggers from Orbost and its regions attacked campers at the Goolengook forest protest. They assaulted nine people and did $30,000 of property damage in a terrifying midnight attack.
Ten of the loggers, who were originally charged with the serious crime of Riot went before Judge Ross in Bairnsdale Court in May, entering guilty pleas to the lesser charge of Unlawful Assembly. The plea was an admission of having assembled with the common intent of assault and damaging property. However these ten men were not confessing to, nor even accused of, any of the nine assaults that occurred later the same night.
On the first day of the week-long hearing, Judge Ross suggested to the prosecutors that the plea bargain was far too light. He questioned why the plea did not include the horrendous assaults.
“Am I to ignore what happened? All the damage?” Judge Ross asked the prosecution. Referring to the Canadian tourist who was found at the camp and brutally assaulted, Judge Ross interpreted the plea bargain as saying: “this occurred but no-one is responsible for it?”.
When the defense described the hardships good hardworking logger boys go through in the face of virulent protest action, the judge interrupted:
“[all] youre doing is building up a case that your man participated in a vigilante enterprise.”
The 10 men presented character witnesses to attest to their value in the community. The characters were:
Glen Farley – had the life Governor of Orbost District Hospital, President of the golf club, life member of tennis club, and active member of the footy club, testify that Glen mows his lawn. His other friend, a WWII veteran, testified that Glen was sad since he lost his gun license as a consequence, and couldnt go hunting anymore. When the defense asked for no conviction, to not spoil bright young Glens future, Judge Ross answered that he should have thought about that on the night.
Lindsey Martin – a 3rd generation timber worker, had his barrister warned by the judge that he didnt “want to be treated like a fool – these men knew what they were doing”. Poor Lindsey had a nervous breakdown two months after the incident. The President of the Orbost Lions Club testified that Lindsey was an invaluable member of the Orbost community, but didnt say whether assaulting greenies was a quality the Club sees as invaluable.
Steven De Ross – had at least 5 prior convictions, including unlawful assault and resist arrest.
Geoffrey Caldwell – was given great credit for being the most upfront with the police in his original interview, telling them “were just sick of it we wanted to sort it out”. Judge Ross said “it conjures up images of the deep South”. Geoffs character witness said he hasnt been seen much in the pub since the incident, as the legal fees have eaten up all his beer money.
John Mekken – had prior convictions for having an unlicensed pokie machine in his house. His great friend who sent a support letter on his behalf either is, or has the very same name as the Shires Mayor, Peter Bommer.
Christopher Davidson – had three priors including criminal damage, yet wanted sympathy from the court for hurting himself falling through the infamous burnt hole in Goolengook Bridge trying to find his way around camp during the night time riot. His defense submitted for no conviction, so that he could achieve his ambition of becoming a cop. (Gawd elp us!)
Christopher Davidson, Charles Stuart, Dale Sproutes and Keith Allen Brunt – were reminded by Judge Ross that he found the attack “ugly” and “cowardly” and that political tension “doesnt even approach an excuse” .
Malcolm Beveridge – “thinnings contractor” from Orbost, submitted a character reference letter from Frank Black from the Daishowa chipmill. His neighbor testified that the boys were worried about their father and that his wife had been hospitalized for “stress” since the incident.
Judge Ross asked one of the character witnesses if his friend had expressed remorse for his actions and his victims, or just remorse for getting caught. He couldnt answer.
“Vigilante enterprises must be suppressed … (they) are simply not tolerated by this community”
At the sentencing on 23 May, Judge Ross addressed all 10 loggers and told them he “entertains no doubt” that their common purpose was to “take the law into their own hands [and] deal with these environmentalists in a violent way”. He said contemplating the incident conjured up a “most disturbing image”. He described the “disturbing psychological responses” of the victims as both “regrettable and entirely understandable” and the incident as “an attack on the good order and discipline of the community,”. He told the men the sentence was meant to “roundly denounce (their) conduct.”
The 10 pillars of the Orbost community were sentenced to four months in jail, with conviction suspended for one year pending good behaviour. It is worth noting that two women who locked onto a log truck for a couple of hours the same month were given one and two year good behavior bonds.