3. Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River: Peter Dombrovskis 1979

Section
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
Chapter
1.8 Photographs
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1.8.3

You are not so much welcomed into Peter Dombrovskis’ famous photograph of Rock Island Bend on the Franklin River in Tasmania, as drawn in, perhaps in thrall, by its mystery. It is dark, and you are deep within a prehistoric gorge with mist, wet green vegetation and glistening black rocks. The sinuous river pulls at you and you feel as if you are entering another world; a world not just of ancient Tasmanian Nature, but also of Aboriginal and European myth, of Black Forests and trolls and fairytales. The half-light is dreamlike and the luminescence beyond the island has a magical hint.

It seems as if such wild beauty could be glimpsed only in a trance, could no longer be seen on earth, but this was the power of the image and the conservation campaign that used it so skilfully to stop the damming of the Gordon River, and subsequent flooding of part of the Franklin River, in south-west Tasmania.

I know of no other image that was so important in the achievement of conservation success than this one, though readers may know of others. The Hydro Electric Commission of Tasmania wanted to dam the Gordon River near its meeting with the Franklin River in the wilderness of SW Tasmania, and this was opposed by many, especially as it followed the drowning of the magical Lake Pedder some years before, for similar reasons.

(https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=images+Lake+Pedder&form=HDRSC2&first=1&tsc=ImageBasicHover; also, Section 9.3).     

This was, and still is, Australia’s most famous conservation controversy. The Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundation and others developed the poster at right, using Peter Dombrovskis’ wonderful photograph, and circulated it across the country in the daily newspapers before the 1983 Australian election. While, of course, the saving of the Franklin was the result of hundreds of actions, including blockades, this image united Australians against the destruction of Nature and contributed to the election of a Labor Government that had pledged to save the Franklin. A detailed account of the issue and campaign can be read here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Dam_controversy

It speaks volumes for the power of this image that it ‘spoke’ to millions of Australians, most of whom knew nothing of the Franklin River beforehand and would never be lucky enough to visit its wild depths. I think that what happened here was, at least in part, what Albert Tucker had hoped for (see Paintings 1.7.6): a reworking of, an expression of, the myths of the ancient world through Australian Nature. And it would be energising and invigorating of a new culture. I am not sure what he thought of the Franklin Dam controversy, but although it was the highpoint of environmental concern in Australia in the last 250 years, it, sadly, did not develop: quite the opposite. It heralded the beginning of neoliberalism and economic rationalism in Australia which swept such insights aside in favour of the myths of growth, materialism and individualism.  Their control of the modern Australian psyche is such that I don’t think an image like Dombrovskis’ spectacular ‘Rock Island Bend’ would be nearly as successful today.

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1.8.3. Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River

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1.8.8. The Dam-Climbing Ibex

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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