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The Pieman: The river that saved itself


At the time of all the controversy surrounding the damming of the Gordan River holes were also being drilled to dam the Pieman River. Whilst there was much public outcry and protesting about the Gordan, the Pieman River had very few voices in its corner. A group of four men canoed and photographed the river in 1964 to highlight the issue and there was a small amount of struggle with conservationists but most of the attention was on the Franklin Dam issue despite the Pieman being one of the most intact rivers we have in Tasmania. It turned out that the Pieman was too deep in its lower stretches for the intended dam to be built. The main dam was originally planned to be at Hells Gates, downstream from Corinna and this would have left the town under around one hundred foot of water.

It is Hydro Tasmania’s most successful catchment, and at the time of construction was the largest rock filled dam in the southern hemisphere.

In 1971 the Pieman River Power Development was approved and it was finished in 1987 with three power stations and five dams. While the Pieman remains the most intact river we can visit easily in Tasmania the damming did have some effects on the river. Before the dams in summer the water flow would slow down and salt water would flow further up the river bringing ocean fish and attracting families for water skiing and swimming in summer. The water in the river is colder now due to the flow of dam water.

The Pieman River is more pristine and intact than any other that is easily accessible in Tasmania even though there was industry on the river in the past. There has been gold, osmiridium mining and huon pine logging with possibly more than 31 million super feet (A super foot is 12 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch and is a lumber term.) of huon pine being taken before 1931 (when a reserve was proclaimed) but that is nothing when compared to the Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour. The main reason that there was less industry on the Pieman is the inaccessibility of the river due to the river mouth being a treacherous channel to navigate and there were no roads to the area in that era. There is nowhere else in the world that you can see the amount of huon pine that you can on the Pieman River. The Gordon River had convicts stripping pine for thirty years and then loggers for one hundred years.

Other flora that can be seen on the banks of the Pieman include myrtle, tea tree, blackwood, leatherwood, the rare slender tree fern and pandani. The slender tree fern is only found in one other location.

There is debate over whether the river was named after Alexander Pearce or Thomas Kent. Alexander Pearce, “the pieman”, was a convict transported to Macquarie Harbour, who escaped, and killed and ate his companions to survive. Thomas Kent of Southampton, was a pastry-cook nicknamed the Pieman, who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1816. Both men had escapes that led to the Pieman area as far as many accounts are concerned.

Some other facts about the Pieman River:

  • There are at least 40 unnamed waterfalls between Reece dam and the sea
  • The river is around twenty metres deep where the barge crosses
  • In some spots the river is as deep as 45 metres next to the banks
  • Salt water can run below fresh water in the river as far as the Reece Dam
  • Fish in the Pieman include ocean running trout, brook trout, eels and quinnet salmon
  • The river is navigable for 45 kilometres from the mouth to the Reece Dam
  • The Pieman River drops around 191m over its 99.3km length
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