The future of the Tasmanian wilderness could have been very different had it not been for a bitter battle waged by environmentalists in the 1980s. In 1972 the flooding of Lake Pedder led to the formation of the Wilderness Society, which began a relentless campaign against the next target on the Hydro Electricity Commission’s (HEC) agenda – a huge dam on the Lower Gordon River. It had state government backing despite the catastrophic effect on Tasmania’s last wild river, the Franklin. In a blocking manoeuvre the whole southwest area was proposed for the World Heritage List. It was officially accredited on the same day that the Wilderness Society’s Franklin Blockade began – December 14, 1982. The Tasmanian government had chosen to ignore the UNESCO accreditation.

For two months, protestors from all over Australia took to inflatable dinghies, paddling upriver from Strahan to stand in front of bulldozers in nonviolent protest. The blockade became a cause célèbre in Sydney and Melbourne and attracted international attention – British botanist David Bellamy was among the twelve hundred or so arrested for trespassing. During the course of the campaign, a new federal government was voted in, and in March 1983, following a trailblazing High Court ruling, it over ruled the state’s backing for the HEC plans. Although the blockade itself had failed to stop preparatory work on the dam, it had changed the opinion of many Australians forever and enshrined the value of Tasmanian wilderness at state and national levels.

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