High Court stops Franklin River dam
Further down the road, in a truck owned by Mr Bailey. Geoff Joseph had also heard the news on Queenstown’s radio. “The bastards,” he said. “The bastards.”
Kevin Bailey had told us: “I’ll just try to go on with the day’s work. It won’t be until I sit down for dinner tonight that I’ll know what it means.” But as he looked at his mate, sharing his shock and anger, he said to him: “It’s knocked me for the day. I’ll tell you what – it sure doesn’t make you feel like working.”
But they did work, on a private job, moving some sand and dirt in Strahan. They worked because they had agreed to do the job, and because for many men in Strahan and nearby Queenstown, work will be scarce after yesterday’s court judgment.
In Strahan, population about 450, at least a dozen men who never before worked, got jobs with the dam project. On Monday they, and all other dam workers, will report for work as normal. Some expect to be, laid off immediately; others think there may be a month’s work clearing up, packing up, then … uncertainty.
“I’ll sit around if Bob Hawke wants to Put me on to the dole,” Geoff Joseph said. “I’m not going to look for a job. I’ve got a job, a good job, and Hawke’s now put me out of it. I think I’ll send all my bills to him.”
Yesterday’s decision hits many more than the 500 or so people already working on the project. In Queenstown there was talk of another 600 HEC workers “on ice” just waiting for the High Court decision. There will be no work for them now. And in Strahan the butcher, the publican, and the baker, all say their trade will be slashed drastically.
Contractors like Kevin Bailey will be hit hard. He has more than $400.000 worth of cartage and earth-moving equipment. Others, he says, have more. His big red truck, only two years old, will have to go back to the finance company soon — he will no longer be able to afford payments. He will have to lay off the two men he employed to help him on the dam work. He thinks they understand his position, but that helps only a little. All of them have sat around, out of work, before.
Geoff Joseph, also employed by Mr Bailey, was not working on the darn project. .But his situation now is indicative of the ramifications or yesterday’s decision. If Mr Bailey sells his red truck, he himself may have to drive the older truck that Mr Joseph has used on road works for the past year. There will be precious little work anyway, and the 35 or so other trucks that worked on the dam will all be competing for it.
If the court had decided in favor of the dam, Kevin Bailey and Geoff Joseph would have danced on top of their trucks. Mr Bailey reckons that next year he could have employed perhaps 10 men. Mr Joseph wonders if he will have to sell the new house he was building.
Most Strahan people had not only hoped the court’s decision would be pro-dam; they expected it. Kevin Bailey, for instance, could not understand why the case had gone to court at all – not after a referendum and several elections in Tasmania had shown what people felt. Slowly yesterday his mood turned to anger: “It makes me feel like putting all my gear in the main street and saying ‘there you are — you can have the lot, you bastards’.”
“I tell you what, the dam could still go ahead. Premier Gray has talked before about going away from the mainland. Tasmanians would support it — we are Tasmanians before Australians.”
It wasn’t hard to hear secession talk in Strahan yesterday, indignation at what people perceived as injustice, that a decision affecting the region so much had been influenced by “mainlanders” who had never been to the area or wouldn’t even know where the dam would go or what it would mean.
The warden (mayor) of Strahan, Edward Banfield, said secession would be supported by 90 per cent of Tasmanians. The court’s decision, he said, was a disaster and “not just for the town, but for Tasmania and the whole of Australia. What industry can open up anywhere now without being stopped?”
His counterpart in Queenstown, where hundreds of dam workers live, Peter Schultz, said: “It’s a big blow to federation and States’ rights. It now seems State Governments are to be redundant. It means the Federal Government has total control ever all schemes and planning in all States.”
There are three very dirty words in this region at the moment: media, politicians, and greenies. (“We don’t like to see a lot of people come through here intent on breaking the law and getting away with it,” Mr Schultz said of the latter group).
A belief commonly bead here is that the media has been consistently favorable to the greenies, especially during the blockade — which is generally dismissed as a publicity stunt. People are wary of the media; tell stories about their words being distorted or people made to look stupid.
Of the politicians, the only one apparently well regarded is Robin Gray. “I never used to vote Liberal,” one of Mr Bailey’s subcontractors said, “but when our jobs were on the line he fought for us.” (Apparently he was cheered when he visited the pub a few months back).
“Hawke?, after what he’s done, he can go to buggery. Never even came here to see anything. And now he’s put people out of work. I’d always thought Labor was for the worker.”
The Wilderness Society office in Strahan is closed now, has been for months although posters and books are still on display. About eight blockaders are thought to be keeping an icy vigil many hours up the harbor and river from this picturesque town. They will not be welcome if they return here.
Whatever tolerance originally existed for the greenies in Strahan has gone. A doubt often expressed yesterday was whether any of the summer blockaders, or even their children, would ever bother to make the trip back.
Not all of Strahan wanted the dam. Everyone agrees the pro-dammers outnumber the rest, but estimates of their majority vary from 99-1 (a hotel clerk) to 80-20 (Mr Banfield) to 60-40 (from Terry McDermott—the owner of holiday flats in Strahan. He said he had been delighted by the court’s decision.
“We needed that decision for tourism,” he said. “Strahan lives by the river tourism if there was a road through to the dam, there would almost be no need for Strahan.
“You can’t blame people like the contractors for being concerned about their future, but I’m sure they will be looked after.”
Kevin Bailey is not so sure.
But when he went inside to tell his wife, who had their third child five weeks ago, what had just happened to him, he said she was a Christian.
He thought she might find a way to accept the news.