Sue’s Story

For many women as their family responsibilities expand, being on the frontline is not physically possible. For Sue, with work, family, art and volunteering commitments, a growing business and a thousand demands each day, this was the case. But people’s bodies are not what’s needed the most: for every person locking onto a gate, or chaining themselves to a rail line there are many hundreds of people behind them making that brief piece of civil disobedience happen. Since her early days of freedom as an activist experiencing one of Australia’s iconic environmental turning points, the way she’s changing the world may have changed as her responsibilities have expanded, but her commitment, drive and passion is not even slightly reduced. Talking to people at markets, performing at fundraising events, linking people to groups and activists, attending rallies, marches and protests, Sue is one of those people who make frontline activism happen.

We started off by talking about our shared interest and activism in another big Australian campaign; one that seems endless, seems like a turning point, but just continues to go on and on and on. What does she think about it?

Yeah, I don’t think Adani’s going to happen. I think this movement is just going to keep growing and growing, and it’s going to get to a critical mass.

I think my view has probably got a lot to do with my age. Because I’m at the point where, you know, I’ve already been a grandmother you know. And to think about what’s happened in the last 30 years on a world wide scale, it’s just horrific. From the time when I was a teenager to now, and seeing what the future is going to be… it’s like this massive cloud over my kids and everybody’s future. I want to do something about it. I want to bring the rainbow back! I want to fuck that cloud off and bring the rainbow back to these children, you know. That’s why I just love children, because they’ve just got that innocence and they’ve just got that, still got that wonder about the world and how amazing it is that there is this water right there. You know, they’re just happy to be alive.

A Tarkine Tiger

I went to University of Tasmania. I started off at the Launceston campus, and then finished my degree at the Hobart. So, I was down there meeting people in those circles, not so much at Uni, but in the social sort of side of things. The Uni itself is very close to Salamanca which is where all the pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafes are. And so I think a lot of the protests started there because that’s where the Parliament House is as well.

They have the Saturday Markets, and that was where I probably started paying attention. They used to have a hemp protest on the Parliament House lawns on the Saturday. Everyone would sit around and smoke joints, and I think that that was my first involvement in being an activist I suppose. I would have been about my early 20s, just in Uni and being around students.

The protest was to decriminalise, legalise marijuana. There is also a big hemp for paper movement, along with the green movement: instead of chopping down thousand year old trees, you could just grow a crop and make the same amount of paper. Use less oil, it went back to all those debates. I felt very strongly about it and then when I met other people and found out there was an actual movement and actual protesting happening, I wanted to be involved. But, because I had to go to Uni and work and do all that, I couldn’t go to the forest and protest with the hard core activists. And there were a lot – many people came from North Queensland and all over Australia, came to the Tarkine to protest. 

Tasmanian Parliament House, Hobart

So we actually decided to form a group that had an ongoing, sort of sit-in at the Parliament House. And it turned into a three week protest, and people had tents up and these amazing hammocks in the trees, and mattresses – it was really comfortable.

Parliament House have these massive old oak trees I think they are at Parliament House. And we had these hammocks set up in the trees, it was quite fun. Originally it was just going to be a couple of people just with signs. And then people got the idea and got carried away. We said okay, we’ll do this and you know, the next minute there was a tent city and there were hammocks in the trees and there was a fire going 24-7. Then, there were a few complaints and I think eventually it got taken down, got stopped, or they agreed to finish it.

It was basically for the Tarkine. But an interesting thing that did happen was that there were a few homeless kids that passed by and then joined up with the movement, and they decided to set their own tent up and have their own protest about being homeless, right at the end there.

It’s definitely memorable now when you mention the Tarkine Tigers to some of the older school activists and conservationists, they get very excited. “Oh you’re one of the Tarkine Tigers!?” What I had done is that they gave me stuff to type in about the Tarkine Tigers, and it was one of my first experiences with actually using the internet, and not really having a clue! But somehow I would go down to the Uni because I was a student, so I got access to the computers and then I could type all this stuff in. So, all this information got uploaded somehow and I didn’t even really know what I was doing.

But I was doing something memorable in a way, you know. It would help for getting the message out there to the wider public and it was very interesting. It’s special, being able to just have some part in it. Even though, you know the road still went through and they are still logging in the Tarkine right now. It’s horrific. The road was a huge part of the goal of the protests, because they were trying to make out the road was for other purposes. But basically it was there so they could get bigger machinery in to log. So the protesters had people set up in Tripods trying to block the road, and they did stall it for a long time, but I think eventually it got through.

So yes, the road was a big thing at the time, but that was just one thing of the whole scheme. Of the whole basic goal behind it, which was just saving this forest that bad been there forever. The last old growth forest in the world.

And it’s still really relevant internationally. There’s a big movement at the moment just to create this awareness about the Tarkine in the international community, right now. And I think last year they had a group of artists go down and they took photos, and made art. So, they have put together a book which they have presented to someone in the international community. If I got a hundred grand right now, I would jump on the plane and go down there and be a part of it.

From BobBrown.org.au – “Tarkine in Motion is a celebration of life as it has always been on this wild planet. ‘All creativity comes from the book of Nature’ said Gaudi: so do all artists. We are part of the wild Earth’s own creativity. Yet the palette is being smashed. Wilderness is being destroyed at the greatest rate in human history.
Tarkine in Motion is more than a representation of the Tarkine’s inspiration. It is a call for us all to get involved in ending the needless mining, logging and off-road vehicle erosion of the Tarkine wilderness. May this art lead to action – and the saving of this wonderland for our own wellbeing.” – Bob Brown.  Now in its fourth year, Tarkine in Motion has become one of Australia’s largest environmental arts projects, using the creative power of art to alert the world to the plight of a threatened wilderness – takayna / Tarkine.

I think it’s definitely that more people are afraid to stand up or get out there now, I think. Back then, there seemed to be a lot more people that were passionate about it, especially in the younger age groups, but up through every age group really.

But it’s hard to say why. The people who were protesting back then were not just mainstream people either. They were quite alternative people and a lot of them may not have worked in the traditional sense but they were sort of artists, or creative people. They would have to feel very strongly about it to protest, and to put that much time to it. I think there were a lot of young kids from what I remember, that had come from quite middle class backgrounds. Quite wealthy, but had sort of rejected all of that and had become alternative and taken up protesting, and you know. I thought it was quite funny how they would just have this image, and have this sort of lifestyle. But they would still eat junk food, eat McDonalds and it was just such a contradiction.

As far as I know, in the movement a lot of people kept going with it. There was a lot of members of the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation and I think a lot of those people are still active working with Bob Brown. Probably the younger people all went different ways.

In this day, I think that the Stop Adani movement is so very much more organised. I think having that social network now with Facebook it makes a huge difference from just back in the 80’s. Back then we had to find out from somebody there that, “Oh we are all meeting tonight around 11 o’clock – be there!” Writing on chalk somewhere on the pavement. Back then, you actually had to be there amongst the people or see people. Because we didn’t even have mobile phones back then, for gods sakes. We had nothing. Using the internet involved going to the special room at the University somehow, and magically finding it out there. How to use it, I can’t even, I didn’t even realise how crazy it is that I did that now. Because I didn’t even know what I was doing, but somehow I just found the way to do it and just did it.

For me now it’s definitely an active choice, a more deliberate than ever to be involved in the protests. I’m just so disgusted with the way the world is going and the way the politicians act, and it’s just sickening to see how money is just the focus of everything. And it’s become even more so now.

Apartheid

How did I get into myself? I was quite quiet and shy at a child. And I was actually, yeah, quite withdrawn. I was a book worm. I was a very deep thinker, but I think I did get a bit more confident. I got into sport and performing, and I went and danced for a number of years. I began not worrying about what people think and not being afraid to speak your mind. I think I got that humanitarian part of me from my father being in the ministry and growing up in the church. I always try to find something where I feel like I can do something to make a difference. I remember being very into nature, because in Sunday school we had one of those world vision children that we sent money too. I actually became the person that corresponded with this girl. She used to send me photos and letters, and I felt quite strongly about that – I remember the picture to this day that they had provided a tree, this orange tree that she was going to grow and get fruit from one day. And she drew a picture of the tree and she sent me a photo of herself with the tree and I thought that was just amazing. I was probably only about 8 or 9.

I think my dad definitely was the biggest inspiration for me to continue standing up. Because he was very much one of those that would break tradition and he was quite progressive for his time. He was a very good preacher and he was quite feared back in the day by people. He was the headmaster of a big college and he was quite up there in the circles, academic circles. His school had the best records. He was a very strict disciplinarian as well so that sort of came into it. I think he had to let go of a lot of that authority when he became a minister. But his calling was within the ministry and he became a full time minister in order to come to Australia. He was very much politically involved and leaving South Africa was a very important decision to him; he wanted us to have a better future, and wanted us to have freedom and, a better education.

But I did sort of over hear him having conversations with people. And definitely it was a big sacrifice for my parents to make to leave everything behind. Financially they lost so much. They basically sold everything and had to start again to bring us here. But they were definitely very, very happy with that decision, my Mum as well. She is also a teacher, but not so much an activist. She had her own career and was very successful as well, finishing her degree when she came to Australia. And then she went into special education and she spent a lot of years very dedicated to her work.

It was always about the children for my mum. She started a program where they had an exhibition which was a fundraising event for the school. They she got the best art work for this massive exhibition, which I think they still do now. And they actually lease the artworks out to businesses, and that creates funding for the school to get them more equipment. She was very passionate about that cause: she wasn’t so much into the political stuff, but she definitely was good at what she knew.

I remember South Africa very well. I went back there when I was about 16, saw it again from a perspective of having lived here for a number of years. I have that background and knowledge of the protests of the anti-apartheid movement because my dad actually gave me literature which had some very powerful images and stories of the earlier movement. That got me really interested in that as well in a lot of the political stuff that was happening with Mandela in South Africa. Just seeing those images of the protests and reading about it probably sowed that seed in me as well, and I carried that with me through out.

To Queensland

So I stayed in Tasmania for a little while and then I left and came up to Queensland. And that’s when I got pregnant with my first child. So, that sort of became my focus then. But then when my girls were about 5 and 7, around 2005 or 2006, there was a massive protest for the anti-war movement. This is when they started the war, and the protest was one of the biggest that happened in all time.

I definitely went to that. I had to take part, and I took the girls to that one. I suppose I felt like I had to go, because I came from growing up in the 80s when there was such a strong anti-nuclear movement, and so much activism and protesting was happening. We had Midnight Oil and we had the Indigenous Rights movements happening. So, there was a lot of that and it was just so crazy that they would still be thinking about war.

Having little children too just made me more passionate about it. I wanted to take them along, for them to be part of it. I also protested for the Women’s Marches from the early 2000s, quite a few times. I performed on one occasion for the women’s march, and they had an even afterwards at Southbank.

Part of it was that there were a lot of things that I would have pursued if I wasn’t a single parent and had so much life stuff to deal with. But at the same time you meet different people and you keep your awareness up about what is happening in the wider world. Despite this you do tend to become a bit focused on your day to day life and getting from A to B. There were periods where I didn’t even watch the news or where probably months would go by and I wouldn’t know what was happening. But I knew when it was something big that everyone was talking about.

“On February 16, 2003, one of Brisbane’s largest mass protests took place when an estimated 100,000 people rallied against a military invasion of Iraq, though police more conservatively assessed only half that number turned out.” Myles Sinnamon.
Gulf War protest march in Brisbane 2003. (In copyright). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image gwc00009

I don’t think it’s a matter of choosing between issues for me, I think it’s just basically what I’m confronted with in my life. I suppose I let life choose it for me in a sense. I’m a big believer in that your path is in a way already chosen, or that there is a reason that you meet certain people, because somehow your paths are joined together. I think it’s sort of having trust that things will present themselves and that I have a purpose and this is what I need to do when something feels right. I just trust my intuition a lot. If I think, well this feels like something I want to be part of or want to go to. But you definitely need a lot of resilience, to keep doing it and to follow through with things.

Because a lot of the time I don’t want to get out of bed you know. I would rather just forget about everything. But I just have this inner drive that says no, you have to do it. Get up.

The Naked Bike Ride

The World Naked Bike Ride is an international clothing-optional bike ride in which participants plan, meet and ride together en masse on human-powered transport, to “deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world.” The dress code motto is “bare as you dare”.  Nelson Mail – 10th March 2008 by Hayley Gale

So, from what I remember I think it was 2007 when a friend of mine asked me to take part in the world naked bike ride. Which in Brisbane, no one actually was naked because we weren’t allowed to be. Because they protested against the nudity. But people wore paint, a lot of people wore underwear, a lot of people wore paint.

I was naked underneath my clothing, which was just a very thin sarong, which was quite brave of me. It is not normal that I would go out naked on the street on a bicycle! But this was over at Coronation Drive at Toowong. So, that was awesome to be a part of that one. It’s basically an eco-protest against climate change, because cycling is environmentally friendly. And a lot of cyclists are activists just because they are cyclists. They choose to cycle everywhere rather than drive, I suppose the protest was just a worldwide protest that happened and I chose to participate. 

I also choose to participate in ongoing domestic violence advocacy. I have a personal involvement with domestic violence in my relationships. I actually was a member of the domestic violence resource centre, and I took my daughter through them for counselling, when she was 4 years old. Through knowing the people in that organisation, I volunteered and I did a couple of singing performances. So, one of them was a campaign with body shop and the domestic violence resource centre which was an awareness campaign. They had a CD they put out called ‘Don’t Ignore This’ and it was a compilation of all local artists, and their own music and songs. Protest songs. Because it was a youth initiative, and I was a bit older than the group, I wasn’t accepted, but instead I just volunteered to perform at the event in the Brisbane St Mall. They had an event to raise awareness and they got people to get up and dance and I did a dance and a song for that. It was good to be able to actually get up and as an artist find different ways to express myself to find that voice to reach people. And domestic violence is a cause that I felt very strongly about. It felt really good to do that and to be a part of it. I’m also interested in other social issues such as homelessness. Also there needs to be a broader focus on homelessness to get those people to actually be involved even if they don’t have a fixed address. What about all the homeless people, they don’t have an address so how are they going to enrol to vote?

So, I was speaking to the guy who I was volunteering with at the voting day for the Greens,  saying how interesting it is that there is such a whole sector of society today that probably haven’t even enrolled to vote. Who don’t even take part in the process. So, it’s not really a true democracy because these people are on the fringes, some of them are just isolated. They don’t even have a clue how to go about these processes, let alone actually. And a lot of people don’t want to be on the electoral role, because they don’t want to be able to be traced by anybody. Probably the people that are actively involved in the protesting are those that have access to the tools and have stable accommodation.  They have a stable life, and they’re educated. They’re the ones you know, that are obviously doing the right thing. Whereas other people are left out, for example by knowing about voting where the ones that have dropped out of school probably don’t have access to a computer. There is a whole percentage of people that are not even taking part in this democracy.

So, somehow – probably on facebook – I heard of Lock the Gate, and also from my sister in law who was also very much an activist. And she lives around Byron Shire. So, for quite a few years I’d been hearing about this Lock the Gate and you know, not quite paying 100% attention but knowing that it was a worthy cause. But then, when I actually had the time to look into it and then found that they were, they had a local group and so I got involved with the, found out you know who was the local group and went to, I think the first one they had was, oh I can’t remember, there’s so many. They had a protest at the Brisbane Parliament and we, for the Love of Queensland, put together and painted a large banner for them, for that protest. I had time to actually do something, and be a part of something and meet more interesting people.

I suppose for me I am just drawn to anywhere where I can help out. And if I see a cause that I think needs support, I’ll get involved. If an opportunity came up and I felt that I could contribute, then I definitely would still pursue that. It’s interesting because as an artist I think that’s where my direction is going in, where I want to move more towards. Even with my craft that I do, I’m trying to do something that’s eco-friendly that people think about their consuming, and where things are coming from. I like to actually re-use things as much as possible, that’s the focus of my art. Unfortunately it’s life that stops me doing more.  But I think being sort of single again, and having you know, that freedom to make my own choices. And to you know, stand up for what I believed in. I think it’s just in my personality. That I just, you know, I just see things that are wrong and I just want to do something. And where I can’t be in person, I’m there in spirit and I follow what’s going on. If I don’t have time to go to the protest and be there, I’ll sign as many petitions as I can on that issue or you know, do some slacktivism. I’ll share it 100 times on Facebook or something. So, you know, even if I can’t be there in person I will try to have a presence. I will sign the petition or something, or share it with someone. You know, even speaking about it to other people. For example, I’m still very passionate about that particular cause, because I went to the Tarkine and saw it for myself.

Does it work?

For the war, I think the bad thing about it was after the march, everything just happened anyway. The war happened and it’s been going for what, 10 years now, more than ten years. And it seems that people just go back to their lives and like still nothing changes. And it’s the same with the Tarkine in Tasmania, the forest down there. The laws are there, but they’re not being implemented and people are still breaking the law. These massive, these companies are breaking the law and getting away with it, without being penalised. Or they’ve found some loophole somewhere, or they have greased somebody’s pocket along the line and they get to continue. Logging in the Tarkine is still an issue, and it shocks me that all that protest was in vain. I think there has been some small [success from the protest]. I mean it’s been made national world heritage and you know, listing. But at the same time, the laws and the involvement of these big companies are still happening. I don’t understand how that’s still happening. But yeah, they are still fighting for it.

It’s just a matter of just getting back on the horse I think. You know, you do have days when you feel like it’s just all pointless. Even voting. I think that the raising awareness is just a little blanket, a little band-aid. I think definitely think the law is where things need to change. And people’s attitude. It’s the corruption. I know this from my experience with the law and family safety. Because really, what needs to happen is a change in the law, a change in people’s attitudes towards domestic violence. The law is at the bottom of everything, the same with the family, you know child safety, for example. It’s just ridiculous how there is a federal law and there is a state law, and the two do not communicate and they do not complement each other.

 

Bob Brown Foundation has today announced their protest vigil has expanded to a second area of threatened forests in Tasmania’s Tarkine. Community members have set up a camp in the Frankland River forests, saved from logging last year by the Foundation.  https://www.bobbrown.org.au/mr_180203
On October 7, the #StopAdani movement united in a big day of action. Over 20,000 people literally spelled out #StopAdani in giant human signs at over 60 community events across the country. This was a huge national day of action, people united in their commitment to stop #StopAdani and its plans to construct one of the world’s biggest coal mines near the Great Barrier Reef. Check out event photos below and on the #StopAdani Facebook page. https://www.stopadani.com/actionday

But even so, I think everything, everything, every little step that anybody makes is useful. Whether it’s just all you can do. You can recycle, you know, whatever you’re capable of doing. We can change people’s attitudes and that’s where the awareness does come in. Where if people are provided with the right information on all different levels, then things might change.  Even through music. Original music is coming back in now, and there is a lot of protest songs happening. Midnight Oil is doing another tour!

I think now there is a whole new generation of activists coming in. I mean, I was quite surprised to see so many young people at Stop Adani protest. That was amazing. I really loved being a part of the Stop Adani human sign. I think that there are a lot of younger groups coming through, especially with the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Sea Shepherd. It really gives me hope that they can carry the torch and keep going, when we run out of energy.

I think for some people it getting arrested does work, and it definitely works as publicity for getting awareness. You know definitely, the media, because that’s always reported. But I think there are other ways that you can reach a lot more people and using art, and using something creative would probably not be illegal, and also would probably gain a lot more positive support.

 For me, I would like to go as far as I can without getting arrested. I would like to do something more creative in the Stop Adani campaign. Possibly dropping a massive banner on a water tower or something like that, or just over one of the bridges. Just feeling the energy at an event like the human sign is incredible. There were 15,000 people! Over 15,000 people cooperating in such a calm and collected way. It was just amazing to be a part of that.

 

The here and now

I’m thinking about possibly recording some music. So, that’s probably my next avenue that I’m working towards. I definitely want to pursue that more because I’ve got some songs that are protest songs I suppose, which I wanted to work on. And as an artist I think I like to work in any medium, you know, across a whole broad range of mediums. So, for me music is the thing that you can probably reach as many people as possible, in the shortest amount of time. Whereas having a picture in a gallery somewhere, even with online stuff, you still don’t reach people. Music has this power to go directly to your subconscious, and ear worms develop.

And you only have to hear something one time and it can stay with you for the rest of your life. So, I find that to be very, very powerful medium that I want to work on more, and be able to get across and be good at. To be able to communicate to an audience, and to have them actually recognise that message and take it on. That would be awesome.

I’m happy with what I’ve achieved but I’ll always want to do more. Always. You know, I hope that I can do more and maybe next time make it bigger and better, and reach more people. I’ve also just started volunteering for things. So, there was the anti-poverty week where they just had a community meal, so I just volunteered for that. That led onto the next one, which they had another one and asked me to help out for that. And so the one I did last week was just for the family daycare party. It’s not so much a protest but it’s just being involved in the community, and just getting out there just doing something positive like putting a smile on a kid’s face.

It’s just awesome. It just inspires me to keep going, and I think that’s why I keep doing it. It gives me strength and hope for the future. 

The Tarkine: Saving the last of Gondwana from Brent Melton on Vimeo.

The Tarkine: Saving the last of Gondwana. See the video by Brent Melton. In the north west corner of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, lies the Tarkine. The worlds second largest temperate rain forest.For the past 50 years, conservationists have been waging a battle against successive governments to have the Tarkine turned into a national park and given World Heritage listing, protecting it from destructive logging and mining practices.This is their story.”
 

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