The Queen is Dead

The Confluence / The Unconformity

The Confluence

In the heart of the southwest wilderness, born from the remote peaks of the Eldon Range, the majestic King River snakes through 52 kilometres of valleys sculpted by glaciers. Stands of rare Huon and King Billy pines line the river. Timid wildlife forage along its banks. On its journey to the sea, the King River is fed by 11 creeks and rivers. It flows through Lake Burbury and hurtles down a gorge through John Butters power station before meeting its Queen.

The Queen River rushes through Queenstown to meet the King. Only the Queen carries with it the burden of a toxic past. The water is a confronting shade of rust. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Queen River was only tainted by copper from surrounding mountains. This isn’t the case. The Queen River is actually dead.

River entering harbour
King River, Macquarie Harbour / Ollie Khedun

A century of mining run-off from gold and copper mines leached an estimated 100 million tonnes of acid waste into the Queen River. While miners filled their pockets with money, the river filled with waste.

Over time the waste polluted the river’s entire ecosystem – killing all aquatic life and the ancient Huon and King Billy pines that once thrived along its riverbanks. The dramatic colour of the Queen River, referred to as ‘pumpkin soup’ by the locals, is proof of the neglect nature has faced at the hands of human progress.

In spite of everything, the resurrection of the Queen River looks promising. The dumping of mining waste is no longer accepted by the Tasmanian community. The focus is now shifting to mending the biodiversity that once flourished here. Environmental experts are working hard to find solutions to remove or contain contaminated waters. It is estimated that in 150 years the pines will have regenerated.

Where the Queen meets the King is an intriguing sight. It is disarming yet beautiful. It is an easy walk down a track – if you can find it (ask a local). From the sky, these rivers blur together in a display of the dead and the living, the old and the new, untouched wilderness and wilderness devastated by man.

This haunting visual masterpiece serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and untamed purity of the wilderness, right at the heart of the Western Wilds.

King River / Ollie Khedun

river entering harbour

Mouth of the King River / Ollie Khedun

River mouth
river entering harbour
River mouth