The man who lost his trousers took us to the edge of Amageddon

Life's not meant to be easy, but take courage child 
for it can be delightful.
                      -- Malcolm Fraser

Long before Fraser lost his trousers in Memphis, he was Minister for the Army in Vietnam overseeing Australia’s role in genocide as a faithful accomplice of the Americans in Indochina. Perhaps the squatter had pangs of conscience in later years and sought redemption by morphing from monster to saviour of the boat people from Vietnam.

Malcom Fraser, Minister for the Army,  in Vietnam
Fraser in Vietnam

Unconcerned about what this class warrior did to democracy when he connived with the Governor General Kerr’s cur to sack the Whitlam government, some liberals held Fraser up as a model of how we should treat refugees, forgetting that he had helped create their need to flee from war in the first place. Purity is hard to find, especially among Australian politicians.

I suppose they had no one else; Don Chipp, the man who kept the bastards honest, was already dead, and his copybook was dirty on Vietnam as much as Fraser’s, having encouraged the Holt government to go ‘all the way with LBJ’.

So when it came to Uranium it was not that much of a leap for Fraser to get down and dirty with the bible bashing bastard from the North, Johannes Bjelke-Petersen and start exporting the stuff.

It is strange, Australian politics does not throw up characters like this anymore. Unless you realise that an evangelical Pentecostalist as PM is channeling Joh as a populist hero, that is. On the other side of the ledger, even the drover’s dog, Bill Hayden, was more colourful than the current leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten. But then Bill did marry the Governor General’s daughter

CANP marches on May Day 1978

Speaking of opposition, the anti-uranium movement from 1977-1979 had two hubs in Brisbane: the Campaign against Nuclear Power (CANP) run by Bob Phelps and Ian Henderson out of the Uniting church in Ann Street just above King George Square; and Friends of the Earth, run by a collective out of the Learning Exchange in West End.

Most of the anti-uranium pickets at the Hamilton Wharf were organised by Friends of the Dirt (as Joh called  them) out of the Learning exchange in West End. It was a little like Turnstyle in Highgate Hill is now (2018) however the Learning Exchange did have a little federal funding, until Fraser turn off the tap.

Learning Exchange
The Learning Exchange, West End

In the build-up to the great anti-uranium march on 22 October 1977, FOE and fellow travellers were going down to the wharves trying to blockade uranium ships, many bound for Hamburg in Germany and on to the nuslear fuel cycle.

At one stage we held up a ship for 6 days.

We were only losing a few people to arrests and the wharfies were onside (well, sort of, unless one of our crew called them scabs for loading U235. Scab is not a term to be used lightly to wharfies who had risked all to stop Menzies from exporting pig iron to Japan to build up its military preparation for World War II. The same men helped Indonesia in its independence struggle from Holland.

Contrast that now to the CFMMEU role in the anti-coal blockades. Someone has not done their homework in the politics of building effective blockades. Of course things are different, the wharfies had communist  leaders, in some ports at least, and rank and file workers were no friend of Fraser who had kicked out Whitlam and penalised them for using secondary boycotts in solidarity with the Meatworkers as a tool against live export of sheep.

41 years since the great anti-uranium March
On 22 October 1977, 418 people were arrested marching from King George Square in Brisbane. This was the largest single act of defiance against a government in Australian history. The reason? 5000 people had assembled at the top of the steps of King george Square to defy the Queensland government’s ban on street marches and to stop exporting uranium through the port at Hamilton in Brisbane. Joh’s aim was to send all the uranium through the one wharf: yellow cake from Rum Jungle in the NT, Mary Kathleen  in Qld and even Uranium oxide from the Ranger Mine at Jabiliuka near Kakadu.

Early in 1977, Mr Justice Fox, in an independent and confidential report to the Australian Government, questioned the United States’ nuclear safeguards strategy.  The federal opposition released the report, causing embarrassment for the Australian government, as that strategy was a key point in the government’s attempt to sell uranium. Later Hawke declared them all safe.

Uranium Picket at Hamilton Wharf in August 1977 - 2
Anti-uranium picket at Hamilton No 4 in Brisbane 1977

By August 1977, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser overuled Fox called it ‘Australia’s Uranium Decision’. We set out to prove Fraser, his government and the mining companies wrong.

When the Qld state government realised that activists were using rallies to mobilise people down to the Hamilton No 4 wharf to blockade the uranium trains,  the Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen banned street marches and assembly. A confrontation developed between the government and the anti-uranium movement and over 3000 people were arrested from September 1977 till July 1979.

The march on 22 October 1977 was part of a national mobilisation. Many people rallied and marks in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide. There were no arrests.

Anti-Uranium Demonstration 22 Oct 1977

There are some parallels between that movement and the anti-coal blockades that are developing around the country at mines, in forests and on the waterfront. There is one significant difference however and that is the mass mobilisation that occurred in 1977 to defy the government. Till now, acts of defiance against coal have been on a far smaller scale.

Other states took a less confrontational approach. A bike ride was organised by Friends of the Earth in Melbourne to protest uranium.

“The conservative Fraser Government, and all Governments since, took Justice Fox’s first wide-ranging report on uranium mining as a green light for the development of uranium mining for export as long as non-proliferation safeguards were built in.

All Federal Government’s since, both Labor and Liberal, have chosen to ignore Justice Fox’s recommendations regarding: the development of a national energy policy; research and development into liquid fuels to replace petroleum, and energy sources other than fossil fuels and nuclear energy; instituting a national program of energy conservation; and taking into account the energy needs and resources of developing countries. mining and export.”

Ian Curr
22 Oct 2018

Banner photo: Anti-Uranium demonstration, King George Square, 30 October 1978

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