Monday, February 23, 2015

Judith Wright and the 1967 campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef

'Only those coral insects live
that work and endure under
the breaker's cold continual thunder.
They are the quick of the reef
that rots and crumbles in calmer water
Only those men survive
who dare to hold their love against the world;
who dare to live and doubt what they are told.
They are the quick of life;
their faith is insolence; joyful is their grief'
            Judith Wright

Iain McCalman's new book The Reef: A Passionate History is a social, cultural and environmental history of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. 

Reviews of the book are here and here.

The book contains an illuminating and informative chapter titled A Poet, a Forester and an Artist join forces about the campaign waged between 1967-1971 by Australian poet, writer and activist Judith Wright, along with two colleagues artist John Busst and environmentalist and scientist Len Webb to prevent the Queensland State Government, led by Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson, from opening up the Great Barrier Reef to mining.

Judith Wright, John Busst and Len Webb mobilized an alliance of citizens, conservation groups and trade unions against plans by the development oriented (and corrupt) Bjelke- Peterson Government  to allow the Great Barrier Reef to be exploited by mining companies.

Their campaign eventually led to the Federal Government claiming Commonwealth sovereignty over the Great Barrier Reef and its waters, and the reef's eventual listing as a world heritage site.

As McCalman notes, it was a combination of intensive grassroots campaigning, evidence of of catastrophic marine oil spills overseas, threats of trade union bans and bipartisan legislative action by Federal Liberal and Labor Governments that resulted in 1975 legislation which created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park .

But as Judith Wright predicted, the threats to the Reef remain. 

Iain McCalman has written this recent article reflecting on the contemporary implications of the legacy of the campaign launched by Judith Wright, Len Webb and John Busst back in 1967 and the mining related developments that still threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

Judith Wright's own book about the campaign The Coral Battleground was republished in 2014. An extract from that book is here.

Other articles about Judith Wright's involvement in the campaign and her book The Coral Battleground are here and here.

In The Coral Battleground, Judith Wright wrote:
'The Reef's fate is a microcosm of the new battle within ourselves. So this is not just a story of one campaign. The human attitudes, the social and industrial forces, and the people who in one way or other take their part in the campaign, represent a much wider field, and one in which the future of the human race may finally be decided'.

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