Climate Camp blockades coal port

July 19, 2008

More than one thousand people successfully blockaded the world's largest coal port in Newcastle on July 13, bringing coal trains to a halt for most of the day. The mass blockade was part of the Camp for Climate Action, held in Newcastle between July 10-15.

The vibrant rally involved people of all ages from around Australia, who had converged on Newcastle to send the message that confronting climate change requires an end to coal exports, phasing out the coal industry and a rapid shift to renewable energy.

The protest was livened up by contingents of "radical cheerleaders", drummers, hip hop artists, puppeteers, banners and chants. Although an attempt to enter the train line en masse failed, the rally gathered along the fences, supporting groups of protesters who made it onto the tracks. Some locked themselves to the tracks or a stationary coal train while others hung banners or shovelled out coal from the top of the train. Around 50 people were arrested throughout the day, although most only received fines.

One banner reading "Warning: Climate Change Ahead. Reduce Emissions Now" was hung from the back of the train.

Speakers at the rally told of the need for climate change action at a time when the federal government refuses to act.

"Rudd has done what is easy for climate change [by signing Kyoto] but his whole climate change strategy will unravel if he doesn't address coal", said Holly Creenaune from Friends of the Earth.

Graham Brown, an ex-coal miner from Newcastle, emphasised the importance of a pro-worker transition to renewable industries.

"Not everyone follows the coal industry line. This is the start of a revolution against the coal industry's destructive practices. We have to show the industry that there is another way where we can have jobs for everyone in the transition to clean industry", he explained.

The following day, July 14, a rally of 150 people against NSW treasurer Michael Costa was held outside his Newcastle office.

On the same day, five people chained themselves to the Kooragang coal loader, stopping work at the site for 90 minutes, according to the July 15 Newcastle Herald.

Climate Camp proved to be a great success, bringing together people concerned about climate change from around Australia, including many from the local region. Around 500 participants camped in Wickham Park over the six days.

Plenaries and workshops during the camp dealt with the climate crisis and strategies to grow the environment movement.

Simon Cunich, a Resistance member in Newcastle and member of the Climate Camp organising collective, told Green Left Weekly "We sent a strong message that we won't tolerate any government inaction on climate change. But this is only the beginning, we have to reach out into all communities, bringing together all of those people committed to a sustainable future".

On the final day of the camp there was discussion about the way forward for the campaign. There was overwhelming support for another climate camp next year. Other ideas included a national day of action against the coal industry and protests in response to the government-commissioned Garnaut review on climate change.

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