Water f ight
ONE OF THE country’s most notable environmental battles began in 1978, when Tassie’s Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) proposed damming the middle section of Tasmania’s Gordon River, which would have impacted the flow of the Franklin. The dam was to support a 180-megawatt hydro-electric power scheme and create jobs on Tasmania’s west coast. Earlier that decade, Tasmanian conservationists had been heartbroken when they unsuccessfully campaigned against the damming of the Serpentine and Huon rivers, which controversially flooded the ancient Lake Pedder. When the Franklin, one of Australia’s last great wild rivers, seemed at risk, they rapidly swung into action and a protracted battle began. Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and Southwest NP had been successfully nominated for World Heritage listing. But in 1982, a newly elected Liberal state government attempted to remove parts of the Franklin River from the Wild Rivers NP, to allow the proposal for a dam on the Gordon to proceed. This initiated the largest acts of mass civil disobedience seen in Australia – the Franklin River Blockade, designed to disrupt building and clearing for the proposed dam. Led by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, which later formed itself into the Greens political party, it began on 14 December 1982, and ran through that summer, resulting in the arrests of more than 1200 people. The Tasmanian government was offered huge amounts of money by the then Liberal federal government to move the dam site outside the World Heritage area. This was, however, rejected, as was a similar offer from the Hawke Labor government when it came to power. Finally, in 1983 the Hawke government passed regulations forbidding any HEC works within the boundaries of the World Heritage area. A High Court challenge to this was defeated on 1 July 1983, and the Franklin River was saved forever.
Protesters fighting to save this wild river’s future captured the public’s attention and turned it into a federal election issue.