French Connections

Back in the early 2000s, it seemed that Tasmania's pristine deep south was about to change for the worse. In 2004 the Tasmanian government gave private landowners permission to log the forests of the northeast peninsula of Recherche Bay – a decision that stirred up controversy in Tasmania and as far away as France.

In 1792 two French ships under the command of explorer Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, La Recherche and L’Espérance, anchored in a harbour near Tasmania’s southernmost point and called it Recherche Bay. More than a decade before British settlers arrived in Tasmania, the French met the Lyluquonny Aboriginals here and were carrying out the first significant scientific studies on the continent. There are two heritage sites at Recherche Bay with protected status (relics of the French observatory and garden, not accessible to the public), but the explorers’ journals record them venturing far into the bush. With the government’s announcement, historians, scientists and conservationists became concerned that the area earmarked for clear-felling was home to yet more sites of historical interest to both Australia and France. Needless to say, tensions between the anti- and pro-logging groups escalated – the prospect of the kinds of protests that took place in Tasmania when the Franklin River was under threat in the mid-1980s loomed large.

Fortunately, in 2006 the landowners agreed to sell the northeast peninsula to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and it’s now protected as a significant site. For more background, check out www.tasland.org.au/reserves/recherche-bay-reserve.