Gordon-below-Franklin Dam

The Gordon River, postcard (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

In 1979 the Tasmanian Labor government passed the Hydro-Electric Commission's plans for the second stage of the Gordon River Power Development (Gordon Below Franklin). The project would increase the generating capacity of Tasmania's electricity grid by 22 percent. It would create a man-made reservoir, 27 times the size of Sydney Harbour, and flood 35 kilometres of the Franklin River, which conservationists characterised as 'Tasmania's last wild river'. The conservation movement had grown into a lobby group, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, and its campaign aroused the emotions of middle-class urban dwellers across Australia and abroad. It won World Heritage listing for the Franklin and a promise that the incoming Australian Labor government would halt the scheme.

The HEC abandoned the scheme after a 1983 High Court ruling that the Commonwealth's external relations powers gave it the right to honour its international treaty obligations by preventing the flooding of the Franklin, notwithstanding Tasmania's constitutional land use rights.

Further reading: D Lowe, The price of power, Melbourne, 1984; B Connolly, The fight for the Franklin, Sydney, 1981; P Thompson, Bob Brown of the Franklin River, Sydney, 1984; R Lupton, Lifeblood, Sydney, 2000.

Roger Lupton