They smashed [the rear window] and I cut my hand getting out
FOREST activists say they feared for their lives after a violent attack by Tasmanian loggers led to one man wielding a sledge-hammer and others kicking in a protest car.
Police are investigating Tuesday's attack, which was caught on a video that shows a sledgehammer-wielding man assaulting a disabled blockade car, with two protesters caught inside, before others kicked in its windows.
The two protesters, Nishant Datt, 22, and Miranda Gibson, 27, said they tried to escape from the car as quickly as they could after the attack began. "I was pretty sure that if we'd stayed in there, he would have started going at us with the sledgehammer as well," said Mr Datt, formerly of Sydney.
He said he was thrown to the ground and kicked as he scrambled out of the car, and Ms Gibson, from Brisbane, said she cut her hand escaping through a broken rear window.
The two are part of a small group of protesters who on Saturday will celebrate their second year trying to halt logging of old-growth forests in the Upper Florentine valley, about 120 kilometres west of Hobart.
The rainforest valley is surrounded on three sides by the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has identified the Upper Florentine as having potential World Heritage value.
Ula Majewski, a spokeswoman for the group Still Wild, Still Threatened, said attempts to save the forest were reaching a critical point, with plans to drive a 10-kilometre logging road into the valley this summer.
"That would open the entire area up for logging," Ms Majewski said.
Ms Gibson said that before the attack an officer from Forestry Tasmania, the state agency that controls the valley, told them he could not hold back the logging contractors, and said they had three seconds to get out of the car.
"We said, 'We're getting out of the car' and I just managed to get out of the back. They smashed [the rear window] and I cut my hand getting out," she said. "It was pretty scary."
She said the protests would continue. "We just hope the contractors won't be violent, and that Forestry will be present, doing something to stop this kind of thing. We were pretty disappointed that the Forestry officer just stood by and let it happen."
Forestry Tasmania's acting general manager of operations, Steve Whiteley, said a staff member at the protest gave a categorical assurance that he did not witness any confrontation and did not receive any complaint.
Tasmania Police Inspector Glen Woolley said an investigation into the incident was under way. Evidence had been taken from the site, the video, and statements from the two protesters. He said police would be interviewing the contractors.
"We respect the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and to work lawfully," Inspector Woolley said. "We don't tolerate heavy handedness and we won't tolerate people being assaulted."
A Greens senator, Christine Milne, said the culture of violence against conservationists in Tasmania had to end.
"For all Premier [David] Bartlett's rhetoric of a kind and clever Tasmania, what is on global show is thuggery and wilful ignorance." See Video