Australian Screen

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The Franklin Wild River (1980)

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clip Australian wilderness education content clip 3

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Bob Brown paddles along the tranquil final stretches of the Franklin River. This is as it must have looked even before the first Europeans arrived in Tasmania.

Curator’s notes

Elegantly shot conclusion to the film, and a neat final summation from Bob Brown about nature and progress.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows part of the journey that Bob Brown and forester Paul Smith made when they paddled the Franklin River in inflatable rafts in 1976. The clip includes images of the surrounding Franklin–Gordon Wild Rivers National Park wilderness in south-west Tasmania. Bob Brown’s narration gives a personal account of the River. He outlines what he believes characterises wilderness and describes the Franklin River as a place with these qualities. He expresses his frustration and indignation at the damming of Lake Pedder and reflects on human progress and development.

Educational value points

  • The Franklin River is one of the last wild, unchanged rivers in the world. Located in the Franklin–Gordon Wild Rivers National Park in south-west Tasmania, the River extends 110 km through uninhabited wilderness, meeting with the Lower Gordon River, which flows into Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania. The Franklin and Gordon rivers were listed as part of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area in 1982.
  • The Franklin River became internationally renowned during a historic campaign between 1978 and 1983 to conserve it that was supported by a number of well-known identities such as Prince Charles, David Bellamy and Spike Milligan.
  • Depictions of the Franklin River and surrounding wilderness were used successfully in the conservation campaign to save the River from being dammed by the Hydro-Electric Commission of Tasmania. The famous photograph of Rock Island Bend, taken by Peter Dombrovskis, Tasmania’s most prominent wilderness photographer, was used by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society in an advertising campaign that attracted national and international support.
  • The conservation campaign was the largest in Australian history. The Tasmanian Liberal government, led by Robin Gray, supported the proposal to dam the Franklin River as part of the hydro-electric power scheme. The campaign to stop the dam lasted more than 5 years from the announcement of the dam proposal in 1978 to 1983, when a ruling of the High Court of Australia eventually stopped the development. A number of other rivers had already been dammed as part of the scheme including the Huon, Serpentine and the Upper Gordon Rivers, which led to the flooding of Lake Pedder.
  • The clip presents a widely supported view that the damming of Lake Pedder was environmentally unsound. The original lake was a unique ecosystem and the only habitat of the Galaxias pedderensis, a fish not found anywhere else in the world. Before it was damned, Lake Pedder featured a distinctive pink quartzite beach 1 km wide and 3 km long. Despite widespread opposition, the Lake was flooded in 1972 and is now part of the largest water storage catchment in Australia. Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder combined have a surface area of 514 sq km and a total volume of 15.2 cubic km. There has been debate over whether Lake Pedder should be drained in an attempt to restore the unique ecosystem that once existed.
  • Bob Brown, arguably Australia’s most important environmentalist, is featured. When Lake Pedder was dammed, Brown became determined not to allow the same fate to befall the Franklin River. He became a founding member of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, which played a pivotal role in the success of the Franklin River conservation campaign. Although trained as a doctor, Brown has spent most of his career as a political activist. He is also a long-standing member of the Greens Party, one of the first internationally networked political parties. There are now Greens parties on every continent. Brown was elected to the Australian Senate in 1996 and again in 2001. In December 2005, Brown was elected as leader of the Australian Greens.

This clip starts approximately 39 minutes into the documentary.

Bob Brown and forester Paul Smith made paddle down the Franklin River in inflatable rafts in 1976.

Bob A wilderness is a place not marked by the hand of modern man. A place that’s free of houses and cars, and urbanisation, and industry and agriculture. And the Franklin is one of those very rare places left on the Earth which fulfils that criterion. It runs as it has run for thousands of years and it is essentially in the same state as it was when white man or, for that matter, black man first came to the Tasmanian shore. When I look at the recent destruction of Lake Pedder, I feel frustrated and indignant that that happened. It seems that we are just incapable of doing that bit better, of creating a better world. It seems that we’ve got the technological know-how and ability but we haven’t kept up socially and in a spiritual sense.

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