Forty years ago this coming January I was standing with about 10 others on the banks of the upper Franklin River in western Tasmania, ready for a 10-day rafting trip. It was pouring with rain, and continued to do so for the next few days. My destination was either Strahan or the protest site. Our names had been taken by the police – not for safety reasons, but as part of the intimidation process to discourage environmentalists and potential protestors who might join the ongoing “No Dams” blockade.
The documentary feature, Franklin, interweaves Oliver Cassidy’s solo rafting trip down the Franklin River, his personal life journey, his late father’s rafting trip 40 years earlier and the history of the “No Dams” campaign. This eight-year-long campaign ultimately saved the Franklin River being flooded by stopping the construction of a dam designed to generate hydroelectricity.
As Oliver retraces his late father’s 14-day journey down the river, there are flashbacks to both his protestor father’s trip and the lengthy grassroots campaign that helped “No Dams” supporter Bob Hawke win the Federal Election, as well as to the decisive 1983 High Court Tasmanian Dam case decision in Brisbane.
Interviews with Bob Brown, Uncle Jim Everett and various other key people involved in the protest are featured throughout the movie. Most protesters spent some time on the site and then returned to their regular day jobs, for example as school teachers. Others became more familiar names, such as founder of Australian Geographic Dick Smith and botanist Professor David Bellamy. The passion of all people featured is obvious.
When we mix our skills with our passion to do God’s work in the world, we are using God’s gifts. The film shows the diversity of people involved, including believers and non-believers, overseas visitors and First Nations peoples.
The footage depicting a 40-year period is understandably varied, stretching from “home movies” to beautiful modern drone shots of the river and the surrounding World Heritage listed national park.
Then there was “the shot” I was hoping for, when the whole screen showed Peter Dombrovskis’ famous photo of “Rock Island Bend”. I have kept a poster copy of it since my early 20s. The clarity of that single image on the big screen was overwhelming. While campaigns need people, art, literature, science and legal minds, that iconic photo summed up the importance of the whole campaign.
The documentary also features stills of protestors, which you might remember from newspaper front pages.
This movie is rated MA15+. Why would an environmentalist documentary have this rating? There are no scenes of graphic violence nor any sex scenes. Explaining the rating would give away a major theme, which is a current key discussion in our churches and the wider community.
I recommend this documentary to anglican focus readers. It is a movie that is pitched at many levels simultaneously. On one level it is about the history of the protest. For those who remember the events of 40 years ago, regardless of whether you supported the dam or the protest, you may find some twists and uncomfortable viewing.
Then there are the family dynamics and the personal history. Given the diverse beliefs of Anglicans, an unexpected narrative shift might be uncomfortable for some anglican focus readers even though the matter is approached sensitively.
The educative nature of the documentary is a plus, helping to show what Australian society was like in 1983.
There are also familiar metaphors throughout the movie, including the resurrection theme.
Groups can host their own screening or book a private cinema screening via the documentary’s website. Either would make for an informative group occasion.
That all of the interwoven themes can be satisfactory dealt with in 90 minutes shows incredible editing. I was left wanting to see and know more.
Did I end up joining the blockade? Sufficient to say that I did not make it all the way to the blockade due to flooding. I then needed to return to Brisbane to start theological studies several weeks later. One year later though I was back on the river – but that is another story. You can ask me anytime.
Franklin, rated MA15+ and directed by Kasimir Burgess, is currently showing at cinemas. You can also host your own screening – more information on the Franklin movie website.