The case against Tasmania’s hydro-electricity dam.

Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1

An old map of Tasmania. This shows the Crown land available for the Government of Tasmania to plan a hydro electricity scheme in 1983. It is from the Ampol Touring Atlas 1968 courtesy of my dear Uncle – Frank Work (deceased).



This modern map shows the result of the Tasmanian Dam Case. Note the Wild Rivers National Park.

‘The South West Book – A Tasmanian Wilderness is a book published by the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1978 during concern following the damming of Lake Pedder in Tasmania. It was edited by Helen Gee and Janet Fenton with assistance from Greg Hodge and Artwork directed by Chris Cowles. Of 308 pages, it was the most comprehensive book concerned with a region from all aspects of its kind in Australian publishing at that time. With over 40 authors of 50 sections as well as chronology of events and bibliography the book covered industrial issues, conservation issues, as well as the development of the bureaucratic and political status of what eventually became the South West Tasmania World Heritage area.’

Here is a part of the forward contained in that book. Lets realise that in 1983 there was no internet, cable TV, polls, blogs or online newspapers. Basic news came from limited media and the ABC. People were generally conservative in nature when it came to such things as referendums and changing our constitution. To find a book such as this on someone’s coffee table generally indicated what type of person they were…..

Towards the end of last century, some keen bushwalkers discovered the South-West, the challenge of its arduous tracks through wonderful scenery and true wilderness. Chapters in this book describe all these things with understanding and sensitivity. More technical sections on the natural environment of the region, its geology, climate and climatic changes, its fauna and flora, its fishes and insects, will interest both naturalists and laymen. But it is the final chapters on man’s use of the South-West which aroused my keenest interest, for therein lies the key to its preservation.

The case against extension of forestry is put forcibly by experts. The area has considerable further hydro-electric potential, but it is shown that this is fatal to wilderness. Mining and quarrying could result in similar damage. But one of the greatest dangers is tourism. It is possible for preservation of great beauty to exist with highly developed public access, as in Yosemite National Park in California. However, roadways for cars and buses, motels, ski-lodges, and ski-lifts, and large-scale organised bushwalking, are not compatible with biological wilderness.

It is clear that no action should be taken which would prejudice the wilderness character of South-West Tasmania. This means that strong and courageous political decisions are needed now to establish the wilderness areas, and to ensure that there is no flouting the law. The State would have to forego the economic returns which could result from development, but the region is national, rather than a purely State, responsibility, so that all Australians should contribute through the Federal Government, to the expenses associated with every aspect of its preservation.

I am confident that this book will help greatly to promote that understanding of our heritage which will result in the conservation measures necessary for the South-West to remain an area of wilderness.’

~ Sir Mark Oliphant
Past President
Australian Conservation Foundation

Note: Peter Garrett went on to become a President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. This became the catalyst for his entry into politics.

Lets Save a Wilderness in South West Tasmania!

by Peter F. Hughes – January 1981

I was a young man who had been to uni. I was always camping by the beach in National Parks surfing. Someone said they wanted to build another Hydro Electricity Dam in Tasmania, so what? I read somewhere that it was beautiful country and if they built a dam it would never be the same again. The offshore oil drilling rig I was working on went to the coast near Wynyard, in Tasmania, to drill a well. We flew over the coast and it was beautiful. I knew what they were talking about when they said wilderness.

A tall articulate doctor called Brown became the face of the movement. People were getting arrested in Tassie and Brown was on the TV a lot. My mates in the bush said he was ‘gay’. I needed to form my own opinion. Who has the right to desecrate nature for greed?

I started seeing these green stickers on the backs of cars at the surfing spots I frequented. It spelt a simple message and surfers had taken up the charge. What was my opinion? I saw more stickers on vehicles the closer I got to the metropolitan area of Melbourne. People were now calling them ‘Greenies’!

I put a ‘No Dams’ sticker on the back of my Kombi. One night I parked outside a nightclub in South Yarra, Melbourne. We left the nightclub late to head home. Someone had taken the sticker off the campervan with a knife and it wasn’t done neatly. I realised that in 1983, Australia was now divided about conservation. I got another sticker and said ‘No’.

Deakin University, Geelong

Deakin 1977

The following lyrics come from the book – Shane Howard ‘Lyrics’ 2010 published by One Day Hill Pty Ltd. The band performing the song in the clip was called ‘The Black Arm Band’ and consisted of members of the Goanna Band and another group called Redgum. I imagine it was written by Shane on a scrap of paper on a pub counter in Hobart. Many people, including myself, believed the Lower Franklin and Gordon River dam was certain to be built. The High Court of Australia in interpreting the Constitution found otherwise.


Les Hiddens shows us the South West

I hope students find the time to watch this episode from the Bush Tucker Man, Les Hiddens. This story of early Australian history was filmed entirely in the area that was to be flooded by the proposed dam. It includes footage of indigenous artifacts and caves that have since been recognised as part of the heritage listing.

Melbourne Law School Blog

Includes an audio interview with a High Court Judge



No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9 other subscribers

Blog Stats

  • 24,938 hits

Top Clicks at Hughes Legal

  • None


  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
%d bloggers like this: