Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Lost Jewel

Lake Pedder

Before it was flooded in 1972, Lake Pedder was the jewel of South West Tasmania.

Geologically unique in the world, it was incredibly beautiful, with its burgundy waters and a fluted beach of pink quartzite sand. It inspired awe and wonder in those who saw it. Parties who ventured into the wild South West often met at the lake, which was the hub of many paths into other areas. It was the sacred heart of a very special area.

The lake was protected in its own National Park, which had been proclaimed in 1955, but in 1967, responding to secret pressure from the Hydro Electric Commission, the government revoked the National Park status and construction works began.

The community reacted desperately. The group which campaigned to save Pedder was called the South West Tasmania Action Committee (SWTAC). The United Tasmania Group – now recognized as the world’s first Green party – was formed and narrowly failed to win a seat in the Tasmanian parliament in the 1972 state election. The campaign spread nationally and then into the international arena.

Lake Pedder was to be flooded to produce less than 60 megawatts of power. (A megawatt is a unit of power, like horsepower: to put this in context, the LaTrobe Valley’s output is some 7,000 megawatts.)

The water which drowned Lake Pedder cannot be used to generate power, but is simply a watery platform which enables the small volume of inflowing water to be pushed across to the Gordon Dam to generate an amount of power which Tasmania has never needed.

Those who argued that this priceless gem should be saved were ridiculed – and worse. On 8th September 1972 Brenda Hean and Max Price set off in a light aircraft on a highly publicised trip from Tasmania to Canberra to lobby federal politicians to save Lake Pedder.

They were never seen again. Evidence emerged that the plane’s hangar was broken into the night before the flight, and it is believed their plane was sabotaged.

The dam was illegal, according to the Tasmanian Attorney-General of the day, Mervyn Everett, who authorised a legal challenge (by giving the Attorney-General's "fiat" to enable the case to be litigated) and refused to withdraw it when cabinet pressured him to do so.

As a result the Premier, Eric Reece, who was not a lawyer at all, sacked Everett, and appointed himself Attorney-General. He cancelled the legal challenge and pushed what he called “doubts removal” legislation through parliament.

Finally, the floods rose over Lake Pedder covering its wonderful beaches under 90 feet of water.

Kevin Kiernan was a key figure in the struggle to save Lake Pedder. This is what he wrote about the experience:

I cannot speak for others. But I saw my temple ransacked by my own community. Pedder was the cradle of my adult life. Many of us were matured by the experience. I have seen friends grow up, and some have aged terribly. My own soul seems haunted by an unwanted legacy of cynicism and distrust.

For several years, I continued to fight for the South West, but I never again had the same motivation or energy. In reflective moments I would wonder at the worth of fighting for the remnants of a wilderness which has had its heart torn out. The whole will not be healthy until that heart is restored.

When that day comes I may at last be able to share the gift of Pedder with my own child. I dream I might. In my mind’s eye I see her playing in the safe, wine-dark shallows and discovering a hundred tiny miracles in the sand. Yet these things take time. Perhaps it will be she, not I, who sees a child regain its heritage.

My solace is that even if she does not see that heritage regained, the Earth may finally restore Lake Pedder, when the dams have become dust and none of us remains to destroy.

It would not be difficult to restore Lake Pedder. The beaches are still there. It can be done without losing any vital power supplies. All that is missing is political will. It would be a wonderful symbol of restoration of our nation's damaged relationship with the environment to see Pedder drained and rehabilitated. I want to see this in my lifetime.

Let us hope that the removal of this shroud from the wilderness will also remove a deadening burden from the hearts of Australians, and that there will be a new sense of wonder at the dazzling world in which we live, a new humility before the wildness in ourselves, a new sense of the future in which we acknowledge our place as part of the Earth and as but one strand of the tapestry of life.

External Links

1 comment:

  1. I never saw lake pedder. I was at the northern end of the impoundment near Strathgordon last summer. At the lookout, looking at the map display panel, I tried to imagine what the vista would've been; decided the main old beach would've been south over the Sentinel Range. What would that've looked like? What would it have been for so many plants and animals - so many beings. We have practically destroyed species as a result of this. I wish I was there before this mad, pointless, vindictive act was purpetrated by the HEC. Let us restore it, to the extent that we can. It would be an extraordinary gift.
    When will Tasmania as a state be allowed to finally realise that it is these things that that are its greatest and unique advantage?
    Perhaps now that The Greens have earnt a real voice in a new government there.
    Some lake pedder links: