Review

The River Runs Free: Exploring and defending Tasmania's wilderness

The story of the Franklin River

The River Runs Free: Exploring and defending Tasmania's wilderness

Product details

Product name: The River Runs Free: Exploring and defending Tasmania's wilderness

Reviewer: Jenny Blackford

Author: Geoff Law

Publisher: Viking

Price: $32.95

G Rating:

4

Twenty-five years on, it is hard to comprehend that the Tasmanian Labor government was determined to flood the pristine wilderness of the Franklin River by building the Gordon-below-Franklin dam, and that the Commonwealth Liberal government, while disapproving, was going to allow it.

I was one of the many people who cruised up the Gordon River from Strahan at that time, horrified at the thought that irreplaceable ancient rainforest could be destroyed for short-term gain.

The River Runs Free is the story of Geoff Law's part in saving the Gordon-Franklin area from being flooded by Tasmania's powerful dam-building HEC (the Hydro-Electric Commission).

Law was passionate about bushwalking in remote places but fatalistic about their apparently inevitable destruction until he rafted down the wild Franklin River. The near-disastrous experience pushed him into years of serious full-time work with the Tasmanian Wilderness Society.

We know, now, that the Franklin River story has a happy ending, but Law's book shows just how painfully long and slow the struggle was for the conservationists, including now-famous politician Bob Brown (who wrote the excellent introduction).

All through the process, the HEC had the support of the Tasmanian Labor and Liberal parties, as well as the unions, media and big business.

For much of the time Law lived in Strahan, a town uncomfortably divided between the pro-dam and anti-dam forces (which included not only conservationists but also tourism operators who relied on the wilderness for their livelihood).

Law's writing is sometimes rather flat, but the story is still compelling, as he brings to life the fight to capture media attention while working hard to ensure that all protests - including the blockade of the river - remained non-violent even in the face of hostility.

Law often despaired as he churned out endless media releases for the largely unsympathetic local media, as well as the more conservation-minded mainland presses.

We must be grateful that the river still runs free, thanks to the persistence of Law and others - and that they still fight for Tasmania's threatened wilderness.

The River Runs Free is printed on paper sourced from plantations in Finland.

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