Australian environmental activism Timeline
An ‘Australian environmental activism’ timeline charts the growth of the environmental protest movement from 1969 until 1998.
This timeline charts the growth of the environmental protest movement from 1969 until 1998. The events selected have been chosen for their national significance or for the unusual methods of protest used by activists. Some of the protests included on the timeline succeeded in achieving their aims; others did not. Australians were taking to the streets in protest on a mass scale in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Students were calling for an end to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war and the abolition of conscription. Women were demanding equal pay, equal access to employment, access to child care and an end to sexism. The anti-apartheid movement was gaining support and Aboriginal activists were demanding land rights, equality of access to education, employment opportunities and an end to discrimination based on race.
The environmental movement began to gain momentum during this period, when public protest became a popular and accepted method of campaigning for social change. The evolution of the Green Bans in 1971 saw the beginnings of new forms of environmental activism in Australia.
Moratorium march, Sydney, 1970
Photography by Henry Gold
In September 1969, the Colong Foundation staged a demonstration outside Parliament House and two men abseiled three hundred feet down the State Office Block carrying placards stating 'Save Colong'. The Colong Caves were to be mined and the Colong Caves Reserve, (a wilderness area) was to be excised from the proposed Kanangra-Boyd National Park. This was the first direct action media stunt used in a conservation campaign in New South Wales, designed to attract publicity for the cause.
In 1975, the State Government declared the Colong Caves a wilderness area.
for Kelly's Bush (Secretariat), 1971
Photograph by Marion Marrison
for Kelly's Bush
In 1971, a group of thirteen women from Hunters Hill (termed the 'Battlers for Kelly's Bush') requested the assistance of the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) to prevent construction work by AV Jennings, on the last remaining area of native bushland on the foreshore of the Parramatta River. The BLF applied a Green Ban to the area. The Green Ban at Kelly's Bush demonstrated that concern for the preservation of the environment affected all classes in society.
On 4 September 1983, the Premier of New South Wales, The Honourable Mr Neville Wran, announced that Kelly's Bush would be set aside for full public access on a permanent basis.
remove squatters from Lyndhurst, Glebe, August 1972
Photograph courtesy of Fairfax Photo Library
The North-Western Expressway was planned by the Department of Main Roads in the early 1970s. The expressway would have cut through the working class residential areas of Ultimo, Glebe, Annandale, Rozelle and Leichhardt. In July 1972, the Save Lyndhurst Committee requested a Green Ban from the Builders Labourers' Federation to prevent the destruction of historic Lyndhurst (built 1833-1835) in Darghan Street, Glebe. Many battles with police took place, including a confrontation between police and squatters on 18 August 1972.
The Federal Labor Whitlam Government purchased the Glebe estate in 1973 from the Uniting Church to preserve the area. In 1978, the Wran-Labor Government decided to abandon much of the inner-urban expressway link and the 19th century character of Glebe remains intact.
Pedder, Tasmania ACF Habitat, Vol 11, No 3, June 1983
Photograph by Les Southwell
In 1972, Lake Pedder in Tasmania was flooded by the Hydro-Electric Commission. Conservationists had attempted to prevent the State Government from taking this action, but their traditional methods of political lobbying failed to save the pristine wilderness from destruction.
February 1971 - Inspecting a model of the Rocks area redevelopment at the Argyle Bond Store
Photograph courtesy of Fairfax Photo Library
battle for The Rocks
In January 1970, the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority was formed. It favoured massive demolitions of working class residential areas and proposed high rise commercial developments of The Rocks, the first area of European settlement in Australia. The Rocks Residents' Action Group, led by Nita McRae, opposed the developments. In November 1971, the Builders Labourers' Federation applied a Green Ban to The Rocks area.
On 23 October 1973, 77 protesters were arrested in a violent clash with police at Playfair Street, in what became known as the 'Battle for The Rocks'. This historic area of Sydney was saved from development.
ACF Habitat Vol 2 No 4 October 1974
Photograph by John Sinclair
In 1971, the Fraser Island Defence Organisation was formed by John Sinclair. Its aim was to halt sand-mining on the island. After a lengthy campaign involving a number of court cases, mining ceased in 1974 and logging ceased in 1991.
In 1992, Fraser Island was placed on the World Heritage List.
a demonstrator at Terania Creek rain forest, August 1979
Photograpy courtesy of Fairfax Photo Lib
Terania Creek, located in the Nightcap Range in northern New South Wales was the site of the first major forest blockade in Australian history. Over 200 protesters halted logging of the rainforest, through non-violent direct action.
In 1982, a similar protest occurred at Mount Nadi on the other side of the Nightcap Range. In 1982, the Premier, Neville Wran, declared a moratorium on the logging of rainforests in New South Wales. Today, the Nightcap National Park incorporates Mount Nadi, Griers Scrub and Terania Creek.
at Middle Head, 1980
Courtesy of Ian Cohen Collection
In 1980 the local Aboriginal community joined a small group of conservationists to oppose the sand-mining of Middle Head Beach and a Land Rights embassy was established. In a letter to the Premier months earlier, the Elders had stated 'We, the people of the Gumbainjiri Tribal Elders Council, are not happy with the mining at Middle Head Beach. This area is part of the sacred tribal lands, and for the Gumbainjiri and Dunghatti tribes, it is our birthplace. It is vitally important that this entire section of beach be preserved with the headland for us to retain our cultural heritage'.
Sand-mining at Middle Head Beach proceeded, however after 1980, there were no new leases issued for sand-mining on the coast of New South Wales.
Photograph by Peter Dombrovskis courtesy of West Wind Press
The largest and most successful non-violent direct action environmental protest in Australian history took place on the Franklin River in South-West Tasmania. The campaign to halt the damming of the Franklin River was mounted by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. The tally of 1440 arrests ensured extensive national media coverage.
On 1 July 1983, the High Court of Australia ruled that the Commonwealth Labor Government had the power to halt the construction of the Franklin Dam, reversing the Tasmanian State Government's decision to dam the Franklin River.
Photograph courtesy of Ian Cohen Collection
In 1983, activists travelled to the Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland to blockade the construction of a road that was set to rip up 33 kilometres of lowland forest Wilderness. The Queensland police savagely repressed any activism and German Shepherd dogs were let loose on protesters. The Bjelke-Peterson State Government was determined to ensure that the Commonwealth Government would not intervene in the conflict. The blockade failed to attract significant media attention and subsequently the road was built.
However, in 1987, the Federal Labor Government created the Greater Daintree National Park and the Wet Tropics are now World Heritage listed.
The first blockaders' vehicle moves into the Olympic Dam site, 1984
Downs, South Australia
From August to September 1983, activists travelled from across Australia to Roxby Downs, the site of a proposed uranium mine in South Australia. The uranium at Roxby represented 30 percent of the reserves of the western world. The protesters managed to break the defences and enter the mine site. In the course of two months, 300 people were arrested. The blockade succeeded in attracting media attention to this issue.
In August 1984, a second blockade took place at Roxby Downs. Despite the opposition of the Kokatha traditional land owners and conservationists, uranium mining at Roxby Downs went ahead.
Peace approaching the USS Independence, Sydney Harbour 1 May 1992
Photograph by Leigh Howlett
on Sydney Harbour
From September 1984 onwards, the Peace Squadron and the 'Paddlers for Peace' staged a number of spectacular and photogenic protests on Sydney Harbour. By June 1986, foreign warships (often carrying nuclear weapons) met protest flotillas of increasing size. These flotillas were made up of anti-nuclear activists on surfboards, in dinghies, on yachts and on power boats..
The protests were designed to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear arsenals and to send an anti-war message to the Australian government and foreign superpowers.
rally, Pitt Street, Sydney 10 May 1986
Photograph by Leigh Howlett
On 10 May 1986, protesters held a march along the proposed monorail route opposing its construction. In September 1988, five thousand protesters gathered at Sydney Town Hall, believing that the so-called 'monsterail' was an aesthetic eyesore that imposed on a number of heritage streetscapes in the city area.
Despite the opposition, the monorail development went ahead in conjunction with the development of Darling Harbour.
world's first ever Tripod - South East Forests
Photograph courtesy of Jarrah Keenan Collection
In 1989, the largest forest blockade in the history of New South Wales took place in the south-east forests, near Eden. The government renewal of the Harris Daishowa woodchip licence for a further 15 years provoked the blockade. The major focus for the conservationists was the preservation of three areas: Coolangubra, Tantawangalo and Yowaka. Protesters of all ages and backgrounds were trained in peaceful resistance methods to prevent the destruction of old-growth forests. Over 1,000 people were arrested. Methods used by protesters such as tree-sitting and tripod construction provided a challenge for police and drained their resources substantially.
Some areas of the south-east forests have recently been incorporated into National Parks, whileothers continue to be woodchipped.
up Australia day
In 1989, the inaugural Clean up Sydney Harbour Day was held. Up to 40,000 Sydneysiders removed 5,000 tonnes of waste. The success of the event led to Clean up Australia Day the following year and in 1993 the first Clean up the World Day was launched.
The ongoing willingness of Australians to participate in this event demonstrates a widespread level of community concern for environmental issues and puts the 'think globally, act locally' slogan into practice.
Chaelundi, July 1991
Photograph by Tony Grant
In April 1991, the North East Forest Alliance blockaded the Chaelundi State Forest using lock-on devices, burying themselves in concrete pipes and manning tripods.
On 25 September 1991, Justice Stein ruled that the Forestry Commission's logging would disturb endangered species and ordered all work to halt. This led to the introduction of the Endangered Fauna Interim Protection Bill to New South Wales Parliament by the Opposition. The Bill was passed and became law. However, the future of the Chaelundi State Forest remains uncertain, as the recent Regional Forest Agreements do not rule out the resumption of logging in Chaelundi.
Day March - Wollongong, 5 June 1994
Photograph courtesy of Green Left Weekly
In February 1989, the 'National Save Jervis Bay Campaign' was established. Its aim was to defeat plans to house the Navy and its weapons at Jervis Bay on the south-east coast of New South Wales.
In February 1994, local residents, Aboriginal traditional land owners and conservationists rallied at Cabbage Tree Point to oppose the relocation of an armaments depot to the site. The plans were abandoned by the State Government and a marine park has since been established in Jervis Bay, saving fragile marine ecosystems from destruction.
Runway Demonstration poster
Photograph by Leigh Howlett
Mass demonstrations were held in December 1994 and early 1995 opposing the increasing levels of aircraft noise in suburban Sydney. Residents and community groups joined with their local councillors in blockading the airport - Barry Cotter, the Mayor of Marrickville, authorised the use of Municipal garbage trucks to block the roads. A number of meetings and demonstrations were held in early 1998 by local residents and environmentalists at Badgerys Creek in the south-west of Sydney, the proposed site for the second airport.
rally, Circular Quay - July 1995
Photograph courtesy Green Left Weekly
The French Government's decision in 1995 to resume nuclear testing at Moruroa Atoll in the South Pacific was met with worldwide condemnation. Numerous protest marches were held around Australia.
The largest of these took place on Bastille Day in 1995. In Sydney, tens of thousands of people gathered at the Town Hall and marched peacefully to the French Consulate to voice their opposition to the decision. However, the French authorities continued with their nuclear testing programme that year.
in a hole in a concrete mound Marrs Creek - 29 March 1995
Photograph by Martin Hesse
The construction of the M2 Tollway in the north-western suburbs of Sydney was opposed by local residents, environmentalists and advocates for public transport. Its construction destroyed more than 115,000 trees in rare urban bushland and polluted or concreted over 2 river systems and 7 creeks. 250 homes were compulsorily acquired and demolished, and a number of Aboriginal sacred sites at Devlins Creek were destroyed.
The anti-M2 campaign was hard fought and more than 100 protesters, ranging in age from 14 - 71 were arrested for trespass or intimidation. All charges against the protesters were eventually dropped.
of the South-East Forests - 1995
Photograph by Glenn Lockitch
of the South East Forests
According to a National Association of Forest Industry Report of 1996, Australia harvests 9 million tonnes of woodchippable material from its forests every year. About one million tonnes is used by the domestic pulp and paper industry and half a million tonnes becomes hardboard, fibre board and medium-density fibre board. 6 million tonnes are exported. This leaves between 2 and 3 million tonnes which the industry cannot export under current government controls. As there is no local market, it must either be burned or left on the forest floor.
demonstration - Opera House steps, 6 April 1997
Photograph by Leigh Howlett
The construction of the apartment building (known as 'the toaster') located next to the Sydney Opera House at East Circular Quay has aroused widespread community opposition. Paradoxically, the development faces the historic.
Rocks area that was saved due to community activism 25 years before. Contentious city and suburban planning decisions including housing developments at Pyrmont, the additions to the Conservatorium of Music and the future use of Defence land at Middle Head are all of current concern for the National Trust and community groups.
Kirribilli House, 20 October, 1997
photograph by Glen Barry - Photograph courtesy Greenpeace Australia
On 20 October 1997, 17 activists from Greenpeace carried 12 solar power panels over the front gates and climbed onto the roof of Kirribilli House, the residence of the Australian Prime Minister John Howard. After three hours on the roof, police arrested the activists and charged them with trespassing on Commonwealth property. .
The non-violent action gained world-wide media attention and was intended to promote solar power as a viable alternative to polluting fossil fuels. Greenpeace also carried out non-violent actions at the Olympics site in June 1997, highlighting the levels of toxics in Homebush Bay and removing drums of dioxins bordering the Olympic site.
the Streets, Enmore Road Newtown - 1st November 1997
Photograph by Sally Bongers
The 'Reclaim the Streets' movement began in the United Kingdom. The first Sydney-based 'Reclaim the Streets' event was held in Enmore Road, Newtown on 1 November 1997. The street was closed to traffic and activists held a celebratory gathering on the roadway. This form of protest is innovative method of highlighting the negative consequences of the motor car upon community life. 'Reclaim the Streets' is closely linked with the anti-freeway movement and the 'Critical Mass' campaign which advocates cycling as a preferred and healthy mode of transport.
Protest at the Annual General meeting of ERA - Sydney, October 1998
Photograph by Glenn Lockitch
The proposed Jabiluka Uranium mine site in the Northern Territory is approximately 250km from Darwin and is surrounded by Kakadu, the nation's largest national park. A uranium mine at Jabiluka is opposed by the traditional landowners (the Mirrar people), environmentalists and concerned citizens. The Jabiluka Tent Embassy was established outside the offices of Energy Resources Australia in Loftus Street, Sydney on Friday 5 June 1998 to place pressure on ERA and in solidarity with the blockade at Kakadu. The embassy stood for nearly 10 weeks, before the New South Wales Police dismantled it on Wednesday 12 August 1998 at the request of Sydney City Council.
The campaign against the mine is continuing (December 1998).