The Photo That Saved the Franklin River

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The power of photography, wielded wisely.

Words by Chris Gooley

The campaign to save Tasmania’s Franklin and Gordon rivers, threatened by a huge hydro-electric development, ignited the green movement in Australia. The story behind the photo that gave the campaign its identity and inspired many to join the good fight involves two inspirational photographers with an understanding of how their art could be used as a weapon in the battle for wilderness conservation.

The photograph portrayed a section of the Franklin River that was to be submerged by the proposed Franklin Dam and spearheaded the visual appeal of the Franklin River in the contentious ‘No Dams’ campaign of 1982.

The Wilderness Society took out full-page ads in the national newspapers featuring Peter Dombrovskis’s famous Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River photo with the caption:

“Could you vote for a party that will destroy this?”

Olegas Truchanas Franklin River

It’s argued that the photo swung the 1983 federal election and the new government scrapped the plans for the dam. The campaign galvanised the Wilderness Society and the Australian Greens Party as a national force, sparking a new environmental era in Australia. Though this iconic piece of political propaganda is merely the tip of the iceberg, the lives of Peter Dombrovski & his mentor Olegas Truchanas are where we should draw the greatest inspiration.

Olegas Truchanas, a father figure to Dombrovski, keen conservationist and photographer summed up his own plight beautifully when he said:

“If we can revise some of our attitudes towards the land under our feet; if we can accept the role of a steward, and depart from the role of the conqueror; if we can accept the view that man and nature are inseparable parts of the unified whole – then Tasmania that is truly beautiful can be a shining beacon in the dull, uniform and largely artificial world.”

In his free time he explored Tasmania’s southwest by foot and home-made kayak, often solo, photographing its wild places. Olegas fought passionately though unsuccessfully to save Lake Pedder from a destructive hydro scheme. He also gave 20 years of photography slide presentations drawing appreciation to the precious Tasmanian wilderness.

Inspired by Olegas, Peter used photography to try and encourage Australians to recognise the value of the natural world around them. His philosophy was simple and remarkably effective – if people could see the beauty of Australia’s wild places then they might be moved to protect them.

Olegas and Peter were close friends and followed remarkably similar paths through life. Both migrated to Tasmania from Baltic Europe, Both devoted their lives to exploring and photographing Tasmania’s wilderness and both died alone in the wilderness of south-west Tasmania.

Their legacy gave heed to a more passionate environmental movement in Australia and led to a school of wilderness photography in Tasmania.

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