Tasmanian Conservation Trust is 50!!!

In 1968 the world saw a global wave of environmentalism. The Tasmanian Conservation Trust was on the cusp of that wave and has been a mainstay on our island in holding back the exploitation which has engulfed the planet ever since.

Typical of its pioneering role, it was to the Trust, in 1970, that Olgas Truchanas took details of pollution in the then-undammed Pieman River, as a century of unregulated mining despoilation was coming to a timely end.

Yet, the Trust is needed now more than ever. It is hard to believe that a democratically-elected state government in modern Tasmania, with our international reputation for a ‘clean, green, clever’ lifestyle, could be so anti-environment in 2018. But it is. And the Trust - always small, always strapped for funds, fighting above its weight - is embroiled in campaigning to reverse new state planning laws which will mean, for example, that a $100 million Chinese retirement village, complete with crematorium, on an historic East Coast property, can proceed as if all previous planning rules are null and void.

Working with Sophie Underwood’s feisty new group Planning Matters, the Trust is tackling a suite of issues from inappropriate and unpopular high-rise buildings in downtown Hobart and Launceston to the proposed hotel overtaking scenic Rosny Hill and, across the Derwent River, the hated cable car project planned to dominate the Organ Pipes and top of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.

I often look at another of Tasmania’s towering dolerite peaks and thank the universe for the Tasmanian Conservation Trust. I am talking about taytitikitheeker/Drys Bluff in the Great Western Tiers which dominates the picturesque Liffey Valley. In 1978, when the Trust was just ten, a logger told me the company he worked for was coming to cable-log the forest on the northern face of the bluff. I had bought the little cottage beside the Liffey River, below this north face of the bluff, four years earlier. So I got on my bike, literally, and peddled into Launceston to the only aid I could think of: the Trust.

Soon after arriving in Launceston as a locum in a general practice at suburban Mowbray Heights, I had met Neville Gray, Peter Fleming, Chris King and other members of the northern branch of the Trust. Throw in eco-forester Paul Smith (with whom I had just rafted down the Franklin River) and, to cut a long story short, the Drys Bluff Forest Reserve was declared in 1982. So, the forest was saved. Forty years later that reserved forest hosts walkers going up more than 1000 metres via Deans Track to the top of Drys Bluff. Instead of being clearfelled, the forested mountain face now forms the scenic northeast pillar of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Thanks to the Tasmanian Conservation Trust.

Of course, there is always a downside! While I was with hundreds of others in Risdon Gaol in 1982-3 during the campaign which saved the Franklin River, Neville Gray, along with Greens’ founder Dick Jones, talked me into taking the seat of Denison in the Tasmanian parliament. It turned out that the parliament was much more hostile than the gaol. It also turned out that the Trust’s redoubtable Peg Putt would take the seat (and later become Greens leader) when I bailed out 10 years later. The height of the Franklin campaign also saw leading campaigner Emma Gunn working with the Trust.

And here is a problem: how does anyone pay fair tribute to all the officers, board members, volunteers, supporters, donors and doers of half a century of the Trust’s magnificent contribution to Tasmania? I certainly can’t. How about, for example, the Trust’s monumental study and call for protection for the Tarkine - way back in 1992 - by Dave Harries? That remains a bedrock document for the campaign which is now national, moving towards World Heritage protection for the Tarkine, 26 years later.

What about the Trust’s (and Christian Bell’s) seminal work in establishing Tasmania’s limited but vital marine national parks? Then there’s Narawntapu National Park. The Tamar Islands Wetlands Reserve. kunanyi/Mt Wellington Park. And the Trust’s crucial legal challenge to Gunns’ proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.

Which brings us back to 2018. Let’s raise a glass to the Tasmanian Conservation Trust’s half century of sterling work for Tasmania’s urban, rural and wild (including marine) environments.

This anniversary is cause for celebrating all those times we’ve feared environmental atrocities but the Tasmanian Conservation Trust has come willing to the rescue; and for considering how best to dig deep to support its work protecting our island’s vulnerable environment in the half century yet to come.

Article by Dr Bob Brown

Photo courtesy of Paul Thomas