Gales natural and human

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Gales natural and human

Voyage of the Pacific Peacemaker
By Win Olive
Self-published, 1999
299 pp., $25

Review by Bill Ethell

In 1978 Win Olive was invited by three friends to camp beside the East Alligator River in the Northern Territory. After travelling from Sydney, she met Vai Stanton, an Aboriginal woman, who explained the destruction uranium mining would inflict on the people of Arnhem Land, the environment and the Kakadu area.

Olive's long journey from Sydney to Jabiluka was just a part of the remarkable story she has taken 17 years to write. The story spans the length and breadth of Australia, sails across the Pacific, follows the west coast of the USA from Seattle to San Diego and ends on a lake in Nicaragua.

At the age of 80, Olive has published her first book. It is based on the voyage of the Pacific Peacemaker, which sailed out of Sydney Harbour in 1982. Olive, a survivor of breast cancer and its treatments, three children, two grandchildren and a middling marriage, had joined 10 others on the 15-metre sailing boat.

The story opens in a Tasman gale: "Just after midnight I was awakened by a loud bang, and as the vessel rolled I was thrown violently against the wall of my bunk ... with the severity of the storm and the incessant thunder and banging I wondered if the little ketch was demasted or sinking."

The book is a very personal account of these times, but also a lesson for those who desire change on how campaigns are developed and broadened, how diverse peoples are welded into a group of substantial influence and how, even though disagreements, conflict and disasters occur, people can and do work together successfully.

From Fremantle in Western Australia to the Straits of Juan de Fuca by the US-Canadian border, ordinary people form a vast web of resistance to the collaboration of governments and business in the destruction of indigenous people, the rape of the environment and the terror of the real threat of nuclear war.

Olive records the role of different sections of the community in the Pacific Peacemaker project: from the national executive of the Australian Council of Churches to Bishop Hunthausen in Seattle, from small groups of friends to the ACTU, from Greenpeace to green groups in Lismore and the Maritime Union of Australia, which took industrial action after the boat was rammed and dismasted only 500 metres off the entrance to France's nuclear test site at Moruroa Atoll.

Olive has done a great service to us all. Her book is a small book with a big heart — one more wonderful achievement for a great anti-war warrior.

It can be purchased from Gleebooks in Sydney.