Tasmanian Wilderness, Australia

Geographical Location

The Tasmanian Wilderness (41°35'-43°40'S, 145°25'-146°55'E), a World Heritage Site, comprises a contiguous network of reserved lands that extends over much of south-western Tasmania, but does not include the HEC storage Lake Gordon in the center of this network. Several coastal islands are included: Ile du Golfe, Maatsuyker Island, De Witt Island and Flat Witch Island off the south coast of Tasmania. 41°35'-43°40'S, 145°25'-146°55'E

Date and History of Establishment

Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair was re-proclaimed as a national park (124,848 hectares (ha)) on 18 July 1971 under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970, subsequent to which various extensions and boundary adjustments have been made. Cradle Mountain was originally established as a scenic reserve (63,943 ha) on 16 May 1922 under the Scenery Preservation Act 1915 and extended by 60,705 ha to include Lake St Clair and Oakleigh Creek Conservation Area on 1 December 1936. These areas have also received sanctuary status at various times (31 May 1927 in the case of Cradle Mountain) under the Animal and Birds Protection Act 1919. (Oakleigh Creek Conservation Area was not upgraded to national park status along with the rest of the scenic reserve in 1971).

Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers was created a national park on 13 May 1981. Three reserves covering a total area of 23,135 ha ceased to exist on their incorporation into the national park at the time of its establishment, namely Gordon River State Reserve (created on 3 May 1939 and extended on 19 June), Frenchmans Cap National Park (created on 14 June 1941 and extended on 29 August 1951) and Lyell Highway State Reserve (created on 3 May 1939). Major extensions to the national park in 1990 more than doubles its size, (from 195,060 ha to 440,000 ha) and areas added were: King William Range, Upper Gordon River, Denison Range, Prince of Wales Range, Lower Gordon River, Sorell River, southern end Macquarie Harbour, Farm Cove and Kelly Basin area.

Southwest National Park was created on 16 October 1968 following the extension and renaming of Lake Pedder National Park. The latter was created on 23 March 1955, some of which was originally part of Port Davey State Reserve established on 24 October 1951. Southwest National Park was re-proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970 and extended to 372,300 ha on 3 November 1976, since then additional extensions have been made on 17 November and 1 December 1976, and on 13 May 1981 and major extensions on 27 June 1990 (incorporating an area north of Nye Bay, South Cape Bay area, Mt Bobs and the Boomerang, Adamsons Peak, Mt. Picton, Gallagher Plateau and Mt. Weld: the Upper Weld River and Mt Bowes).

Effective dates of establishment of other conservation areas are as follows:

  • Walls of Jerusalem National Park 24 June 1981
  • Exit Cave State Reserve 4 April 1979
  • Central Plateau Conservation Area 10 February 1982
  • Southwest Conservation Area 9 July 1980
  • Hartz Mountains National Park 24 May 1939
  • Sarah Island Historic Site 19 May 1954
  • Marakoopa Cave State Reserve 16 August 1939

Southwest National Park was internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1977. A conglomerate of national parks, comprising Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair, Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers and Southwest, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982 and named Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks.

Full details on the progress of reservation, except in the case of state forests and Sarah Island Historic Reserve, are given in the [World Heritage nomination.


The total area of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (WHA) is approximately 1,383,640 ha and includes the following:

  • Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park 161,000 ha
  • Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park 440,120 ha
  • Southwest National Park 605,000 ha
  • Walls of Jerusalem National Park 51,800 ha
  • Hartz Mountains National Park 7,140 ha
  • Marakoopa Cave State Reserve 790 ha
  • Devils Gullet State reserve 806 ha
  • Liffey Falls State Reserve (part) 20 ha
  • Macquarie Harbour Historic Site15,300 ha
  • Farm Cove Game Reserve 1,720 ha
  • Central Plateau Conservation Area 89,200 ha
  • Adamsfield Conservation Area 5,400 ha
  • Southwest Conservation Area (vested in HEC) 616 ha
  • Marble Hill Conservation Area 77 ha
  • Maatsuyker Island (Commonwealth freehold) 180 ha
  • St Clare Lagoon (vested in HEC) 29 ha
  • Meander Forest Reserve 1,660 ha
  • Liffey Forest Reserve 1,055 ha
  • Drys Bluff Forest Reserve 680 ha
  • Wargata Mina Protected Archaeological Site 155 ha
  • Maxwell River Protected Archaeological Site 560 ha
  • Privately-owned land 320 ha

Land Tenure

Apart from approximately 320 ha of privately-owned land in the Vale of Rasselas, all land is Crown property administered by the Government of the State of Tasmania through the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS), Forestry Tasmania (forest reserves) and Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC). The PWS is the major land management agency with responsibility for over 99% of the total area.


Ranges from sea level to 1617 meters (m) at the top of Mount Ossa, the highest peak in Tasmania.

Physical Features

caption The Frenchmans Cap is one of the many rock formations found in the Tasmanian Wilderness. (Source: Parks & Wildlife Service, Tasmania)

In contrast to the mainland, the island of Tasmania is a rugged region with fold structures in the western half and fault structures in the east, both of which are represented in the property. The fold structure province in the south-west is an extremely rugged and densely vegetated region with north-south oriented mountain ranges and valley systems. Rocks vary in age from Precambrian to Devonian and have been subjected to two major structural events, the Frenchman and Tabberaberan orogenies. Precambrian units are widespread and consist of quartzite, schist, phyllite, conglomerate, dolomite, siltstone and sandstone. The more resistant sequences, such as quartzite, form most of the prominent ranges in the area, while less resistant schist, dolomite and phyllite underline many of the valleys and plains. Changing climates have also influenced landscape development, highlighted most recently by late Cainozoic and Pleistocene glacial and periglacial events. Ice caps, cirque glaciers and valley glaciers were generally confined to the high mountains and plateaux. Glacial erosion has contributed to spectacular landform features including horns, arêtes, cirques, "U"-shaped valleys and rock basins (tarns). These are common at Frenchmans Cap and in the Frankland, Arthur, Prince of Wales and Ironbound ranges. Below about 600 m, depositional features are typical including moraines and various other outwash deposits. Periglacial activities included considerable slope instability in extraglacial areas, giving rise to gelifluctate, landslip and talus deposits. The coastline has been subjected to a number of sea level changes during the glaciations and presently provides a classic example of a drowned landscape, as shown by the discordant coastline in the south, and ria at Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour. The drainage system has a pronounced trellis pattern, with only the larger rivers, notably the Franklin and Gordon, having cut directly through the mountain ranges to produce spectacular gorges. Special landforms associated with the development of karst have formed through the solution of carbonate rocks such as (Precambrian) dolomite and (Ordovician) limestone. Features include cave systems, natural arches, clints and grikes, dolines, karren, pinnacles and blind valleys. A large meteorite impact crater of Pleistocene age in the Andrew River valley is of worldwide significance.

The fault structure province in the east and north includes Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Walls of Jerusalem National Park, parts of Lemonthyme and Southern forests and the Mount Anne and Mount Ronald Cross areas. It consists of Permian-Triassic sediments, capped by Jurassic dolerite, and generally occurs above about 600 m, except in the east. Basement rocks are probably of Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian age and are generally overlain by upper and lower horizontal sediments of the Parmeener Supergroup. The lower (Permian) unit consists of glacio-marine sequences including tillite, sandstone, siltstone, mudstone and limestone horizons. The upper (Triassic) unit contains banks of sandstone, mudstone, siltstone and coal, probably laid down during a humid, cool climate in swamps, lakes and river channels. The rocks contain rare plant and amphibian fossils. A dramatic period of igneous activity followed the deposition of these sediments in the Jurassic, with the injection of massive amounts of dolerite into the Parmeener Supergroup. Due to its resistant nature dolerite covers a vast tract of the WHA. Sedimentary roof rocks are restricted to areas such as the Walls of Jerusalem. Faulting, which may have occurred during the Jurassic, Cretaceous or Tertiary periods, produced the distinct scarp-bounded plateaux and residual hills which contrast dramatically with the fold structure province to the south. Ice caps, valley glaciers and cirque glaciers covered most of the higher country in this province. Outstanding features include Lake St. Clair (the deepest lake in Australia) and the myriad of lakes on the plateau surface south of the Walls of Jerusalem. Cirques occur on most mountains, and glacio-fluvial deposits are found in Picton, Middle Huon and Upper Weld valleys. Extensive underground passages occur in the widely distributed limestone and dolomite, notably at Precipitous Bluff, Mount Anne, Upper Weld River, Franklin River and Gordon River. Exit Cave is the longest measured cave system in Australia (19 kilometers (km)) and Anne-a-kananda, in the Upper Weld-Mt Anne karst system, is the deepest cave (373 m).


South-west Tasmania is the most consistently wet region in Australia. It is subject to the westerly regime of the Roaring Forties and characterized by high annual rainfall, high incidence of cloud and cool temperatures. Rainfall over the Gordon-Franklin basin ranges from about 1,800 millimeters (mm) in the headwaters of the Franklin to over 3,400 mm in the vicinity of Serpentine Dam.


The vegetation has as much in common with cool, temperate regions of South American and New Zealand as with the rest of Australia. In addition to climatic and edaphic factors, the vegetation has developed in response to fire. Aboriginal occupation over the last 30,000 years has constituted a major source of fire; more recently, much fire can be attributed to the interests of fishermen, logging concerns and prospectors. Of identified vegetation communities in Tasmania, the property contains at least 42 of the 43 alpine communities, 33 of the 39 temperate rain forest communities, 40 of the 65 wet sclerophyll communities, 22 of the 31 buttongrass moorland communities, 13 of the 42 grassland and grassy woodland communities, each of the eight Sphagnum peatland communities and 21 of the 33 coastal communities.

Alpine vegetation occupies the higher peaks and plateaux above the treeline, which varies from about 800 m near the coast to 1,200 m inland. It is almost totally dominated by shrubby species, as opposed to the typical tussock grass and herb-dominant vegetation of the mainland alps. Those parts of the alpine zone where drainage is slow support fascinating plant communities dominated by bolster plants and dwarf pines. Taller heaths and coniferous shrubberies are found on well-drained sites, including boulder fields. The alpine communities have an extremely high plant endemism, up to 60%.

Temperate rain forest, covering less than 30% of the area below the treeline, is characterized by the dominance of Antarctic tree species, a generally low diversity of higher plants and a rich cryptogamic flora. It differs from tropical and subtropical rain forests in the low number of dominant tree species, the absence of lianes, the relative lack of epiphytes apart from moss and lichen, the total absence of typical rain forest morphological adaptations, such as drip tip leaves, stem-flowering and buttressing, and in the small leaves of its dominant species. These characteristics, whilst having much in common with the temperate rain forests of New Zealand and South America, remain distinctive. Most of the rain forest contains myrtle beech Nothofagus cunninghamii, leatherwood Eucryphia lucida and sassafras Atherosperma moschatum, of which myrtle beech is usually dominant. Co-dominants are Huon pine Lagarostrobos franklinii, one of the longest-lived species in Australia (2,000 years or more), in riverine habitats, and King Billy pine Athrotaxis selaginoides, celery top pine Phyllocladus aspleniifolius, and horizontal Anodopetalum biglandulosum on poor sites and at high altitudes.

Over large areas, either of two eucalypts, messmate stringybark Eucalyptus obliqua and Smithton peppermint Eucalyptus nitida, is found emergent from rain forest, the former species on the better soils in the east and the latter on the poorer soils mainly in the west. In addition to these mixed forests (eucalypt forests with rain forest understorey), eucalypts dominate other communities such as sub-alpine woodlands, dry sclerophyll forests and woodlands in which the understorey is multiple-aged and contains small-leaved prickly shrub species, wet sclerophyll forests in which the understorey is uniform-aged and contains broad-leaved shrub species and ferns, and some scrub and moorland communities. Of particular conservation importance are the magnificent examples of pristine tall forests, with eucalyptus such as swamp gum Eucalyptus regnans (the world's tallest flowering plant) forming a 60-90 m high canopy over a 10-20 m high closed wet sclerophyll understorey of Olearia argophylla, Pomaderris apetala, Acacia dealbata and Acacia melanoxylon. Rain forest species such as myrtle beech, sassafras and tree ferns replace the wet sclerophyll understorey where fire frequency has been low.

Nearly half of the area comprises moorland vegetation, dominated by buttongrass Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus on poor soils and typically surrounded by scrub and heath communities with ti-trees Leptospermum spp. and paperbarks Melaleuca spp. predominant. Grassland is limited to small patches, some of which are the product of firing of rain forest, and the rest is probably edaphic or climatic in origin. Specialist communities occur in more restricted habitats. Of particular note is the wide range of lentic and lotic ecosystems. Owing to their unusual hydrological properties, Lake Sydney and Lake Timk have developed interesting marginal herbaceous communities, while the Snowy Range contains examples of dynamic string bog systems represented by bolster plants. Meromictic lakes and coastal lagoons, with their unusual micro-organisms, are also important wetlands. On a larger scale, the south-west coast has a wide range of plant communities peculiar to salt marsh, coastal cliffs, coastal sand dunes and sea bird breeding colonies. These offer specialized niches for rare and restricted endemic plants. Limestone and dolomite substrates, whether on lowland plains, riverine cliffs or at high altitude, are also important habitats for restricted endemics.

The closed forest (temperate rain forest), open forest (eucalypt forest), buttongrass moorland and the alpine communities occur in an unique mosaic of Antarctic and Australian elements of the flora. The Antarctic element consists of species descended from the super-continent of Gondwana. For example, populations of relictual Gondwanan conifer genera, now known only from Tasmania, i.e. Athrotaxis, Diselma, Microcachrys, are present and best represented in alpine moorland and rain forest communities. The plants of the Australian element which have evolved more recently dominate the sclerophyll communities of the area. The genus Eucalyptus is a prime example. Such is the size and diversity of the property that it harbors a wealth of habitats which support many unusual plant taxa and communities. Two-thirds (240) of Tasmania's endemic higher plant taxa are present in the area; about half of these are dependent on the area for most of their distribution. The area contains many threatened higher plant [[[species]], including many endemic to Tasmania. It is also likely to be correspondingly important for the conservation of lower plant species, but knowledge of these is as yet fragmentary. Preliminary studies of lichens and bryophytes have already revealed the presence of new endemic taxa.


caption Neophema chrysogaster, or the yellow bellied parrot, is one of the many bird species that lives in the Tasmanian Wilderness. (Source: Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania)

The fauna is of world importance because it includes an unusually high proportion of endemic species and relict groups of ancient lineage. Tasmanian endemism is very high, ranging from 20% to 100% in invertebrate groups. Due to the diverse topography, geology, soils and vegetation in association with harsh and variable climatic conditions combining to create a wide array of animal habitats, the fauna is correspondingly diverse. The insularity of Tasmania, and of the Tasmanian Wilderness in particular, has contributed to its uniqueness and has helped to protect it from the impact of exotic species which has seriously affected the mainland fauna. Two main faunal groups can be recognized: one, including the marsupials and burrowing freshwater crayfish, that has survived as relicts of the Gondwana fauna; and another, including rodents and bats, that invaded Australia from Asia millions of years after the break up of Gondwanaland. Of Tasmania's 32 mammal species, 27 are present. Four of these are endemic to Tasmania including Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii, the world's largest extant carnivorous marsupial. Another species, the thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus (Ex), is thought to be extinct, having been last recorded in 1936, but there are unconfirmed reports of its continued survival. Over 150 bird species are present, of which 13 are endemic including orange-bellied parrot Neophema chrysogaster (R), one of Australia's rarest and most threatened birds. There are 11 reptile species, of which four are endemic. One, Pedra Branca skink Pseudemoia palfreyman (R), lives only on the small rocky island of Pedra Branca off the coast. Six frog species are present, of which two are endemic. Tasmanian tree frog Litoria burrowsi is mainly restricted to the area. There are 15 species of freshwater fish including four endemic species. Two native fish, swamp galaxias Galaxias parvus (V) and Lake Pedder galaxias G. pedderensis (V), are largely restricted to the area. Introduced species, such as trout Salmo spp. and Salvelinus fontinalis, have been implicated in the decline of several native fish species. The invertebrate fauna, including cave-adapted species, is also outstanding.

Alpine regions are typified by a specialized fauna of great zoogeographic interest, with high endemicity and local phenotypic variation. Three endemic species of lizards of the genus Leiolopisma occur on mountain tops. Many alpine insects are adapted to pollinate the alpine vegetation. Diurnal moths of the primitive sub-family Archiearinae occur on some peaks. Alpine grasshoppers are common and include four monotypic endemic genera. The rare endemic dragonfly Archipetalia auriculata (I) breeds in alpine streams. It is the most archaic member of an ancient family, Neopetaliidae, and has strong Gondwanan affinities. The rain forest invertebrate fauna is diverse and includes many groups of Gondwana descent. Talitrid amphipods, which have undergone great adaptive radiation in Tasmanian forests, are represented by 15 species, making the area one of the richest centers of diversity for talitrids in the world. Among mammals, only the endemic long-tailed mouse Pseudomys higginsi occurs principally in the rain forest. The lack of a distinct rain forest mammal fauna has parallels with Nothofagus-dominated rain forests of New Zealand and Southern America. No birds, reptiles or amphibians are confined to this habitat type. Closed forests are inhabited by three species of arboreal mammals, common ring-tail possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus, common brush-tail possum Trichosurus vulpecula and eastern pygmy-possum Cercartetus nanus, and many birds such as endemic green rosella Platycercus caledonicus and swift parrot Lathamus discolor. Eucalypt forest supports a greater diversity of mammals and birds than rain forest, scrub, heath, moorland or alpine areas. Scrub, heath and moorland are occupied by animals with many interesting adaptations. In coastal areas and on offshore islands, vast numbers of short-tailed shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris return to breed each year. Moorland dominated by buttongrass is inhabited by orange-bellied parrot Neophema chrysogaster (R), ground parrot Pezoporus wallicus (E), and the rare broad-toothed rat Mastacomys fuscus. Freshwater crayfish, such as the endemic Parastacoides tasmanicus, live in burrows under the buttongrass tussocks despite the highly acidic environment; their burrows are in turn colonized by a range of extraordinary endemic invertebrates, such as the primitive syncarid crustaceans Allanaspides helonomus and A. hickmani. Both of these species have very restricted distributions near the inundated Lake Pedder. The monotypic endemic dragonfly Synthemiopsis gomphomacromioides breeds in the mud surrounding buttongrass tussocks. Within aquatic habitats, the freshwater crustaceans are of global significance, as many groups such as amphipods, isopods and crayfish are relicts of the Gondwana fauna. Three meromictic lakes on the Lower Gordon River, of international repute for being permanently stratified and yet relatively shallow, are inhabited by diverse and unusual aquatic micro-organisms. Streams, rivers, coastal lagoons and estuaries support many species of native fish and a highly endemic aquatic invertebrate fauna. Major rivers, such as the Old and Davey rivers in the south-west and New River in the Southern Forests, are of great importance as scientific reference because of their pristine state. The lakes of the Denison Range are of great interest because of their physical and chemical characteristics. An analysis of the chemical properties, light regime and the Tasmanian endemic algal flora shows that the lakes are significant in terms of the east-west divide. Caves are inhabited by many endemic invertebrates including crickets, spiders, beetles and aquatic crustaceans. Displays of Tasmanian glow-worm Arachnocampa tasmaniensis can be seen at several locations, particularly at Exit and Entrance caves. Port Davey has recently attracted attention due to the discovery of an unusual marine community including new species of skate and sea slugs.

Cultural Heritage

Tasmania was cut off from mainland Australia by the flooding of Bass Strait at least 8,000 years ago, thereby isolating the aboriginal inhabitants. The Tasmanian Aborigines were, until the advent of the European explorer Abel Tasman, the longest isolated human group in world history, surviving some 500 generations without outside influence. Current archaeological evidence indicates a significant Ice Age (Pleistocene) hunter-gatherer society inland in the south-western region, which existed from at least 30,000 years ago until the end of the Ice Age some 11,500 years ago, when vegetation changed from open grassland/woodland to rain forest with the advent of warmer conditions. Some 30 caves have been located: Judds Cavern (Wargata Mina), with over 3.5 km of explored passages and one of the largest river caves in Australia, is almost certainly the most southerly painted site in the world. Coastal occupation by Aborigines dates from at least 3,000 years ago to the time of European arrival in the 19th century, but may date from around 6,000 years ago when the sea stabilized at its present level.

At the time of the first European arrivals, the area was occupied by two main tribal groups - Big River Tribe in the central highlands and Port Davey Tribe who predominantly inhabited the south-west and southern coastal regions. Each tribe is estimated to have comprised 300 to 400 people. The aboriginal population was removed in the 1830s by the missionary zealot G.A. Robinson. European incursion into the area commenced in the early 1800s, mainly for Huon pine cutting and whaling. Whaling ceased before the turn of the century but pine cutting continued more or less up to recent times in some places. Sarah Island Historic Site was chosen for a convict settlement in 1821 because of its remoteness and the availability of Huon pine for boat building.

Local Human Population

The only permanent residents within the property are ranger staff primarily at Lake St. Clair and Cradle Valley. The area is subject to a number of uses, notably hydro-electric power generation and transmission. Mineral exploitation is still permitted in the Adamsfield Conservation Area. Some telecommunications facilities exist within the area. Beekeeping for the production of leatherwood honey occurs along the Lyell Highway, the Mt. McCall and Kelly Basin Tracks and beside the Gordon River and Scotts Peak Roads. Port Davey is used for shelter by professional fishermen.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

The site provides for a range of recreational and wilderness activities related to its natural and cultural features and receives at least half a million visitors per year. Visitation is markedly seasonal, peaking in January and is low during winter and spring. Most tourists follow a similar circuit route around Tasmania visiting Cradle Mountain, Strahan (the location of a major interpretative center) and Lake St. Clair. The most popular single site in the WHA is Cradle Mountain which received 178,000 visits in the 12 months ending June 1995. This is a substantial increase over the approximate 80,000 annual visits which it received in the late 1980s. The Gordon River currently receives at least 105,000 visitors per annum and Lake St. Clair around 100,000. Other popular access routes include the Lyell Highway (which crosses the WHA) and the Strathgordon and Scotts Peak roads.

Increasing numbers of people are visiting the area for more active forms of recreation, including bushwalking, caving, mountaineering, climbing, rafting, canoing and cross-country skiing. Long-established trails such as the Overland Track and South Coast Track provide high quality wilderness experiences for walkers.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Limited archaeological surveys have been conducted. Coastal areas were investigated in the early 1970s and more recently the south coast and Port Davey areas have been surveyed. Since 1981, preliminary surveys of a number of inland river valleys have been carried out. Mineralogical studies of the impact crater near Mount Darwin are being conducted by the University of Tasmania, as are limnological studies of meromictic and other lakes. A preliminary survey of the caves of the Gordon-Franklin river system has been undertaken.

Conservation Value

The property contains most of the last great temperate wilderness remaining in Australia, most of it being in a natural or near natural condition, and is one of the last remaining such areas in the world. The property encompasses diverse habitats, including jagged coasts, islands, major estuaries, alpine plateau and mountain peaks, turbulent rivers, sheltered lakes, rain forest and moorland. These support a flora and fauna that include many primitive groups of Gondwanan origins, with relatives in Gondwanan continental fragments such as South America, Africa and India. Endemism is high and there are a significant number of threatened species. The property also contains Pleistocene archaeological sites and Holocene aboriginal sites of universal significance.

Cultural values of the WHA include historic features from the past 170 years of European activity. The remains of the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement, the first in Tasmania, are internationally significant as an example of colonization of remote parts of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries by means of the forced transportation of convicts across the world. The area contains remains of sites related to other historic themes including exploration, Huon pine logging, mining, hunting, shepherding, hydro-electric development and recreation.

Conservation Management

The major human modification of the region has been the construction of the Middle Gordon hydro-electric power scheme in the early 1970s. This involved the damming of a section of the Gordon River, excluded from the property, and the inundation of Lake Pedder with its remarkable quartzite beach to form two large impoundments. As part of this scheme, a road was built into the heart of the Southwest Conservation Area and a small town, Strathgordon, constructed just outside Southwest National Park. The conflict between resource development and nature conservation reached a climax with subsequent plans to flood the lower reaches of the Gordon and Franklin rivers. These were approved under legislation passed by the Tasmanian Government on 17 June 1982 but met with strong opposition both nationally and internationally, reinforced by the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List in 1982. The Australian Government intervened, following the recommendation of the World Heritage Committee that all possible steps be taken to protect the integrity of the property, and passed the World Heritage Properties Act in 1983. The validity of this Act and actions taken under it to stop the dam were challenged by the Tasmanian Government, but this was dismissed by the High Court of Australia on 1 July 1983.

Protests in 1986 against logging at Farmhouse Creek and in the Lemonthyme Forest prompted the Commonwealth Government to establish the Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests in 1987 in an attempt to resolve the matter. The findings of the Commission were split and public unrest continued. In 1988, the Commonwealth Government moved to protect significant area of forest adjoining the already inscribed WHA by nominating an enlarged area for inclusion on the World Heritage List. In 1989 a further enlarged nomination of 1.38 million ha (which included all of the original 1982 nomination) was inscribed as the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The majority of the extensions were incorporated into the state reserve system.

Concern that all areas of World Heritage quality are not included within the present boundaries prompted the production in 1990 of a report on the Appropriate Boundaries for a WHA in western Tasmania. There is also a proposal from local conservation groups for World Heritage status for the Tarkine area in north-west Tasmania. In 1995, a proposal to drain and restore the Pedder impoundment resulted in a Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry, but the proposal failed to gain political or public support.

Legal provision for conserving the property is provided under both federal legislation, namely the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 and Conservation Amendment Act 1988, and state legislation, notably the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970, Aboriginal Relics Act 1975, Crown Land Act 1976 and Forestry Act 1920. A management plan prepared under the provisions of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970 came into force on 30 September 1992. The plan is currently being reviewed, and will be revised by September 1997.

The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service is the agency largely responsible for administering the WHA with assistance coming from the World Heritage Area Consultative Committee and a Ministerial Council. There is close consultation between the Parks and Wildlife Service and Forestry Tasmania who manage the forest reserves within the WHA and extensive areas of state forest adjoining the boundary.

Management Constraints

caption These plants have been affected by Phytophthora sp, a fungal disease that affects many alpine plant species in the Tasmanian Wilderness. (Source: Integrated Pest Management at Iowa State University)

Hydro-electric development has taken place at Scotts Peak, Mount Arrowsmith and Lakes St. Clair, McKenzie and Augusta, the levels of which have been artificially raised. The Lake Mackintosh impoundment forms a minor intrusion into Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. Fire continues to be the greatest threat to much of the more remote country. A major protection strategy has been the banning of campfires in certain areas. Some forest in peripheral areas (Lemonthyme, south of Farmhouse Creek and other localities) has been disturbed by previous logging and/or road-building activities. Small-scale mining has taken place in the past and rights exist to operate a small osmiridium mines. Limestone extraction from a quarry near Exit Cave has ceased and rehabilitation is being planned.

The Gordon River has extensive streambank erosion that has been exacerbated by river traffic. Currently the upper three quarters of the river is closed to commercial use. The lower section is used extensively by cruise boats. Monitoring shows that erosion rates have decreased but there is still a discernible difference between rates of erosion in trafficked and non-trafficked parts of the river. Speed decreases for cruise boats appears to have helped but a sustainable regime has not yet been achieved.

A report on land degradation in the Central Plateau has been released and states that 10,890 ha of this area have been affected by sheet erosion. Fires and grazing by stock and rabbits have led to the current situation. Parts of these areas are some of the most severely eroded alpine and subalpine ecosystems in Australia.

A new fungal disease Phytophthora sp. has affected numerous alpine plant species in the Pine Lake area in the north-eastern part of the area. It has caused the death of many species including ancient native pines. At present it is confined to one catchment and steps have been taken to try and delay its spread to others. Infected areas have been mapped, aerial spraying with phosphonate has been trialled, a road through the area has been sealed to try and restrict spread and a major education campaign is in place. The current area is quarantined and signs declare it as a no entry area. However, some people are still entering and the area may need to be sealed off. A plant pathologist is currently being employed to isolate the disease and to look at methods that can be used to slow down its spread.

Logging is reported to be occurring outside the WHA, in the East Picton forests; around Wylds Craig; in the upper Mersey valley, west of Walls of Jerusalem National Park; in the lower Weld and Styx valleys; and part of the Great Western Tiers.


As of November 1995, 113 office and field employees of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service are involved in WHA planning and management. This includes 69 people in field centers, 18 in Land Management Division in head office and 26 in Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Division, also in head office.


The current joint Commonwealth/State funding agreement runs to mid 1998. It provides for a total of $8.9 million per annum. Five eighths of the total is provided by the Commonwealth, the balance by the state.

IUCN Management Category

  • National parks II (National Park)
  • State reserves III (Natural Monument)
  • Conservation areas IV (Habitat/Species Management Area)
  • Forest reserves II (National Park)
  • Biosphere Reserve
  • Natural/Cultural World Heritage Site- Natural Criteria i, ii, iii, iv/Cultural Criteria iii, v, vi

Further Reading

  • Anon. (1986). World Heritage - eroding away. The Tasmanian Conservationist 192: 4-7.
  • Australian Conservation Foundation (1975). The Wonderful Southwest. Habitat Special Issue.
  • Bosworth, P. (1979). A collation of meteorological information for South-West Tasmania. South West Tasmania Resources Survey Occasional Paper 2.
  • Bosworth, P. (1982). Pressure for exploitation in South-West Tasmania's wilderness. Ambio 11: 268-273.
  • Bosworth, P. (1984). Increasing pressures for resources exploitation in an area of high nature conservation value, Southwest Tasmania. In: McNeely, J.A. and Miller, K.R. (Eds), National parks, conservation and development. The role of protected areas in sustaining society. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. Pp. 283-289.
  • Bowling, L.C. and Tyler, P.A. (1984). Endangered lakes of scientific and cultural value in the World Heritage Area of south-west Tasmania. Biological Conservation 30: 201-209.
  • Bowling, L.C. and Tyler, P.A. (1986). The demise of meromixis in riverine lakes of the World Heritage wilderness of south-west Tasmania. Arch. Hydrobiol. 107: 53-73.
  • Brown, P., Wilson, R., Loyn, R., Murray, N. and Lane, B. (1985). The orange-bellied parrot - a RAOU conservation statement. RAOU Report No. 14. Royal Australian Ornithologists Union, Melbourne. 12 pp.
  • Croome, R.L. and Tyler, P.A. (1988). Microbial microcosms and devolving meromixis in Tasmania. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 23: 594-597.
  • DAHE (1985). State of the environment in Australia 1985. Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. Pp. 130-131.
  • DPLW (1988). Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park Management Plan. Department of Lands, Parks and Wildlife, Tasmania. 76 pp.
  • DPWH (1992). Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area: Management Plan. Department of Parks, Wildlife and Heritage, Tasmania. 135 pp.
  • Forestry Commission (1983). Management Plan for Lemonthyme State Forest. 37 pp.
  • Gee, H., Fenton, J., and Hodge, G. (1978). The South West book: A Tasmanian wilderness. Australian Conservation Foundation, Melbourne. 307 pp. ISBN: 0002173050.
  • Government of Australia (1988). Nomination of the Tasmanian Wilderness by the Government of Australia for inclusion in the World Heritage List. Commonwealth Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. 45 pp. (Includes an extensive bibliography.)
  • Government of Australia (1993). Impact of logging operations on the current World Heritage Area in Southern Tasmania. Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. 7 pp.
  • HEC (1978). Lower Gordon River Scientific Survey. Hydro-Electric Commission, Tasmania. 24 reports.
  • HEC (1982). Gordon below Franklin scheme. The second stage of harnessing the everlasting energy resource of the Gordon River. Annual Review, Hydro-Electric Commission, Tasmania 1981-82.
  • Middleton, G.J. (1979). Wilderness caves of the Gordon-Franklin river system. Centre for Environment Studies Occasional Paper 11. University of Tasmania, Hobart. 107 pp.
  • Lake Pedder Committee of Inquiry (1974). The Flooding of Lake Pedder: an analysis of the Lake Pedder controversy and its implications for the planning of major development projects and the management of natural resources in Australia. AGPS, Canberra.
  • Russell, J.A., Matthews, J.H. and Jones, R. (1979). Wilderness in Tasmania. Centre for Environmental Studies Occasional Paper 10. University of Tasmania, Hobart. 103 pp.
  • Tasmanian Wilderness Society. (1995a). The Australian Government and Tasmania's World Heritage Area. Update June 1995 "Violations, Damage and New Opportunities". 14 pp.
  • Tasmanian Wilderness Society. (1995b). Tasmania's High Conservation Value Forests: World Heritage Woodchips? 12 pp.
  • Thwaites, T (1995) Media spotlight threatens Tasmania's lost sea world New Scientist n. 1982 17 June.
  • Waterman, P. (Ed.) (1981). South West Tasmania resources survey: project report. Volumes 1 and 2. South West Tasmania Resources Survey. Also 25 discussion papers, 22 working papers, 20 occasional papers.
  • Wilcox, M. (1983). The 'dam case' - implications for the future. Habitat 11(5): 32-24.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Tasmanian Wilderness, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156419


To add a comment, please Log In.