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Strahan, Queenstown and the Franklin River

These towns in the west of the state are historical mining settlements, with Strahan being located on Macquarie Harbour, a fine harbour with a treacherously narrow mouth. At the eastern end of the harbour is Sarah Island, a dumping ground for “the worst description of convicts” from 1822-1833. Even here though, in this remote and godless place, the convicts worked: at timber-cutting and ship-building.

The Franklin River feeds into the harbour, offering wonderful treks and wilderness experiences. The river was made famous in 1983 as it became a major environmental issue and ultimately affected the outcome of both state and federal politics. Tasmania's notorious HEC (Hydro Electric Commission) was determined to build a dam, flooding the upriver valleys and destroying the Franklin and its tributary, the Gordon. In the past the HEC had been responsible for some enormous acts of vandalism, notably the flooding of Lake Pedder in the 1970s, but this time the conservationists won, and the area has been saved in perpetuity.

If you want to relive some of the adventures of the activists who saved the Franklin from the loggers and dam-builders, take a cruise or trek, or combination of both, along the river. You can also go white-water rafting here. The area's famous for its sudden downpours, so always ask advice if you are bushwalking or engaging in water activities. Whatever you do, you will need good wet weather protection. Be prepared for leeches! Check out the national parks website at www.parks.tas.gov.au/natparks/wild/index.html which will also tell you the story of Australia's biggest act of civil disobedience at that time.

A nice touch is the name of the national park that now protects the area: Wild Rivers. The wildness is real: the rivers are untouched, unpolluted, unfarmed, undiverted and untapped. They would have been anything but if the HEC and the Tasmanian government of the day had had their way.

However, nearby Queenstown illustrates the ravages that occur when unfettered exploitation of natural resources is allowed. A combination of tree-clearing for mining, the consequent eroding effects of the area's heavy rainfall, and the sulphurous fumes from the smelters have denuded the surrounding hills. So bizarre is the 'moonscape' that it has become a tourist attraction itself. Some revegetation has been attempted, with limited success as the hills are exposed and eroded down to the hard rock.

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