The day the climate movement shifted gear in Australia

It didn’t really rate much of a mention. A small local piece on the regional New South Wales news a couple of days ago, about the biggest day in court Narrabri had ever seen. 83 people were arrested in a single day on the 31st March in a significant action that involved the occupation of Whitehaven’s proposed mine expansion. In court on the 29th April, Over 100 people who had put their bodies on the line in recent months to stop destructive fossil fuel industries operating in the Leard and Pilliga forests were heard in court. Around 60 people received $300 fines for minor trespass charges. Some people are contesting charges. I am one of them.

I was proud to stand that day with doctors and teachers, with retirees and students. I was proud to stand with Bill Ryan, 92 year old Kokoda veteran. I was proud to share a paddy wagon with Ros Druce, local farmer who has bravely taken the step of being the first Maules Creek resident to be arrested defending her land. I was proud to stand with Marion Gevers, mother of Jonathan Moylan who decided it was time to stand up to this industry too, and support her son and the campaign. I was proud to stand with the young university students from Canberra who took a big leap out of their comfort zone by participating in this action.

As we stood there in there as the sun rose on befuddled workers unable to commence work for the day, as 80 people from across the country scattered themselves across machines and their work site, it was also wonderful to reflect on the other resistance rising.

That same day, in an unprecedented event, 2000 people had gathered at the Bentley blockade, near Lismore against unconventional gas.

Waking up to a new era

It is a remarkable thing to awake to the stifled murmurings, and scattered torchlight of over 100 people rising to prepare for action before dawn.

After a frenetic few days training and preparations, after maybe an hour’s sleep I reluctantly got up and headed towards the kitchen. A big queue for coffee and the amazing breakfast crew had been up for hours preparing a hot meal for us all before we left. People were gathered in their ‘affinity groups’ with nervous laughter and chatter in the air.

I had been speaking with Cliff the night before, the gentle giant of a farmer who has so generously hosted this eclectic bunch for months now. He said at the last ‘Act Up’ he had not realised an action was underfoot. He had tears in his eyes as he talked about getting up well before dawn to see torchlight and a line of cars ready to leave for peaceful civil disobedience actions to defend the forest and climate.

He will not hear a bad word about the long term campaigners who have put their lives on hold to live on site and hold ‘Camp Wando’ together. ‘Other people call them ferals, but they are the best bunch of people you will ever meet. You need something done, and it gets done.’

And then we were off… car headlights in convoy for as far as the eye could see. Of course there was minor chaos, bogs on the wet roads, detours and a bit of mayhem. But nearly everyone made it onto site, some after a cross country trek… and as the sun came up more than 30 confused and bemused construction workers were watching us settle in, around and on the massive yellow machines that are ripping the beautiful Leard state forest apart.

I think we will look 31st of March as the day the climate movement changed gear. You might not have seen it on the front pages as it should have been…but as the IPCC report into the human impacts on climate change brought predictably lame responses, there were 2000 people gathered at the Bentley blockade getting ready to stop Metgasco drilling for unconventional gas, with the nearby Pilliga camp preparing wave after wave of farmers willing to be arrested to defend country.

Whilst there have been mass arrest actions in Australia before we are seeing a paradigm shift. By my estimate, well over half of the people arrested on March 31st were first timers. It was the first time a local farmer, Ros Druce, had been arrested. We had elders like Bill Ryan. We had doctors, nurses and teachers. We had people who were hoping not to get arrested but knew the risks. We stopped work for a day on a massive construction site despite significant police and security resources being deployed against us. And we did it peacefully and with dignity. People involved now have a powerful story to share with friends and family who will very likely support their brave actions. Without mainstream media giving this significant groundswell the attention it deserves it is up to us to tell our stories.

The police are playing hard ball now. At the action they arrested the media crew, our police liaison contact and went in early to grab people they knew could be good spokespeople, or support others in the action.

The next day they closed the forest to a peaceful picnic and in a shocking breach of fundamental human rights refused to allow people to travel on public roads to Ros Druce’s house for a cup of tea, and on Good Friday blocked an older local woman from going to the church service she attends every year.

And last week the local paper printed a full photo spread of the tax payer funded police repression that is being brought in to quell and intimidate the peaceful campaigners. Dogs, helicopters and members of the counter terrorism squad have been brought in against a community fighting to protect our future.

Despite all this the Leard blockade continues to gather steam, most recently with a gorgeous inter generational action, where mother and son locked on together, and the numbers at the Bentley blockade continue to be extraordinary, presenting a nightmare for NSW police who are rumoured to be gathering 100’s of riot police to enforce the will of Metgasco, against the people.

Increasingly people are talking about the value and necessity of civil disobedience. Things are shifting in this country, and people are waking internationally.

So where to from here? That is up to you. Which side of history do you want to be on? As the folks of Bentley are asking, Will you show up?

By Nicola Paris

Check our photos from Act up 3 here, and for more information on the Leard forest and #leardblockade or to donate to the fines and fighting fund, go here.

PS – a special shout out to our mate Dom, who motivated me to finish this article after seeing his