A long time ago, maybe 20 years, I mentioned climate change in conversation with Professor David Flint, a man who proclaims his deep conservatism and convened Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy.
He laughed, saying a stray meteorite would blow up the planet someday, so we may as well do what we liked till then.
I blanked. A joke?
A few years later, I met [former Byron Shire Mayor] Jan Barham, who said conservationists were true conservatives because they wanted to preserve the environment and believed in taking precautions to address the risk of catastrophic climate change.
These memories flashed as I watched Wild Things at the movies last weekend, a history of direct action for the environment in Australia, grounded in three frontline struggles: Binbee camp in Adani country, the camp to slow down old growth logging of Tasmania’s Tarkine forest, and the girls from Castlemaine who began Australia’s school strike for climate movement.
I experienced the feeling of it in 2014, when I reported via Twitter the Leard Blockade from a camp on a Maules Creek farm on the Liverpool Plains food bowl. Protesters from all over Australia joined local farmers and the Gomeroi people to try to stop the felling of an endangered state forest for Whitehaven’s coal mine.
It was Australia’s first coal mine blockade, and the organisers knew they’d lose. It was preparation for coal mine blockades to come.
I drove to the camp with Lock the Gate activist George Woods when Whitehaven broke its promise of no winter clearing (to protect hibernating animals). I made myself run through the forest at 2am, in the rain, and photographed the clear fell while George looked for survivors till we had to get out or get arrested.
I’ve never felt life more intensely, or felt more desolate.
George recited a bit of Shakespeare’s Battle of Agincourt ‘We few, we band of brothers’ speech to the skeleton camp crew to lift their spirits, and told me he tried to live ardent (burning, glowing), that old fashioned state of mind favoured by Dorothea Brooks in Middlemarch.
All the young faces in Wild Things are ardent – fervent.
The activists that I know believe the fight to prevent catastrophe is lost, and the challenge now is to adapt to climate change.
George is one of them.
He said, ‘Sustaining protest now is about trying to stop something of your own spirit from dying, that would die if you acquiesced’.
‘When you fight for beautiful and precious things, like the biodiversity of this planet, you’re not really doing it because you think it’s going to be okay.
‘You’re doing it out of love. If someone you love has fallen off a jetty and is struggling in the water, you don’t dive in thinking you’re going to get there.
‘You do it as an act of love’.
Seeing the wide-eyed, hopeful young people in Wild Things was radically confronting, because my generation failed them.
The Wild Things flashbacks – the Green bans in the historic Rocks precinct, the Terania Creek and Franklin blockades, preventing uranium mining in Kakadu National Park – all were conservative actions and all proved financially advantageous to Australia in the long term.
Conservationists – true conservatives – have gifted special places to their descendants for generations. In the region I live in now, the Manning, locals saved and restored a pocket of old growth rainforest called Wingham Bush for free, for love. It is now home to rare bats and is the town’s top tourist attraction.
I’m a politics junkie who turned off Oz politics after the 2019 election. The bushfires had to flick the switch, yes?
No. A big dip in emissions owing to the virus gave Australia a chance to change, yes?
Nope. It just gave Morrison the chance to ram through Santos’ fracking in the Pilliga after activists thought they’d beaten off the project after a decade of struggle.
I turned off 2021’s first Insiders show after a deadening taste of Labor crumbling on climate change and another leadership debacle.
Last week the federal government released a devastating indictment of our environment laws by the former head of the competition watchdog [ACCC] Graeme Samuels, after sitting on it for three months, with no pledge to act.
Grassroots action is all that’s left, and in federal and state politics, it’s up to red, blue, green and yellow voters who demand action to find and elect independents in safe seats. Indi, Wentworth and Warringah show it can be done.
There’s joy, and purpose, in joining ‘a band of brothers’, and it’s a more life-affirming way to live than nihilism or closing our eyes.
Where I live now, a few friends got together Monday afternoons last year to fund and make ‘prayers for the planet’ flags, 100 per cent of proceeds go to frontline, non-tax-deductible direct action campaigns to save our precious natural places.
The group has doubled in size and will expand their project this year.
The virus has asked us all to decide where ‘home’ is, and many of us have discovered that the parks, the trees, and the bush helped keep us sane.
I’ve started researching who the conservationists were in the region I’ve just moved to, and how they saved and preserved the places I walk and sit in for pleasure and peace. I’m going to join the current crop this year, and begin by helping to make those flags.
Political writer and author Margo Kingston is a former Sydney Morning Herald reporter and publishes her weblog, www.webdiary.com.au. Margo’s 2004 book Not Happy, John was republished and updated in 2007. It inspired the ‘Not happy, John!’ campaign, of which she was a founding member.