Rising Tide activists stop coal train, seek support for more civil disobedience

April 19, 2023
Activists shovelling coal off the train, made easier because coal corporations refuse to pay for covers. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Rising Tide stopped a coal train for 5 hours on April 16 at the Port of Newcastle. There was a tremendous media response, due to the dramatic photos of people shovelling coal off uncovered coal trains onto the ground.

Rising Tide had organised a four-day conference, Camp for Climate Action, attended by 300 activists, young and old. The Newcastle-based, grassroots organisation has an ambitious plan to shut down the world’s biggest coal port by 2030.

On action day, three busloads and about 30 cars went in a convoy to view the port. Mountains of coal, ready to loaded onto the biggest conveyor belt in the world, to ships waiting in the harbour, is screened by pines and eucalypts.

The coal pile is the largest in Australia — 1 square kilometre. The coal stacker machinery can move more than 10,000 tonnes of coal an hour.

There are eight berths for the coal ships. Each ship can hold 100,000 tonnes of coal, as they have a depth below sea level of a six story building (18 meters). These ships in 2021 exported a total of 150 million tonnes of coal through the Port of Newcastle.

It’s an enormous operation. The coal trains start at 5am and continue until 3am the next morning, with a break of only two hours. The 100 coal carriages, full to the brim, are not covered because the coal corporations argue it would be too expensive.

On the morning of April 16, when the convoy came down the hill, we could see the planned action had been successful. There were 15 proud men and women standing up on the coal train and another 30 people next to the train holding banners.

On top of the coal train standing precariously on the lumps of dirty coal were an 81-year-old woman and a blind man. We have no idea how they all got up the ladders onto the carriage, but they did.

The blind man told us later, he took out his glass eye and flashed it around in his hand to distract the security guard on the gate. It worked.

Every person near the coal train was charged as they were taken, one by one, to the police vans. The riot squad and dozens of police would have appreciated the double time. Four activists were taken to the watch house, while one was held overnight in the cells.

At a plenary session on April 14, we heard Wonnarua Traditional Owner Scott Frank recall his successful fight against Glencoe extending its mining lease. He described it as being like a cat playing with a mouse: the Glencoe CEO had rang at 11.38pm to tell him he couldn’t win against a powerful, international corporation.

Coedie McAvoy, a Waddananggu Cultural Custodian, talked about the fight against Adani, now Bravus, in Queensland. Gomeroi custodian Raymond (Bubbly) Weatherill talked about the resistance against the huge Santos Pilliga gas field in the Narrabri.

Other notable talks included one on the rising tide around Kiribati Atoll, where a baby and three young children have recently died from drinking brackish water. Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute gave a quick lesson in coal economics. Dr Ruchira Talukdar spoke about the conflict caused by Gautam Adani building thousands of solar panels on Indigenous-owned forests in India, destroying the forests.

The four days were filled with workshops and discussion around such themes as “Uniting for change”, “The symbiocene revolution”, “Collaboration with coal workers”, “Systems of power”; Climate justice and intersectional feminism”, and to build a mass movement. NSW Greens MLC Sue Higginson provided valuable legal advice.

Rising Tide is campaigning to sign people up to the Climate Defence Pledge. It aims to find 10,000 people to stand together against the coal and gas CEOs and billionaires who are destroying the planet with their greed.

“Once we have united a critical mass of 10,000+ everyday people committed to civil resistance, we know we will have the power, diversity and numbers to win,” Rising Tide said. “At that point we will begin waves of sustained disruption of the coal export industry, until our demands are met. We’re on the side of truth and justice. We’re on the right side of history. We are building hope. We are cancelling the apocalypse.”

[Sign the Rising Tide pledge here.]

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