How a single photograph saved a river: Rock Island Bend, Tasmania
July 15, 2010 § 3 Comments
How much impact can a single image really have? Can it, for example, save an entire landscape?
Last weekend, I went to Tasmania! Oh man, that place is so cool. Talk about beautiful—whew! Ryan and I stayed in the guest-hut of a family that lives in a valley near Cygnet, south of Hobart. It was very tiny, made of sticks and stones, and surrounded by thumping wallabies at night. The milky way was so bright we barely recognized the sky at all.
Tasmania is a place that has been embroiled in socio-environmental controversies throughout the last few decades. I’ve mentioned Matthew Newton’s photographs of old-growth logging there, as well as Ricky Maynard’s gorgeous images about indigenous people, culture and conflicts in Tasmania.
During the weekend’s visit, my host, Peat, told me about another photographer who has had a major impact on the Tasmanian landscape, Peter Dombrovskis. I want to tell you the story that Peat told to me.
In the late 70’s, there was a movement to dam Australia’s last remaining wild river, the Franklin River, which runs through Tasmania. Now, if you aren’t already aware of these stats, Australia is a continent the size of the USA, with radically less water falling onto it or running through it. It has a population of 22 million, as opposed to the U.S.’s 300 million. Despite currently having the most water per person of any continent, that water is over-allocated (literally, more water has been allocated to different human uses than is available), leaving many of its aquatic ecosystems in distress—birds, fish, plants, trees and other animals that live in or around the rivers are dying off at a terrifying pace.
So the idea that the last remaining wild river on the entire continent (or near it, since Tasmania is an island off the southeastern coast of Australia) was about to be dammed inspired a huge backlash among the population.
A senator named Bob Brown began a campaign against the damn. And he asked a Tasmanian landscape photographer named Peter Dombrovskis to take a trip up the Franklin, and see if he could make some pictures. In the end, the campaign centered around a single photograph.
This image by Peter Dombrovskis became the cornerstone of a conservation movement in Australia. That movement gave rise to the Green Party, which has grown to become a major political force here. This picture galvanized protesters and public opinion, which eventually helped stop the dam from being built. How amazing is that?!
Tagged: activism, australia, conservation, ecosystem, environment, environmentalism, impact, Matthew Newton, oz, Peat Leith, Peter Dombrovskis, photography, photos, ricky maynard, rivers, social change, Tasmania