Tasmanian Wilderness Society blocks dam construction (Franklin River Campaign) 1981-83


To stop construction of Hydro Electric Commission dam on the Gordon-below-Franklin River

To increase pressure on Federal Parliamentary parties to include Franklin Dam issue in their campaigns for office

Time period notes

The first direct action took place near the end of 1981, even though awareness raising has begun in 1976.

Time period

December, 1981 to 1 July, 1983



Location City/State/Province

Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tasmania
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

Methods in 2nd segment

  • "NO DAMS" yellow triangles

Methods in 4th segment

  • Declared blockade to begin in December
  • "NO DAMS" yellow triangles
  • Full-page colour photographs in newspapers
  • Rallies
  • blockade of dam construction
  • Blockaders jailed

Methods in 5th segment

  • "NO DAMS" yellow triangles
  • Wilderness Society flown over Hydro Electric Commission building
  • blockade of dam construction
  • Blockaders jailed

Segment Length

3.5 months


Bob Brown, The Wilderness Society

External allies

Bob Hawke (Labour Party leader), Dr. Norm Sanders (Democrat MHA)

Involvement of social elites

David Bellamy (Botanist and author), Shane Howard (Folk singer), Claudio Alcorso (Hobart Millionaire)


Hydro-Electric Commission, Government of Tasmania (under Premier Robin Gray)

Nonviolent responses of opponent

not known

Campaigner violence

not known

Repressive Violence

not known





Group characterization

Australian environmentalists

Groups in 1st Segment

The Tasmanian Wilderness Society

Groups in 6th Segment

Bob Hawke

Segment Length

3.5 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

An extremely successful campaign. Not only did it influence Australia's environmental movement, but environmental activism throughout the globe.

Database Narrative

In 1976,
the Hydro Electric Commission of Tasmania solidified their plans with the
Australian government to build a dam across the Franklin and Gordon Rivers, in
the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The Tasmanian Wilderness Society
formed not long after this announcement to take action against the Hydro
Electric Commission and their plans to bulldoze the surrounding wilderness for
the construction of the dam. The director of the Wilderness Society and leader
of the anti-dam campaign for the following seven years was Bob Brown, a local
environmentalist and general practitioner.  


1976 through 1981, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society focused on creating
awareness and education through public meetings, pamphlets, and tours of the
Franklin River.  They focused heavily on
the danger to endangered species and ancient rain forests that flooding would
have as a result of the Hydro Electric dam being built.


In 1981,
the discovery of ancient aboriginal paintings in caves of the lower Franklin
River region ignited the controversy. The caves were filled with not only
Aboriginal paintings, but campfires, tools and animal bones that dated back
thousands of years. This discovery created an even larger debate over the
construction of the dam, bringing it into the political sphere, as Australia
was nearing both state and federal elections. Candidates chose a side of the
issue to include in their platform. Throughout their actions, the Tasmanian
Wilderness Society maintained pressure to urge politicians to take a definite
stance on the Franklin Dam issue.


Tasmanian state government announced plans to hold a referendum to engage
citizens in the Hydro Electric Commission’s decision. The Wilderness Society asked
that a “NO DAMS” option be included in the referendum.  In the lead-up to the referendum, the
campaigners distributed yellow, triangular “NO DAMS” stickers.  The Tasmanian government announced that the
referendum would have two options, both of which took the construction of the
dam as given.  The two options only
differed by location: Gordon Below Franklin and Gordon above Olga.  The Wilderness Society encouraged voters to
take part in a “Write-in”, by writing “NO DAMS” on their ballot in protest.  When the government held the referendum on 12
December 1981, 33% of the voters wrote “NO DAMS” on their ballots.


federally the Australian Labour Party was quite popular in their anti-dam
platform, pro-dam political parties were more popular in the Tasmanian state.
In May 1982, the Liberal party under Robin Gray (a pro-dam politician) won the
majority of seats in Tasmania and Gray became the Premier. Upon his election,
he announced plans to begin construction. The dam itself was to cover 33
kilometers of the Franklin River and 37 kilometers of the Gordon River.


In response
to this decision, in August and September, Bob Brown went on tour screening
films of the Franklin River to raise support and awareness.  Brown and the Wilderness Society also
organized rallies to gain the attention of influential political figures. During
a Melbourne rally, David Bellamy, a British botanist and T.V. presenter toured expressed
their anti-dam positions to the 5,000 participants.  The goal of this portion of the campaign was
to increase pressure on the Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to intervene through
Tasmanian State government and stop the dam. Fraser did not intervene and
override the state legislation, as he believed it was a state government issue
and not a federal one.


November 1982, 14,000 people converged on the streets of Melbourne for another
rally.  Bob Brown announced that they
would blockade the construction of the dam site beginning on 14 December 1982. 


On 14
December 1982, 2,500 people converged at the dam site to participate in the
blockade.  Protesters made
a human chain through the forest to prevent construction workers from entering
the site.  Protesters also blockaded by water on canoes, to
prevent police from bringing machinery into the site by a barge. These
maintained morale and enthusiasm through the use of song. Protesters developed
songs over the course of the campaign that were regularly sung during rallies,
marches, in jail, and at the blockade site. Folk singer Shane Howard wrote the
official anthem of the campaign, titled “Let the Franklin Flow”. During the
course of the blockade, police arrested 1,440 people. David Bellamy and Claudio
Alcorso (a Hobart Millionaire) participated in the blockade and were


On 1
March 1983, the Wilderness Society held a day of action during which 231 people
were arrested in their boats on the Gordon River and the Wilderness Society’s
flag was flown above the Hydro Electric Commission building in Hobart,


Tasmanian Wilderness Society drew further attention on 2 March 1983 by printing
full-page colour photographs in Australian newspapers of the Franklin River
area. The captions on these publications read, “Could you vote for a party that
would destroy this?” This was an attention-grabbing act as few publications
used colour at the time.


On 5 March
1983, the Australian Labour Party under new Prime Minister, Bob Hawke (who
maintained an anti-dam platform) won the federal election and announced that he
would halt the dam construction. The Australian Labour Party introduced regulations
under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975.  Additionally, Hawke declared the Franklin
River area a World Heritage site, outlawing the dam under the World Heritage
Properties Conservation Act 1983.


Tasmanian state ignored the new regulations, as they believed that the federal
government could not legally intervene in this state-level issue. The company
contracted by the Tasmanian government continued clearing the site until the
federal government brought the Tasmanian government to High Court on 31 May
1983. On 1 July 1983, the High Court ruled in favour of the federal government
and proclaimed that they could legally enforce the international standards for
a World Heritage Site on a state government.


Franklin River campaign was so successful that it largely ended the generation
of electricity through hydro dams in Australia. The federal government demanded
that the Tasmanian government give a compensation package of $270 million to
the Wilderness Society.


The Tasmanian Wilderness Society was influenced by the Lake Pedder Campaign in Tasmania during the 1960s-70s that also sought to protect the the surrounding environment from flooding. The Lake Pedder Campaign had less success and inspired the Wilderness Society to try new tactics and apply pressure in different ways.


Walker, J. (2013, July 01). The day the franklin river was saved. Retrieved from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/outdoor/anniversary-of-the-franklin-river-campaigns-success.htm

The Wilderness Society. (n.d.). History of the franklin river campaign 1976-83. Retrieved from http://www.wilderness.org.au/history-franklin-river-campaign-1976-83

ABC. (Producer). (1986, August 15). Conservation politics [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/archives/80days/stories/2012/01/19/3411644.htm

Gibbs, C. J. Legal Database, (1983). Commonwealth v. tasmania (the tasmanian dam case). Retrieved from website: http://law.ato.gov.au/atolaw/view.htm?DocID=JUD/158CLR1/00002

The Wilderness Society. (Producer). (2006, October 17). The Franklin River Bloack 1983, Tasmania (Part 1 of 2) [Web Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGpy8_v3tmI

The Wilderness Society. (Producer). (2006, October 17). The Franklin River Bloack 1983, Tasmania (Part 2 of 2) [Web Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhCGFHkzifQ

The Wilderness Society. (Producer). (2008, June 30). Franklin River Campaigner Reflections [Web Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JHvADKUCwk

Buckman, G. (2008). Tasmania's wilderness battles: A history. (pp. 288-1). Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Asha Miriam Stobbe Reimer