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‘An irreplaceable part of Australia’s natural heritage’

1975: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park created

NASA, bit.ly/2WEx8QN, CC BY 2.0
1900 2000

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Read the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority position statement on the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef entitled Climate Change. What do you think are the main aims of the position statement? Do you agree with them? Give reasons for your answer.

 

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

2. Look at the website below to further understand the connection between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Great Barrier Reef. How would you describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s relationship to the reef? 

 

The Great Barrier Reef Australia

3. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Coral outcrop on Flynn Reef, off the coast of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef</p>
Toby Hudson. Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

In a snapshot

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. It has been of great importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for thousands of years, and continues to be one of Australia’s most important natural environments. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was created by the Australian Government in 1975 to save the reef from mining. Other activities, like fishing and tourism, are still allowed in some parts of the marine park.

Coral outcrop on Flynn Reef, off the coast of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. What is the Great Barrier Reef and what threat did it face in the 1960s and 1970s?

2. What did the Whitlam government do to protect the Great Barrier Reef?

3. What current danger now faces the Great Barrier Reef?

What is the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and is located off the coast of Queensland.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a long and continuing relationship with the Great Barrier Reef and its natural resources. There are more than 70 traditional owner groups along the Queensland coast and the Torres Strait.

Research task

 

Find out why the Great Barrier Reef was added to the list of World Heritage sites.

Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, 1973

Why did the reef need protection?

In the 1960s many businesses wanted to use the Great Barrier Reef for its underground oil and natural gas, as well as other resources. These businesses were supported by Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland Premier from 1968–87, who allowed the entire Queensland coast to be explored for oil in 1968.

At the same time the conservation movement was starting to grow. Many new organisations were set up to protect the environment. In Queensland the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and the Queensland Littoral Society fought to protect the reef. In the late 1960s these groups started a ‘Save the Reef’ campaign, calling on the Australian Government to create a marine park.

After some large oil spills around the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s most of the Australian public also began to oppose the idea of mining the Great Barrier Reef.

‘We will take this action to protect an irreplaceable part of Australia’s natural heritage … We will preserve it both for its intrinsic value and its importance to the tourist industry.’

Gough Whitlam, 25 November 1974

‘Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the Reef. Further impacts can be minimised by limiting global temperature increase to the maximum extent possible and fast-tracking actions to build Reef resilience.’

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority position statement, 19 July 2019

How was the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park created?

In the early 1970s a Royal Commission was investigating whether oil drilling would damage the reef. Before the Royal Commission could deliver its findings a new Labor government, led by Gough Whitlam, came to power. Whitlam soon made new laws that gave the Australian Government (rather than the states) control over Australia’s seas and offshore resources — including the Great Barrier Reef.

In November 1974 Whitlam announced that the Australian Government would create a marine park to protect the reef from oil drilling.

Research task

 

Read the UNESCO Great Barrier Reef World Heritage List entry. According to UNESCO what should be done to protect the Great Barrier Reef?

UNESCO World Heritage List

Tourism poster, ‘The Marine wonders of the Great Barrier Coral Reef’ 1933.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 set up a group called the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which would work with the Queensland Government to manage the marine park. The Act allowed fishing and tourism in some areas.

The first part of the marine park was set up in 1979 but more sections of the reef have been added over time. 

In 1981 the Great Barrier Reef became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the most important ecosystems on earth and an area of great natural beauty. Today the marine park is 344,400 square kilometres in size. It contains 600 islands and 3000 coral reefs. The Great Barrier Reef now faces new threats, especially from the effects of climate change.

 

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. What is the Great Barrier Reef and what threat did it face in the 1960s and 1970s?

2. What did the Whitlam government do to protect the Great Barrier Reef?

3. What current danger now faces the Great Barrier Reef?