Break Free blocks Newcastle Harbour

Issue 

About 3000 people, young and old, women, men and children, kayaked from Horseshoe Beach and blocked Newcastle Harbour to stop the coal ships on May 8. Organised by 350.org and other climate change campaigners, the Break Free event was a great success and also fun.

There was a large contingent of First Nations people from all around Australia and internationally, from Samoa and other Pacific islands that could disappear due to rising sea levels.

There was virtually non-stop entertainment. The day began with dances from Aboriginal groups, while the climate guardian angels, women dressed all in white with huge angel wings, presented a photographic opportunity. The climate guardians use angel iconography to highlight the vital role of guardianship of precious natural resources, both human and non-human, in addressing the global threat from climate change.

Ken Canning, a Bidjara man and lead candidate for the Socialist Alliance NSW Senate team met with other Aboriginal leaders, including Adrian Burragubba, of the Babinburra Clan of the Wangan people, who is protesting against the massive Adani Carmichael coalmine in the Galilee Basin, in Queensland.

Canning said: “I was really meant to go to the blockade at Newcastle, not only for an important event but to my absolute surprise I ran into family from Borroloola NT, Claremont, Emerald and Charleville in Central Queensland.

“First Nations peoples took the lead on this wonderful day and the coal ships were stopped from entering Newcastle ... you've got to love a day like this — a blow to the coal industry and a good old fashioned family get together.”

Canning was interviewed on a local TV news outlet in the Hunter region, making the point that coalmining is a threat to our environment.

Musicians including Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst, Australian blues singer Ash Grunwald and members of the band Blue King Brown, performed on the harbour from the renewable-powered catamaran Gaia's Dream. A fleet of about 200 catamarans and kayaks moved constantly across the water, taking protesters out for stints on an almost glassy harbour on a beautiful warm day with no wind.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale gave a press conference in the morning on the beach.

In the afternoon, dancers and singers from Pacific islands gave an impressive performance as well as a demonstration of fire twirling and fire eating. Hundreds of volunteers supplied a fantastic breakfast for the cost of a donation.

At the same time, 57 protesters who occupied a rail bridge to block coal trains at Sandgate were issued with Field Court Attendance Notices (FCANs) for remaining on inclosed lands. Three women were charged after they allegedly abseiled from Stockton Bridge at the Port Waratah coal facility. Further charges were laid against protesters accused of attaching themselves to equipment and ships, and a woman, who allegedly climbed up mooring lines of a coal carrier. A total of 66 people were arrested. The media concentrated on these actions instead of the peaceful protests by thousands on the beach and the water.

There was a minor police presence on the bay, with police taking photos with telescopic lenses and walking around the beach with sniffer dogs. This was in stark contrast to last year when the police were overly aggressive.

Photos: Zebedee Parkes

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