SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Moving on - change of venue for Tunnel Picket

Fenced in

Arriving at the tunnel picket site in Clifton Hill this morning we found that it was surrounded by a fence. Apparently the fence company had arrived at 5am, unannounced, to do the job. The drillers were caged in, without toilet or water facilities - a nightmare scenario for health and safety. In the face of this, we adjourned to a nearby corner to strategise.
After considerable discussion, we agreed to march to the site, where we expressed our  determination to continue our opposition, to the waiting media.

'What do we want?' 'Public transport!' 'When do we want it?' 'NOW!'

The police were already in place protecting the fence and two huge police vehicles passed us as we walked down the street. Word had it that the vehicles contained horses, although afterwards a fellow protestor suggested that they might just have been luncheonettes for police personnel. Some of the police (like the officer below) looked as if they would rather be lunching, or perhaps stationed just about anywhere else.

'Beam me up, Scotty!'

Speaking of horses, the consensus was that the horse had well and truly bolted in Clifton Hill, where only a few hours were required to complete the drilling. All in all, it seemed more sensible to move to a site where drilling had yet to start, in clear view of passing traffic. The corner of Station and Princes streets in Carlton, the next scheduled site, fit the bill, so we made our way there on foot, by bike and car. A most productive meeting ensued.

Experience tells

Speakers were at pains to emphasise that they are only speaking for themselves and their organisations, which was important as there is a great diversity of community groups represented among the protestors. Personally, as a novice, I very much appreciate the input from some of the veterans of other campaigns. I am also impressed with the commitment to ensuring that everybody who wants to speak gets a hearing. Though today, with the larger crowd, high winds and traffic noise, it's obvious that the time has definitely come for speakers to use a megaphone.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Week That Was - Tunnel Picket

Yum! Thank you Thuy.

The first week of the tunnel picket has been full of surprises.
For one thing, I never expected it to be a gastronomic event. But yesterday, when I turned up during the bitterly cold afternoon with warm banana cake in hand, I found that picketers had already been sampling cheese and biscuits, nuts and fruit. And this morning, after the briefing, a supporter called Thuy fed us the most delicious Vietnamese noodles.
I think it's great that we are starting out as we mean to continue, by taking care of ourselves. After all that is what opposition to the East-West Link is all about, tending to ourselves and the environment. One of my fellow picketers reminded me of the crucial importance of that just yesterday.


Helen, who is a New Zealander, is a veteran of the Occupy movement. One thing she took from that experience is a hightened appreciation of the need for activists to protect themselves from burnout by being good to themselves.
Something that makes me feel particularly good is that there is so much communication going on. The organisers are great at keeping people in the loop and adept at using social media to maximise connection. Although a lot of pertinent information never appears in the conventional media, we get to hear about it anyway, an example being Tony Abbott's visit to Melbourne yesterday for a secret meeting with the State government to discuss the protests.
I am also enjoying the camaraderie, diversity and generosity of the group. Thuy's breakfast bounty is one example. Another was the offer by a resident of the flats that abut the site. Protestors are not allowed to enter the flats area without an invitation, so Pat has officially invited us all to knock at his door next time we need water. And Mel, a young woman from the Socialist Party, has offered herself as the point of contact, 24/7, should people notice any signs of drilling activity, at which point a volunteer 'hard core' rapid response group will head to the designated spot.
Another thing that makes me feel good is that at the moment we are doing well. Drilling has halted for the full week the picket has been underway. And as one of the organisers, Antony, put it: 'We are winning the propaganda war'. We have had some press coverage and it's becoming increasingly difficult for us to be dismissed as mere rabble or a 'rent-a-crowd'. As the charming policeman who appeared yesterday said, surprised: 'You look just like mums and dads.'
There were many 'mums and dads', as well as others, at the picket site at 6.30 this morning.

Mums, Dads, Aunties, Uncles and others

There has been nothing other than 'good cop' to date. But lots of us are nervous about what might come next. To assist with that, there is a workshop scheduled for this Sunday at 12 noon, with an experienced facilitator presenting on effective civil disobedience. For more information, contact via atlantis.linuxengine
Although the drilling has been suspended this week, it's likely that the company's next move will be to erect a fence to keep opponents off the site. As the drilling company is only licensed to work Monday to Friday, and the police have indicated that the moratorium is only temporary, next Monday could well be the witching hour. We might then see a change of official attitude, even be faced with 'bad cop'. But if we have a large enough presence, it will obviously be more difficult to move us on.
200 is the magic number of desired picketers. So if you and your friends and family (including any mums and dads you might know) would like to join us at 6.30 am at the corner of Rutland Street and Alexandra Parade East next Monday you would be very very welcome.

Come and join us!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cat and Mouse - chasing the elusive East/West Site Drillers & RACV election

First sighting (for me) - the drill with train in background in Clifton Hill

I can't say I actually jumped out of bed to make it to the community protest at the drill site this morning. I probably rolled out, but I did arrive at the corner of Station Street on the north side of Princes street by around 7am. I was shocked to see that there was no one else there, but luckily spotted some likely looking people on bikes, who said that the protest had relocated to a site in Clifton Hill.
I hitched a ride with a some fellow protestors, including Keith, who has lived in his home, which is scheduled for demolition, for 69 years. In his street (below), Trains Not Toll Roads placards adorn nearly every house.

Axe over their heads

Arriving at the Clifton Hill drilling site, we joined up with a substantial group of fellow early risers including a respectable media presence.

Channel 10 cameraman speaking with  community member

The workers agreed immediately to stop drilling and return to their headquarters. And after some time mingling with each other and having our pictures taken by the attendant media, the decision was made to return to our original meeting point. We had been told earlier that there was only one drill, but apparently another had magically materialised, which was about to be put into service in North Carlton.
Unfortunately, I had to exit at that point to be ready for work at 9, but I was left with the distinct impression that not only was a cat and mouse game going on, but to mix my animals, East/West Link personnel were trying hard to outfox us. But tomorrow is another day, with another snap community protest planned for 7am at the North Carlton site. I hope to see you there!

Something else interesting is going on at the moment:
The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), a staunch ally of the State Government and its East/West Link plans, has an election scheduled for a new Board. Usually only a minority of RACV members bother to take up their option to vote. This time though we are trying to change all that. There are several candidates for Board positions who are opponents of the tunnel and prepared to take up cudgels if they are elected. To see who they are go to -
So if you've binned those ballot papers, unbin them. Imagine how great it will feel to actually have your preferred candidates win an election!

Friday, September 20, 2013

JAWS & the East-West Link

Shark Attack!

En route to yesterday morning's regular Friday East-West Link protest, I spotted the object above leaning against a neighbour's fence awaiting rubbish collection. Images of Jaws attacking a young boogie boarder made me shiver, and that was even before I noticed the name on the board. I trust its owner had encountered nothing more scary than some submerged rocks. But with the East-West Link test drilling at 9 sites in the inner suburbs over the last few days, our hapless Vic is under a much more serious threat.
Thinking about this I needed an urgent antidote, so I started photographing some of the local signs opposing the Link. There are now hundreds to choose from. Below is one of my favourites:

Vic's Premier - definitely a shark with poor vision 

Park protest

Bird's eye view

And there was some good news yesterday. The New South Wales Government has refused to bail out Sydney's own cross-city tunnel. It's going broke for the second time since its opening in 2005. The reason for its woes? Apparently the number of projected motorists who would use the toll road was vastly inflated to force through its construction. Sound familiar? Surely, if there is any sanity at all amidst our State government ministers, at this point they must be having second thoughts.
At yesterday's protest we were joined from Brisbane by ex-academic and public transport champion extaordinaire, Robert Dow.

Rail advocate, Robert Dow, of Brisbane's 'Back on Track'

Robert's group Back on Track is large and influential, and has been making waves (or maybe that should be rails) since 2006.  Robert wanted to demonstrate his solidarity with our struggle by his presence, and stressed how important it is that we persist.
Arriving at my early-bird yoga class at the studio adjacent to the Fitzroy Pool this morning, I was greeted by this cheering sight:

Go yoga nuts!

 BTW - I know you're out there, so go on - leave me a message!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Elephant in the Room - the East/West Link Machinations

It sure is 'shifty'

Approaching our regular protest site last Friday morning, I was shocked to see that 'our' hoarding (below) had been replaced with the one above.

Gone already!

I had understood that the Trains Not Toll Roads hoarding was to be a permanent fixture, courtesy of Yarra Council. Talking to my fellow protestors, people speculated that maybe it had proved too costly, or the price had been raised. I wondered if the State Government, with its newly increased powers to thwart local council initiatives, might have had a hand in its removal. It is hard in the present climate not to think the worst.
Speaking of the increased powers of our State Ministers, the Legislative Council session I reported on a couple of weeks ago did finally pass the legislation weakening local government and by-passing community consultation. The amendments to the Major Transport Project Facilitation bill went through at 2am - hours after exhausted community opponents had left. Funny that!
Recently I mentioned that our local Yarra Council had refused permission to the State Government to commence drilling in our neighbourhood. But maybe, now that the new draconian amendments are in place, local government stands like that will become a thing of the past.
Last week the Federal Government changed to one actively in favour of road building and with zero interest in public transport. I have heard that in their first week of business they have already de-registered one environment protection agency.
Today the Trains Not Toll Roads group had arranged to protest outside the Melbourne Zoo, where drilling for the East-West Link was scheduled to start this morning. But without warning, the contractors brought the date forward and the foul deed was done last Friday instead.
You see why I say it is hard not to think the worst, to feel that the forces of darkness are massing against us?
The Zoo protest was cancelled, which I was particularly disappointed about as I'd aimed to pay a visit to the elephants. As you can see below, I had to make do with an understudy:

My gardening companion

Zoo staff are thrilled because in recent years their Asian elephants have produced 2 calves. This has been particularly pleasing because the species located in Melbourne is endangered. Apparently, elephants are particularly sensitive to the vibrations of traffic, and will presumably suffer greatly if they spend their lives cheek by jowl with the tunnel.  And yet the zoo administration is not speaking out against the East/West Link!
Supporters of the Link specialise in talking about it as if it is already a fait accompli. Rightly, Adam Bandt, among others, has encouraged opponents not to fall into the trap of seeing this as the case.
But I must admit, with drilling starting, it is hard to remain optimistic about our chances, no matter how stupid and ill-conceived the project is. Sometimes I feel that we protestors, just like the elephants, are a threatened species.
I guess the elephant which is not at the zoo but in the room is big business with its over-whelming power over government. People only concerned with profit don't care about the comfort of animals, or people either.
And yet there we were last Friday. Hanging over the Freeway with messages of resistance.

Protesting every whichway

And many motorists were responding to the invitation below. My favourite once again was  the divvy wagon, which raced past with siren blaring, its smiling policemen giving us the thumbs up from inside its cab.

They sure were!

I guess we just keep our fingers (and toes) crossed and keep on keeping on.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Radical Melbourne

'Radical Melbourne' was where I spent my Sunday afternoon.
Months back, my friend, Alison, had suggested we attend a workshop of that name, run by the Council of Adult Education. As the day dawned, I realised it couldn't have been more apt, or more timely. Because of course Election Day had been the day before and as the majority of the country lumbered to the right, Melbourne headed in the opposite direction. We not only returned the wonderful Adam Bandt to the House of Representatives for his second term as the sole Greens member, but we did it with a further 10% swing to the Greens. It makes me proud to belong to this great city. Sunday was the perfect moment to hear rich tales of earlier denizens of Melbourne, which I soon learned has always teemed with radical thinkers prepared to stand against the tide.
The incredibly informative Meyer Eidelson, a radical himself since adolescense, was just the person to lead the workshop and lead the charge.

Meyer Eidelson - Old Melbourne aficionado

The promo for the workshop promised: 'Discover the rich heritage of agitators, troublemakers and eccentrics in the back lanes of Melbourne. Communists, anarchists, madams, nuns, mediums, Chinese libertarians, rioters, suffragettes, feminists, gays and more.' And did Meyer deliver! We covered little actual ground geographically as so much of this action occurred in the historically poorest parts of the CBD, but in terms of lives lived the afternoon couldn't have been more rich and varied.

Lane way full of stories, and secrets 

Perhaps my favourite person was someone I'd never heard of before. Edward Cole, who was born in 1832 in England, created an extravaganza, a paean to books. The Coles Book Arcade in Howey Place boasted 2 million books for sale. Browsers were entertained by a band, could sup in the Chinese teahouse or admire the monkeys in the monkey house.
Cole, a century before his time, found his bride via the nineteenth century equivalent of RSVP (he actually advertised for a wife on the front page of the Herald). Apparently it was love at second sight. The couple married rapidly and subsequently spent their evenings blissfully playing with the monkeys in their upstairs apartment in Howey Place.

Where the Coles Monkeyed Around

There is one thing that utterly amazes me about Edward Cole. Forget George Orwell's 1984 written in 1949, in the 1880s Cole thoroughly pipped that post by producing 'prophecies for the year 2000'. These included: 'Flying machines will be in general use, passing and repassing every point on earth.' 'A network of railways, telegraphs, telephones and later inventions will cover the entire earth, bringing people together, associating and fraternizing across nations.' And 'Everybody will easily obtain proper food, clothes and the necessities of life.' - if only!

Trunk Bar, Little Lonsdale Street

I loved lots of the buildings we visited. But I think my favourite would have to be what is now the Trunk Bar, whose history has been most ecumenical and social justice-oriented. And with which I have a recent personal connection.
The building started life in 1859 as one of Melbourne's first synagogues and schools, before morphing into an early free State School. The Salvation Army used it as a Labour Exchange for women and later as a poor men's shelter. After a time as a women's shelter, the Methodist Central Mission took it over to provide relief for the residents of the slums which surrounded it.
Just before WW1 it was a free kindergarten for children of the poor and once the war started it operated as a creche to assist working and ill mothers. It was a relief depot once again during the Great Depression (1929) and a creche and nursery subsequently. It moved into the hospitality industry as a Chinese restaurant in 2005 and nowadays is the super cool Trunk Bar. Which is where I come into the picture.
Commissioned a few years back to write a photojournalism piece on the new radical phenomenon of urban honey, I visited the roof top of Trunk with members of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey, who maintain the restaurant's hives up there.

Up on the roof

It was a thrill to realise that my personal history is now a tiny part of the rich tapestry of radical Melbourne. And extraordinary to think that though Meyer shared a succession of wonderful stories with us, there are undoubtedly many more to discover. In the future probably people will marvel at the persistence of Adam Bandt and his Greens supporters and the radical politics of the Melbournians of 2013.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Rats in the Ranks: Yesterday's East-West Link 'debate' in State Legislative Council

Inside our stately Parliament building

What a disappointment! I've never actually attended Parliament before and woke up yesterday feeling excited at the prospect. I had rearranged my work schedule so that I could take the afternoon off to sit in the gallery and hear the debate on the scary proposed amendments to the Major Transport Project Facilitation bill in the Legislative Council, aka the Upper House.
The 'Upper' house proved upper in name only. We did climb this magnificent staircase to get there:

Stairway to Heaven - not!

But the behaviour of the Ministers inside couldn't have been 'lower'.
They stood chatting in groups with their backs to the speaker, wandered around the chamber, laughed derisively and called our insults to the person speaking. This sort of behaviour wasn't new to me, as I've watched the antics of Ministers in Federal Parliament on TV, so I shouldn't have been shocked. Maybe experiencing it 'live' simply made it harder to stomach. Especially as the stakes are so high for opponents of the East-West Link, and as I realised yesterday, for all those in the future opposed to environment and community-destroying projects in Victoria.
I felt particularly ashamed of our adult representatives when a group of wide-eyed primary school kids were ushered into the gallery nearby. The contrast between the impeccably-behaved children above and the rabble below couldn't have been more stark.
The farcical side intensified because our small, quiet, respectable group of protestors was scrutinised throughout by burly security personnel, who sat with us in our eyrie. Obviously they were highly concerned about our radical intentions. In fact Julianne Bell, of Protectors of Public Lands, had been rung in the morning by Police Victoria, who were under the impression that we intended to 'march on Parliament' that afternoon. Maybe that's why they never took their eyes off us, and were instantly on the alert at any displays of radical and forbidden behaviour, like resting our arms on the balustrades or  clapping or, heaven forbid, standing up.
It proved a very long, boring afternoon. I was grateful that I had thought ahead and packed Bill McKibben's 'must read' Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
It was past 5 o'clock before the 'debate' actually started, when Brian Tee, the Shadow Minister for Planning, explained at great length to a virtually empty House why Labour intended to oppose the Bill.
By the time Greg Barber, for the Greens, stood up to speak there was hardly a minister left to listen or even to boo his ideas. Greg spoke eloquently and critiqued the Bill clause by clause.
He emphasised that although Labour is now criticising the Government, it was the Labour party itself which began in 2009 the process of over-riding 30 years of environmental law-making in Victoria. All the Liberal party is doing, by this proposal to ignore the community and disempower local councils, is putting the final nails in the coffin. Sadly, Greg's comments fell on deaf, or absent, ears.
By this time it was well past 6pm and I had to get home. I concluded that with that level of 'debate', I can't imagine how ministers ever vote except along strictly party lines. They seem to either absent themselves or have entirely closed minds if they are physically present. What an under-whelming experience the Upper House proved to be.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Alexis Wright for Pen at Melbourne Writers' Festival & more on Say 'No' to the East-West Tunnel

Thomas the Tank Engine - big campaign supporter

I love these flags. They are the brain child of our local treasure, Glenda Lindsay, who with her fellow crafters makes this beautiful bunting with a message. I noticed it on Saturday decorating the playground fence in the Smith Reserve, the site of the latest rally opposing the East-West Tunnel.

Socialist Party-organised rally in sunny Smith Reserve

It was a glorious day to stand in the sun and listen to impassioned, well-informed speakers. Or that was what I was ruminating about - until I heard something shocking.
I had naively imagined that because the State government ministers have been expressing their support for our campaign that if/when they replaced the current Liberal government, all would be well. But not so. Those very same ministers have guaranteed that if the Liberals sign the contracts to go ahead with construction, the Labour Party, on winning the election, would honour them. What perfidy!
Thank goodness for local governments is all I can say. A good example of the good faith of our local council is the new Council-financed hoarding at the exit to the Eastern Freeway.

Thank you Yarra Council!

I was delighted to hear from the main speaker, Stephen Jolly, the Socialist member of Yarra Council, that just last week the Council stood up to the State Government, which had the gall to request permission to start drilling bores for the new freeway in Yarra. As one, council members, of different philosophical and party associations, stood together and said 'No'.
It makes me very grateful to live in our municipality. And the good thing is that Yarra is no longer standing alone. There are now 4 other councils - Moreland, Moonee Valley, Darebin and Glen Eire - united with them in opposition to the East-West Link. And even the influential Melbourne City Council is a qualified ally.
One thing that is becoming more and more obvious to me is that it's local government, closer to people and their real anxieties and dreams, who will support people power. The other is that to win this battle against big business will require all our ingenuity and creativity. Fortunately, there is heaps of that in evidence.
I particularly love this video, entitled 'Lies We Don't Buy', currently doing the rounds via youtube. I don't know which of our campaigners made it, but I think it's great, especially the enthusiastic young dancers:

I was busy on Saturday. After the rally I headed on down to the Melbourne Writers' Festival. I had been asked by Pen to cover their session with the remarkable Indigenous writer, Alexis Wright, in conversation with Melbourne Pen President, Arnold Zable. Alexis was most gracious and allowed me to haul her out of the small dark theatre, where she was due to speak, into the better light outside for some pre-session photo taking.

Alexis Wright

There was a certain symmetry in my reporting on Alexis' session, on Saturday, as she is a renowned land rights activist. As a member of the Wannyi people of the highlands of the southern Gulf of Carpenteria, Alexis would appreciate only too well our current struggles in Yarra.
As well as the sheer artistry of her writing, Alexis' tenacity too is a source of inspiration to her fellow writers. Her book Carpentaria was rejected by every major publisher in Australia. Finally, after being accepted by the small independent publisher Giramondo, it went on to win the prestigious Miles Franklin award (2006).
I'm very much looking forward to writing the article for Pen magazine and the opportunity to immerse myself in Alexis' wonderful writings. It couldn't be more timely. With the Federal election looming next weekend, I'd much rather be in another world.