For Christine Milne, the Tamar Valley is a place of personal significance.
Before she became leader of the Australian Greens, before her 10 years as a federal senator, before she fought for national gun reform, Tasmanian gay law reform, and the doubling of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, before the Order of Australia and international recognition, she was just a farmer’s daughter fighting a pulp mill.
The Wesley Vale pulp mill was proposed to have been built near Devonport in the late eighties. The plan was to use dioxins and furans in the bleaching process, which would have polluted the entire Tamar Valley, Mrs Milne said. That included her own family’s dairy farm, where she was brought up in the fifties. The fact that there is no pulp mill at Wesley Vale is largely due to the efforts of Mrs Milne and other Tasmanian activists, and it was that campaign that led her to stand for, and win, a seat in the Tasmanian parliament in 1989.
The rest, so they say, is history.
Mrs Milne is back in the Tamar Valley for the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and said it was gratifying to see the valley now.
“When I drive through the countryside - it really is magnificent farming country around Wesley Vale - and I see the vineyards which have become established all through the Tamar Valley, and I see what a beautiful part of the world it is, I just feel so happy,” she said.
“It’s been protected from the worst of industrial exploitation and it’s got to the point now where people really appreciate it for its fine food and wine, natural beauty, and tourism value.”
One tourism drawcard for the valley is the writers festival, where Mrs Milne is speaking at two events: Lost in the bottom paddock: words from the farm, and Bright and shiny things: collecting stories.
The two themes speak to her own book, An Activist Life, which recalls her upbringing and major campaigns. She calls it a cross between a political autobiography and a history, and said she wanted to ensure the work of environmental campaigns in Tasmania and wider Australia was accurately recorded.
“When I started looking back, I thought, gosh, we have achieved a huge amount over all those years, even though we’ve felt like we haven’t been as successful as we might have been,” she said.
“I came away from it thinking, it just does go to prove the point that a group of committed people can make enormous change.
“If we don’t get people to sit down and write their stories, they’ll be lost, and the next generation will have no idea that the Tamar Valley was once threatened by a major pulp mill.”
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