Words & Images by Jake Edwards
January 12th, the melting pot. Protestors pushed back the police line and toppled fences, forcing their way into the bushland intending to be cleared that day. Trespassing in the eyes of the state government, accessing and protecting their rightful land in the eyes of the protestors. Multiple arrests were made as a small few locked themselves onto machinery, others supposedly disrupting the police, each arrest bringing more unrest to the crowd. As the morning progressed the police began putting in action their intent to remove all from the bushland area. Warnings were given for several minutes before the final call was given, “advance!”. A strong line of police on foot and horseback moving forward and forcing back protestors. In the hectic minutes following, tensions reached boiling point on both sides, with protestors struggling to move back quick enough and police seemingly not noticing the amount of citizens who were being pushed down and trampled. Eventually the crowd were forced back, more arrested, some injured, many distraught from an action they didn’t expect. Later that day the machinery was started, removing a large section of bushland, which has continued over the following weeks.
As bushland destruction continues and a road corridor grows, protestors look for more impactful ways to halt any works from transpiring, some of these methods controversial in the public eye. The purpose of defensive action such as tree sitting, gate lock-on’s and machinery lock-on’s is to halt any demolition in a peaceful – non-destructive way. Effective for a short time. Unfortunately, I often see these actions causing more harm than good, for one important reason, which is image - the image of the campaign in the public eye, arguably the most crucial weapon in any political battle. As defensive actions increased I felt a drop in public support from those who may be undecided on their opinion – this making up the largest section of the public. Such actions being branded with the title of ‘hippie’, resulting with the campaign incurring the same branding.
Fortunately, these stereotypes are being hit back with various campaigns surrounding the notion that community members from all backgrounds are against the highway. These include; protest members holding up cards stating their profession and their opinion on the highway, and the latest ‘silence speaks’ which included hundreds of community members congregating in the city and standing in silence for their cause. We have also seen amazing support from local musicians such as John Butler and Kevin Parker to name a few, as well as great support from local council members.
Into February the demolition continues and so protesting and defensive action will continue along-side, however the political battle will inevitably be the decider on expensive state infrastructure such as this, a state election on the horizon adding some hope for those against the current situation.