The Tarkine Tug-o-War

The Tarkine region in Tasmania is the 2nd largest cool climate rainforest on earth. In recent controversial news, mining company Venture Minerals has proposed several new iron ore mines within the region. There are strong supporters for and against this decision: some rallying against the destruction of the last disease-free safe harbour for the Tasmanian Devil and some arguing that the local economy desperately needs the predicted $40m p/year boost.

SFS graduate Julian Knysh is currently making a documentary on the subject and our resident blogger Tom Earls went down to Tasmania to lend a hand.

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Above: The crew of the documentary, including SFS student Robin Kover (right)


The Background 

An extract from Director Julian Knysh’s Pozible crowdfunding campaign:

“While following the events as they unfold, the feature length documentary film will explore the raw beauty of all the natural values of the Tarkine; the arguments of development vs conservation and how we define, relate to and value the idea of resources and how we define and value wilderness.. It will show the very human face and different perspectives that people have in this highly politicised and fiercely passionate struggle…

…I first went into the Tarkine looking at the potential for a good documentary story. What I also found was a life experience having been affected by the place, the people and the passions the Tarkine incites.

Since those first visits the first new mine in the Tarkine has broken ground and a federal court case challenging the approval of a second mine has been adjourned to February. The Tarkine is shaping up to become one of the most significant environmental campaigns of the decade.

The wild and unique Tarkine deserves the world’s attention.”


And the story from Tom Earls’ POV

The Tarkine region of Tasmania is one of the most diverse and delicate ecosystems in the world. It’s home to dozens of endangered species and, if you believe the locals, home to one supposedly extinct one too (seen any Thylacines lately anyone?). It spans nearly half-a-million hectares and yet, less than 5% of it is protected as national park.

Predictably, our fun-loving brothers and sisters from mining and logging companies want a piece of the sweet, Tarkine action; and a sweet piece they’re getting indeed. Three-trailer-long logging trucks filled with dead trees are a common sight on the roads around the region and it’s not uncommon on your travels through the wilderness to come across fields of stumps and ugly holes in the ground.

It’s a sticky problem given the fragile nature of Tasmania’s economy. It’s hard not to notice all of the bumper stickers in support of logging and mining the Tarkine. The prevailing wisdom among many locals seems to be that most of the region is useless grassland that holds a wealth of iron-ore beneath. While it should only take a brief walk along any of the trails near the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge to destroy that simplistic analysis, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from. When you consider the isolated nature of many of the nearby communities, without the industrial clock ticking over, it’s hard to see where the jobs would come from.

When my friend and fellow SFS grad, Julian Knysh first told me about a documentary he was making on some obscure corner of the country, I couldn’t even pronounce Tarkine (Tark-een or Tark-eye-ne?), let alone imagine what a beautiful place it would be. However, it didn’t take much reading to convince me that Julian’s was a worthy cause to get involved in. He had managed to gather a little money and enough support to get a small production team located in the small town of Wynyard on Tasmania’s north coast.

I expected to walk onto a shoot that was caught between two sides of a very long and protracted argument. This wasn’t the case at all. In fact, a bristled encounter with a grizzly petrol station attendant aside, my time on the shoot was devoid of confrontation completely.

Notwithstanding that Julian and his team had been shooting for weeks before I arrived (and, at the time of writing, are continuing production), the days of shooting I was involved in were largely spent in the peaceful quiet of some of Australia’s most scenic and isolated locations.

There’s a lot to be said for this process. The long days spent in temperate rainforest capturing its’ beauty completely remove the Tarkine from any political arena. The footage captured speaks for itself, including some breathtaking aerial shots of the low clouds over the expanse of rainforest.

The Tarkine is ancient: older than the first indigenous settlers. It harbours life so diverse as to rival the Galapagos Islands. Several days of shooting were dedicated solely to the subtle beauty of the various fungi (there’s something I never thought I’d write) in a neat spot called Philosopher’s Falls.

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Above: Some of the many species of fungi in the Tarkine

After a few days of shooting, the pressures of the ultra-low-budget documentary shoot became apparent, and Julian decided to down tools for a few days to get things realigned. Disappointing though this was for him, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for myself and a couple of the other crew members, as it allowed us the opportunity to explore the greater region with more freedom.

It’s very easy for me to wax lyrical about the transcendent nature of the places we visited. Indeed, aside from the odd bridge or walking track, it’s hard to imagine some of these places look very different now than they did a century or two ago, perhaps even longer. One evening in particular was spent watching the sunset over the mouth of the Arthur River, where the sky lit up orange and pink, and the crew was treated to the kind of natural marvel our indigenous ancestors would have enjoyed nightly.

The experience was truly surreal, and the end of every day left me wondering how anybody could walk into any one of these places and seriously consider blowing it up – they must literally have dollar signs for eyes.

Getting back into production was easier considering the nature of the shoot: A cold night spent in a hide (which is a sort of camouflaged shack in the bush), silently waiting for Tasmanian Devils to appear and take apart a found dead wallaby being used as bait. Although no Tasmanian Devils turned up (I did almost hit one on the road driving back to base!) some excellent footage of a Quoll was captured, tearing the found dead wallaby limb-from-limb (okay, so it’s not all peace and quiet).

It seems to me that the sheer size, age and beauty of the Tarkine would automatically disqualify any attempt to destroy any part of it. In fact, that this is a political issue at all seems to fly in the face of common sense. Whatever the outcome (and at this stage, it doesn’t look good for the greenies), Julian and his team may have captured the last images of a real ancient wonder.

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For anybody who wants to learn more, I would encourage you to start at www.tarkine.org – this website covers everything, from the numerous endangered species currently housed in the region (including the last disease-free population of Devils) to the various threats to the region’s health. Be sure to keep your eyes on SFS newsletters and bulletins, as I would wager that, before long, Julian and his team will need more helping hands.

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