Dozens of climate activists sprinted across mountains of coal, swarmed a massive coal loader, locked on to critical parts of the machine and shut down the largest coal terminal in the world, in Newcastle on September 15.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly while she was locked on, a mother explained: “I’m here today because I think my future and my children’s future is going to be completely ruined by these massive coalmining companies and it’s important to prepare and not wreck our children’s future.”
Another woman added: “We’re here today because we want to stop coal for good — it’s destroying the climate, it’s destroying the planet, it’s destroying life everywhere.”
A student who had also locked on told GLW: “We’re doing it because coal is destroying our society, it’s killing jobs, it’s killing people around the world and it’s causing climate change.”
The protest was part of Frontline Action on Coal’s week of actions in Newcastle to end coal held over September 12-16.
FLAC activist Lillie told GLW that “We’ve come here to take up this fight because Newcastle coal port is the biggest coal terminal in the world…
“We’ve come here to draw attention to the fact that Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world. And we really need to step up and take responsibility for that.”
New South Wales alone contributes 1.2% of global carbon emissions each year in addition to its coal exports.
Lillie said another reason was that “the Hunter Valley is going to be … hit the hardest by a transition [away from coal]…
“When people leave the coal industry we want it to be on their terms, we want them to be leaving for something that’s better, not because the price of coal plummeted and the bottom fell out of the industry and the mining companies packed up and left.”
Over several days activists participated in a variety of actions and workshops on issues such as non-violent direct action and the role coal plays in the region.
Former coal worker Micah Weekes, who stopped a train heading into the terminal on September 13, said he was taking action because of the detrimental effects of coal on health.
Seventeen-year-old Newcastle local Ballyn participated in an action in which a group of protesters carried letters around Newcastle on September 12 lit up by LED lights that spelt “End Coal”. Ballyn told GLW he was there because “because [coal’s] dooming my future and the future of my peers and in 20-30 years we won’t have a planet to live on.”
Other actions included: projecting “End Coal” onto a coal ship as it entered Newcastle port; a theatrical “funeral to coal” and “wedding to renewable”; and a people’s court on coal. Health professionals protested outside one of the fences of the terminal and the Knitting Nanna’s blocked one of the entrances to the coal port.
Ninety-six-year-old war World War II veteran Bill Ryan, who sat on a coal train line with a sign “gone fishing”, said he was there for his grandchildren and great grandchildren. After a previous direct action to end coal, a judge told Ryan he needed to take up a new hobby, such as fishing.
The week culminated with the largest walk-on to a coal facility in years.
Lillie said she believes “direct action has a lot of value in shifting the conversation. You can only ask nicely and be ignored for so long.
“In 2007 [then-PM] Kevin Rudd said climate change is the biggest existential threat facing the world … Since then a metric F-all has happened in Australia in terms of making meaningful moves to transition away from fossil fuels and look after the people who have been adversely affected by that transition.
“I think that goes to show our political system is broken”, she said.
“We’re at a point of massive imbalance of power between different groups, different classes in society and the fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful industries in Australia and our political system is beholden to it.”
As one student who took part in the walk-on said: “We’ve tried protesting, we’ve tried asking very nicely, we’ve tried rallying for our politicians to take climate action, but so far none of that has happened and it’s our future that’s on the line.
“So that’s why we have decided to put our bodies between us and the coal operations going on here.”