See the Photograph That Helped Save Tasmania’s Franklin River

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Aug 30, 2017

Brought to you by the National Library of Australia

“Could you vote for a party that will destroy this?”

It was the question Australians were asked as they sat down to breakfast and opened their morning papers before the 1983 federal election. A full-page advertisement had been taken out in the broadsheets by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society as part of their campaign to save the Franklin River from being dammed by the Tasmania’s Hydro-Electric Commission.

Morning Light on Little Horn, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania (1995)

The image chosen to drive home why the river was worth fighting for? Peter Dombrovskis’ Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, Tasmania printed in full colour below the emotive caption. The moody image, showing a section of the waterway that would be submerged by the proposed Franklin Dam, captured the river’s unique and sombre beauty: swirls of foam and mist travelling along the current, the lean of the central rock structure, the different hues in the stone brought out by just a hint of morning sun.

The photograph was credited with playing a key part in galvanizing the public to save the river. The liberal government was soon ousted. The dam was stopped.

Now, that image will be on show at the National Library of Australia in Canberra as part of the Dombrovskis: Journeys Into the Wild exhibition. It will sit alongside more than 70 of the acclaimed nature photographer’s other images – chosen from more than 3000 Dombrovskis transparencies acquired by the library in 2009 – to highlight his expert skill at capturing the Australian landscape.

Drying Kelp at Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island, Tasmania (1984)

Born in a refugee camp in Germany in 1945 to Latvian parents, Dombrovskis migrated to Australia with his mother, Adele, in 1950. They settled in Fern Tree, Tasmania, and, while he was surrounded by the island’s natural beauty from a young age, it wasn’t until the death of his mentor, photographer and conservationist Olegas Truchanas, that he began pursuing his craft in earnest.

Though Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend is arguably his best-known work, together his thousands of photographs of the Australian landscape changed how the public thought of the country’s natural world, especially the Tasmanian wilderness.

His work had a worldwide impact, too. In 2003, he was the first Australian photographer to be inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in the United States and his images hang in galleries and museums across the globe.

Dombrovskis died of a heart attack in 1996 while photographing the Western Arthur Range in south-west Tasmania.

Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild is on at the National Library of Australia from 21 September 2017 to 30 January 2018. A book to complement the exhibition, Journeys into the Wild: The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis, is also available.

Pencil Pine at Pool of Siloam, Walls of Jerusalem National Park, Tasmania (1982)

For more information on the exhibition, click here.

Top image: Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, Tasmania (late 1980 or early 1981)