Vale Bob McMahon — anti-mill campaigner

April 29, 2013
Bob McMahon was a leader of Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill.

Robert (Bob) McMahon, a founding member of Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill (TAP), died in his sleep on April 17.

The anti-pulp-mill activist passed away at the age of 62, leaving behind his wife and fellow activist Susie McMahon, as well as two children and five grandchildren.

TAP was founded in June, 2006, as a grassroots community opposition group to the proposed Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill.

McMahon was a retired art teacher and loved being outdoors. Rock climbing was one of his passions and it was during a rock-climbing trip to Chile in 2005 that he heard about the destructive effects of a local pulp mill, similar to one that had been proposed near his home in northern Tasmania.

He returned to Chile in 2006 to investigate further and once the potential environmental and social destruction of the pulp mill proposed by Gunns became clear, McMahon knew he had to stop it going ahead.

McMahon, named as the 2012 Tasmanian of the Year by the independent news forum Tasmanian Times, became an important leader in the community campaign and tirelessly organised for many years.

Writing on her blog on April 23, his partner Susie wrote a touching tribute that said the combination of his determination and his articulate voice led to him quickly becoming the “media go-to person” on the mill.

She recounted that during the busiest periods he would get phone calls at 6am from the media and they would continue until 10pm.

During the height of TAP’s campaign, protests involving 15,000 people were held in Launceston and brought the issue to national and international attention.

McMahon's legacy is the enduring strength of the movement of which he was a part. Eight years after its proposal the mill has still has not been built.

In a feature article in the Age last year, McMahon explained: “Everyone thinks it was purely environmental. It was actually a community campaign, a socio-economic campaign that began because of a great sense of injustice, because the costs and the risks were going to be borne by the community and the benefits, if any, were going to be gained by private enterprise with massive government support.”

Fellow anti-mill activist Peter Cundle wrote about McMahon on Tasmanian Times: “Bob McMahon's courage, honesty, compassion and sheer decency will never be forgotten. His life and achievements as a wonderful teacher, nature-lover, superb photographer, writer, outstanding rock-climber, friend and clear-thinking leader will always remain a significant part of Tasmania's history. He played a vital role in the non-stop struggle against the destructive forces of corporate greed and political opportunism which for far too long has resulted in the relentless looting of Tasmania's resources and the increasing impoverishment of this State.

“Bob's sudden, unexpected death is such a profound shock for everyone who knew and loved this inspiring Australian. Above all, he never gave in, right to the end. Our thoughts are with his family, especially Susie at this devastating time.

“Our struggle against greed, corruption, political betrayal, indifference and ignorance continues. We'll never give in! We'll never give in.”

Tasmania mourns a great loss for one of its social and environmental leaders and celebrates the efforts of his life in defeating the mill.

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