believe society and nature are inseparable.
want a truly just and sustainable future you can't separate them.
I don't just want
to reform - I want to change things.
I think I first became
an activist when I was twelve. In primary school I had taken an interest
in whaling when I saw books that showed sperm whales being cut up, and
stories of over-harvesting, endangerment of species and that sort of thing.
It made me start to think about and engage with ethical issues. But it
wasn't until I was in year seven that I took my first stand.
At that time, my
English teacher showed our class a documentary about deforestation in
the Amazon and how it was intimately related to cattle farming and poverty.
At that point I became a vegetarian and I've never looked back - eleven
years down the track I have still never even touched seafood, nor have
I stopped acting on my beliefs.
As a teenager, I
was unhappy with the school environment. I went to a few private schools,
Methodists Ladies Collage, then later Eltham Collage, at which I think
I spent a lot of my time rebelling against what I found to be really useless
'your have to wear this uniform';
'you are not allowed this hair colour' or 'those earrings'.
I found that these rules were enforcing conformity just for the sake of
conformity and control. I was always a 'Straight
A' student, doing really well at school, and respecting and having really
good relationships with my teachers, but when they started to enforce
what I found to be useless rules on me, I would politely not oblige.
Eventually I left
the private school system and enrolled myself at Eltham High School with
the backing of my mother whom eventually supported me choosing a place
where I felt I would be happy, despite my father's desire for my private
education. In the state school environment I thrived.This
particular school had casual clothing and what I considered to be sensible
rules, so I stopped rebelling (at least against that system).
During my high school
years, I was really interested in and always took any opportunity I could
to research environmental issues, but it wasn't until after High School
that I really became involved in environmental advocacy. After finishing school
I took a year off study. I would often go to St. Andrews market, where
one day there was a 'Friends of the Earth' stall. After chatting to the
lovely fellow about the organization, I decided to join.
At the time I was
doing re-vegetation work along the river at Warrandyte and Eltham, when
I saw a forest meeting promoted in the Friends of the Earth newsletter.
I went along and that was it.
I have been involved
Although I began
my learning curve about forest issues at Friends of the Earth, a major
part of my efforts on forest protection has been carried out through community
collectives such as the Melbourne Tarkine* Action Group, which I helped
form in 2003 and that worked on Tasmanian forests. That was an amazing
group to be part of. It was about 20 people who were really into grass-roots
action. It was a beautiful, non-hierarchical, consensus based group. Everyone
was really empowered to do what they were good at, what they loved and
every one had a significant role in our function and success.
Some were good at
organizing, some were great at culture jamming and things like that, some
were good at the creative and visual aspects and others had the ideas.
But we all had great enthusiasm to raise awareness and make a stand on
Old Growth forest destruction. It just fell together really well as a
group. We were non-aligned. We met in Ross House
where the Wilderness Society was and we had a desk at Friends of the Earth.
We were doing actions almost every week for about 6 months. It was inspiring. We organized an art
exhibition with 'Artists for Tarkine' (a sub-group of Artists for Charity).
They really came in behind us - they raised tens of thousands of dollars
for our campaign.
After the Federal
election in 2004, I decided I had been working on forests for a while,
and wanted to shift gears. Although I had been predominantly focused on
the 'natural' environment in my activist life, particularly during my
uni years I have deepened my understanding and engagement in social justice
issues as well.
I believe society
and nature are inseparable. If we want a truly just and sustainable future
you can't separate them. Friends of the Earth isthe only formal organization I know that
integrates social justice and environmental issues, as well as having
a grass-roots, non-hierarchical structure with a strong emphasis on change,
not just reform, that suites me very well.
These days I am now
working there as joint International Liaison Officer with Damian Sullivan.
It is a great position. I am really interested in working internationally.
Since travelling solo in South America in the year proceeding high school,
I have been studying Spanish, (as well as Geography) at University.
I realized early
on that having a second or even third language would be invaluable given
my passions and the investment of that time is already paying off. As
Friends of the Earth International operates in French and Spanish as well
as English, I have already been able to use my Spanish skills in my position
to the benefit of FoE Australia and the global network.
I am also looking
forward to studying in South America where I might further develop my
language skills as well as have the opportunity of learning about ideas
surrounding poverty, power and environmental sustainability from a non-Western
perspective, education which I consider invaluable.
At the start of this
year I helped form another group called Friends of the Earth Action Collective
(FOEAC) because I thought that although Friends of the Earth has a good
reputation locally, it could gain from more public exposure at the state
level. I thought an action group could tag on to certain international
days of celebration or mourning, and impart a Friends of the Earth message
or work with schools and the broader community.While
undertaking projects in these areas, the collective has also become very
interested on working on the Friends of the Earth Climate Justice campaign.
FoE seems to me to
be the only organisation that is looking at climate change as a social
justice issue as much as an environment issue. Hence FoE Action collective
has been really inspired to disseminate information about the social aspects
of climate change, particularly highlighting what will be the inevitable
development of millions of climate refugees if swift actions are not taken
to curb our greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past four
years I have done a lot of student work at Melbourne University. I was
lucky enough to fall into student activism with a group of amazing people
who Where and are very careful about consensus decision-making and talk
about a variety of issues. So at university I got involved in a lot of
issues other than forests. I learnt a lot about ideas surrounding non-violence
through practices such as consensus, without necessarily knowing that
was what they were at the time.
In the current political
climate with the war in Iraq etc I have taken an interest in peace studies.
A few activists whom I knew a little about and whom I thought were quite
inspiring decided to do a non-violent direct action training workshop
at Common Ground, which I keenly attended. I had heard about
the Free West Papua movement and as part of the non-violence direct action
weekend we decided to organize an action at Australian Defence Industries
(ADI) at Benalla in regional Victoria to highlight Australian involvement
in the oppression and murder of the West Papuans, and the Archenese as
well as to protest Australian participation in the war in Iraq.
ADI produces weapons
- from bullets to rifles to heavier equipment. It has an exclusive arms
supply arrangement with the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Questions to the
Australian parliament tabled by the Greens in 2005 have confirmed that
the weapons made here in Australia are being shipped to Indonesia, Israel
and other states through military aid arrangements. A body associated
with the ADF shipped at least 14 shipments of military aid including weapons,
ammunition and military equipment and at least 207 shipments of dual use
(military and civilian) goods in the years 1999-2000.
We believe these
weapons are likely to be used by the Indonesian military (the TNI) against
the West Papuan people. This was the link I had clear in my head when
we decided on this ADI action at Benalla.
There were two parts
to our protest. The first involved going to the streets of the township
of Benella to communicate with the local people about the issue. We wanted
to open up a space for discussion of their thoughts on war and weapon
production, because the reality is that people make weapons and those
same people have the potential to refuse to do so.
We wanted to create
a space where people can begin to give themselves permission to think
about their involvement in the production of war. Having said that, we
understand that these people do it to support their families, obviously,
so we didn't want to be too confrontational nor act in a manner that wasn't
respectful of their circumstances. It is a difficult issue. I think we created
a comical and non-threatening space for dialogue. For example, we had
people walking around in white pesticide body suits with pretend metal
'have you seen any weapons around here?'
We had people dressed
up to look like a caricature of ASIO agents, with dark glasses and dark
suits saying 'have you seen a plant growing weapons around here?' We also did a lot
of strategic questioning ('are you aware that ... ?' or 'what do you think about ... ?') and we did some visual displays, rather than pushing our ideas on people. However we couldn't
resist having a banner, which was a little bit more confrontational, that
said: 'WARNING: WEAPONS LIKE THESE COULD BE USED TO KILL PEOPLE LIKE YOU'.
Then we went across
to ADI. We had warned the police in advance that we were doing this and
they allowed us on the property to a certain line. ADI is set well back,
a couple of hundred meters, from an isolated road. You can't see the weapons
plant from the road.
We wanted to symbolically
transform this plant into a positive space for peace and a socially constructive
space for feeding people, not hurting them. We brought along sweet potatoes
and pumpkin with the idea of planting a vegetable patch on ADI land and
symbolically planting a seed of hope. We sat around in
a circle. People brought art materials and we drew things and talked about
our visions for a more peaceful world; we shared stories about experiences
where people have been oppressed or had violence committed against them. We also shared stories
Then we set up a
display. It had an aboriginal flag because we are all aware of wanting
to respect the people whose land we were occupying and who also might
not be happy with a weapons plant on their traditional land. That was
important to the group.
A few of us decided
to walk on to the property beyond where we were allowed as we wanted to
make a statement, to intervene in the production chain of war. As we walked,
with the rest of the group we sang songs of hope, justice and equality. As a result Jason
MacLeod, Adam Breazley and I were arrested for trespass.
The police treated
us well - it was very amicable. Our process had been as pacifistic as
we could make it so there was no fear and everyone (including police)
always knew what was going on. We believed this
was important, as fear and violence are often closely associated. This
process however raised some questions in terms of how much one is working
with the police and the system and how much one is really intervening
in the system when the process is so transparent.
We have discussed
this a lot since. But I think for what it was it was a good experience.
In participating in these actions, some of the ideas we have been exploring,
and I certainly have, is the idea of privilege, the privilege that the
majority of Australians experience as normal and the idea of sacrificing
that privilege to make a statement.
We are defending
ourselves in the tradition of pacifism. We see the court as a place for
our voices to be heard - not our lawyers.
The case is being
heard in two parts and the final part coming up soon**. For me, the privilege
I will lose in terms of difficulty in entering certain countries (perhaps
Indonesia) and the hassle at airports of having to reveal your 'criminal
record' is the least I can do. You can't be aware of injustice in the
world and turn your back on it.
I will continue to
be active, to use my time and energy to create a more compassionate and
thoughtful world. It is important to me to continue to do that. That is why I like
Friends of the Earth. It is an agent for social change and it has a radical
aspect to it as well. It is quite holistic and not just reformist. I don't
just want to reform - I want to change things.
* Tarkine is a
large wilderness area in the northwest of Tasmania.
It has about a hundred kilometres of old-growth temperate rainforest and
is one of the more significant tracts of rainforest in the world. It is
also surrounded by mixed forest and plains.
It has a mountain range in it and goes all the way down to the coast.
The whole area is a wilderness area.
There is only one road through, basically, the whole area and it is an
amazing place. Four hundred thousand hectares and a whole ecosystem.
It was one of the last places in Tasmania inhabited by the indigenous
people before they were moved off the main islands.
The Tarkinia people lived there - hence the name.
There are still Aboriginal middens and tent impressions all along the
It is a place of great natural and cultural significance and for the large
part it is not protected, although there are parts of the region in low-level
reserves and there is a small National Park.
It meets the criteria for World Heritage listing on both natural and cultural
It is on the WWF 200 significant world sites list.
Note: On 12th May 2005, John Howard, in line with his commitment in the
lead up to the 2004 Federal Election, which was brought on by strong pressure
from environmental groups such as The Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation
Foundation, the Tarkine National Coalition, our humble little MTAG, and
of course the wider community, promised to protect over 80% of the Rainforest
Corridor in the Tarkine, one of the most significant tracts of temperate
rainforest on Earth.
We await action in line with his public commitment. (Note that ALP's,
the Democrat's and the Greens' policy at that time, would have protected
not just the rainforest, but the vast majority of Old Growth forests in
**The case went
very well. We argued a case of 'necessity', which means we believed it
was necessary for us to commit our crime to prevent a greater crime from
It was an argument that was very useful for use to explain our motivations
for action, but apparently is very difficult to win in the court of law.
In any case all the defendants had an opportunity to speak our minds and
argue our case.
Also Jacob Rumbiak, West Papuan refugee and independence campaigner
for more about his life story)
and Donna Mulhearn, Human Shield in Iraq, were given a forum in the court
to tell their stories about human rights abuses they observed or experienced,
at the hands of what they believed were Australian weapons, in West Papua
and Faluja (and Iraq broadly) respectively.
They made graphic and humbling statements that moved the courtroom full
In the end the Magistrate, Peter Power said our evidence wasn't sufficient
to prove the necessity argument. However throughout the case he showed
consideration for our position as self defended, was very fair with his
decisions and allowed a wide range of questioning for the witnesses.
To finish he very respectfully acknowledged each defendants motivations
with praise, found us all guilty, but no conviction was recorded on our
records in exchange for a 6 month bond and $450 worth of fines which he
decided we should pay to UNICEF to support their programs in Cambodia
(a project for which he has created a donations drive and rallied support
for amongst other magistrates in the Children's Court of Victoria, the
court in which he works the majority of the time).
We felt that Mr. Power gave us just about as little 'punishment' as could
be afforded within the law. Interestingly early in the proceedings, Mr.
Power volunteered the information that he is an ex-Defence Force employee
who coincidentally worked for the transmissions department that spied
on Indonesian radio transmissions during the process of occupation of
West Papua in the late 60s and early 70s.