The Wilderness Society (Australia)

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The Wilderness Society (Australia)
TWS-Logo Green006944 trans150.png
Founded 1976, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Focus Environmentalism, Peace
Area served
Method Nonviolence, Lobbying, Research, Innovation

The Wilderness Society (TWS) is an Australian, community-based, not-for-profit non-governmental environmental advocacy organisation. Its vision is to "transform Australia into a society that protects, respects and connects with the natural world that sustains us."[1]

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.[2]

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 first TWS Journal, 1976, which included an article by a "Dr Robert Brown" describing rafting the Franklin River early that year

The Wilderness Society was formed initially as the Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS) and was basically a name change from the South West Tasmania Action Committee. TWS was formed as a broader organisation so that it could campaign on a range of issues, including HEC dams, forestry and mining wherever such issues occurred across Tasmania, so it was no longer bound to campaign on just Southwest Tasmania.[3] Included in these were campaigns 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.[4]

The motivation for the TWS formation was not initially the planning and construction of the Franklin Dam on the Gordon River, in South West Tasmania by the HEC, although that later became the organisation's key campaign.[5] 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 ongoing HEC expansion.

The group was originally established in 1976 from the members of the Lake Pedder Action Committee and the Southwest Tasmania Action Committee. Along with the United Tasmania Group, they had protested against the earlier flooding of Lake Pedder. The group already had established interstate branches as the South West Tasmania Action Committee (in NSW branch the word 'Action' was not included), so it was already a nationwide organisation. Significantly, all but four of the twenty-three people attending the inaugural meeting of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society in 1976 were members of the United Tasmania Group.[6]

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 the year 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.[7]


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:

The Franklin river

Game Changer[edit]

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, online store[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

Political involvement[edit]

The inaugural director of The Wilderness Society was Kevin Kiernan, followed by 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[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.[14]


  1. ^ The Wilderness Society - Australia
  2. ^ "The Wilderness Society". Wesley Mission. Wesley Mission. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 
  3. ^ Pam Walker, The United Tasmania Group, University of Tasmania Honours thesis, 1986
  4. ^ "Timeframe Episode 14:Lake Pedder". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 1 May 1997. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  5. ^ Pam Walker, The United Tasmania Group, University of Tasmania Honours thesis, 1986
  6. ^ Pam Walker, The United Tasmania Group, University of Tasmania Honours thesis, 1986
  7. ^ "Wilderness Society wins David and Goliath battle against Gunns". 
  8. ^ Australia's forests — The Wilderness Society
  9. ^ Help us protect Cape York Peninsula's Wild Rivers! — Wild Rivers
  10. ^ "Wild Shop". Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  11. ^ "The Wilderness Society shops". Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  12. ^ "Get Involved". Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Annual Review: Protecting, promoting and restoring wilderness 2011-12" (PDF). Official website. The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Morton, Adam (1 July 2010). "Shake-up ends Wilderness Society feud". The Age. Melbourne. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]