About this record
This colour photograph, taken on 17 December 1982, shows a protest against a decision by the Tasmanian Government to dam the Franklin River to generate hydro-electricity. The protest was coordinated by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS). About 20 people are gathered on a road running through the forest at Mount McCall in south-western Tasmania. Some people are holding banners, one of which reads ‘No dams‘ and another person is supporting a large Australian flag on a pole. The group appears well-equipped with sleeping mats and backpacks.
- This photograph captures a pivotal moment: the blocking of an access road to the Franklin dam construction site. The blockade was a non-violent but highly visible part of the campaign against the Tasmanian Government‘s decision to dam a river in south-west Tasmania. Conservationists—fiercely opposed to the dam because it would have flooded an area of great natural beauty, ecological significance and Indigenous heritage—were prepared to take dramatic action.
- The protesters pictured in this photograph were determined to show the strength of their opposition to the dam, to the point of being arrested. Over 50 were taken into custody in the area that day, charged with trespassing and obstruction. They were taken to prison if they refused to accept bail conditions forbidding them to return to the blockade. Over 1,000 were arrested eventually, including well-known people such as Bob Brown and the English botanist and television presenter David Bellamy.
- This photo was taken on 17 December 1982, only days after this area was added to the United Nations World Heritage List. This listing eventually saved the river, after the High Court upheld federal government regulations designed to stop work on the dam. The 1983 court ruling found that the World Heritage listing had given the federal government an obligation under an international treaty to protect the site, which allowed it to override the state government’s wishes.
- This blockade was part of a campaign that became a landmark event in civil action, promoting the rise of the Australian conservation movement and setting an example for future environmental campaigns in Australia. More than 2,000 people eventually joined the blockade or were support workers, with an average of 50 a day arriving to help in January 1983. For many, it was their first involvement in direct civic action for the environment.
- The protesters depicted were opposed by the powerful Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) and by many Tasmanian workers. Supported by both Labor and Liberal party state premiers, the HEC argued that the dam was needed to meet future power demand and to maintain jobs. The protesters were subjected to counter-protests and retaliation from their opponents in the divided community.
- The protesters displayed the ‘No Dams’ slogan and signs, indicating that they were part of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society’s ‘Save the Franklin’ campaign, which coordinated widespread public opposition to the dam scheme. The society showed films and pictures of the area at public meetings across Australia to gather support. They had such success that one-third of voters wrote the slogan ‘No Dams’ across their ballot papers in the 1981 Tasmanian state referendum on the issue, as it was not one of the options offered.
- The Franklin Dam issue played a part in the landslide change of government in the federal election in March 1983. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Bob Hawke took an anti-Franklin Dam stance, and the TWS ran a national ‘Vote for the Franklin’ campaign urging voters to support ALP candidates in marginal House of Representatives seats. One of the Hawke government’s first actions was to pass regulations prohibiting the dam.
Learning resource text © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Archives of Australia 2010.