The Power of a Photo: Saving Tasmania’s Franklin River

Thirty years ago, big business tried to change Tasmania’s natural landscape, promising to dam the wild Franklin River and hand back electricity in its place. Instead, the Franklin River changed the Australian political landscape, helping overturn a government and giving the nascent Green movement legitimacy and support.

There were many driving forces behind the campaign to save the Franklin – the thousands who blockaded the river, future Greens leader Bob Brown – and one of them was a photograph. Peter Dombrovskis’ beautiful Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend  was the centrepiece of full-page newspaper advertisements opposing the dam. It was an image too striking, too representative of the beauty and wilderness at stake, to ignore. Without it, you wonder if the Franklin would ever have been saved.

rock-island-bend

Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend (Peter Dombrovskis)

In the photo, the river is like satin, wrapping around Rock Island, the air heavy with mist that you sense is about to lift. It remains one of the most famous landscape images ever snapped in Australia. The Franklin was never dammed. The river is, of course, the better for it, but so too are all who’ve travelled on it, including me. Years on, the river still flows in my mind and calls me back.

On the Franklin, what you don’t see is just as powerful as what you do see. Inside its catchment there are no settlements and no cultivated land. Once you’re on the river, not a scrap of humanity exists, except for the raft or kayak that’s floating you downstream. And yet Hobart, Tasmania’s capital city, is never more than 150 kilometres away.

Midway through the journey, the river drops over a small waterfall and into Rock Island Bend. It’s fleeting – a motion picture now rather than a photo – as the unsentimental water quickly sucks you past. The day I rafted through, Rock Island Bend looked nothing like the photo. The sun blazed and the river level was low – so low that after our raft skidded through Newland Cascades and into the rock shelf that would be camp that night, I was able to scramble back along the exposed bank to Rock Island Bend.

Visually, Rock Island Bend is no more arresting than many other parts of this beautiful river, yet there’s an undeniable presence, something transfixing, about this one particular spot. I sat for an hour or so, wondering whether Dombrovskis had sensed this, or had Dombrovskis in fact created it? Is Rock Island Bend naturally compelling, even beyond the pure aesthetics, or is it the power of a photo, a case of nature imitating art?

Adventure before Avarice rafted with World Expeditions.

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4 thoughts on “The Power of a Photo: Saving Tasmania’s Franklin River

  1. Thanks for this story. I didn’t know it or “one of the most famous landscape images ever snapped in Australia”.

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