Our World Wild river adventure of a lifetime

World Expeditions marks a milestone with trips on the Franklin.

"If you were young and adventurous in Australia in the early 1980s, you rafted the Franklin,” says author and veteran conservationist Geoff Law, recalling his first trip down Tasmania’s Franklin River in 1981. 

“I was not confident about my abilities to steer a craft through the white water of big rapids, but hundreds of people, as inexperienced as I, were taking it on,” he remembers.

“When I took the plunge (literally) I discovered that my reservations about my rafting ability were entirely justified. My inflatable raft leaked; I had a companion almost as fearful and inept as I was; I wore cotton shorts and woollen jumpers and was usually freezing cold; I capsized several times.

“Nevertheless, I was amazed at the rugged beauty of the river, from huge canyons to the delicate ferns that clung to the boulders. The experience was given added poignancy by the fact that it could all have been submerged under the waters of several artificial impoundments if the dams went ahead.”

Indeed, at that time the Franklin was under threat from a series of planned dams in the area, which were opposed by conservationists in what would become one of Australia’s most significant (and bitterly fought) environmental campaigns.

Mr Law himself would later become a spokesman for the Franklin River blockade of 1982-83, an event which helped to draw wider attention to the cause.

The campaign to save the Franklin was ultimately successful, and the dams were not built. Meanwhile, rafting on the Franklin continued, and has become a renowned adventure travel experience. Australian operator World Expeditions lays claim to having made the first commercial rafting expedition down the river in the late 1970s, when a group including mountaineer Lincoln Hall  made the descent.

According to the company, that first group had only minimal notice to prepare, with “no planning besides the raft being transferred from Sydney with barrels packed with life jackets and supplies”. 

World Expeditions has now taken thousands of people down the Franklin — and the expedition logistics are now significantly more orderly.

“While the wilderness has remained unchanged in the past 40 years and Dunlop Volleys are still the preferred choice of footwear on the expedition, the rafts have revolutionised with the times, the food is more varied, the camping equipment more comfortable and the guides are very experienced,” says World Expeditions chief executive Sue Badyari. 

The company continues to offer rafting trips on the river through its Tasmanian Expeditions brand and, in the new year, Mr Law will accompany two departures to mark the 40th anniversary of the first commercial trip. 

According to Ms Badyari, such trips strictly adhere to “leave no trace” principles — even toilet waste is carried out — to protect the landscape. 

Wonderful tribute to our wild places

On a winter weekend in 1976, a small group of conservationists gathered at the cottage of a young Launceston GP named Bob Brown in Liffey, Tasmania. And from the meeting of what Brown would later describe as “16 greenies in beanies”, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society was born.

The group would forge its reputation during the grassroots campaign to save the Franklin River, later calling itself the Wilderness Society and broadening its attention to areas such as Kakadu and the Daintree.

These and other environmental campaigns are detailed in Wilderness: Celebrating Australia’s Protected Places, a new limited-edition book which looks back on more than 40 years of the Wilderness Society.

In Wilderness, writers including Geoff Law detail the society’s efforts to preserve wild places around the country, beginning with the Franklin campaign and continuing with a chapter on each State. 

The chapter dealing with WA, for example, touches on issues such as old-growth logging in the South West, the establishment of marine reserves in the Kimberley and ongoing debate over the future of the expansive area known as the Great Western Woodlands. 

The coffee-table tome is extensively illustrated with evocative nature photography. Its cover image, for example, is Peter Dombrovskis’ famous photo of Rock Island Bend, which was widely disseminated during the Franklin campaign. 

Wilderness costs $125 including postage from chuffed.org/project/wildernessbook with proceeds benefitting the Society’s work in Tasmania.

(Top image: Rock Island Bend on the Franklin River, Tasmania. Picture: Glenn Walker)

Fact File

Tasmanian Expeditions’ nine-day Franklin River World Heritage Expedition with Geoff Law departs from Launceston and costs from $2995 including camping, meals, gear and professional guides. The January 22 expedition is full, but there are places on the February 8 departure. The company has a number of other Franklin River rafting trips available, priced from $2895. Previous rafting experience is not required, but participants do need to be reasonably fit. tasmanianexpeditions.com.au or 1300 666 856

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