This story is part of a series created from interviews undertaken with five women who stayed at Camp Binbee for one week in late 2017 to take action against the Carmichael coal mine development. The interview project was organised by Robyn Gulliver, who hoped that recording these stories would both give a greater voice to the women who have played such a vital role in the Australian environmental movement since its inception, as well as demonstrate the immense sacrifices people often make in their efforts to stop ongoing environmental decline.
Each interview was recorded and transcribed, and then lightly edited and compiled into a narrative tracking the key elements in their stories and the key moments that changed them (note names have been anonymised). The stories begin with a note from Robyn about the context in which the interview was conducted.
Meeting Lisa at Camp Binbee
I have a memory of Lisa hunched down by the car tire, a few meters away from the gate to the farm where Adani was building its railway. Five or six people were clustered around: One person was fiddling with the U shaped lock tethering two gates around a woman’s neck, while another was holding an umbrella to provide some relief as the sun steadily rose above the dry and dusty landscape, miles and miles inland from the coast and towns. Lisa hunched down quickly and ripped out a massive antenna from a duffel bag, plugged it into the laptop, grabbed a large camera, and started fiddling with memory sticks and USBs. There was no cell phone coverage. No one to call. No media to upload. No live interview to relay events as they occurred. Lisa was playing a pivotal role – despite the lack of communication infrastructure this event needed to be recorded. Hundreds of people had journeyed north to the blockade camp to participate in actions and all of them had a purpose, a value, a meaning. Not only for those of us there trying to physically stop the coal mine, but because the records are what told the story to the rest of the country. To supporters far and wide, most of whom had neither the time, the means or the capacity to come up and stand in front of those gates themselves.
Lisa’s communication channels were the only way for these images and messages of resistance to be heard in the moment. Media, PR, communications, whatever you want to call it; it is what shapes the narrative and has its own power beyond the gates and the locks.
In the short time I had been in Lisa’s presence, I saw her establish a satellite link for real-time streaming from a location an hour away from any town. She’d helped a woman attacked and bitten by a dog five metres from where we sat halfway through an interview. She juggled calls and tasks from her work with being the channel to the outside world during an isolated and unpredictable blockade. So what brought her here? This is what she said.
They didn’t fit in
I grew up in Lakes Entrance. I was born in Orbost. Orbost was a redneck town and we would go out into the bush; my mother had an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants. And we’d always say oh that’s a Latin name, Latin name, and another Latin name. But my parents in Orbost, they didn’t fit in at all. My father refused to manage the footy team. But then he became the school principal and we were there for years.
For me personally, the thing I used to really enjoy most of all was we’d always have ponds and I’d always look at the skidders and things going across ponds, all of that sort of stuff. I was very interested in all of the native animals around. As I got older, I became more and more annoyed by the constant reference to humans versus animals, and I’ve never really got over that annoyance to be honest. Because all animals are sentient beings, and they all have intelligence and they are finding now that they really do use tools. All of this sort of stuff I knew as a teenager. Even then I knew the world was going to hell in a handbasket. When I was in Year 12, we did E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and Confronting Future by Charles Birch. And I’d been brought up with parents, my mother in particular, who were always environmentally aware. So, it sort of just fell into place.
When I was at high school it was environmental issues [that I focused on] but it was also about being anti-nuke. The anti-nuke was really, really big and then also later became anti-war. My oldest brother turned 18 at the time when conscription for the Vietnam War was going on. My brother and older sister were at Monash Uni at the time of the really big protests. John was really involved with the radio station and he refused to have a shower for four months until my parents put him in the shower. We all thought he stank.
I did a bit of activism at Uni. I just fell into it. We did sit-ins and stuff; I don’t really remember all of them. All throughout my later teenage years we would go to the rallies. Particularly the Palm Sunday rallies were enormous: over 100,000 people would march down Swanston Street. It was an extraordinary thing. We all felt that it was effective, with the masses of people, because there were honestly 100,000 people. These days you only get 10,000 max, and they call those big rallies. But those were really enormous rallies. And I felt though we did get somewhere. Because we did become against some nuclear power—not the way NZ did—but we could have had nuclear power generation by now if we hadn’t had that impact.
Yeah, oh I hope it did have an impact. But then maybe it didn’t when we were doing the similar rallies and call to action for Afghanistan, for example. The thing that made me sick to my stomach was what happened on Tampa and knowing even then that the politicians were lying about so many things. It was obvious before we even went into Afghanistan that there were no weapons of mass destruction; we all knew that. They lied about it. It was really obvious by what they actually said to the UN. If you look at the actual words that are spoken there, they at no time provided evidence of weapons of mass destruction. And with the Tampa, it was just disgusting – children overboard and things like that. Yeah, we did rally type protests about the war and the Tampa; we were vocal, sending letters and emails and things. But that didn’t do anything. Didn’t do a thing.
A Love of Animals
I was always originally going to be an ethologist: an animal behaviourist. So, I did science as my thing, with a triple major in genetics, psychology, and zoology. And then I did honours in zoology. I was really very passionate about what’s happening to all of the marsupials and things like that, so becoming an advocate was just a natural reaction to annoyance at animals being treated badly. I became vegetarian. Actually, I became vegan at university because I was also doing some of the biomed science and I found it excruciating that we would blender frog’s brains while they were still in the living frog. I just couldn’t bear it. And also I’d done biology in year 11 and 12 and it was similar with dissecting rats. In psychology we were doing behavioural studies with rats.
Straight out of university, I couldn’t get a job as an ethologist. Instead I was picked up by some companies and became a business systems and data analyst for 15 years. I just fell into it. It was my day job. I had to become a little bit more conservative when I had to hold down a job and raise a child. Right now this is actually a bad financial time but unexpectedly, I had major back surgery. I was working 14 hours each day, and I was told I had to slow down. I had to learn two years ago to prioritise activities, to drop some off. I balance things worse now!
But over these last two years I was told that I have to dramatically change my lifestyle. That gave me the time to be able to then engage more with activism, even though I’ve always been very vocal. Probably people would say overly vocal about my views! It’s not about me doing it instead of other people though; I think that everyone has to weigh up what sits with them. But for me, it’s definitely that I would not be able to live with myself if I didn’t do it.
Culpability is what motivated me to come here [to the blockade camp]. I could not possibly live with myself if I didn’t do it. That’s how I do everything. I have to be able to live with myself, and I have to do what I think is right and just, and that’s the basis of most of the things I try to do. My personality has always been that injustice sucks and so you have to do something about it.
What is effective activism?
When I look at non-violent direct action, I’m not so taken by the symbolism of it. I’m after the real physical [impact of stopping them doing it. Really stopping them from doing it. The symbolic bits that we do are fun, just plain old ordinary fun. They get the message out and they annoy the politicians. I believe it is more annoying when we are cheeky and respectful to them. By doing that, they are forced to listen to us and they don’t get to spend time doing the other things. Also publicity is powerful too – when we occupied Bill Shorten’s office and locked on to each other in the office we had all of the Victorian TV cameras there. We were written up in The Australian – which is no big feat – because we were doing Bill Shorten’s office. And so the word gets out that way.
But I think that what I am really interested in is actually physically stopping them, because there’s nothing else we can now do. I don’t think there are any options left. We can’t just] talk about it [anymore].
Getting stuff done
I have to get stuff done, because that is my job. I am a Project Manager and I’ve been a contractor in the IT industry for 27 years. I am the collaborator. Everyone brings their own skills to the table. I’ve always been in IT, where I was the only 1 in 15. I was the only female in a room of 15 men and in meetings it was like Bronwyn Bishop, not ever listened to. My ideas have been always pilfered, always.
There are lots of little cliques. I experienced this through my non-activist work at my son’s school, where there is a lot of politicking, like serious politics. I was president of the school pipes and drums and president of other groups like hockey captain and all that. That politicking is something that I can’t abide; I can’t stand it. It’s just so disgusting and I just hate it. So now I never do things with all females; usually females and I don’t get along. The males tend to be less cunning, more straightforward in their ambition. And activist groups have generally imploded because of these issues.
These days I try to assist women in activist groups. I’m not sure that I did that in my 20s. I think that I might have probably been unkind without meaning to be. I was more ruthless, I guess. I was working on enormous projects with time constraints and I just had to cut through the bullshit. But these days I’m finding that in the last couple of years, since the back surgery, it’s all changed. This is when I’m getting a lot of female support.
Life, Work, and Activism
Right now I’m an independent contractor, which means at the end of each project I have to find my own gig. Completely start over again. It’s a pretty horrible way to earn a crust. But the current gig I am with is fantastic; it’s part-time, working from home, with my project team in Serbia. And over the last 10 years I’ve tried to remember that work is not as important as real life. That is a mantra I say all the time: this is real life, just do this. That other stuff is just work. I’m not sure if my bosses like that!
But I really like the thought that I’ve got the theoretical flexibility, without these technology issues of being able to do what I need to do, which is being here, up at the frontline trying to stop this mine. This is actually what I need to do, versus trying to keep my son and I financially secure.
I managed it firstly by coming off Facebook. I was a Facebook admin; I had several Facebook pages on environmental issues. Every day I would post at least a couple of actions in a community that I had started. Originally, I thought that it was a good way for the information that was on lots of different Facebook pages to be consolidated and available on the one page. Then anyone who wanted to be able to do something every day, they could. But then I got the bullying. I absolutely hate it and I haven’t been on Facebook for two years.
I was also involved with some animal groups, working against those animal collars that have inward facing spikes on them and things like that. I’ve always been engaged in some sort of activism. Well, I’d say I’ve always been annoying. I can’t help it; it’s part of my nature. In actual fact, I’m already slated for another particular action soon with a particular office in the next couple of weeks. But it has to be strategic, because the thing is, the more we do the less the media are interested. So, we all realise that we need to escalate, but we already decided a while ago that we need to be strategic about it.
I hoped our local climate change group would come straight up here to the blockade camp; that’s what I was wanting to do really. I’ve always felt guilty and really regretted that I didn’t go to Gordon below Franklin. I was in my late teens then, and I’ve always felt very guilty that I haven’t done the tree activities in Far East Gippsland. So instead, I’ve been trying to find a way I can purchase some of the land that is actually under direct threat there. Doing this, I feel like it’s part of my being. I need to work because I need to support myself. But I need to also make sure there is a future; we are custodians. That’s all we are. We are custodians and we need to be able to forward it on to a better world.
I think the Adani coal mine is as pivotal an issue as the Franklin. It feels the same. It feels like the stupidity of it and the resistance to us stopping it is of the same order and magnitude as stupidity about the Gordon below Franklin. Some of the others haven’t seemed just so extraordinarily stupid and corrupt as this.
But the Adani coal mine will also impact two things that are just completely pivotal if they’re gone: The Great Artesian Basin and the Great Barrier Reef. If either of those are gone, then that’s just, that’s just so…so mind boggling. It just defies logic.
- Films about Women & Social Justice and Change
- Books about Women & Leadership
- Inspiring quotes from women leaders and activists
- Climate Justice and Feminism Resource Collection
- Tips for Campaigning Women
- Stop Adani and the Suffragettes Reflections on targets and tactics
- An investigation into the Australian Environmental Movement’s characteristics and activities
- Blockades that changed Australia
- Blockading - Queensland - Camp Binbee (Stop Adani)
- Climate action
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti mining - Adani (Coal mine)