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The French Connection, Recherche Bay

From 2003 I was heavily involved in the community campaign to protect the North East Peninsula of Recherche Bay from being logged for profit. This landscape is the touchstone to some of the most remarkable natural and cultural history in first contact Australia.

Living some 10km north, in Lune River, at the time I was working on collecting, drawing and printing many of the type specimens and other plants that the Naturalists – Labillardiere and Gardener – Felix Lahaye, were also collecting in 1792-3.

In 1792 two scientific research ships under the command of Rear-Admiral Bruni d’Entrecasteaux sailed from Brest in France in search of the great maritime hero La Perouse. They did not find him.

Their friendly encounter with the Aboriginal people of Recherche Bay – the Lyluequonny – and the many collections of botany, zoology and language that came from this visit form a remarkable story. It is one of a brief ground-breaking relationship of trust and friendliness between the two cultures, before the ensuing colonialism wreaked havoc on aboriginal culture. It is also a story of the amassing of an important scientific collection that helped to inform a groundswell of popular support to protect this landscape that has informed our history and helps inform our present.

The site where the French planted a garden was on private land and under threat of logging. This French Garden became the touchstone to galvanise a community to ask the world, to ‘respect this significant cultural landscape and protect it forever’.

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(L-R) Bob Brown, Deborah Wace and Dick Smith at Recherche Bay, 2006.

The ‘Recherche Baybes’ was part of my contribution to raise awareness of this threatened landscape and the science and stories enmeshed in it. The ‘Recherche Baybes’ were a 3 piece group (occasionally more) using original song, satire and a big dose of history to reach crowds of sometimes more than 10,000 people (at political rallies, music festivals, radio and in concert).

We sang songs of some of the characters on board the ships, songs about the French Garden, bawdy yarns…and in between spoke about the threat and disrespect to this special area, including why it matters.

The success of the campaign to protect the North East Peninsula of Recherche Bay from logging was celebrated by the many groups and individuals who worked so hard to respect our history.

We won!

The Tasmanian Land Conservancy purchased the land for $2.2 million with the generous philanthropy of Dick Smith. The Tasmanian Land Conservancy manages this landscape for us all and protects its cultural and natural values.

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Recherche Bay in far south Tasmania. This is where the French d’Entrecasteaux expedition arrived in 1792, and again in 1793. In the distance are Mt La Perouse and Mt Leillateah.

Admiral Bruni d’Entrecasteaux wrote in the official log book:

‘I shall attempt the vain task of conveying the feeling I experienced at the very sight of this solitary harbour…. Everything reflects the rustic state of raw nature….here one meets at every step, combined with the beauties of nature left to itself, trees of enormous height and corresponding width…some appear as old as the world.’

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The ‘Recherche Baybes’ singing for the launch of Jean Philipe Beaulieu’s new book ‘Secret Garden at Recherche Bay – 1792′, at Hobart Bookshop, 2017. L-R: Deborah Wace, Jean Philippe Beaulieu and Anna Spinaze.
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