February 8, 2006
A $2 million pledge from entrepreneur Dick Smith has saved one of Australia's most significant historic sites.
Recherche Bay, near the southern-most tip of Tasmania, has been saved from the logger's axe after it was bought by conservation groups with Mr Smith's help.
Today's announcement of the purchase comes after three years of lobbying led by Greens leader Bob Brown.
Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, announcing the deal today, said the $2.21 million purchase would not have been possible without Mr Smith's financial support.
"If Dick Smith hadn't put his $2 million on the table we wouldn't be standing here, it's as simple as that," Mr Lennon said.
The land was originally earmarked by landowners Rob and David Vernon for logging by timber giant Gunns Limited, with a deal to harvest 30,000 tonnes of woodchip and 5000 tonnes of sawlogs from the 142-hectare site.
Recherche Bay, the coastline where French explorer Bruni d'Entrecasteaux anchored in 1792 and 1793, has been described by archaeologists as one of the nation's greatest cultural heritage sites.
The French expedition made friendly contact with local Aborigines, recording observations and more than 80 words.
It carried out the first scientific experiment on Australian soil, proving Earth's magnetic fields became stronger closer to the poles.
The bay also yielded the first recorded fossil in Australia.
Evidence of a garden and a 20-metre stone wall discovered in 2003 are the only identified relics of European exploration of Tasmania in the period prior to European settlement.
Eminent archaeologist John Mulvaney said after the discovery that logging Recherche Bay "would represent vandalism of significant Australian cultural heritage".
Mr Lennon's support cements a backflip for the government, which until last week had refused to intervene and had given permission for the construction last year of a logging road through the adjacent Southport Lagoon.
It will now have to rehabilitate that road.
The premier denied the move was planned to win Green votes, despite the looming state election.
"I'm here today to focus on the positives. We have saved this site and a lot of these decisions were made some time back. I don't look backward, I look forward," he said.
Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), which will manage the land, estimates the entire project will cost $2.5 million.
Mr Smith's $2 million pledge comprises a $100,000 donation and a $1.9 million loan.
TLC executive officer Nathan Males said the $100,000 would be used as a deposit.
"If we don't raise enough (to repay the loan) by the end of the year, Dick Smith has made an assurance that the property won't have to be resold and he will help us to find the money," Mr Males said.
The state government has given $680,000, which includes $210,000 towards the purchase, $80,000 in stamp duty, $84,000 in TLC administration costs and $300,000 for rehabilitation works at Southport Lagoon.
Mr Lennon said he had written to the federal government asking it to match the state's contribution.
Senator Brown also requested the federal government match community contributions, which totalled $238,000 in pledges so far.
He said his own $5000 donation was waiting "as soon as the contracts are signed".
"I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time," he said.
"I am totally delighted with the outcome and commit myself now to the big job ahead - to raise money to pay back Dick Smith's generosity."
Mr Smith was unavailable for comment today, but has previously described Recherche Bay as "an extraordinary area".
The businessman, who last year bought a million-dollar property in southern Tasmania, spent Christmas on his boat at Recherche Bay.