The metamorphic rocky coastline is a superlative feature of takayna’s western extent
The Tarkine’s exquisite character is embodied in its rainforest-lined streams
The windswept coastal region of takayna is rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage. – All pics Ted Mead
“Politicians love to take credit for the protection of our natural heritage, but protection for our magnificent wild places has never come from the top, it always comes from the conservationists at the forefront of the battle” – Ted Mead.
Grand conservation objectives simply don’t pop up from thin air, so you may wonder how did the Tarkine/takayna campaign evolve? Until recent years, not many Australians had heard of the title Tarkine, nor did they know of its exact location. Even for a period within the conservation movement it was called ‘The Forgotten Wilderness’, though now it is prominently on the political radar, and in time will be a national icon.
By 1983 a large tract of the Western Tasmanian Wilderness Area had been listed as a World Heritage site on the UNESCO register. Within a few years of having the Franklin River saved from inundation, the forest and forestry industry debate in Tasmania had manifested into a complex and intense campaign. This publicity alerted the Federal Government, and reminded them of their IUCN signatory obligations as to identify and protect World Heritage values within the nation.
From this time onward the conservationist’s campaign to protect Tasmania’s old growth forest from decimation had gained great momentum.
Due to this political exposure, the federal government established the Helsham Enquiry, which was to identify and assess the World Heritage values within the Southern Forests and Lemonthyme regions. This enquiry, held in Hobart, consumed all the energy of the conservation movement and was primarily represented by the Combined Environment Group of Tasmania, including The Wilderness Society and The Australian Conservation Foundation.
During the tall forest campaign, and through the Helsham Enquiry process, it was exposed that the Forestry Commission and industry’s definition of a eucalypt wood production area was essentially a forest that only needed to have 5 percent eucalypt crown cover.
This deceptive definition led to a disaster for a transitional forest whereby up to 95 percent of a logging coupes, albeit rainforest, could be clearfelled, windrowed and burnt, then at a later date reseeded or planted with a monoculture of either native forest or exotic species.
Rainforest predominantly evolves from a mixed wet-forest type that has transitioned from eucalypts that senescence after centuries when free from disturbance of natural wildfire. This results in a pure tract of cool-temperate rainforest, and much of the Tarkine’s wild central core has undergone this natural process.
Preservation of Tasmania’s rainforests had already been a peripheral campaign within the Wilderness Society. Researcher Stephan Mattingley had compiled extensive material regarding the high conservation values of Tasmania’s unprotected rainforest. What the campaign needed was a direction, and that is where my energy came into the fore.
By the late 1980s I had completed a report called Tasmania’s Rainforest, which was a compilation of all unprotected rainforest within the state. The majority of these areas were primarily located within the northwest, and that was where a campaign became focused.
Subsequent to the Helsham Enquiry a comprehensive geographical assessment of Tasmania’s northwest wilderness region compiled and edited by David Harries was called ‘The Forgotten Wilderness’. Yet the campaign to protect the region remained in limbo, and was desperate for some driving momentum.
The campaign energy to support rainforest protection was coming from conservationists in the north of the state, and stalwart activists such as Peter Sims had limited forums to pursue such commitment as the revolution of the Internet was yet to evolve, and so campaign communication between the north and the south was frustratingly difficult to gel.
Post Helsham, I had established a campaign within the Wilderness Society, but I had no means of getting my message out to the public, and the tall/old growth forest campaign was consuming every bit of available campaigners’ energy.
Around 1990 Bob Brown had been reading some historical accounts of Aboriginal activity in Tasmania’s northwest. Through his reading Bob had discovered that the custodianship of the land was maintained by a tribe called the Tarkiners. This title soon became the identity of the region, and from that moment the area between the Arthur River in the north and the Pieman River in the south was focused as being that of the Tarkine.
In 1991 The Wilderness Society launched the Tarkine World Heritage Area proposal. This was to announce that the Tarkine fulfilled the IUCN natural criteria in its own right and should be listed as a UNESCO Site.
A more pragmatic and accepted view now is to promote the Tarkine as an unilateral extension to the current Western Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. This, given the more recent recognition, and federal heritage listing of the significant cultural values of the region seems the likely outcome.
The boundaries of the Tarkine today may not represent the realistic area that the Tarkiners inhabited, and through their nomadic lifestyle they may have travelled far beyond what is known. Certainly by all physical and cultural evidence, the coastline region was the place they mostly occupied, but history claims that there was interaction between the clans from elsewhere along the coast and across the state via the inland pebble route.
So where to from here?
Make no reservation, the Tarkine will in the future be protected in a secure reserve. Already much of the region is designated as regional reserve, protected area, or state reserve, and even about 10 percent of its rainforest core has been proclaimed as National Park through the Regional Forest Agreement.
The current Liberal government has high hopes of extracting all the natural resources of the area, albeit economically unprofitable or not, and undoubtedly supported by huge taxpayers’ subsidies. With the mining industry downturn and the opposition towards global rainforest destruction, the conservative vandals have little scope of exploiting the remaining wild tracts of the Tarkine.
What in the foreseeable future can a state government do with places like the Pieman River beyond declaring them a National Park? The Pieman River State Reserve already has the same legislative protection of a National Park, but governments are paranoid to afford such a title in fear of boundary creeping, and voter backlash.
The Tasmanian Liberal party has always expressed opposition towards a Tarkine reserve, and Labor under Bryan Green, and recently Rebecca White has stated they do not support a park in the region. This bipartisan view indicates that the Tarkine will be a contentious conservation issue well into the political future.
The most likely outcome will be a repeat of what happened further down the West Coast where economic development and prosperity hit an all-time low decades ago, and only rose from the grave when tourism was established.
It would seem the northwest is destined to the same fate, and as a result the region will have nowhere to turn for economic growth beyond tourism, which ultimately means declaring a formal park as to generate visitation interest into the region.
The Tarkine’s/takayna destiny is cast – It’s now only a matter of time!
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” – Mahatma Ghandi
Ted Mead is perturbed but not defeated by the fact that the state Liberals have yet another 3 years of wanton environmentally destructive intent at pleasure. Despite the overwhelming benighted view of conservation in Tasmania’s parliament, Ted is confident that the Tarkine/takayna will ultimately be recognised for its global values somewhere in the future, whilst the present state government, like past conservative governments will be relegated to the trashcan of blind and ignorant fools!