Australia's 'Uranium Decision'

And so I’ve reluctantly instructed the blokes here to follow Federation and ACTU policy and load the shipment of yellow-cake. And I’d like to ask you people, who’ve done a wonderful job these last few days in maintaining the picket, to step aside and let the train through please.”

The rest was a formality. Some people argued with the speaker, Don Stevens,’ Secretary of the Brisbane Branch of the Waterside Workers Federation and at about 10.15 pm on the night of the 11th Sunday after trinity, the police, under special branch supervision, moved in to clear the railway tracks and gates to the wharves.

This scene, the most violent since the rape demo early last year, ended what was so very nearly a defeat for the forces of might, money, and molestation. Just about everyone is aware of the product, but what of the process? How did it all begin and what happened? We asked someone in Friends of the Earth (FOE) to tell us and this is what they came up with.

It all began when a couple of people heard an early morning ABC news report that a shipment of yellow-cake was leaving Mary Kathleen for a southern port. The report was followed up and all they could find out was a no comment from Mary’ Kathleen Uranium and that the report was based on a tip off. So the tram line Was staked out and when the shipment passed, the containers noted. Railway yards were checked out and it was found that the containers were down at Hamilton Wharf. At 6.30 am, on Thursday August 18, the first of the picket arrived. They set about contacting people, putting out press releases etc. They decided to stay all night and conduct a vigil in an attempt to load the containers was made.

The only incident that night was when police called the fire brigade to put out the picketers’ campfire. On Friday the numbers started to grow and things were going smoothly.

Late Friday night, I and a few others went down there too. I was amazed, There were well over 100 people there and the pubs were still open. I couldn’t’ believe it. By about 11 pm, some say there were about 150 people there. At this point someone called a meeting to discuss the situation and decide on a few tactics. This was done fairly efficiently and so the group divided themselves into shifts, each six hours, a contact sheet was drawn up, a meeting was called for Sunday at noon and it was decided that the contact with the wharfies be kept up. By this stage, a few people had figured that the ship would be loaded with the yellow-cake late- Sunday night.

This theory was backed by

1) our info that the yellow-cake was going to be unloaded first and

2) “the longer it was kept out of sight, the better” type of approach. We knew the ship was due to leave 1 am Monday morning.

Anti-uranium Picket at Hamilton No 4 wharf

Eariy Saturday morning, 10 past 6 in fact, the 6-12 shift arrived. Well 1 am a bit of a cynic and I really didn’t expect people to come until about 9ish, but there they were and so we went home.

Meanwhile down at the wharves, the day shifts were changing smoothly; two outposts were established, one to watch the containers and the other to watch the first outpost; press releases were put out; contact with the wharfies was expanding and of course people were feeling like they were doing something. And they were.

Then at about 3 pm, one of the people outpost I rang and she said that there was some activity around the containers. We hadn’t really expected it, but we were ready anyway. So we arranged a signal for her to let us know when the containers were being moved. Then we got the signal. Our contact system was put into operation and we left for the wharf. When we got there, everything appeared to be okay.. . Just like a picket actually.

We asked what was happening and so did they we told them about the signal etc and how it was received. No … No movement . . . What happened? We went around to the outpost to ask Andrea if she had set the alarm. No she hadn’t. Who had? Only Andrea and I knew the signal and the arrangement was made by phone.

I rang Andrew to tell him to reverse the contacts, and he told me that after we had left a man rang and said the containers were being moved. We recalled how Sydney FOE’s telephone had been tapped.

Could this have happened in Queensland? Perhaps our thin blue hne is not so thick. By this stage, a lot of people were here; our contact system was efficient even if our alarm wasn’t. Saturday night passed smoothly and conditions were pretty good. Enthusiasm and interest were high. The meeting which was called for Sunday noon was held at about I pm. Not much could be discussed really, as we didn’t know all that much more than we did on Friday night, but tjie meeting was Uvely enough for a few who debated the pros and cons of having marshalls.

The main arguments for marshalls were:

1) to tell the wharfies if we decided to go onto the wharfs,

2) to make snap decisions,

3) to let people know what was going on.

The argument against was they weren’t necessary, because

1) if we decided to go onto the wharfs, the first person to volunteer could go and tell the wharfies, who would stop work for safety reasons,

2) if everyone has a good idea of what’s going on, they can all decide (besides, what’s to stop someone disobeying a marshall, like some people disobey lawful police directions),

3) there were enough people around who either knew what was going on or knew someone who did, so ask if you were in doubt. (My bias is for the no marshall position.)

The theory that it was being loaded Sunday night between 8-10 pm was still strong, and so another meeting was called for 7 pm that night. We also had info that about 200 extra police had been rostered for the northside that night. Later that afternoon, outpost 2 sight-ed special branch police hassling outpost 1.

A couple of carloads of people went around to see what was happening. A couple of Ds from Special Branch were trying to infer that one of the pickets couldn’t prove he owned his car. Then ‘they roadworthied etc and tried harassing us generally. Then a demarcation dispute grew up between the Ds and a Traffic Policeman who wasn’t in on the traffic matters being discussed. We let them sort it out and headed back to the main area. When we got back, some people with a big boiler of coffee, milk, sugar etc had come over to wish us well. Many gestures of this nature eventuated over the long stay we had. People from all over Brisbane, and as far as Toowoomba, would come down and chat.

Many would bring food, drinks, cigarettes etc for us to share. We even had a family from Melbourne drop in to wish us good luck. The meeting at 7 pm was called and it was held on the railway tracks and in front of the main gate onto the wharf. There was a lot of discussion re tactics and it was resolved that people who didn’t want to hang around, like lambs waiting for the slaughter, could go freely and that it was recognised that to stay was purely a matter of choice; eg public servants, children, realists etc didn’t particularly want to get bashed and/or arrested and so they went back to the main picket area. Many acted as observers.

Meanwhile the police arrived in droves.

At about 8 pm, Don Stevens started to talk to the crowd. Unfortunately, while our backs were turned and we were listening to him, the order was given for the police to charge and remove us from the tracks and gate area. So we did not hear all of his speech.

During this attack, some of the worst aspects of a police state were brought to bear on us.

Picketers, peacefully assembled, were wrenched from the crowd like one pulls a hot potato from a fire. People were literally hurled away and many bashed. In fact, it was because of the bashings that at least two of the three arrests were made. Both were charged with assault, obscene language etc when they attempted to stop police bashing their friends. Both were separate incidents. Then the cry went out that we had won.

A few say that Don Stevens had said “Okay, that’s it. No loading,” when he saw what the police were into. Others say he didn’t; but the effect was that everyone reassembled on the tracks, spirits were high, flushed with apparent success, and the police were confused.

News of the arrests spread and with everyone together, it didn’t take long for details of bashing’s, glasses being smashed, kicks in the kidneys etc to get around.

Then we heard an ABC news report that the tracks were clear.

[At this point UQ student union secretary, Keith Horsely, sang out:
Where’s 4PR – the voice of the people’? – Ed]

The media was unmasked and the ABC reporters there looked pretty embarrassed. So we waited to hear of the final outcome. While we were huddled together singing, talking etc,

Don Stevens , Brisbane branch secretary of W.W.F.

Don Stevens was negotiating. He talked with senior officers about the arrests. He talked to Fitzgibbons, Federal Secretary of the WWF by phone and was told to load it. He talked to the wharfies and then to us. His closing remarks were those at the start of this article and so, the result.

Henry Bearis
August 1977