Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger,
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mind be sober,
since blood’s red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep’; laying
a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.
— Trains by Judith Wright
On 22 October 1977, 418 people were arrested marching out of King George Square in Brisbane. They were protesting ‘Australia’s uranium decision’ announced in August 1977 by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. Today Fraser is lauded as a true liberal, having initiated a humane refugee policy to protect Vietnamese boat people like TV chef Luke Nguyen’s parents. However this decision contributed to the nuclear fuel cycle and to many thousands of deaths as a result of disasters at 3 Mile Island in the US, Chernobyl in Russia and Fukushima in Japan. The US lined its shells with depleted uranium in wars against Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003. This caused many deformities in children and deaths.
The decision signed off by the Ranger environmental inquiry enhanced proliferation of nuclear weapons despite claims by successive Australian governments (Fraser & Hawke) of doing the opposite. Australia’s ally, the United States continues to spend more on nuclear weapons and to threaten other states with them. The American military use bases like Pine Gap (near Alice Springs) to target missiles to bomb wedding parties in Pakistan and Afghanistan and now against North Korean cities.
Claims by Fraser that uranium would be used for civilian purposes may have been well meaning but were ultimately untrue. He was pinning his hopes that Australia’s uranium would only be used for the generation of nuclear energy.
... The Indian “peaceful nuclear explosion” of 1974 — whereby
India used plutonium derived from a Canadian-supplied research
reactor to acquire the fissile material for the bomb —
demonstrated the proliferation danger inherent in the further
spread of ostensibly civilian nuclear technology. -
The Fraser Government’s “Uranium Decision"
The current Australian government refuses to support the non-proliferation and banning of nuclear weapons. And Australia still exports uranium.
In preparation for direct action against uranium mining export the Bjelke-Peterson government in Queensland banned street marches to cut off a forum for recruitment of people going to the wharves and physically stopping the uranium trains from unloading their deadly cargo onto ships.
In response 5000 people massed in King George Square all 22 October 1977. At that time Dan O’Neill, a veteran of the 1967 civil liberties march after the first ban on street marches by Premier Nicklin, stood at the top of the steps of King George Square steps with his back to 1,000 police and beseeched the crowd of 5,000 people in the square:
“We have to build a movement which is systematic, organised, non-violent and absolutely massive.”
The temperature was in the high 30s. Wonderful poet Judith Wright, curiously oblivious of the crowds eagerness to march against uranium mining and export (was it her deafness?), had just finished speaking … for over 2 hours in the searing heat … or was it because she was unconsciously delaying the inevitable confrontation with police?
Nevertheless, after abortive attempts by Ian Henderson and Bob Phelps from Campaign against Nuclear Power (CANP) to martial people in twos and threes out of the square, Dan O’Neill finally put an end to the pussyfooting declaring that we mass in formation out of King George Square:
“So what I propose we do is to link arms in a sign of defiance and to march from the square. When we are confronted by police we should raise our arms in a sign of massive civil disobedience (that will fill the police watchhouses) and bring the system to a standstill.”
Hopefully there are some lessons here for current movements attempting to stop mining and export of coal .story. I am no advocate for either ‘issue’ politics or ‘movement’ politics – but we should be aware of these formations and how they arise in resistance struggles.
Hopefully there are some lessons here for current movements attempting to stop mining and export of coal in the struggle to stop the Adani mine in central Queensland.
Photo: People sit down in the valley-of-death in Albert Street Brisbane on 22 Oct 1977