In 1955, 24,000 hectares of South West Tasmania, including the isolated and beautiful Lake Pedder, was proclaimed as the Lake Pedder National Park
In 1965, I moved to Tasmania’s north-west coast to teach at Ulverstone High School. The following year, I moved to Launceston and taught at Riverside High School, while my husband to be Lindsay moved to Launceston from the Blue Mountains. We met and both became members of the Launceston Walking Club. We had many trips into Lake Pedder
The Launceston Walking Club bus, full of eager walkers, would depart Launceston on a Friday at 5 pm and drive through the night to South West Tasmania, where it would park by a walking track. This track became accessible after the building of the Strathgordon Road. By moonlight, at midnight, the party would put on their packs, walk into Lake Pedder and pitch their tents. Saturday was for exploring the area and climbing the fringing mountains. We walked out to the bus on Sunday and at 2pm left for Launceston in order to be back at work on Monday morning. Lake Pedder was an inspiring place of great beauty and tranquility. I will never forget the first long midnight walk, by moonlight, into Lake Pedder. We all believed Lake Pedder was protected by its National Park status.
However, by 1967 it became clear that the government, led by Eric Reece and Hydro Electric Commission by Commissioner Allan Knight, had plans to modify the National Park and that Lake Pedder would become inundated. Members of The Launceston Walking Club and The North West Walking Club had some keen and vibrant young conservationists. We established the Save Lake Pedder National Park Committee led by Peter Sims of Devonport. Lindsay and I were very active on this committee. Through articles in the local paper and slide presentations of the magnificent Lake Pedder the committee raised money. Some of this money was used to fly politicians into Lake Pedder from Launceston airport. I interviewed them on their return and wrote stories about their impressions of Lake Pedder, which were published in the Launceston Examiner.
Road access for dam construction was first established via the Strathgordon Rd. Once the Scotts Peak Dam Road was built, members of the Save Lake Pedder National Park Committee set up a large tent on the side of the road on several weekends and handed out information and hot drinks to passers by to educate them about the scheme. I remember one freezing winter night camped by the side of the road expecting the new NASA space blanket to keep me warm – it didn’t.
In Hobart, the South West Committee was established to alert the public to the beauty of this lake and the importance of saving it from inundation. This committee later became the South-West Action Committee, which in 1976 became the Tasmanian Wilderness Society.
Many brains were focused on trying to find another solution to drowning the lake. Alternatives were proposed that would have avoided flooding the lake, with only a small loss of power generation capacity, but these never received serious consideration. Despite the community being behind the efforts to save the lake, the Premier, Eric Reece, and Allan Knight of the Hydro-Electric Commission were determined to proceed.
Lindsay and I married in August 1969 with many of our friends from the Save Lake Pedder National Park Committee in attendance. After the birth of our child Georgie, we left Tasmania in 1970 with heavy hearts that we had, so far, not managed to save the lake. Lindsay had obtained a surveying job in Gladstone, Queensland. We followed the Lake Pedder saga from Queensland.
During this time opposition to the flooding of Lake Pedder extended well beyond Tasmania and spread throughout Australia and internationally. The focus on the South West Tasmania Wilderness area as an environmental battleground increased interest in the area, and many travelled to Lake Pedder before it was flooded to see what the issues were about.
In December 1971 we returned to Launceston so that Lindsay could continue his study and complete his qualifications to become a surveyor, which he had begun in Tasmania. We took Georgie walking with the Launceston Walking Club and joined the continuing protests to stop the scheme.
The Federal Government was inundated with petitions. Whitlam flew to Tasmania to see the situation for himself. In July, the Federal Government recommended a moratorium on the flooding but achieved little other than infuriating the Tasmanian ALP Premier Eric Reece.
In 1972, Premier Reece approved the flooding of Lake Pedder, which proceeded despite a determined protest movement and a blank cheque offer from Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to preserve the Lake Pedder area. Reece refused Whitlam’s offer, stating that he would “not have the Federal Government interfering with the sovereign rights of Tasmania”.
Lindsay and I have always been conservationists and it was an interesting situation in our household when we were fighting the drowning of Lake Pedder while my father was manager of Humes Steel Ltd. He had spent many years working closely with the Hydro Electric Commission helping to establish the Power Stations in Central Tasmania, which so efficiently provided power to Tasmania and attracted international companies, which used the cheap power. We could see the value of Hydro Power but wanted Lake Pedder eliminated from the Upper Gordon River hydroelectric generation scheme.
In March 1972 on the last weekend aircraft were permitted to land on the beach, Lindsay and I decided that we would fly into Lake Pedder taking Georgie with us. Dad decided he would like to come too. So, we booked the flight and packed our tent, clothes and food.
On that magnificent long weekend in March, we left Hobart airport in a light plane and flew to Lake Pedder to camp for the last time before the dam gates were closed to fill the Serpentine River plain and drown Lake Pedder.
This was history in the making. Light planes landed on the pink quartzite beach all weekend and flew back to Hobart and Launceston airports to collect more people.
Newspaper cameramen and television cameramen recorded the final days of splendour for this unique lake in the Tasmanian South West Wilderness. Everyone was aware of the momentous occasion, as the fight to save the lake had been spread, via the news, all over the world.
We flew back to Hobart knowing there was nothing more that could be done to save this gem in the wilderness. Despite his association with the Hydro Electric Commission, my fatherwas mesmerised by the beauty of the lake and agreed that it should not be flooded.
In 1973, our growing family left Launceston for Maroochydore, Queensland, where Lindsay, now a fully licensed surveyor had obtained an excellent job. We discovered magnificent Fraser Island in 1974, joined FIDO (Fraser Island Defenders Organisation) and worked to ban sand mining and logging on the island. Lindsay created a slide presentation with music and commentary, which he showed at various places on the Sunshine Coast. Malcolm Fraser was responsible for the World Heritage listing of Fraser Island and the stopping of sand mining in 1977. This was a joy to achieve after the disappointment of losing Lake Pedder.
In 1976, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society was formed by members of the South West Action Committee and fought to stop the Franklin Dam. A young doctor, Bob Brown, who had arrived in Launceston in late 1972, joined the group and was a founding member of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. He was a major player in the fight to stop the damming of the Franklin River. Lake Pedder had laid the groundwork for one of the best-known environmental wins in Australian history – the blocking of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam in 1983. It was under the Bob Hawke government that the Franklin Dam was halted.
Lindsay has been a member of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society for many decades and we follow the progress of their conservation achievements with great interest.