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Why wilderness is so important to gardeners

Why wilderness is so important to gardeners

When Diggers launched its latest book 40 years of the Best Garden Ideas at the opening of the Blooming Tasmania Festival, we called in for a chat with Bob Brown whilst in Hobart. We had been enthusiastic supporters of Bob’s Save The Tarkine campaign, which we visited last year (Summer Garden 2018). Just a few kilometres from Bob’s office, the Hobart Botanic Garden was celebrating its 200th birthday and had splendid displays of flowers. I couldn’t help but wonder, no matter how brilliant and inspiring the curated gardens were, they still lack in comparison to the wilderness of the western half of the Tasmanian World Heritage area. Straight after our book launch Penny and I made our 33rd trip to Cradle Mountain, climbing the mountains above Dove Lake and then walking among the 500-year-old, prehistoric-looking King Billy pines, the remarkable cushion plants, Richeas and Gondwanaland Nothofagus. Dove Lake, which is what all tourists see, also has an amazing array of plants that are only found in these rainforests.Isn’t it amazing that, of David Attenborough’s hundreds of wilderness documentaries, less than 5% focus on plants? Now hardly anyone understands that plants are the main event in the story of evolution, not the animals and certainly not humans, which are evolution’s greatest threat.
Land plants evolved 475 million years ago whilst humans, which can only exist because plants created a habitable environment for us, evolved in 1/1,500th of that time, barely 200 thousand years ago.
Returning to Bob, our plants and our wilderness, our inability to understand our dependence upon plants and their habitat is the reason our planet is in peril. Humans, the Johnny-come-lately’s, are rapidly sawing off the very branch that supports us. I hope these wonderful pictures, taken by the late Peter Dombrovskis, a mutual friend of Bob Brown and myself, energise and encourage you to get out and explore our wilderness this summer.
Clive Blazey

Bob Brown shares a moment in time with Peter Dombrovskis
Peter Dombrovskis was a genius of Australian nature photography. His art played a key role in awakening the nation’s environmental conscience. It was fundamental to presenting Tasmania’s wild scenery to a delighted nation and world, and to establishing the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
More than 20 years after his death, this book is a testimony to the beauty of wild Tasmania as seen through Peter’s eyes. It also highlights the durability and ongoing impact of his work in a world where the uglification of our planet’s natural face is rampant.
For as long as the Dombrovskis trove of more than 2,000 photographs remains in the National Library of Australia, it will inspire not only the admiration of Tasmania’s wild places but also a rebellion in those of us alive to the threats they continue to face.
I knew Peter for 20 years, yet we saw relatively little of each other. He was busy taking photographs of nature and I was more directly involved in campaigning for nature. The two pursuits dovetailed.
‘Photography is, quite simply, a means of communicating my concern for the beauty of the Earth,’ Peter wrote in 1984. His art came with environmental ambition. With his large Linhof camera on a sturdy tripod, squeezed amid the shrubbery on a shelf on the cliff, Peter’s anguish at the plans to drown this unsung heirloom of Australia’s landscape beneath the backed-up waters of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam came boiling up.
“If the dam goes ahead, I would find it simply too painful to stay here. I would leave Tasmania. I wouldn’t stay!”
At the centre of the campaign to save Lake Pedder was Peter’s mentor Olegas Truchanas. Truchanas’ slide presentations of the beautiful lake, given unprecedented poignancy by the audiovisual wizardry of Ralph Hope-Johnstone, repeatedly packed the Hobart Town Hall.
Yet, before the lake’s brutal inundation, Peter endured
an even more personal catastrophe. Olegas Truchanas had been setting off to canoe down the Gordon River through the Splits to photograph the country threatened by the next object of the dam builders’ zeal, the Gordon-below-Franklin dam. He slipped and disappeared beneath the river’s fast-flowing waters. On 6 January 1972, Peter found Olegas’ body. Within the year, Lake Pedder was also drowned.
“We must try to retain as much as possible of what remains of the unique, rare and beautiful. Is there any reason why … the ideal of beauty could not become an accepted goal of national policy? Is there any reason why Tasmania should not be more beautiful on the day we leave it than on the day we came? If we can accept the role of steward and depart from the role of conqueror, if we can accept the view that man and nature are incomparable parts of the unified whole, then Tasmania can be a shining beacon in a dull, uniform and largely artificial world.” Olegas Truchanas

Peter’s photography took me with him back down the Franklin with every image, pictures that would be lost under the waters of a future 200-metre-high dam below the ravine on the Franklin River itself (but not by the Gordon-below-Franklin dam for which drilling in the lower Gordon Gorge was already under way). Peter’s photographs, like Lake Oberon, are exuberant portrayals of the land, water and vegetation.
Peter Dombrovskis’ legacy is much more than the photographs in this book or in the National Library archive. His legacy includes the places open to mining, logging and dam building when he first called with his camera and tripod that are now protected in national parks or in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which covers 1.58 million hectares.
Nicholas Dombrovskis says that ‘even though Dad was taking landscapes, they were always portraits of old friends’. One such old friend was a myrtle tree in the moss-clad alpine rainforest on Mount Anne, east of Lake Pedder. One night in 1995, Nicholas recalls, ‘he came into my room in the darkness and I felt his unshaven face scratch mine. He gave me a kiss and said he loved me and that he would be back for my birthday’. But Peter never returned. High in the Western Arthur Range, alone near Mount Hayes just west of Lake Oberon, his heart gave way and he fell lifeless to the track in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. While his spirit may be there, through the gift of his photographic record, it is also alive and here for everyone to enjoy.
Bob Brown


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