4wdAction & Mount Balfour - Why, Ridiculous PR & The Missed Opportunity
In late 2015 4wd Action Magazine filmed themselves for an upcoming DVD driving up Mount Balfour on Tassie's West Coast. This track had been closed for a number of years.
When the DVD and magazine were released in February 2016 4wd Action were called out on Facebook by 4wd track access action group Unlock Australia and understandably there was a massive uproar.
Initially there was some confusion as there are two similarly named tracks which adjoin each other - the Balfour Track, which is open and the Mount Balfour Track which is closed. 4wd Action drove both tracks and the issue was clearly with them driving the Mount Balfour Track.
Both of these tracks are in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area (APCA) which if you google you will find has been somewhat of a political football since the 1980's. Some politcal (and other) groups want the whole area closed off to 4wd's. It's a whole other story, but it's an understatement to say that this is a very sensitive area for 4wd's.
To drive a 4wd in the APCA requires a Recreational Driver Pass, purchased from the Parks and Wildlife Sevice (PWS). The cost of the pass is $30 for one month or $50 for 12 months. The pass comes with a great DVD on the area as well as a very informative booklet, the APCA Recreational Driving Guide. The APCA Recreational Driving Guide has clearly defined maps of where you are allowed to drive. The Mount Balfour Track is not shown on these maps...... The guide clearly states, 'Only drive on tracks signed as open and shown on these maps. These tracks have been carefully chosen to have the least impact on the environment. Abusing this may cause closure of some tracks.' There are 'closed track totems' at the start of some tracks indicating that they are not to be driven on. One of these totems is at the beginning of the Mount Balfour Track.
Any film crew, magazine or tagalong tour business (including us), or in fact any business that wish to use this area for commercial purposes must apply to the PWS for a 'Commercial Visitor Services' license to operate in the area. There is no cost for the licence, it's more for the PWS to assess and ensure that values of the area are upheld. The licence contains specific rules and tracks that are allowed to be driven on are clearly outlined.
So if 4wd Action had their Recreational Driver Pass, their APCA Recreational Driving Guide and their Commercial Visitor Services license they would have been armed with a mass of information on the area which would have directed them not to drive on the Mount Balfour Track. So how did they manage to drive on a closed track? The truth is that they had none of these. Not even the Recreational Driver Pass, which could have been purchased at the local PWS Office in Arthur River or online.
4wd Action have never come out and explained why they drove this closed track and put it in the magazine and on a DVD. The assumption by many is that they were arrogant enough to not care or thought that they were above the law and rules didn't apply to them.
Now I'm not a public relations expert, media expert or anything similar, but can still recognise how badly 4wd Action handled this whole situation. They initially denied all accusations and once it was clear that the proof was irrefutable they went silent. No apology, no admission, just silence.
The below screenshots tell the story.
This statement was quickly refuted by an image that started doing the rounds on Facebook. The image as seen below is a screenshot from the DVD that shows the Closed Track Totem at the beginning of the Mount Balfour Track.
4wd Tasmania, the organisation representing 4wd Clubs in Tasmania had already weighed in with their take on the situation.
This Mercury Newspaper article explains the end result.
The Missed Opportunity
How can there be a missed opportunity? Well..... how about if it panned out like this.....
4wd Action admit that they did wrong - they drove on a closed track. They didn't mean too, they just stuffed up. They publicly apologise on Facebook and in the magazine. They tell everyone not to make the same mistake that they made - if your are going 4wdriving, research the tracks, the area and get in contact with the local land managers (PWS or otherwise) to find out if there are restrictions or permits in place. They work with the PWS in Tassie to do track cleanups and maintenance. They film themselves working hand in hand with the PWS and turn this whole negative saga into a positive one.
That would be positive PR!