HOBART TOWN HALL TALK, 27 Nov 2018
Proposed Development at Lake Malbena
Thanks for coming. For your reference and for those unable to make it, later today I will post the text of this talk on the Tasmanian Times website and the FlyLife Forum. I would also like to post some tips on how to effectively lobby the Central Highlands Council – and our MPs –on this issue. I should have that completed in a couple of days.
The great majority of people who walk into the Western Lakes are fly fishers. Why is this important?
Fly fishing is about searching out individual fish before you cast to them. To become very good at it you need to develop a deep affinity with the natural world. Many fly fishers would not want to be labelled ‘Greenie’, but all care deeply about the natural environment.
In my book The Last Wild Trout I describe the best twenty trout waters in the world. The Western Lakes heads that list. By global standards the fishing is about as hard as it gets. That’s not a fault: it’s one of the main attractions. Always has been.
Almost 60 years ago, literary angler David Scholes wrote this:
‘… there is something other than the fishing which draws you back; perhaps the remoteness and feeling of treading unknown paths like that of the explorer, or maybe the weird landscape which, notwithstanding its desolation, seems to whisper a soft message of beauty. Even though the wind be shrieking, tearing the breath from your chilled face, through your screwed-up eyes you can see it, inside you can feel it and would I be wrong if I said that sometimes you can hear it?’
Make the access easy by allowing helicopters, make the fishing easy by stocking with domestic trout (which is bound to follow), and the Western Lakes becomes just another ordinary place like every other ordinary place in the world.
I am a great supporter of wilderness tourism. But the Malbena proposal is a threat to wilderness tourism.
By any rational definition, wilderness must be free at its core from mechanical access. The trick to conserving wilderness is to manage the front-country so well that most people can have their needs met there.
The proponent of the Malbena development already has one development up and running that fits this management ideal. The Ina Huts are located in the WHA, but on private property just outside of the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, and patrons have to walk in like everyone else. Why deviate from this style of sympathetic development?
Basic competency in governance
For me one of the most disturbing things about the proposal is the fact that the Premier took it upon himself to tear up the community-endorsed management plan and replace it with one made in his own image. Worse, the Minister for Environment unilaterally gifted a whole island in a national park to a developer to treat as their own private property. He didn’t even announce his intention to the public. Perhaps all our national parks have recently been given away. Under the Premier’s changes to the management plan we simply wouldn’t know. We’re not allowed to know.
No one is even trying to pretend that the actions leading up to the approval of the Malbena development satisfy the most basic rules of competency in governance.
Why does careful management of core wilderness matter?
Decades ago when we were all working to preserve wilderness, the state government and the tourism dinosaurs thought it was a goose of an idea. Then the goose laid a golden egg. So now they want to kill the goose. They are prepared to act against the public interest rather than admit they were wrong.
I’ve heard developers say that you can’t stop progress in the last vestiges of our wilderness. I have even heard them say that future generations won’t miss what they’ve never known. Try telling that to the adopted child who spends a lonely lifetime searching for her or his biological parents. Our roots matter. Like it or not, our souls are attached to our origins. If we sacrifice our ability to physically connect with our ancestry – our recent biological ancestry, our primitive natural ancestry – we lose any hope of ever being able to find lasting fulfilment.
Central Highlands Council
What to do?
The Central Highlands Council has just received a development application and will soon be calling for public submissions.
This will be the most accessible and transparent of the assessment processes to date. It will be important to state our opposition to the development, but we must also reiterate the council’s obligations, and pinpoint exactly how the developer’s goals run counter to the council’s goals.
If the council approves the development, then what?
Even before then we need to force the government or relevant ministers (state and federal) to back down permanently.
What’s likely to influence a minister? Persistent bad publicity. Anything that’s likely to force them from power.
About 20,000 of Tasmania’s licensed anglers reside within Tasmania. That’s 4,000 per electorate. Combine that with walkers and others that visit the WHA and that is probably enough to force change.
Right now all of Australia is sick to death of wedge politics, sick to death of the politics of pettiness and nastiness. The Liberals are in trouble everywhere.
So, it is also important to write to relevant state and federal politicians. Detail what you object to with the process so far but, more importantly, ask questions.
If that fails you’ll just have to join me in a bout of direct action on the shores of Malbena.
People often say to me: You write so much about loss, but your stories are full of love and humour. How do you maintain your optimism?
Storytellers set their tales amid tragedy not because we like wallowing in misery. We do it because people tend to reveal their best selves in times of hardship.
I recently visited the Font-de-Gaume in France, an ice age cave with polychrome paintings of wild animals created by the Cro-Magnon 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. It was done when the ice was retreating and an Armageddon of sorts seemed nigh. Yet the stories that were painted back then are full of energy and optimism. And they resonate as strongly today as they ever did. Because despite poor odds, our ancestors’ faith was justified. Humanity survived. We still have wild horses, reindeer and bison. Some, at least.
Storytelling is about insisting that life can be better, and mapping out a way to achieve our most noble ambitions.
I want to know what stories you are going to tell when you leave here today. Stories about anger and loss? Or stories about resistance and hope?
Nothing about the Malbena proposal has anything to do with showcasing our most valuable places. Hostile governments are doing it in an attempt to grind our spirits to dust.
But here we are – anglers, bushwalkers, conservationists, not always traditional allies – coming together in a spirit of shared interest, bound by what we have in common rather than what sets us apart.
It gives me hope that, despite perpetual threats, maybe in 100 years – a thousand years, 10,000 to 20,000 years – we will still have wild places, wild animals and wild hearts.
For that to happen, you have to take action. You have to demand that our governments start acting in the best interests of the people. National parks belong to all of you, not just a handful of petty politicians and greedy developers.
The telling of stories is how we change the world. Let’s tell ones that offer inspiration and hope, ones that will win hearts and minds across Tasmania and the rest of the nation.
Greg French is a trout fishing guide