Visiting the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Fight to Save the Franklin

Visit to Tasmanian Wilderness abord Gordon River Cruise

As the Harbourmaster slipped along the mist-cloaked Gordon River, dense forest spilling into the tannin stained water, I silently cheered the 2000 protestors who staged the blockade on this river in the early 80's. They arrived in Strahan on the West Coast of Tasmania from all over Australia and the world to learn the basics of non-violent protest, before being motored up the river, arrested, and put back on a bus that night to Hobart's Risdon Prison. Among those to spend time in prison were Bob Brown, British botanist David Bellamy, and now best selling Teenage Fiction author John Marsden! Their actions and the publicity generated by The Wilderness Society's campaigners galvanised our nation and stopped the Gordon-below-Franklin dam.

The fight to save the Franklin remains one of the most significant civil disobedience campaigns in Australian history and our planet is more fortunate for it. Today, the Franklin and Gordon Wild Rivers are part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, one of the last true wilderness regions on Earth, encompassing a greater range of natural and cultural values than any other World Heritage region. I recently took my teenage daughters to Strahan and the Gordon River to share with them the story of this battle that ignited the environmental movement as a political force in Australia, and perhaps even more importantly, left the Australian people with a sense that their voice and their vote can change their destiny.

World Heritage Cruises, Gordon River

Biome Founder, Tracey Bailey, on the Gordon River

Tasmanian Wilderness

Magnificent Tasmanian Wilderness
It's an exciting and empowering story! The five year campaign brought “greenie” issues into the lounge rooms of average Australians, saw tens of thousands of people turn out for protest rallies, write 'NO DAMS' on their ballot papers or put the iconic sticker on their car; and, ultimately, influenced the outcome of the 1983 federal election, and changed the constitutional powers of the Australian Federal Government over the States. I was around 15 at the time and even though we lived in north Queensland with just limited news via the ABC TV, the campaign made it into my psyche. Peter Dombrovski's famous photo of a section of the Franklin that was to be submerged, Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, helped save the river. The Wilderness Society placed full page colour ads in the national newspapers with the photo captioned: “Could you vote for a party that would destroy this?”
On 5 March 1983, the Australian Labor Party won the federal election with a large swing as Bob Hawke had vowed to stop the dam from being constructed. However, in Tasmania, the vote went against the national trend. Hawke's government passed legislation that prohibited Franklin River dam-related clearing, but the Tasmanian government ignored this. The issue was brought before the High Court and, thanks to the area being newly listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Register, the High Court found by a majority of four votes to three that the Commonwealth Government had the power to stop the dam.
There is still debate about the loss of a clean-energy hydro scheme, but there is no doubt that in terms of employment and contribution to the Tasmanian economy, the retention of the wilderness is far greater than a hydro operation employing far less people. The town of Strahan now attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year, like us, to cruise the Gordon River and to experience the World Heritage wilderness—including about 1000 who each year brave rapids and icy waters to raft down the Franklin.
We were also able to stop by a crossing of the Franklin on the road between Strahan and Queenstown. The Tasmanian Dam Case is still considered the most influential environmental law case in Australian history, and was also a landmark in Australian constitutional law. The same power was subsequently used to protect the Daintree rainforests and Tasmania's Lemonthyme forests. In 1984, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society became The Wilderness Society and took on national wilderness conservation issues, including Kakadu and the Daintree rainforests. Bob Brown went on to form the Tasmanian Greens and later the Australian Greens political party.
Whether you're willing to chain yourself to a tree, put a bumper sticker on your car, or send an email to your local Member for Parliament, the fight that stopped the flooding of the Franklin shows us that the collective voice of individuals can change our world. The Biome team believes in this power wielded by your consumer choices, and why we stand up every day for the most responsible choices for the welfare of people, animals and our planet. I hope you can visit the Tasmanian wilderness, and when you do please stop by the Strahan Visitor Centre (behind the stage of “The Ship That Never Was” play) where you will find a thoroughly engaging interpretative display of the region's many histories from Aboriginal to convicts, mining and logging, and the Franklin Dam campaign. It has something for children of all ages.
“One way we blind ourselves to the riches of the south west is imposing a single vision upon the land. It is arrogance to presume that one way of looking at this area is better than another. Whatever personal vision we have of the area, we ought be humble about it. … It is for you to decide how you will relate to this land, and the one you come from, in the future. You may ruin, it, respect it, or simply revel in its unfolding mysteries. At the end of the day, it is not a story about nature versus a story about people. It is whether we can learn from the past to ensure that we, and all the different species that make up this earth, have a future.” -- Strahan Visitor Centre display
Hells Gates, Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania
Hells Gates, Macquarie Harbour, West Coast of Tasmania



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