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Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


Lake Pedder

Image 7: Lake Pedder Action Committee postcard, 1973

Image 7: Lake Pedder Action Committee postcard, 1973
NAA: A3533, 73/00141-02
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There are two Lake Pedders. The first was a beautiful, shallow nine square kilometre lake famous, once it became known and photographed, for its beach-like shores and setting in 'the empty quarter' of south-west Tasmania. It was protected by state gazettal in 1955 of the Lake Pedder National Park. In the late 1960s, it came under threat from the Gordon River Power Development Scheme and, despite intense campaigns locally, nationally and internationally, in 1972 it was flooded. The result was the Huon–Serpentine impoundment, a 'new' much larger and deeper Lake Pedder. In 1979, the turbines of the Gordon power station began to turn. The relationship between Hobart and Canberra over the Lake Pedder issue, which had begun during the final government of Robert Menzies as one of financial support, ended with determined but unsuccessful opposition by the Whitlam government in the early 1970s.

The road

In 1963, the Menzies government supported the construction of an access road between Maydena and the Gordon River area in the south-west wilderness region, in Robson's words, 'to encourage timber interests as well as the HEC'. Officially, the Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964 provided for up to £2.5 million to assist with the construction of the road. Further assistance was provided under the Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1967.

Selected items relating to Commonwealth support for road access to the Gordon River
National Archives, Canberra
Request by Tasmania for financial assistance for road to Gordon River area, Tasmania. Decision No. 1079, 1963 A5819, VOLUME 23/AGENDUM 917
Bill – Financial assistance to Tasmania for construction of Gordon River access road [22 pp], 1963 A432, 1963/1337
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Bill 1964. Decision No. 87 (LEG), 1964 A5827, VOLUME 2/AGENDUM 73
An Act to grant financial assistance to the state of Tasmania in connexion with the construction of a road in the Gordon River area of that state – [Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964], 1964 A1559, 1964/5
Financial assistance for road to Gordon River area, Tasmania, 1963–67 A4940, C3867
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964, 1966 A432, 1966/3131
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Bill 1967 – Decision No. 76(LEG), 1967 A5842, 94
Proposed amendments to Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964. Decision No. 624(GA), 1966 A5841, 519
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Bill 1967, 1966–67 A432, 1966/1234
Proposed Amendments to Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964 – SUBMISSION 519, 1966 A5839, 624/GA
Construction of access road to Gordon River area, South West Tasmania – Commonwealth assistance, 1963–66 A463, 1963/3401
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Bill 1967 – SUBMISSION 94, 1967 A5840, 76/LEG
Roads aid Tasmania, Gordon River area, South West Tasmania, 1963 A10122, CAB/166
An Act to grant financial assistance to the state of Tasmania in connexion with the construction of a road in the Gordon River area of that state – [Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964], 1964 A1559, 1964/5
Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1967 – (An Act to amend the Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Act 1964–66), 1967 A1559, 1967/5

The scheme

Gradually from the mid-1960s, Tasmanian political and HEC thinking developed, favouring a very large hydro scheme on the Gordon River. Various Commonwealth governments were happy to help with funding. In parallel, concerns about the environmental impact strengthened. Then in 1967 Premier Eric Reece announced the Gordon River Power Development Scheme and an intention to seek special federal assistance for it and similar hydro projects. The result was the Tasmanian Agreement (Hydro-Electric Power Development) Act 1968, which made available up to $47 million in bridging finance. The Reece and subsequent Bethune governments in Hobart, and Holt and Gorton governments in Canberra came and went, but nothing stopped work beginning on the dam on the Serpentine River, which flowed into the Gordon via the stunningly beautiful Lake Pedder. Its gates closed on 2 December 1971 and the lake began to disappear, or 'to use the HEC euphemism', as Whitlam suggested in The Whitlam Government 1972–1975, 'the lake was already being enlarged'.

Protests in Tasmania and elsewhere fell on deaf ears. Petitions multiplied (some were even sent to the Queen) and new ideas for environmental protest developed, including skywriting. In Canberra in December 1971, in answer to a Question on Notice from Tom Uren to the Prime Minister asking, 'Would he on behalf of all Australians take all possible legal and financial steps to halt this project at its present state of development until the completion of a full inquiry into the Gordon River Scheme?' McMahon said, 'These would be matters for the Tasmanian Government'.

Selected items relating to Holt, Gorton and McMahon governments and hydro–electric power development in Tasmania
National Archives, Canberra
Request from premier of Tasmania for financial assistance for proposed hydro–electric development – Decision No. 108, 1967 A5842, 63
Hydro-electric power development in Tasmania, 1966–68 A463, 1966/2760
Hydro-electric power development in Tasmania, 1966–67 A463, 1966/2760 ATTACHMENTS
Financing of Hydro-Electric Power Development in Tasmania – Decision No. 384, 1967 A5842, 304
Policy regarding assistance to the state of Tasmania with the Gordon River Project, 1967–68 A5628, C1967/368
Commonwealth assistance for Hydro-electric development in Tasmania – 1968, 1967–68 A5882, CO145
Tasmania Agreement (Hydro-Electric Power Development) Bill 1968 – without submission, 1968 A5872, 215/LEG
Parliamentary question number 4379 (5 October 1971) – Flooding of Lake Pedder, Tasmania – Mr Uren, Dr Solomon A463, 1971/2886
Mr Richard Friend; petition: preservation of Lake Pedder, 1972 A2880, 2/6/63

Sidelights

The Lake Pedder story is compelling; it seemed to draw to it deep passions and personalities of considerable strength and interest. One, photographer and activist Olegas Truchanas, is featured in Chapter 9. Two others were the remarkable Dr Sergio Giudici, supervising chief engineer for the dam built to exploit the flooded Lake Pedder, and Lake Pedder Action Committee activist Brenda Hean. In a hired Tiger Moth (De Havilland DH82A registered VH-AQL) she and pilot Max Price intended to skywrite 'Save Lake Pedder' over the national capital, but the plane disappeared en route in September 1972, according to some in highly suspicious circumstances.

Selected items about Brenda Hean and Sergio Giudici
National Archives, Perth
[Civil Aviation] Search and rescue report on VH-AQL Launceston, 1962–77 PP618/1, 73/186
National Archives, Canberra
Register of Civil Aircraft – VH-AAA to VH-BZZ, 1937–87 A9123, 1
More than 200 delegates from all over Australia attended the Eleventh Australian Citizenship Convention in Canberra from 9 to 11 February, 1960. Mr Sergio Guidici, Italian born Rhodes Scholar for Tasmania, addresses delegates after having received the 1960 Gertrude Kumm Award for Citizenship A12111, 1/1960/11/15
Giudici Evelina Elsa born 17 December 1912; Sergio age 10; nationality Italian; travelled per SS Sudan arriving in Melbourne on 1 March 1948, 1948 A12508, 31/2519
Applicant – Giudici Bruno; Nominee – Giudici Elsa; Giudici Sergio; nationality Italian, 1946 A261, 1946/1656
Lake Pedder Action – Committee – Lake Pedder, 1971–79 A3533, 1973/87 PART 1
Lake Pedder Action – Committee – Lake Pedder, 1974–75 A3533, 1973/87 PART 2

Whitlam

Like McMahon before him, Whitlam was inundated with public representations, as the files of his Department of Environment and Conservation, Central Office (CA 1479) and his predecessor's Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, Central Office (CA 1407) testify. After the December 1972 federal election, Whitlam searched for a workable compromise. Environment and Conservation Minister Dr Moss Cass formed a Committee of Enquiry chaired by Professor John Burton, a natural resource expert, and three others. Whitlam also flew to Tasmania to see the situation for himself. In July, the committee reported, recommending a moratorium on the flooding, but achieved little other than infuriating the Tasmanian ALP Premier Eric Reece.

Selected items relating to the lobbying of Whitlam government and its action regarding Lake Pedder
National Archives, Canberra
Gordon river power development scheme – Committee of enquiry – (Lake Pedder), 1972–74 A463, 1973/305
Lake Pedder Enquiry Committee correspondence, 1973 A3533, 1973/200 PART 1
Lake Pedder Enquiry Committee – correspondence, 1973–76 A3533, 1973/200 PART 4
General to representations – Lake Pedder, 1972–74 A3533, 1973/141 PART 1
General to representations – Lake Pedder, 1971–75 A3533, 1973/141 PART 8
Image 8: Area of Mount Campbell, Cradle Mountain, Lake Gordon, Lake Pedder, Crater Lake and Dove Lake, 1975

Image 8: Area of Mount Campbell, Cradle Mountain, Lake Gordon, Lake Pedder, Crater Lake and Dove Lake, 1975
NAA: A6135, K2/6/75/31
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In 1979, the largest arch dam in the southern hemisphere, featuring its innovative double curvature construction, was finally opened. Lake Pedder did have a significant Whitlam-era postscript. In November 1972, UNESCO had adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, or the World Heritage Convention. After signing (20 signatories were required to bring it into force – Australia, in 1974, was the seventh), parties would then submit to a World Heritage Committee an inventory of natural and other sites of outstanding universal value 'from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty'. Many, including Whitlam, believed that once ratified, the convention would empower the federal government to exercise its jurisdiction over external affairs to preserve sites such as Tasmania's wild south-west. That belief was finally tested before the High Court in 1983, triggered by a further disagreement over another Gordon River dam.

Selected photographs relating to Lake Pedder and the McMahon and Whitlam governments
National Archives, Canberra
Aerial view of construction on the Gordon River hydro-electric project – South West Tasmania, 1971 A1200, L96131
Gordon River Road in Tasmania showing power station, dam and map on huge sign of the development, 1973

similar:
A6180, 3/10/73/15–20
A6180, 16/7/74/7

A6180, 3/10/73/14
Concrete arch dam being built on Gordon River, Tasmania, 1974

similar:
A6135, K16/7/74/14
A6135, K16/7/74/16
A6135, K16/7/74/17

A6135, K16/7/74/15

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Chapter 4
The environment