A Great photograph can bring about a myriad of memories as well as pose more mundane questions such as why political movements fail.
These thoughts occurred while standing in front of Peter Dombrovskis’ photograph in the National Library’s documentary photography exhibition “Viewfinder: photography from the 1970s to now”. The photograph is “Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River” originally taken in 1980.
A wonderful image, besides being pleasurable to look at, can be part of change within society. This happened in the early ’80s with a campaign in the media and through posters by the Wilderness Society featuring this Dombrovskis photograph.
The campaign set out to save Tasmania’s Franklin and Gordon Rivers threatened by the Tasmanian government’s love of hydro-electric development at all costs. It made no sense. It did not add up. It threatened things cherished by environmentally aware Tasmanians – and soon by people throughout Australia.
That campaign, together with the use of this photograph, influenced the change of federal government in 1983. The new Labor government intervened to scrap the plans for the dam.
One of the legacies of those environmentalists was the establishment nationally of the Greens as a political force. Bob Brown was its first leader and besides his time in politics, he maintained a life as a photographer.
There should be an obvious link between the commitments of those early campaigners and the 2022 ACT Greens politicians. Unfortunately, there is a clear disconnect between the passionate Peter Dombrovskis and the ACT Greens establishment.
The ACT Greens’ record is well accepted as being the enablers of questionable actions by the Greenslabor government across social heritage, cultural, health, environment and planning portfolios. They are settled into their prime job of keeping themselves in well-paid jobs.
While their rhetoric contains elements of what should be a progressive environmental, social and urban planning agenda, the stark reality is the last decade’s suburbs with minimal climate preparedness and an agenda that has seen monies taken from social and housing portfolios to pay for the developer-driven tram corridors.
Residents’ campaigns to save Canberra’s heritage, biodiversity, greenery and its quality of life are consistently thwarted by the ACT Greens’ desire to do as little as possible to halt inappropriate and health-threatening developments.
Their hands-off approach to urban planning makes no sense. Their ideologically driven desire for inappropriate suburban developments along the proposed southern tram does not add up.
This southern Barr-tram has been shown to be economic madness and absurd. The ACT Greens have morphed into being the hardline establishment that now threatens things cherished by environmentally aware and urban design loving Canberrans. They have inherited the ways of the ’80s Tasmanian government that was hell bent on doing stupid stuff as their core business.
When assessed nationally, the ACT residents register in statistics as having the highest participation rate in cultural activities – at least 13 per cent higher than the national average.
This high level of cultural and artistic interest should be reflected in those representing the people of this city. No matter how you look at the ACT Greens, they fail as a political body that places any priority on aesthetics. Drive along Northbourne Avenue and the results of their approach to urban design and architecture are there to shock visitors coming down this gateway to the city.
The political, social and environmental movements that stood their ground against the absurdity of the ’80s Tasmanian government have a legacy that is reflected in Peter Dombrovskis’ “Rock Island Bend” photograph. It is worth standing in front of it and considering all manner of stuff.
Those ’80s environmentally committed individuals held fast against enormous pressures on things that mattered to their society. The 2022 ACT Greens consistently display only token commitments to working with the people of Canberra on issues that matter – such as planning and urban development. The ACT Greens politicians have not inherited those brave people’s ethics and commitments.
Peter Dombrovskis died alone in 1996 from a heart attack while photographing in his beloved wilderness.
The photo mentioned here is one of 125 images on exhibition at the National Library until April 30.
The ACT Greens have until October 2024 to get real or be moved aside by candidates who care for the city and its people.
This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News
Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters