Touching the Franklin

, originally uploaded by mxccuba.

How could we not pay our respects to the Franklin. It has been considered the last wild river and is synonymous with one of, if not the largest Australian conservation battles (and part of a broader context for the subtle political undertones in the exhibition).

After the loss of the Lake Pedder campaign, the Tasmanian government decided to proceed with a Hydro-Electric Commission plan to dam the Gordon-above-Olga in preference to the Gordon-below-Franklin. In the first Australian referendum without a ‘no’ option, a third of voters responded with electoral defiance by writing ‘No Dams’ across their ballot papers. Although less than half the voters supported the Franklin dam, the government somehow managed to proclaim the outcome as an endorsement.

The dam would have obliterated the pristine landscape, flooded the river and swallowed caves occupied during the Last Glacial Maximum. Including the Kutikina Cave, where Rhys Jones and Kevin Kiernan had excavated stone artefacts and bone fragments. Part of the world’s cultural heritage, radiocarbon dates indicate it was the southernmost limit of the last Ice Age settlement.

Conservationists launched targeted guerilla blockades to save the Franklin, which assisted by Dombrovski’s photograph of the Rock Island Bend, attracted intense media coverage and galvanised Australia. As the campaign gained momentum, damming the Franklin became a national election issue. During the dispute, the area was World Heritage listed; Dr Bob Brown, then Director of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, was named by the Australian newspaper Australian of the Year, because while his activities provoked strong opposition, they should also attract admiration; and became a member of State Parliament. Upon election, the then Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke announced that the dam would not proceed. The Tasmanian government took the matter to the High Court. In a landmark decision, the High Court ruled in favour of the federal government and the Franklin dam was stopped.

Of course Damian had been keen to embark on the lengthy (5 days into an overall 9) and arduous canoe-journey to the photograph – Rock Island Bend; while my argument was: there wasn’t time and people die in the middle of nowhere, including Dombrovski himself. This was later bolstered by Pippa’s remark re crapping in the communal box that’s carted throughout. Thankfully time really didn’t permit and we settled for driving the Wild Way, taking some brief walks along the way, touching the Franklin and paying our much-elated respects, before staying at Strahan – base camp for the blockade back in the day.

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