The Wilderness Society (Australia)
|Founded||1976, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia|
|Method(s)||Nonviolence, Lobbying, Research, Innovation|
The Wilderness Society (TWS) is an Australian, community-based, not-for-profit non-governmental environmental advocacy organisation. Its purpose is to protect, promote and restore wilderness and natural processes across Australia for the survival and ongoing evolution of life on Earth.
It is a community-based organisation with a philosophy of non-violence and consensus decision-making. While the Wilderness Society is a politically unaligned group, it actively engages the community to lobby politicians and parties.
The Wilderness Society comprises a number of separately incorporated organisations and has Campaign Centres located in all Australian capital cities (except Darwin and Canberra) and a number of regional centres.
The Wilderness Society was formed initially as a protest group called The Tasmanian Wilderness Society to campaign against the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC)'s plans to build dams in many locations around Tasmania. The HEC had appeared to exert an influence over politicians and the community, justifying this stance as being in the best interest of Tasmania, specially regarding the fate of Lake Pedder.
The motivation for the TWS formation was the planning and construction of the Franklin Dam on the Gordon River, in South West Tasmania by the HEC. To the TWS and many Australians, the Gordon and Franklin Rivers were seen as part of the South West Wilderness, and not as an extension of the on-going HEC expansion.
The group was originally established in 1976 from the members of the Southwest Action Committee. Along with the United Tasmania Group, they had protested against the earlier flooding of Lake Pedder. The group had established interstate branches within a short time, and was nation-wide by 1980.
Following the success of the campaign against the Franklin Dam, and the national approach being more important due to other issues interstate, it became known as The Wilderness Society.
In 2005, Tasmanian forestry business Gunns brought a litigation case against the group in the Melbourne Supreme Court, in a case dubbed the "Gunns 20", claiming that the activities of environmental activists had damaged Gunns' profits. Gunns claimed $3.5 million from the Wilderness Society, but in March 2009, Gunns was ordered to pay the Wilderness Society $350,000 in damages and to cease the action.
The Wilderness Society spent considerable energy in its first decades of existence arguing that wilderness was a specific quality in parts of Australia's environment that was vital to preserve for future generations. The political response in most states of Australia is that there are now wilderness inventories and acknowledgement of areas of wilderness.
The Wilderness Society's campaigns include:
- stopping logging in old growth forests
- preventing destruction of endangered species habitats;
- protecting Queensland's Wild Rivers and Cape York Peninsula.
- nationwide campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground in order to mitigate the effects of climate change;
- prevent the rollback of environmental laws across Australia;
- the Kimberley Campaign; as part of its long-running campaign against a proposal to industrialise the James Price Point headland near Broome, the organisation presented a concert on 5 October 2012. The concert featured performances from The John Butler Trio, Clare Bowditch and Missy Higgins, and a speech by former leader of the Australian Greens and former TWS director, Dr Bob Brown.
In November 2013 the Wilderness Society unveiled their Game Changer proposal. Game Changer acknowledged the changed role of the Wilderness Society's to protect nature across the country. The organisation highlighted protecting nature against the current threats of climate change, fossil fuel extraction and the winding back of environmental laws as key challenges Australia (and the World) faced in the 21st century.
Game Changer saw the Wilderness Society expand their work to include proactive and inclusive ways of defending and protecting nature. Focussing on movement building, the Society agreed to focus on telling stories that highlight people’s dependence on and love of nature to build a movement of people - from all walks of life - who want to defend it.
Traditionally fundraising was performed through The Wilderness Society Shops. The shops were particularly popular for their calendars and posters by photographers such as Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas, and were also central locations for the public to make donations and for members to meet.
Since the rise of the internet fundraising has increasingly become centralised around internet based activities, such as the TWS website and extensive email lists, although it also still contacts supporters through regular postal communications as well. As of 2013 TWS maintained physical shops in Hobart and Launceston in Tasmania, and Newcastle, New South Wales, however limited merchandise could also be purchased at the campaign centres located in each state capital.
The Wilderness Society now raises funds through a number of sources, mainly donations, including advocacy gifts and gifts in wills, subscriptions from members, grants, sales of merchandise, and interest and other investment income. For the 2012 financial year the Society specifically had a total income of $13,780,530, with 86% of this raised through donations, 6% through investments, 5% from members subscriptions, 2% from grants, and 1% from sales. For the same year total expenses were $13,705,494, distributed as 52% on campaigning, 19% on investment in new members and supporters, 13% on organisational support and governance, and 16% on income generation.
The inaugural director of The Wilderness Society was Norm Sanders, who was later elected to the seat of Denison in the Tasmanian Parliament in 1980 for the Australian Democrats. He was Australia's first parliamentarian to be elected on an environmental platform. By far the most prominent person amongst those who helped the Society evolve was Dr. Bob Brown, who became the director of The Wilderness Society in 1978, and with him the group greatly increased their influence on Tasmanian politics. Brown was elected to the Tasmanian parliament in 1983 to fill the vacancy left when Norm Sanders resigned his seat, and with the group of fellow conservationists elected subsequently, he went on to become part of the political party known as the Tasmanian Greens. Bob Brown was later elected to represent Tasmania and the Greens in the Senate in the Federal parliament.
While The Wilderness Society has worked with the Australian Greens on certain campaigns, it is not affiliated with them or any other political party, as a politically unaligned environmental non-government organisation.
Management controversy 2009–10
In November 2009 a group of members of the organising committee of the society held an AGM which has proved controversial. Advance notice of the AGM was given in a low circulation newspaper and only 14 members attended. The Tasmanian Supreme Court disallowed the election at the AGM in a ruling on 22 April 2010. A group calling themselves 'Save The Wilderness Society' engaged in a legal battle with the organising committee, with both sides taking out injunctions and giving court undertakings against motions proposed for a meeting advertised for 2 May 2010.
At a meeting convened by 'Save The Wilderness Society' on Sunday 2 May 2010 and attended by roughly 270 people a motion to sack the existing committee was carried and a new management committee appointed. Members at the meeting expected that this meeting was likely to be challenged by the pre-existing management committee, though the status of that committee itself was in doubt given the Supreme Court ruling.
On 30 June 2010, the 2009 AGM was finally re-held in Adelaide. Members attending in person and by phone voted overwhelmingly to remove the previous Management Committee and appoint a new one.
- The Wilderness Society - Australia
- "The Wilderness Society". Wesley Mission. Wesley Mission. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
- "Timeframe Episode 14:Lake Pedder". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 1 May 1997. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
- "Wilderness Society wins David and Goliath battle against Gunns".
- Australia's forests — The Wilderness Society
- Help us protect Cape York Peninsula's Wild Rivers! — Wild Rivers
- The Wilderness Society - Cape York Peninsula
- "The Wilderness Society shops". Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- "Get Involved". Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- "Annual Review: Protecting, promoting and restoring wilderness 2011-12". Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- Morton, Adam (1 July 2010). "Shake-up ends Wilderness Society feud". The Age (Melbourne).
- Gee, H and Fenton, J. (Eds) (1978) The South West Book - A Tasmanian Wilderness Melbourne, Australian Conservation Foundation. ISBN 0-85802-054-8
- Lines, William J. (2006) Patriots : defending Australia's natural heritage St. Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2006. ISBN 0-7022-3554-7
- Neilson, D. (1975) South West Tasmania - A land of the Wild. Adelaide. Rigby. ISBN 0-85179-874-8