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Women on the Frontline2019-03-14T22:19:35+10:00

Amazing Women

Taking action

For us

For our future

WOMEN ON THE FRONTLINE

Six women. A billionaire coal miner. What bought these women to this fight? Read their stories and be inspired.

They travelled from across the eastern coast of Australia, thousands of kilometers to be part of the fight to stop the Adani coal mine. Each with a different story, each with different motivations, goals and hopes.

From Melbourne to Yeppon, they had travelled to make a stand. Not a noisy one mind; it took a few days, some loosening up and some moments of high stress activism before I finally got to hear their stories. Each one different and each one inspiring, I hope you enjoy this collection.

INTRODUCTION

A movement is more than its ‘big names’, its celebrities or its iconic historical figures. It’s more than the people we might see in photos, or those who become spokespeople, or those who end up with fines and criminal records. A movement requires so much more than this: it is the sum total of all the people who have participated in some way in their lives. Many of these participants do so quietly in their families, networks and communities for many years over the course of their lives. They do this in different ways, as the environmental movement is broad and unique; it encompasses those who plant trees for habitat and those who teach permaculture for food. It encompasses those who try to minimise their environmental impact at home, and those who lock themselves to bulldozers on the frontline. It encompasses people who give time and effort at some times in their live and return to it in their retirement.

These stories of women on the frontline focus on people who have sacrificed their time and security to take non-violent direct action against coal extraction. I decided to focus on these women because in my research on the environmental movement I tend to primarily come across the stories of environmental activists who have gained attention. Whether this attention is sought and desired, or whether it’s granted through obligation, those with attention are more likely to get their stories told. And of course, getting attention is crucial to changing social norms and bringing about a better type of world and future.

Yet, behind those figures who have gained attention to the cause stands many thousands and thousands of people who have constructed, piece by piece, the story which drives issues towards the front pages of newspapers. And in the case of the Stop Adani movement ordinary people have been the bedrock on of attention on the issue. But how much attention do we pay those ordinary people themselves? How much of their stories do we know, how much of their sacrifices and drive and commitment is conveyed and acknowledged? The women in these stories demonstrate how every story is different, and that there are many paths to becoming an environmental advocate. Barriers can be overcome and unknown skills can be developed.

Through telling these stories this anthology tries to add the balance in narrative telling about the Australian environmental movement. Through granting me the right to tell their story, these women move the debate about how to save our environment out of the arena dominated by government and large non-government-organisations (NGOs). These narratives allow us to hear more than just the words of the traditional power holders within the movement. In telling and recognising the value of these stories the movement builds greater momentum. This momentum, incorporating all the voices, talents, hopes, dreams and shortcomings of each and every participant is the fundamental power source that drives social change. It is the voices of the myriad participants in the movement that make it loud, and this short volume aims to help amplify some of those less privileged stories.

The women profiled in this volume have seen the internal workings of the environmental movement, and lived the environmental advocacy experience over a wide range of years, communities, geographies and issues. They are the movement.

And yet, many of my interview subjects would not agree with that statement. Like so many women I spoke to as part of this project they denied any unique or privileged positions within the movement. There often seems to be some other type of person who represent ‘the movement’. Perhaps a spokesman. Perhaps someone who was famous from the Franklin blockade. Or someone employed by a major environmental NGO.

I don’t agree. The women I spoke to on the frontline, are the environmental movement. Their stories and the paths they have taken in and out of activism, in and out of conservation, and in and out of other social justice issues demonstrate the flexible and ever changing nature of something called a ‘movement’. People become active for a time, for an issue, for a person, and then revert back to daily life, often for many years. This description of people who make a movement give us hope, and explain the groundswell of anger that has prompted many thousands of people to get back to activeness.

Each of the women in this volume represent a different part of what the environmental movement is to me. Just as with the women, the environmental movement represents, and is, many things to many people. The incredible range of ways we can care for our environment plays out in the stories of these women, each of which culminate in a presence or role on the frontline.

The proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine is the beginning of the opening link between the Galilee Basin and the Great Barrier Reef, consuming land, water and some of Australia’s precious nature along the way.

Read their stories

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.

Jenny’s Story

I’m also really trying to work on being more hopeful. Because I feel like 25 is too young to be jaded and cynical.

Olivia’s Story

There are different ways to be an environmentalist. Some people do what they can at home to recycle, compost their food waste and use public transportation. Some people are active in their local communities planting trees in reserves, helping native plant nurseries or caring for injured wildlife. And others become advocates.

Nora’s Story

A movement is more than the sum of its parts. Through its numbers it derives a greater strength. This strength might seem to be small in the face of resistance: yet looking back over the successes of social movements in the 20th century, certain moments focussed that strength at a pivotal movement to capture the hearts and minds of larger populations and change history.

Susan’s Story

But, for me, the Adani project is the line in the sand. And I'll tell you, over all these years, when I've been working on projects where they were financially viable, but they were ecologically disastrous. And you know at the time, that it's an uphill battle to try and stop that, if there is money to be made. This project fails on every count.

WHAT TO HELP RECORD OUR ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY?

Earth Activists are compiling histories of environmentalists across Australia in order to have their stories told and respected. If you want to participate, either in helping with this project or in offering your story (or stories of others), please get in touch.

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