Activists on kayaks participate in a major climate demonstration, known as the Newcastle port blockade, which is considered one of the largest in Australian history.
The atmosphere seemed more celebratory than defiant as a large group of individuals rode kayaks, surfboards, and pontoons into the Port of Newcastle. This event, organized with the intention of being the largest act of civil disobedience in Australia’s history, garnered significant attention and participation.
On Saturday, individuals on the shore stood closely together and waved to the demonstrators who planned to block the channel for 30 hours in order to prevent coal exports from departing Newcastle.
Several individuals were seen dancing to live music and proudly displaying Extinction Rebellion flags. Meanwhile, others added a comedic touch to the protest, like Helen Child who donned a costume resembling Clive Palmer and held a sign reading “Let Them Eat Coal”.
However, despite its light-hearted nature, the underlying message that the organizers, Rising Tide, aim to convey to the government is a serious one.
Zack Schofield, one of the organizers of the event, stated that their goal is to urge the government to impose a 75% tax on profits from fossil fuel exports and to halt the development of new coal projects.
Including in the group of paddlers are individuals from various regions of Australia who have personally experienced the effects of the climate emergency.
“Our purpose is to safeguard our country and preserve our culture,” states Willard Kurikuta.
According to Nick Hopkins, who was displaced from his residence in Bateman’s Bay during the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020, individuals must take action and urge our government to enact change.
The life of luxury in the midst of the gum trees has vanished.
Grant Howard, a miner from Mackay, Queensland, came to join the protest and hopes to inspire other miners to stand up for the environment.
He expresses a desire to be involved in the necessary changes.
Adam Bandt, leader of the Greens, participated in a kayak alongside Cate Faehrmann, a Greens MP from New South Wales. It seemed that Faehrmann took some time to get used to being on the water as she joined her team on their improvised green pontoon.
“People are tired of this,” Bandt stated while observing the water and waiting for his turn to start paddling. “They voted for action on climate change, but instead, the government is supporting more coal and gas.”
Before the paddlers set out on Saturday afternoon, Bob Brown delivered an inspiring speech, drawing parallels between their upcoming activity and the Franklin River campaign.
He stated to the large crowd gathered on the shore that it will be larger, more powerful, and yield the same results.
On Friday the park behind Horseshoe Beach was a hive of activity. Large white marquees were erected and in one tent a large group of protesters stood in pairs learning strategies for non-violent direct action. Outside a group had kayak training.
The demonstrators have established tents and sleeping bags for rest between the marquees and the beach. They intend to rotate shifts to maintain a 30-hour blockade, which will conclude at 4pm on Sunday.
Seventeen-year-old Alex Goodsir reports that students from distant locations such as Perth and Adelaide were making the journey to Newcastle to join in the blockade.
She emphasizes the significance of involving young individuals in this matter, stating that it ultimately affects our future.
Being a resident of Newcastle, Goodsir also believes she has a greater responsibility.
“I have resided in Newcastle for my entire life and initially, I never paid much attention to the coal ships that were a regular sight on the horizon,” she states. “As a member of this community, it is my responsibility to contribute my voice to the movement aiming to prevent this.”
The port of Newcastle, which made a commitment last year to run solely on renewable energy by 2040, ships an average of 165 million tonnes of coal annually.
The Albanian government has shifted its focus towards a quicker shift to renewable energy sources, declaring on Thursday that it will broaden the funding program for environmentally-friendly energy initiatives. However, since taking office in May, the government has given the go-ahead for four new coal mines or expansions.
According to Schofield, this demonstrates that progress is being made at an insufficient pace.
“We must approach this situation as a crisis and an emergency. If we are facing a shortage of funds, there is one industry that is responsible for causing the issue and continues to benefit from it. We firmly believe that it is their responsibility to contribute their fair share.”
Alexa Stuart, who is 20 years old, shares the same sentiment as her 97-year-old grandfather. Both of them will be participating in the protest on Sunday. If he is feeling well enough, her grandfather may even take a boat into the channel.
Stuart says that he is genuinely concerned about us and our future, and he wants to demonstrate his support.
Rising Tide has previously engaged in “climate defence” efforts. They operated in the area from 2005 to 2012 and gained recognition for their actions of disrupting coal ports and railways.
The NSW government passed anti-protest laws last year after a series of climate actions that blocked Sydney’s Port Botany. As a result, there has been a recent restart despite the increased consequences.
In April, numerous individuals associated with Rising Tide were apprehended following their trespass onto a train headed for the Port of Newcastle and their subsequent removal of coal from its carriages.
The police have approved the two-day blockade, as long as the channel is blocked for the agreed upon 30 hours.
Schofield stated, “This is not the conclusion, but merely a stepping stone.” He added, “Our goals for next year include blockading the coal port for double the duration.”