Last week ended with a birthday. Not just anybody’s birthday – a celebration of 40 years of Australian environmental blockading. On August 16th, 1979; a group of locals from Nimbin, NSW went to the forest at Terania Creek and stood in the way of bulldozers set to clear it.
Their actions led to the creation of the Nightcap National Park, but also birthed much more – the techniques and relationships forged in that forest were taken around the country. For most of the four decades since, someone somewhere on this continent has been putting their body in the way of machinery and protecting our planet from the forces that would destroy it. From the Daintree to East Gippsland on the East Coast; from James Price Point to Walpole on the West; from Kakadu in the top end to the Franklin River in the South of Tasmania: Australia is covered in sites of civil disobedience, and the national parks preserved as its legacy.
On the frontline of climate action in the Galilee Basin, we marked the occasion in the most appropriate way. Mother and musician Heather Simpson locked herself to a drill rig on the site of Adani’s rail corridor while more than 20 supporters gathered around. Work was stopped for more than half the day.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. Morrison had gone with the intention of countering the influence of China in the region, but those insolent Islanders wanted to talk about the rising sea levels that are making their homelands uninhabitable.
The island nations drew up a declaration on climate change, but at Morrison’s insistence references to the “climate crisis” were watered down to “climate change”, and references to no new coal mines were removed. Morrison said “I am accountable to the Australian people.” Former Prime Minister of Kiribati Anote Tong declared that of Australia and China, Australia is the “worst of two evils”.
Credit where it’s due, it does take a certain level of courage to look someone in the eye and tell them you don’t care if your actions are sinking their home underwater. But Morrison would do well to remember the words of 17th century poet and priest John Donne:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
Here at Camp Binbee we sent out a message of solidarity to our Pacific neighbours – we are each on a different climate frontline, both fighting the short-sighted selfishness of the Australian government.
On Tuesday it was the Queensland government coming out against climate activists. Premier Anastacia Palazsczuk passed through cabinet a law that would make it an imprisonable offence to possess or use a lock-on device. As justification, Palazsczuk claimed she had seen evidence of such devices “laced with dangerous traps”.
The implication that activists locking on are attempting to harm police responders is blatantly ridiculous – it is the activist themselves who is voluntarily locked to the device, not anybody else. Hundreds of people have been arrested in environmental civil disobedience in recent years, and there has never been a single incidence of a police officer harmed or an attempt to do so. And there are certain sources you could guarantee would delight in reporting such an incident if it ever actually occurred.
The Premier called protesters “selfish, reckless and stupid”. Police Minister Mark Ryan put out a media release to go with the new laws that four times used the word “extremist”. Even Queensland Resources Council CEO Ian Macfarlane chimed in – for some reason he was seen as an expert worthy of giving evidence at the Parliamentary Committee, where he claimed “It is inevitable at some point that someone will be injured, or worse still, killed.”
In response to all this, we say if Palaszczuk and Macfarlane are concerned about safety, they should consider the health impacts of continued inaction in the face of climate emergency. Those trying to protect our planet from corporate interests intent on destroying it for their own gain are not the ones who should be labeled reckless or selfish.
Just in case anybody thought those laws would stop people putting their bodies on the line to stop extreme climate breakdown, the next morning John Williams locked himself to Adani’s drill rig. He remained there stopping work for the entire day. Just in case anybody thought protests have no effect, that day engineering firm Aurecon announced they would be severing their 20 year relationship with Adani. Adani blamed “a concerted campaign by extremists against our Carmichael project and businesses that partner with us.” Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan meanwhile callied Aurecon “weak as piss” and “a bunch of bedwetters”.
In the middle of all this, touring musician Xavier Rudd popped into Camp Binbee for a bit of a visit. Most of the camp gathered round (and some of the smaller members danced enthusiastically) while Xavier sang his son Spirit Bird:
Deceiving man, that government hand taking blood and land
Taking blood and land and still they can
But your dreaming and your warrior spirit lives on…
In the earth, in the trees, in the rocks
In the water, in your blood and in the air we breathe
Soldier on, soldier on my good countrymen
Keep fighting for your children now
Keep fighting for your land
It’s hard work trying to stop climate change at the best of times. Let alone when your government is calling you extremists, fabricating violent accusations and threatening to throw you in jail while they are happily signing the paperwork on a human-caused worldwide ecological disaster.
But there we were sitting in a circle singing along with a bunch of amazing people, all of whom have paused their normal lives to trek up to the middle of Queensland and be berated in the news for caring about other people and species. Remembering the extraordinary history of 40 years of Australians doing the same to protect our forests, water table and climate. We could be reassured that government threats won’t work and good people will always stand up for what’s right, no matter what is thrown at them.
Which is important to remember as we stare at the enormity of the task ahead of us. The effects of climate change are already being seen from the Arctic Circle to the Pacific Islands. Governments and media are actively disrupting attempts to stop it, and Adani are continuing to clear native habitat for the construction of their Carmichael Mine.
It’s easy to slip into despair, especially if you are positioned on the frontlines watching it happen. But at Camp Binbee we are blessed with a supportive, committed and talented community; as well as links to a tradition of action that can inspire and educate us. These things enable us to believe that change is possible. In the last week we’ve seen people from all over Australia and the world come to aid the struggle, but more hands are always welcome and needed. Humans have caused climate change, come join us in creating the solution.