The natural beauty and significance of the Tarkine have been recognised for many, many years, with some of the earliest recorded descriptions of the area talking in glowing terms of the region’s beauty. For example, when Sprent visited the Tarkine’s Pieman river, he wrote of his experience to his fiancé:
“Coming down the river we had some lovely sights; trees down to the water’s edge every shade of green, and immense clusters of flowers; bush lilac, beech…… It is a noble river”– Sprent, 1800s.
When Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, visited the region in 1898, he was equally moved. Following a walk in the Tarkine region between what is now Rosebery and Waratah, he wrote:
“There are some who begin to lament that the romantic mystery of Tasmanian fastnesses is being dissipated by the advance of population into the West. I am glad, at all events, that I have walked through places almost in their native state before they became too well known,” – Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, 1898.
However, the first formal proposal for the protection of the Tarkine region was in 1937, when Seargent Summers, a government surveyor, was leading a search in North-West Tasmania for the Tasmanian Tiger. Seargent Summers recorded many recent sightings of the Tiger by others in a large area between the Arthur and Pieman Rivers (now known as the Tarkine). He recommended that the region be set-aside as a sanctuary for the Tasmanian Tiger.
Following Seargent Summers’ proposal, the next concerted push for a National Park in the Tarkine, was lead by the Circular Head council, in 1967. On the 9th of November 1967, a motion was carried by the Circular Head Council as follows: “That Councillors H.A. (Jim) Lane, R.A. Porteus, S.Abblitt and G.W.Malley be appointed to a Committee to be known as the Norfolk Range Committee for the purpose of preparing a case seeking to have the area dedicated as a National Park”.
So began a now long running community campaign to have the outstanding values of the region recognised. At a subsequent committee meeting, the council looked at involving the Burnie field Naturalists Club to obtain the necessary data to enable the Council to prepare a case for the proclamation of the Norfolk range area as a National Park. With the assistance of the North-West Walking Club, a geographical documentation and a photographic survey of the Norfolk Range area was undertaken.
The Norfolk Range National Park proposal, put together by the Circular Head Council, read:
“With the opening up of the country south of the Arthur River for timber milling and grazing a large area of land will be cleared for man’s material use. Roads will be constructed, shacks built on the Coast and people will want to hunt the prolific wildlife in the area south of the Lagoon River.
Such pressures will eventually lead to the rapid “modification” of this coast from the Arthur River and if not checked, eventually to the Pieman River. The Circular Head Council considers that an area of land should be preserved and set aside as a National Park for recreation by the people in the district and in fact for Tasmanians as a whole.”
Subsequently, the proposal was presented at a public meeting in Smithton on 30th April 1968, where the Smithton Rotary Club enthusiastically supported the proposal. The North-West Walking Club incorporated a section in its public slide show and showed slides to over 2000 people along the North-West Coast as well as hundreds in Melbourne and Sydney audiences.
Scientific Authorities also supported the proposal, with Dr J.G.Mosley, Assistant Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, referring to the area in a scientific report:
“the recently proposed Norfolk Range – Pieman River National Park of 100,000 acres would do much to preserve a sample of the sedgeland, dune coast and rainforest environments of North-Western Tasmania… The people of Circular Head, and indeed the people of the rapidly developing North-West Coast, look to the wise decision of the Government to set aside land for the benefits of the people now and for future generations who will use this Park.”
Unfortunately, the Premier of the time, Eric Reece (who also dammed the Lake Pedder National Park in South-West Tasmania), knocked back the proposal for a National Park, despite support for the proposal from his minister. He stated that he didn’t want to see Tasmanian land ‘locked up’ from mineral production and other uses, and so the area was eventually declared the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area instead.
In 1968, the opening of the large bridge over the Arthur River at its mouth heralded more intensive use of the southern parts of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. Winter agistment of dairy cattle commenced, along with increased levels of recreation use.
In 1973, the Forestry Commission opened the Kanunnah Bridge over the Arthur River, heralding the beginning of extensive exploitation of the State Forest south of the Arthur River. In 1984, investigations commenced into construction of a road link between Couta Rocks and Corinna. Construction commenced in the following year, starting from the Arthur River. Opposition to the road on environmental grounds, however, resulted in suspension of works under the Labor-Green Accord in 1989, leaving the road ending in the middle of a wilderness, hence the term “Road to Nowhere”.
In June 1990, a report by the state government department of Parks, Wildlife and Heritage recommended the inclusion of additional lands into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. One of these areas noted as worthy of consideration for World Heritage nomination was the Tarkine, lying northwest of Tasmania’s existing World Heritage Area. In 1990 and again in 1994 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recommended that the Tarkine be nominated for World Heritage list, and for the area to be included as a part of the National Park and World Heritage system. The first formal World Heritage proposal for the Tarkine was developed by the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1990.
In 1995, amongst huge controversy, and despite continuing opposition from conservationists, construction of the ‘Road to Nowhere’ recommenced, being completed the following year. The Tarkine National Coalition was formed in 1994 to co-ordinate opposition to the road and to highlight the need for the Tarkine to be protected. More than 100 people, including locals, tourist operators, Aboriginals, politicians and unionists, were arrested in protests attempting to halt construction of the road.
Whilst the controversy over the ‘Road to Nowhere’ divided the local community, and ultimately the road got pushed through, it did catalyse a huge and growing awareness of the outstanding natural significance of the Tarkine. The Australian Government formally recognised the outstanding natural and cultural significance of the Tarkine by formally inscribing the Tarkine on the Register of the National Estate in 2002.
Concern over the protection of the Tarkine Rainforest continued to grow, with Forestry Tasmania announcing their intention to lift a 20-year long rainforest logging moratorium, and to commence logging pristine rainforest in the heart of the Tarkine after the 5-yearly review of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement in 2002. Tourism operators, locals, scientists and environment groups at a local and national level united behind the need for the Tarkine to be protected. The Tarkine National Coalition (TNC) completed the most comprehensive proposal for a National Park and Heritage listed area for the Tarkine in 2004, and presented it to State and Federal politicians. The TNC proposed a bold 447,000 hectare National Park & World Heritage area be established to fully protect the region’s outstanding values.
The Tasmanian government and Federal government formally recognised the importance of the rainforest in the Tarkine, when in 2005, the then Prime Minister, John Howard, and the then Tasmanian Premier, Paul Lennon, protected an additional 70,000 hectares of the Tarkine Rainforest in formal and informal reserves.
The local, national and international recognition of the Tarkine continues to grow, with a growing number of locals, tourist operators, and politicians visiting the area. In recent years, the Tarkine has been visited by journalists from Japan, ex British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s former environment adviser, Sir Crispin Tickell, former Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell, and now senior Federal Labor Minister Anthony Albanese, amongst others.
In 2007, the Federal government, and then Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, placed the Tarkine National Heritage nomination on the Australian Heritage Council’s 2007/08 priority assessment program, and also asked the Australian Heritage Council to examine, identify and advise the Minister for the Environment of World Heritage values contained in the Tarkine.
The Australian Senate also unanimously passed a motion, supported by all political parties, acknowledging the World Heritage significance of the Tarkine Wilderness.
HOWEVER: There are still many critical environmental problems in the Tarkine region, and still much work to be done before the Tarkine is fully protected. Whether or not the Tarkine eventually gains proper protection as a National Park & World Heritage area entirely depends on YOU. We need your support and involvement to make it happen. Find out about environmental problems in the Tarkine here find out about the National Park and World Heritage proposals here and find out how you can help here