|Title:||Protesters at Franklin Dam site|
|Keywords:||active citizenship, activism, activists, conservation, environmental attitudes, environmental preservation, environmental stewardship, environmentalism, natural heritage, protests, dams, Franklin River, Gordon-below-Franklin dam, Bob Hawke|
|Record creator:||Australian Overseas Information Service, Canberra|
This colour photograph, taken on 17 December 1982, shows a protest coordinated by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS) against a decision by the Tasmanian Government to dam the Franklin River. About 20 people are gathered on an unmade road 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 for hydro-electricity. 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 where some were 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 any return to the blockade. Over 1,000 were arrested eventually, including well-known people such as Bob Brown and David Bellamy.
This photo was taken on 17 December 1982, only days after this area was added to the World Heritage List of the United Nations. This inclusion eventually saved the river, after federal government regulations stopping work on the dam were upheld by a High Court ruling in 1983. The court found that the World Heritage listing had given the federal government an obligation under an international treaty to protect the site, which could override the state government's wishes.
This protestors' 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 protestors depicted were in direct opposition to the powerful Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) and 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 protestors were subjected to counter-protest and retaliation from their opponents in the divided community.
The protestors displayed the 'No Dams' slogan and signs, indicating that they were part of the TWS'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 referendum on the issue, as it was not one of the options offered.
The Franklin dam issue played a part in the landslide changeover of the Australian federal government 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.
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