This article by Bob appeared in Wild Magazine issue 155 (Sep/Oct 2016)
The world's biggest oil rig is now complete in South Korea and waiting to be positioned by BP smack in the middle of the Great Australian Bight in October. This huge boat - 100 metres by 75 and many stories high, with 100 people aboard - is not liable to be turned back by the Turnbull government.
The Great Australian Bight extends from the southern seaboard of Western Australia to South West Cape in Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area and includes the Eyre Peninsula, Adelaide's beaches, Kangaroo and King Islands as well as the Tarkine Coast in northwest Tasmania. Yet perhaps the Bight's best-known land and seascape is the 60 metres high cliffs where the sere Nullarbor Plain falls off into the sea.
The Bight has a myriad of rare, endangered and unknown creatures from zooplankton to the mightiest animals ever to move on Earth, Blue whales. Next only to the Blue whales in size are the Southern Right whales which come to the Bight, from their summer feeding grounds off Antarctica, to calve. Humpbacks also calve near the Head of the Bight and there are many colonies of seals on this coastline including Australian sea lions which are not safe from extinction.
BP now adds this major new threat. Its oil rig follows up on the seismic (explosive) testing carried out in recent times in the search for oil and gas.
BP lost control of just such a rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Following that explosion, fire and huge oil spill which is an ongoing disaster for the Gulf's ecosystem the attempted clean-up has, so far, cost $56 billion.
In the Great Australian Bight, BP's rig will send a drill down through 2000 metres of water and some 3000 metres of the seabed below in the Marine National Park. I asked an expert how BP will anchor in such a remote wild tract of deep ocean. It can't. He presumes they will have a system of motors constantly keeping the rig in place. "What," I asked,"if a one-in-one-thousand-years storm hits the rig?" My expert had no good answer.
Perhaps that is why the National Oil and Petroleum Environmental Management Authority has twice turned down BP's application to put its drill in place. NOPSEMA's reasons have been kept secret but BP's third attempt at reassuring the agency is now under assessment and, given limitless chances, BP should succeed.
All Australians need to know what is at stake here. The Wilderness Society's South Australian campaigner Peter Owen has maps showing where a Gulf-like oil spill would go: it would wash ashore right round the Bight as well as along the Bass Strait coasts of both Victoria and Tasmania.
Sea Shepherd Australia is ending its ship 'Steve Irwin' to tour the Bight this month and I will be aboard. Our foundation is also aboard the Great Australian Bight Alliance of groups joining up to campaign for the Bight. Please join too.
Ps. The climbers are back from Federation Peak (last WILD) having succeeded in climbing the 700m northwest blade in mid-winter. Watch out for the film!
From Bob Brown.
Phillip Toyne piloted the Landcare revolution with its enormous environmental, employment and economic benefits for rural and regional Australia. Landcare has drawn world-wide plaudits.
He combined an ardent advocacy for Aboriginal custody of the land with an historic new engagement with government - in particular the Hawke Government - for breakthroughs like the hand-back of Uluru to its Traditional Owners, the World Heritage listing and protection of Queensland's Wet Tropical (Daintree) Rainforests, and the enlargement of both the Kakadu and Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Areas.
His presidency of the board of Bush Heritage Australia saw it grow into one of the world's top private land conservation organisations, protecting vital wildlife habitats right across the continent.
Phillip Toyne has left our nation, and our planet, greener and better equipped, both socially and politically, to face the very great environmental challenges which lie ahead.
I have a particularly fond recollection of leaning against the blade of a bulldozer and talking tactics with Phillip in Tasmania's misty Lemonthyme Forest, near Cradle Mountain, in the 1980s.That forest is now an important part of the Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park.
Phillip Toyne was a magnificent Australian.
The Alhambra (Red Fortress) dates from the tenth century but was primarily built by the Moorish (Muslim) sultans between 1237 and 1391.
Its hilltop grandeur echoes Tibet's Potala (Dalai Lama's) Palace which was constructed in similar times. The Alhambra was proclaimed World Heritage in 1984, 2 years after the Tasmanian Wilderness's listing. One of the world's great buildings, not least for its beautiful tiled palaces, tours are booked out months ahead unless you care to queue at 6am for the 400 on-spec tickets available each day.
The huge Sixteenth Century palace of King Carlos V (not visible here) is an add-on: the fortress was surrendered to the Catholic monarchs in 1492, the year Columbus crossed the Atlantic. The infamously cruel and perverted Spanish Inquisition was to follow on both sides of the ocean.
But springtime in the valley makes this scene from the city of Granada, below the Alhambra, seem as if humanity and nature are an inevitably sublime duo. And the openness and friendliness - not to speak of the paella and beer - of modern Spain, where equal marriage is law, is indeed sublime.
Wish you were here,
Bob and Paul.
Originally published in WILD magazine
Campbell Phillips' thoughtful editorial in WILD 145 should have stimulated many debates about whether or not humanity will save the planet from itself. Or will we simply consume our way to the inevitable depletion of resources (including wilderness and biodiversity) and societal collapse which, in previous history, has occurred on a regional scale but this time will be global.
We will either gain a world-wide consensus for self-preservation through democracy or thrash out the scramble for more water, food and shelter as Earth's population tops 10 billions later this century, using guns and whatever other weaponry is available. No victors in the latter option will be left feeling good.
Local and global democracy is the way forward. As Winston Churchill put it in 1947, democracy may be full of faults but it is better than all the other tried options. The problem for planetary environmental survival is not with leaders but with voters - that is, us all. For example, in September 2012, fourteen million of Australia's 15 million voters backed candidates whose platforms included building six mega coal ports inside the Great Barrier Reef.
Quentin Beresford's 'Rise and Fall' should be kept on the kitchen sideboard. Here, in 400 pages, is the best reply to the next visitor who asks why Tasmania's fortunes have been so blighted.
The book is a history of big egos and arrogance overrunning respect for democracy and public wellbeing in Tasmania. In 1972, for example, Premier 'Electric' Eric Reece arrogantly flooded Lake Pedder ("there was a national park out there but I can't remember exactly where it was") but the book focuses on Gunns supremo John Gay's bid for a huge pulp mill in the Tamar Valley in 2003-10.
When Gay was asked on national television about his logging regime poisoning protected wildlife he famously replied "Well, there's too many of them...". The program was a PR disaster for Gay and for Tasmania but the 'combative, authoritarian and arrogant' entrepreneur was determined to build his mill regardless of public opinion.Read more
Mount Wellington dominates Hobart and is a binding place of interest for the southern capital's 215,000 people. Whether it is a fresh mantle of snow, the orange glow of bushfire smoke clouds over the summit at sunset, or a full moon setting behind its lofty spine, Wellington fascinates the populace below and draws more visitors than Port Arthur or Cradle Mountain.Read more
It is a matter of time before Lake Pedder, the discarded jewel in Tasmania's western wilderness, makes a celebrated comeback.
Nestling 300m high between the Frankland Range and the Coronets peaks west of Maydena, the lake was formed as the last Ice Age receded.
It was two kilometres square with a glorious pale-pink sandy beach 500m wide along its eastern margin.
Such was its beauty and magnetic attraction that Lake Pedder became a mecca for bushwalkers and campers from all over Australia.
Carnarvon Gorge is the centrepiece of one of Queensland's most spectacular national parks. As the park camping area was shut in May, there was no option but to stay at one of the privatised venues we stayed just one night. The day walking up the gorge was one of visual and photographic delights including this classic scene of the native palms and sandstone cliffs reflected in on of the pools of Carnarvon Creek.Read more
A letter written and read by Bob for the Men of Letters event, held in Melbourne on 28th October 2012.
I first got to know you in 1977, on page 365 of Bertrand Russell’s 789 page tome, ‘A History of Western Civilization’. You rated one paragraph.
There are very few women in that three thousand years of history, drawn from the annals of men. But there you were, the world’s greatest mind on mathematics, astronomy and philosophy in 400 AD.
The last sentence of Russell’s paragraph is etched in my brain. After you were killed by Christian terrorists, he observed drily that, ‘Alexandria was no longer troubled by philosophers’.