Last Saturday and Sunday were the most perfect days in north west Tasmania, at Wesley Vale on the farm where I was brought up. The days were fine, dominated by big blue winter skies with no wind and snow on the mountains in the distance. Lots of water was lying in the paddocks and the lagoon was still with black swans and wild ducks skimming the surface and over the sand dunes, the beach was calm and inviting so I got out the camera.
I talked about what this place means to me when I made my first speech to the Senate in 2004. So here’s part of my speech with photos to match:
“Seventeen years ago, I joined the farmers of Wesley Vale who, for the first time in Australian history, took to the streets on their tractors ablaze with the slogan ‘Save our soil, sea and sand; Protect the land’. It was a courageous stand about:
… a people’s right to exercise some control over their destiny …
It was a stand for country against a huge Kraft chlorine pulp mill which would have polluted some of the best agricultural land in the country, carved it up in railway corridors and destroyed a rural community’s way of life.
Wesley Vale is my place. It is my country. It is framed by the Dial Range to the west, Mount Roland and Cradle Mountain to the south, Narawntapu National Park to the east and Bass Strait and beyond to the north.
It is where I was brought up in the fifties and sixties on a small family dairy farm. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaa
As was the wont of country children then, I roamed around the farm with my father, catching tadpoles and rabbits and watched the changing seasons and the wild ducks leave and return. I got to know the way the light fell across the paddocks on late summer afternoons and the way people helped each other out and the way they argued in milking sheds and sale yards about whether it would rain and whether the local team would win.
It was knowing and loving that country, Wesley Vale, its stories and way of life and standing up for them that was the crucible of my political life.
I thank all of those in that community and my family, who are here today in the gallery, especially my mother, June, and son James, my other son Thomas in London, my nieces and my extended family in Tasmania and my friends for their support in my journey. Through it, I came to realise that my own experience was not unique; that all over the world people like the Wesley Vale farmers are struggling to hold onto their special places, their country, their values and their way of life.
The ‘son of Wesley Vale’ now threatens the forests, the Bass Strait and the Tamar Valley. It is a tragedy that the same struggle has to be fought all over again.
Through Wesley Vale, I realised that the struggle of the people at Ralph’s Bay for their coastline and for the habitat of migratory birds is the same struggle as those who campaign for wetlands in Saemangeum in Korea; that the struggle to save native forests and ecosystems all around Tasmania from the Weld Valley, South Sister and the Blue Tier, from the Tarkine to the Styx valley and from Reed Marsh to Wielangta is the same as the struggle for forests in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Amazonia; that the fate of the Tasmanian devil is the same as the fate of the mountain gorillas in Africa. Both are dying from disease because of human impacts.
I came to realise that you need to know and love a special place in order to empathise with other people’s special places and that to stand up for one special place is to begin the process of standing up for them all. It is the beginning of becoming a global citizen.”