Tasmania's Wilderness Trove

Article by Bob Brown in Cygnet Classifieds, March 2015.

Federation Peak with snow.
Federation Peak with snow. Photo: Bob Brown

Wilderness is the wild Earth. It is a large tract of natural country, essentially unmarked by modern impacts such as roads, fences, power lines, buildings, dams and mines. It is where we all began.

Our ancestors flourished in wildness. That's why our ears are curled - to pick up the faintest sound from the forest floor. It is why we give flowers to express our love and devotion, rather than chainsaws. It is why parents like their children to be watching Attenborough rather than Abetz. Wilderness is an avenue to understanding ourselves.

It is also why, on a finite planet now grazed by 7.4 billion people, the biggest herd of mammals in Earth's history, the richest people are willing to pay big money to helicopter into wild, remote places exclusive from ordinary people.

Yet helicopter landing sites, robust 'huts' (with heating, hot showers, fine meals and wines, drying rooms and comfortable beds), and motorised craft degrade the wildness and therefore the wilderness. Knowing this, the Hodgman government plans to remove all reference to wilderness, and particularly to wilderness protection, from the time-honoured Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage (TWWHA) Management Plan.

The state is offering private profiteers their option to grab plum scenic and remote sites and turn them into exclusive enclaves at peppercorn rents at the expense of wilderness and the Tasmanian public which owns the TWWHA.

Yet a 2011 government survey of mainlanders thinking about holidays showed that the single most attractive feature of Tasmania is its wilderness. This is also borne out by the fact that while jobs in logging and mining continue to fall, jobs in tourism are soaring and, last year, more than a million visitors came here primarily to enjoy Tasmania's wild and scenic beauty.

We can have the best of both worlds. The TWWHA wilderness should be protected and visitor access, such as tracks and camping sites, maintained by the government for all-comers, including commercially-guided trips.

Private boutique and top-shelf resorts should depend on the free market. There are stunningly-good wild country options available. For example, in my old home valley at Liffey with its towering crags, pristine river and platypuses, forests and waterfalls. Or the wild west coast of King Island. Private and remote blocks of land also routinely come up for sale on the snowy Central Plateau, adjacent to the tall forests and scenic coastlines of southern Tasmania and even in the Tarkine.

Premier Hodgman should have intervened when Minister Harriss purloined the $7 million federal money earmarked for managing the extended TWWHA. Harris diverted this public fund to the loggers. It should have instead gone to opening up the Styx River's Valley of the Giants, with a visitor centre like those at Cradle Valley and Mt Field and wheelchair-friendly trails through the giant trees.

Like Westminster Abbey for England, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is our island's globally-famous attraction. Both places deserve government protection and treating with the respect their beauty, spiritual values and ancient history deserve. Let the commercial profiteers exploit the excellent tourism options elsewhere.

Bob Brown

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