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Environmental activist and politician Bob Brown became the face and voice of the Franklin Dam protests in Tasmania in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A black and white photograph of Bob Brown surrounded by three police men. Bob is smiling and the officers look stern. A boom microphone can be seen in the back ground as well as a flag on a flag pole next to a bill board.
Bob Brown with three police officers, 1982

Franklin River

Located deep in Tasmania’s remote south-west, the Franklin River is one of Australia’s few remaining free-flowing rivers. Unimpeded by industrialisation or damming, the river continues to flow because of the efforts of environmental activists and conservationists during the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission proposed the Gordon-below-Franklin dam project. Intended to promote Tasmanian industry and economy, the dam was planned to be built on the Gordon River, near its junction with the Franklin River. However, its construction would have flooded the Franklin River and destroyed the surrounding ecosystem.

A poster featuring a colour photograph of the Franklin River running through a rocky gorge. The text beside the poster reads: ‘Vote for the Franklin: Because only your vote can save it’.
Vote for the Franklin poster, 1981–1983
A white rectangular sticker featuring the Wilderness Society emblem, a platypus in the wilderness, in green, yellow and blue. Text above and below the emblem is blue and green reads, ‘I support the Tasmanian Wilderness Society’. - click to view larger image
Tasmanian Wilderness Society sticker, 1978–1983

Tasmanian Wilderness Society

The Tasmanian Wilderness Society was established in August 1976. Formed from the Tasmanian South-West Action Committee, it built on the impetus of earlier protests against the flooding of Lake Pedder to campaign against projects that threatened to damage and destroy the Tasmanian environment. The most prominent of these was the Hydro Electric Commission's Gordon-below-Franklin dam project.

Using media coverage, advertising, lobbying and non-violent protests, the Wilderness Society worked with other conservation groups to bring what was considered a state issue to national and international attention. The society produced a wide range of posters, badges, stickers, photographs and banners to help fund their campaign and draw attention to the Franklin River.

At its height, the campaign to save the Franklin River culminated in a physical blockade against the dam’s construction from December 1982 to March 1983. About 1,400 people were arrested and jailed but by then, the issue had gained national attention.

Hawke government's involvement

In the lead up to the 1983 federal election, Labor opposition leader Bob Hawke publicly promised to stop the dam’s construction if he was elected.

After the Hawke government’s election, Hawke introduced and passed new regulations under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 and the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 to protect the Franklin River. Although challenged by the pro-dam Tasmanian Government, the High Court of Australia ruled to uphold the federal government’s decision to stop the dam’s construction on 1 July 1983.

The campaign saved a significant natural and cultural heritage site in Tasmania and demonstrated the power of environmental issues in national politics. It also set significant political and legal precedents around the roles and responsibilities of state and federal governments.

Bob Brown

Dr Robert (Bob) James Brown was born in rural New South Wales in 1944. He studied medicine at the University of Sydney in the 1960s, graduated in 1968 and worked intermittently as a medical doctor in Australia and London.

Seeking a change of scenery, Brown visited Tasmania in 1972 and soon became involved in local environmental movements. In 1976, he was invited by forester Paul Smith to raft down the Franklin River.

A colour photograph of Bob Brown going down a rapid on a river in an orange inflatable raft. He has a green and a brown bag in the front of the raft and is holding the paddle. He has a beard and is wearing shorts.
Bob Brown rafting down the Franklin River in 1977

The trip sparked Brown’s love for the river and an acute appreciation of what would be lost if the Hydro Electric Commission dammed the river. When the Commission released its 1967 proposal that flooded Lake Pedder, it also noted the potential of the Franklin River to generate hydro-electricity. Brown was only briefly involved with the failed Lake Pedder campaigns, but the lake’s flooding motivated him to take greater political action for the Franklin River campaign.

From medicine to environmental activism

Brown was active in the establishment of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society in 1976 and became its director in 1979. He was soon dedicating all his time and energy to the campaign against the dam’s construction. Appearing at the forefront of many media campaigns and interviews, his earnest appeals to save the river garnered growing support throughout Australia.

The Greens

Brown was among the 1,400 people arrested at the Gordon-below-Franklin dam blockade in 1982 and spent 19 days in prison. The day after his release, he was narrowly elected as an independent to the Tasmanian House of Assembly. Brown resigned as director of the Wilderness Society in 1984, but his work in conservation and environmental issues helped pave the way for the formation of a national Greens party in 1992.

In 1996, Brown was elected to the Australian Senate as the first federal senator for the Greens and continued in this position until his retirement in 2012. Throughout his parliamentary career, Brown maintained his support for environmental activism and a wide range of progressive reforms including social justice and LGBTIQ+ rights.


As a result of his efforts to preserve Australia's natural heritage, Brown was made Australian of the Year in 1983, received the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Award in 1987, the Goldman Environmental Prize USA in 1990, the Australian Peace Prize in 2009 and the Order of Timor Leste in 2016.

He continues to support environmental causes through the Bob Brown Foundation.

Front on view of a pebble from Lake Pedder. The roundish and flat pebble is a yellowish-brown colour towards the centre with dark brown rock around the outside - click to view larger image
A pebble from Lake Pedder, collected about 1972

Bob Brown collection

The Bob Brown collection documents Brown’s environmental advocacy through the 1970s and 1980s. Objects in the collection range from personal clothing worn during the Gordon-below-Franklin dam protests to his rafting gear, letters he received from supporters, photographs and Tasmanian Wilderness Society ephemera.

The collection also includes some Lake Pedder ‘pennies’, unique geological specimens collected from the lake and pro-dam ephemera that demonstrates the opposition’s argument.

In our collection

Bottle filled with Franklin River water fundraising by The Wilderness SocietyA clear glass bottle with a white plastic removable cap filled with a clear liquid. The white paper label on the front of the bottle reads 'FRANKLIN / RIVER WATER / The Worlds only ... / Tasmania's own.. / -GENUINE- / Franklin River Water / Keep for Posterity.' The label features a black and white hand drawn image of the Frankl...
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