<a href="http://www.gmagazine.com.au/blog/17#">Eco Travel</a>

Eco Travel

On the path to responsible travel, with Louise Southerden.

Natural causes

Franklin River

Rafting the Franklin, Tasmania

Credit: Louise Southerden

Rock Island Bend

Peter Dombrovskis' famous photo Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend

Credit: Peter Dombrovskis

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Rafting the Franklin River, south west Tasmania.

There are times when we travel with a mission in mind. Twenty-five years ago this summer, starting on December 14 1983, thousands of people, people just like you and me, did just that.

They got into their cars, or flew or caught buses to Hobart, Tasmania. Then they travelled by road to the little town of Strahan, halfway up Tasmania’s west coast.

From there they found boats that would take them across Macquarie Harbour, up the Gordon River and into the Franklin, and got into small rubber rafts, ready to confront the barges that were bringing land-clearing equipment into this wild place.

Many of the protestors had never been there before, or been so far from their suburban homes and lives. What made them do it?

What made them look at pictures taken by the late, great Tasmanian photographer Peter Dombrovskis – like Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, which he took in 1979 – or listen to Bob Brown who, long before he became a Greens Senator with a following, was a Tasmanian doctor who had just formed the Tasmanian Wilderness Society to defend the Franklin from a proposed hydro-electric dam?

(On the 25th anniversary of the High Court ruling, some of the key players give their take on the campaign, including Greens senator Bob Brown, and former Tasmanian premier Robin Gray who famously declared the Franklin to be a leech-ridden brown ditch.)

What made these people look, listen and say, “Hey, we’d better get down to Tasmania or this precious place will be lost forever”?

I was thinking about this recently when watching Lions for Lambs – a Hollywood blockbuster starring Robert Redford, who also directed it. He plays an aging professor alarmed by the apathy of people today and he’s telling an ambivalent student about two of his former students who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan.

I’m not advocating military action of course, but it made me wonder, have we really become so obsessed with the comfort and the details of our own lives that there’s no time or energy left to think, or care, about bigger ideas and issues? Global warming is one thing, but what if we were called upon to show up, in person, for a cause?

I once spent a week at Jabiluka protesting against a planned uranium mine in the middle of Kakadu National Park – which, unlike the Franklin, was already World Heritage listed at the time – but that was ten years ago.

What if the Franklin were being threatened today? Would thousands of people still make it a priority to get there? Would you drop everything to go and help defend it? Would I?

When I rafted the Franklin myself not long ago, I felt supremely grateful to those who put their lives and careers on hold to act in accordance with their own integrity and sense of justice, to physically travel from all over Australia to help protect a place that could not speak for itself.

Then when I was researching the Franklin campaign for a travel feature in G Magazine’s October issue, I felt really moved watching actual footage of the protests like this:

And listening to downloaded interviews with people who were actually there and felt their lives change forever in a single summer.

It was heady stuff, especially because I had seen the river with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears, and flowed with it for nine days from its junction with the Collingwood River to where it meets the Gordon River, a distance of some 110 kilometres.

That’s why it’s so important to travel to these wild natural places: because it makes advocates of us all. We are inspired to protect what we love, as Senegalese ecologist Baba Dioum has said.

And it’s not like we don’t get something back. I mean, just being in remote natural places is a gift in itself, a way to recalibrate our lives, realign them more to the natural world instead of the man-made one.

Peter Dombrovskis himself put it this way: “When you go out there, you don’t get away from it all, you get back to it all.”

Let the outdoors in.