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What Lake Pedder taught me

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 23 October 2008

I will never forget my first sight of Lake Pedder. It was 1972, and we had been walking through the button grass of South West Tasmania. We moved steadily up to the top of a low rise - and there it was. It was as if a curtain on a fantasy had been raised.

We were to camp here for the next week and do nothing but talk, eat, sleep and explore. I now look back on that week as the most spiritual time of my life.


The rectangular-shaped lake in the middle of nowhere, had a perimeter of about 13km. On its eastern shore was what I still feel was the finest beach in Australia. It was several times the size of that at Bondi, and was composed of pure white sand.

It was February, the days were brilliant and the water was warm. Because this large glacial lake was only about two meters deep in its centre, if there was no breeze, then on the surface of the water would be a mirror image of the Franklin Range. The mountains would turn pink in the late afternoon.

We were experiencing an environment which had been undisturbed since the last ice age - and there was no indication that we were not the first humans to ever have been there.

The madness

“There was a National Park out there, but I can't remember exactly where it was … at least, it wasn't of substantial significance in the scheme of things.” Eric Reece, Premier of Tasmania.

That beach is now under the backwaters of a system of four dams, the area of the lake is 25 times what it was and the water is 15 meters deep. The surface is choppy and the water is cold. As incidental damage, the water backup along the Serpentine River destroyed 2,000-year old trees.

The drainage from Lake Pedder was dammed and the free flow of the spectacular Gordon River was dammed to create a huge system which would be able to generate hydro-electricity. The theory was that cheap electricity would attract industry to Tasmania. Those who sanctify progress are prone to delusions. Industry did not come to Tasmania because there are other factors in business besides the cost of electricity.


The droves of tourists coming to see the new lake was also a dream. Only nature can create a lake. The body of water behind a man-made wall is just a body of water. This was not the photogenic Swiss Alps. It was the walking and kayaking through the remoteness and timelessness of it all that was wonderful.

The roads to the dams went right through the very middle of the South West. This greatly diminished the remoteness, and consequently, the sense of wilderness. The South West was one of the most significant remnants of a wilderness left in the world - a wilderness which once covered the whole land area of the planet. The presence of the roads was as tragic as the flooding itself.

My dreamtime

Where I was at was exactly as it was a millennium ago when a group of laughing and chatting Aborigines would have sat on the sand. They would have been intensely aware of nature’s moods. They would have felt part of the earth, the air and the water. They would have seen all living things as their fellow travelers through life.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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