Western Australia is Australia’s largest state and Boorloo Perth is one of the world’s most isolated major cities. The WA activist community is collaborative and innovative, perhaps in part due to population size and the distance from other cities. This overview provides snapshots of some of the campaigns that had an impact, both historically and recently. Of course, there are many more. If you would like to contribute a case study contact the Commons librarians.
This resource is made possible by support from the Alf & Meg Steel Fund of the Australian Communities Foundation.
Campaign Case Studies
First Nations Rights
- A History of Aboriginal Rights in WA, 4. Demanding rights in WA, ABC Education, 2022 – a journey through Western Australia’s past to learn about Aboriginal peoples’ struggle for rights.
- The McGlade Case: A Noongar History of Land, Social Justice and Activism, Hannah McGlade, Australian Feminist Law Journal, 2018 – This essay documents the McGlade case within a wider Noongar history and backdrop of racial discrimination, social justice, Noongar activism, and resistance.
- The Noongar Settlement: Australia’s First Treaty, Hobbs, Harry; Williams, George, (2018) 40(1) Sydney Law Review 1 – the authors make the case that the South West Native Title Settlement, a negotiated agreement between the Noongar people and the Western Australian Government, is Australia’s first treaty.
- The Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation Activism – the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation has been at the forefront of political activism for the Bibbulmun-Nyoongah people in Perth for the last three decades.
- Towards a Human Rights Act for Western Australia, Aboriginal Legal Service of WA
- Yamitji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Advocacy and Law Reform
These links tell the stories of some influential First Nations activists and leaders in Western Australia:
- William Harris: Early Aboriginal civil resistance in WA: the untold story of William Harris, (George Ganitis, Overland, 2018); William Harris, 1867 – 1931, p 79-81
- Fanny Balbuk Yooreel, 1840-1907, p 78
- Edward Harris, 1878 – , p 82-84
- Daisy Bindi, 1904 – 1952, p 85-88
- Barbara Jackson, 1909 – 1972, p 89-90
- George Abdullah, 1919 – 1984, p 91-93
- Cecilia M Shelley, Western Australian Labour Activist 1893-1986, L. Batterham, Papers in Labour History 14, 1994
A number of the campaigns listed below include leadership by First Nations people and/or asserting First Nations rights, along with environmental or workplace rights.
The Pilbara Strike, 1946-49
The Pilbara strike of 1946-49 is one of the most dramatic moments in Australia’s indigenous history. Aboriginal people not only defied the owners of pastoral stations in North-West Western Australia by demanding better wages and conditions, but also sought to win independence from their colonial masters.
- The Pilbara Strike website including timeline, telling the story and archive of key documents.
- Learning from History: 1946 Pilbara Aboriginal Stockmen’s Strike by Gary Foley, Tracker Magazine October 2011
- The 1946 Strike: rebels of the Pilbara, Museum of Australian Democracy
- Remembering the Pilbara Strike, 1946-1949, Australian Trade Union Institute
- Australia’s longest strike, [Pilbara Strike 1946-1949], Unions WA
- Remembering the 1946 Pilbara Strike, Yamitji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation
- The Black Eureka (Book), Max Brown, 1976 – an account of the Aboriginal strike in the Pilbara and the role of Don McLeod in particular.
Union and First Nations Activism against Mining, Nookanbah, 1979-1980
Excerpt from Blockades that Changed Australia:
Direct action against mineral exploration endangering a sacred site on land owned by the Noonkanbah community began in June 1979. With the Western Australian government overriding their rights and sovereignty the community locked the gates to their land and refused to allow representatives from US multinational Amax in. A broad campaign soon grew against the government’s actions and in March 1980 trade unions placed transport and other bans on the project.
The state government was forced to set up its own trucking company which began a 2500 km journey to bring in drilling equipment on 7 August 1980. Protests were held along the route and the convoy was delayed by Indigenous community and union picket lines before arriving at Mickey’s Pool on August 12 1980. There it was met by an occupation involving 60 Noonkanbah community members, Uniting Church ministers and unionists. After they were removed and arrested the company’s ability to start operations was scotched when drillers belonging to the Australian Workers’ Union walked off the job. It would be over a fortnight before the government was able to bring in non-union replacements, who as it turned out failed to find any oil.
This image comes from a single recorded by RU Ready based on songs sung on the picket lines. One of the songs and an article about how community and union activity combined to challenge the project can be read here.
- Noonkanbah 1979: When Unionists Stood up for Aboriginal Rights, Alexis Vassiley, Red Flag. The Noonkanbah dispute was an important chapter in both the struggle for Australian Aboriginal rights and union solidarity in the 1970s-80s.
- Aboriginal leaders celebrate 40 years since they stared down the miners in Noonkanbah dispute, Matt Bamford, 2018, ABC
- Nookanbah, A History, S Hawke and M Gallagher, 1989, ‘Noonkanbah’, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Mabonativetitle.com
- Noonkanbah: when Aboriginal people and unionists united for land rights, Mark Gillespie, 2009, Solidarity.net.au
- The day an Aboriginal march stopped the miners and gave birth to a land council, Dylan Storer, 1 Oct 2018, The Guardian (Australian ed.)
Conservation and Land Rights Actions, Kings Park and Swan River, 1960s and 1980s
- Fighting for the Foreshore: The Campaigns to Protect Mounts Bay and Kings Park – Read an account of Perth’s first two major conservation campaigns, the preservation of Kings Park bushland and the survival of Mounts Bay.
- The battle for Aboriginal heritage on Perth’s foreshore 30 years on – Thirty years ago from January 2019 Noongar activists set up a protest camp at Gooninup, the site of the derelict Old Swan Brewery on Perth’s foreshore. This marked the beginning of a four-year long struggle to secure recognition of an Aboriginal sacred site.
- Always was Always Will Be – Documentary – In 1989 a dispute over the redevelopment of the Old Swan Brewery on the Sacred Grounds of the Waugul, Kings Park, Perth convulsed the politics of Western Australia. Its lessons are important for all who are concerned about Aboriginal rights and culture, the environment, the progressive role of Trade Unions, the integrity of the Labor Party and the social/spiritual activities of the Churches. Made as a campaign film, Always Was Always Will Be is a visually rich account of this historically important struggle over a sacred site, giving an insight into the living culture and beliefs of urban Aboriginal people in Western Australia. About | Watch
Wittenoom and the Anti-Asbestos Campaign, 1980s onwards
At the most infamous site of Wittenoom (Western Australia), the company CSR continuously ignored doctors’ warnings and oversaw appalling conditions at both its mine of the lethal blue asbestos and the adjacent mill. The results of decades of activities at this site have been called the greatest industrial disaster in Australia. – EJ Atlas
- Blue Murder: Two thousand doomed to die: the shocking truth about Wittenoom’s deadly dust, Ben Hills, Sun Books, 1989
- Wittenoom Tragedy and Asbestos and Wittenoom – A Chronology of Events, Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia, 2022
- Anti-Asbestos Campaign – Case study about Wittenoom and anti-asbestos campaigning in Western Australia from the Environmental Justice Atlas
- ‘I’m so angry, I’m wild’: the never-ending wait to clean up asbestos town Wittenoom, Narelle Towie, The Guardian 2022
Anti-Nuclear Campaigns, 1980s and ongoing
- Stepping Out For Peace: A History of the Campaign Against Nuclear Energy in Australia CANE and People for Nuclear Disarmament PND (WA)
- Project Iceberg: Fremantle’s Response to Visiting Nuclear Warships in the 1980s – a short history of the unique non-violent civil disobedience activities of a group of mainly Fremantle residents aimed at visiting US nuclear warships between 1983 and 1985.
- A decade longe battle against Yeelirrie uranium mine led by Tjiwarl women, Australia, Environmental Justice Atlas
- Kintyre Uranium Mine, Australia, Environmental Justice Atlas – In 2016 members of the Martu community embarked on a week-long march to protest against Kintyre uranium mine, walking 110 kms to the site.
Mulga Rock Campaign:
- Mulga Rock Campaign, Nuclear Free Western Australia
- Upurli Upurli people say no to uranium mining at Mulga Rock
- Talking with Community: Mulga Rock, Conservation Council of WA, 26 June 2019
Camp Walmadan/James Price Point – Anti-Gas Campaign, 2011-2013
An excerpt from Blockades that Changed Australia by Iain McIntyre:
Campaigning against the construction of a culturally and environmentally destructive 30km² gas refinery site at Walmadan/James Price Point in the Kimberley region of Western Australia expanded from lobbying, demonstrations, litigation, a national day of busking protest and other tactics to include blockading during 2011. With mining giant Woodside gearing up to carry out preliminary clearing members of the Goolarabooloo community and other locals and supporters set up a protest camp and prevented clearing via road occupations for 30 days.
On Tuesday July 5th police conducted a pre-dawn raid. After failing to move a crowd of approximately 200 blockaders they initially arrested 10 people, including a traditional owner, before a stand-off ensued. After a lock-on and continued occupation of the road prevented the passage of Woodside’s workers, police formed a wedge late in the day and forced their way through protesters, injuring a number and eventually arresting a total of 25.
Despite preliminary works being carried out, the events of what came to be dubbed ‘Black Tuesday’, and the continuing presence of the protest camp, piled pressure on Woodside and its backers in the Western Australian government. The actions of the police galvanized the Broome community and policing operations eventually came to cost taxpayers over $1 million.
Ongoing campaigning, including further blockading, lock-ons and national protests, combined with mounting expenses, eventually saw Woodside abandon the project in April 2013. In August of that year the WA Supreme Court found that the environmental approvals originally enabling it go ahead had been illegal. Despite continued attempts by the state government to resuscitate the project it remains defunct with burial sites, rare habitat and other endangered sites protected through community action.
This 2011 video by Save the Kimberley video features shocking footage of police force used to push through the blockade, the ‘lock on’ that began the successful 30 day blockade and interviews at the protest with Traditional Custodians and other protesters including the Traditional Lawman for the area, a shire councillor, musician John Butler and many others. Produced by Paul Bell (feral films).
- James Price Point/Walmadan: A Huge Win, Nicola Paris, CounterAct – In 2013 the people of Broome stopped the development of a gas plant and port at iconic James Price Point (Walmadan). They had substantial political and corporate interests arrayed against them but prevailed with a strong sense of community and creative strategic campaigning. This short case study shares some of the keys to success and strengths of the campaign.
- Kimberley at the Crossroads: The Case Against the Gas Plant, Save the Kimberley, 2012 – This book outlines the issues and stakeholders in this campaign alongside stunning photographs. You can also watch videos about the campaign on the Save the Kimberley site.
- Camp Walmadan Booklet – The struggle to protect James Price Point was a multi-faceted, organic campaign, fuelled by creativity, ingenuity and a fierce sense of independence and justice. The Camp Walmadan booklet gives an insight into a recent successful community campaign.
- First Nations activist/warrior Joseph Rowe named environmentalist of the year, Andrew Darby, Sovereign Union, 2014
Other Anti-Gas Campaigns
- New Campaign Targets Big Gas Emissions in WA, Mirage New, 23 Jul 2023
- Chevron’s Gorgon gas extraction meet with labour unions’ opposition, Australia, Environmental Justice Atlas
- Woodside’s Browse gas project, Greenpeace, 2022
- What is Woodside’s controversial Scarborough gas project? Australian Conservation Foundation, 2022
- Why the Scarborough LNG development cannot proceed, Conservation Council of WA
Beeliar Wetlands, Perth, Anti-Development Actions, 2016
On January 12th, 2016 action against the destruction of Western Australia’s Beeliar wetlands for road construction began early in the morning with two women locking onto a bulldozer and another engaging in a tree sit. By 7 am hundreds had gathered, fences were pushed down and the area around the main work compound occupied. As the day continued up to 1000 people joined in blockading the site enduring assaults by mounted and other police as well as attacks from police dogs.
This was just one of many days of protest against the construction of the Roe 8/Perth Freight Link on wetlands near Coolbellup, Perth. Plans to clear the area, and sacred sites within it, had been opposed for decades by First Nations, environmentalist and resident groups. Following the failure of legal action, clearing began in December 2016 prompting months of protests, pickets, tree sits and lock-ons. During this time 127 people were arrested and hundreds more issued with ‘move on’ notices by police before a change of government on 11 March 2017 saw work halted. Although much damage had already been done community action during the previous months had slowed work and made it a major election issue.
For more information about aspects of the campaign check out this report that was released in May 2017 concerning policing and community concerns.
Old Growth Forest Protection Campaigns, 1980s-2020s
(In 2024), native forest logging will finally end in WA… that’s an absolutely massive breakthrough, both in terms of policy and in terms of culture… When groups of people come together, we can do extraordinary things. It takes grit, courage and perseverance. – Jess Beckerling
- How the decades-long fight to save WA’s old growth forests was finally won, Fiona Pepper, ABC RN, 2022
- The WA Forest Conflict: The Construction of the Political Effectiveness of Advocacy Organisations
- Reconciliation in the forest? An exploration of the conflict over the logging of native forests in the south west of Western Australia
- Winning Long-game, Collaborative, Grassroots Campaigns: The WA Forest Campaign Experience, Jess Beckerling, WA Forest Alliance
- Conservation groups declare ‘breakthrough’ on native forest logging as a win for community and jobs and environment, Conservation Council of Western Australia, 2021
- History of conservation reserves in the south-west of Western Australia, Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 79(4), December 1996
- A Thousand Cuts – Mining in the Northern Jarrah Forests, Conservation Council of WA, Western Australian Forest Alliance (WAFA), the Wilderness Society, 2022
Other Nature Conservation Campaigns
Ningaloo Reef and Exmouth Gulf
- Protect Ningaloo and Save Exmouth Gulf
Protect Ningaloo is a grassroots initiative of everyday people who are inspired by one of the world’s last great natural places, and want to protect it. Hosted by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), Australia’s leading ocean conservation charity, in alliance with Cape Conservation Group, the North West Cape’s conservation organisation based in Exmouth, and the Conservation Council of WA, the State’s peak conservation body.
- Saving Ningaloo again by Tim Winton, The Monthly, 2018
- Ningaloo Reef hailed a conservation success 10 years after global campaign, Perth Now, 1 Dec 2014
Martuwarra Fitzroy River
- The Kimberley and Martuwarra / Fitzroy River – Billionaires plan to drain the mighty Martuwarra, The Wilderness Society
- “Jayida booroo Martuwarra. Welcome to Martuwarra River Country.” Chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, Dr Anne Poelina, introduces this special issue of Wilderness Journal and the new work to restore and protect her ancestral home, Martuwarra, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Journal Issue #026
- Matuwarra Fitzroy River, The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council
- More than 27,000 people urge WA government to protect Martuwarra Fitzroy River, National Indigenous Times, 10 May 2023
- Anne Poelina: Water, memory and the Martuwarra, 100 Climate Conversations, Powerhouse Museum, (Podcast: 59 mins), 2023
- Australia lodges world heritage submission for 50,000-year-old Burrup Peninsula rock art, 29 Jan 2020, The Guardian
- Rio Tinto / BHP’s iron mining destroys sacred Aboriginal sites, Western Australia, Environmental Justice Atlas
- Why Woodside’s Burrup Hub developments should not proceed, Conservation Council of WA, 2020
Anti-Whaling Actions, 1970s
The end of whaling in Albany marked a turning point in the fight to protect whales from extinction… In the 1970s, the greatest threat to whales was whaling. Now the greatest threat comes from fossil fuel companies like Woodside who are driving dangerous climate change.
- The last whale (Google Book Preview), Chris Pash, 2010
- Greenpeace and the end of whaling in Albany, Greenpeace, 2023
Other Issues and Stories
- Dying with Dignity The Campaign, Western Australia
- The 1931 Perth Treasury Building Riot: Unemployed workers during the Great Depression
- Grevillea: Creative Interventions in Western Australia during the 1990s
- Campaigns that changed South Australia
- Campaigns that changed Tasmania
- Campaigns that changed the Northern Territory