S4 E16 The Youth Are Rising

Today I’ll be taking you along for the ride as my 14 year old nephew Oliver and I head into Melbourne and take part in the student strike for climate that happened on the 25th of March. It was a global day of action so there were similar events not just around Australia, but around the world. We joined a huge crowd in the city and marched several city blocks, we disrupted traffic and made a lot of noise. I chatted to some of the young people there to hear what made them want to join the march.

Then later in the episode you will hear from another student strike, this one happened just this week in Castlemaine. The student strike movement in Australia was rallying again as they wanted to make sure that climate is an election issue, with just days to go before our federal election. So again strikes were organised right across the country.


This episode was created in 2022 as part of a series called Saltgrass: Turning the Goldfields Green, which was created with support from MAINfm and the Community Broadcasting Foundation.


Transcript

[SOUND OF WALKING UP STAIRS AND A DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING]

Allie Hanly: Good morning! You’re wearing your t-shirt!

Oliver: Mm-hm.

Allie Hanly: Welcome to Saltgrass, a show about how local communities can engage with the climate crisis at a grassroots level. My name is Allie Hanly. What you just heard was me arriving at my brother’s house in Naarm, or Melbourne. My nephew Oliver, wearing a Saltgrass t-shirt was about to come with me on his first ever protest. A Student Strike for Climate. He’s 14 years old. What are you watching? 

Oliver: A video about nuclear energy. 

Allie Hanly: Ah. So, we need: a sunhat, sunscreen, water bottle and… shoes you can run really fast in, in case like it goes chaotic and we have to like run. 

Oliver: Okay. 

Allie Hanly: I’m kidding. It’s not going to be like that. Is your phone charged? Yeah, because mine’s not fully charged. I might charge it a bit before we go. And if the police ask you any questions, you say ‘I don’t know anything.’

Oliver: Okay. I’m saying I’m part of the press.

Allie Hanly: Today, I’ll be taking you along for the ride as Oli and I head into Melbourne and take part in the Student Strike for Climate that happened on the 25th of March, this year, 2022. It was a global day of action, where there were similar events, not just around Australia but around the world. We joined a huge crowd in the city and marched several city blocks. We disrupted traffic and made lots of noise. I chatted to some of the young people that were there to hear what made them want to join the march.

Then later in the episode, you’ll hear from another student strike. This one happened just this last week in Castlemaine. The student strike movement in Australia was rallying again, as they wanted to make sure that climate is an election issue with just days to go before our federal election. So again, strikes were organised right across the country.

So this time before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge that this episode of Saltgrass was recorded both on Jaara Country and in Naarm, I would like to acknowledge elders of the Wurundjeri, Boon Wurrung, and Dja Dja Wurrung. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. Sovereignty was never ceded. 

[SALTGRASS THEME PLAYS: Salt of the earth people, grass roots change. Listen to all episodes of Saltgrass on your podcast app or at saltgrasspodcast.com]

Allie Hanly: So, Oliver. It’s the morning before the protest, the student strike. And we’re about to catch the train into the city. How are you feeling?

Oliver: Excited.

Allie Hanly: Yeah?

Oliver: Yeah.

Allie Hanly: Have you ever been to a protest before?

Oliver: No, never. 

Allie Hanly: What do you reckon is going to happen today? What do you imagine it will be like? 

Oliver: People walking around with signs and pretty much just that.

Allie Hanly: Are you nervous at all?

Oliver: A bit, but it will probably be fine.

Allie Hanly: This is like a student strike. What do you know about student strikes? 

Oliver: Okay. Uh, well sometimes in the past, like I’ve heard about like them going on. But mostly, I was like ‘oh, we could just skip school and go to that instead.’ As a joke. But this time I’m actually going.

Allie Hanly: Do you know anyone who’s been to one of these student strikes before from your school or friends?

Oliver: Not that I know of. No. 

Allie Hanly: What do you know about climate change and climate? Like what do you think about that? 

Oliver: Ah, I think it’s bad and it’s worth taking one day off school to like protest. 

Allie Hanly: And do you have any questions for me?

Oliver: Um, have you been to one before?

Allie Hanly: Yes. I’ve been to all sorts of things. Generally. They’re just very peaceful. Like people walking along with signs and maybe chanting or singing or something. I haven’t been to very many hectic events. 

Oliver: Okay. 

Allie Hanly: All right. Well, we’ll catch the train. Maybe we’ll see some students with signs on the train. Maybe we won’t, but we’ll report back in.

[SOUND OF A TRAIN DEPARTING]

Oliver: Do you think, as an expert, that these like marches, the student protests and everything, do much to combat climate change?

Allie Hanly: It’s interesting, isn’t it? Sometimes it really feels like marches don’t do anything because the politicians just ignore it. But actually, like, Greta Thunberg started just herself and a couple of friends sitting out with some signs and now it’s turned into a global movement.

And now you, a kid in the suburbs of Melbourne is going to a march. And because you’re going to the march, you’ve been thinking about climate change and talking about climate change. And I think that’s what it’s for. It helps people feel connected to each other and you get to see how many other people also care about the thing, and you feel energised by it, which is really helpful. And it connects you to… when we get there, you’ll see, there’ll be lots of calls for action. So they’ll be saying, join this, sign up for that, take part in this. So then it just helps build a movement. But by itself, I don’t think politically it makes much difference to be honest. But I also know from talking to other adults that the student marches have really helped the adults feel hope for the future because the next generation is standing up and saying what they want, which is really exciting. So yeah, it’s a mixed bag of how effective it is.

Oliver: Okay. Yeah.

[SOUND OF TRAIN STATION ANNOUNCEMENT: Good morning customers. Your next service to depart from Platform Two will be the 10:10 city loop, stopping all stations to Blackburn, running express from Blackburn to Box Hill…]

[SOUND OF TRAIN ARRIVING AT STATION AND DOORS OPENING]

Allie Hanly: So we almost made signs today, Oliver. So that we’d have signs for the march. What made you feel like you didn’t want to carry a sign? 

Oliver: Um, because it would, ah I don’t know… I just didn’t want to. It’s too embarrassing.

Allie Hanly: Yeah, sure. Mine was a bit more pragmatic. I was like, if I’m holding the sound recorder and trying to talk to people, it’s going to be difficult to have a sign as well.

I kept on looking at everyone’s slogans and going ‘that’s so great!’ And then I wanted to make one myself and I couldn’t decide what to write on it. And then it felt too late and tricky. Anyway, next time. If we feel inspired, we can take signs. The other good thing to do is to like, write your slogan on an old sheet or a piece of fabric that you can have in your bag. And then when you get to the protest, you pull it out. But some people love the idea of sitting on a train with their signs, because it just spreads the message further to people who aren’t actually at the protest, you know? So that’s kind of cool.

[TRAIN SOUNDS]

Allie Hanly: So we arrived in Melbourne and walked a block or two to where the protest was gathering. We ended up being about an hour early, which was a bit earlier than I had intended, but it was cool to see how five people turns into dozens and then hundreds, and then thousands of people. It also let us speak to some of the people who had gotten there early and ask some questions. Of course, being Melbourne there are also cars and trams and motorbikes. And pedestrian crossings ticking, and those sort of things. Or at least there were until the streets got blocked off and the protest began in earnest. 

Young protester 1: Yeah, my seventh strike. Nothing’s being done. The government’s doing nothing and now apparently they have no duty of care over us. There’s a lot that needs to be done. 

Allie Hanly: So how old were you when you came to your first march? 

Young protester 1: I was 13. So I was at the first School Strike for Climate march. I think it was. Yeah. 

Allie Hanly: And that was a while ago. And that was before COVID and it was huge, right?

Young protester 1: Well before COVID. There were thousands and thousands of people. I came and I was amazed at how many people like me were wanting to strike and do something to help the climate. It was incredible. 

Allie Hanly: And did… are you helping to organise this on a broader level or are you just sort of representing your school or…? 

Young protester 1: Ah, I’m helping represent my school. I’ve got a few of the younger students who are part of School Strike for Climate. So I’ve heard so much about how they’ve been helping out, which has been good.

But my job really is just telling people at my school like ‘Hey, there’s a strike. If you can come, please come.’ The more people, the better. It shows that we have a bigger voice and this is what we want.

Allie Hanly: Do you feel like a lot of students really care about this but weren’t able to come today, or maybe you wanted to come but weren’t able for some reason. 

Young protester 1: In terms of my year level, I’d say yes. With Year 12, there’s a lot of SACs going on. A lot of people couldn’t miss class, but I’m not too sure about other year levels. But I know for a fact that mine definitely was a bit of a struggle to get other people to come here.

Allie Hanly: And what do you hope to do with your future past Year 12? 

Young protester 1: Well, I want to hopefully study a career in science, ah, forensics particularly. But I also want to make sure that there is a change in the future. After Year 12, I’ll continue striking, making sure that there’s a difference.

Allie Hanly: And what does your sign say? 

Young protester 1: ‘The climate shouldn’t change. We should.’

Young protesters 2: …just like something simple, something simple. That’s still like effective and… 

…Something catchy and effective and will help people you know, realise that we’re not like joking about this guys.

Yeah, it’s a true topic. It’s a real issue.

Allie Hanly: And what grade are you guys in? 

Young protesters 2: Seven. 

Allie Hanly: And so you all came together. You didn’t have any adults or parents or anything coming?

Young protesters 2: No. Yeah, we had older students… Climate change is real guys. You have to save the environment. It’s real. Please stop ignoring it.

Allie Hanly: When did you guys first start thinking about climate as something that you really needed to be careful of?

Young protesters 2: Years ago. Yeah, two, three years ago. Yeah. Well every time you got a school project about the environment, you would always have to like find those horrible photos and like the ones where the planets are burning up. 

And especially after like the whole 2019 bushfires. Yeah and the floods more recently.

Yeah and it’s also pretty sad because I used to think that, you know, I’ll be fine, the environment will probably live longer than me, but right now, according to scientists is probably just not going to happen. So it’s pretty scary. 

Allie Hanly: It’s very scary.

Allie Hanly: As more and more people arrived, we started to see the fluorescent orange and yellow-vested marshals get into action.

We were directed up onto the wide stone steps of the old Treasury building. I recognised a familiar face from Castlemaine with a megaphone and, you know, felt a secret little bit of pride that one of our teenagers was so much a part of this ginormous city event. The police presence was increasing as well. And I certainly had the feeling that they were there as much to protect the students, as to protect the city from the students.

Young protester 3 (on megaphone): Okay, could everyone please get on the steps and stay back up? Thank you.

Young protester 4: Um, I don’t think that it’s fair that we can trust science when it comes to things like modern medicine, which bring us profit. Then we can’t trust science when it, I guess doesn’t bring us profit, like for fixing our climate, which is something really important for our futures and future generations.

Allie Hanly: What do you hope to see a march like this do?

Young protester 4: I’m hoping that we’ll finally see our government putting in some actual effort to stop climate change, honestly. We want climate justice, which sounds like a bit, I guess like an umbrella term, but like there’s so many things that our government is failing to do.

They make promises every year that they will do this and that to help the climate, but then they refuse to do it when they realise that won’t bring them money. All they want is money. And I don’t think that’s fair because being in government is about being for the people, you know.

[SOUND OF PEOPLE TALKING IN THE BACKGROUND]

Allie Hanly: You’re with the Greens, you’re wearing a Greens t-shirt?

Young protester 5: Yeah, I sure am. Yep. Yep. 

Allie Hanly: So you’re really dedicated. You’ve already like started taking action within local council and yeah, that’s amazing.

Young protester 5: Yeah. So, um, I figured that the Greens… initially when I first got involved, it was through refugee politics and they were the only ones calling for human rights consistently. And then now I’ve come to realise after a while that the Greens are the only ones that are in line with the science on climate change, and it’s… I’m just glad to be part of a party that actually believes in science. 

Allie Hanly: Yeah. And have you been to many climate strikes before? 

Young protester 5: I’ve been to quite a few, over the years. So I think… I think 2019 was the really big one. And so I’ve been to that one and a few others since then, yeah.

Allie Hanly: What do you feel like these strikes achieve, both for the people who come, but also the people watching? 

Young protester 5: I think it’s twofold. So for the people that come it’s energising, it convinces you that you’re not the only one that thinks that there’s something that’s seriously wrong with the way things are being done. And it also helps spread the word and let politicians know that they can’t just rest on their laurels and expect to get re-elected. Because at the end of the day, we’ll be voting. Students will soon be voting and we will vote them out.

[SOUND OF PROTEST CHANTS: Another world is possible, we are unstoppable]

Allie Hanly: Okay, Oliver. There’s quite a few people here, but things haven’t really started yet. What do you think so far? 

Oliver: It’s more organised than I was expecting, with more like people that actually prepared, I guess. Like I thought it would just be a bunch of kids just sitting on the steps, but there’s like actual organisation. There’s people in different coloured vests to do different jobs, like talking to police and moving people around. And there’s a guy in pink. So I guess he’s the leader. 

Allie Hanly: What else have you seen here? Like, I mean, I guess I’m asking about the police and…

Oliver: Well… they’re not really… They’re just standing on the top steps and nothing much has happened so far. There’s quite a few of them around. 

Allie Hanly: So when we first arrived, there were quite a few police, just sort of standing around, but now they seem more sort of out in formation, I guess. And so we’ve got about 20 minutes to go and there’s already, I’d say what several hundred people here and more people arriving all the time.

We’ve got lots of megaphones, which I’m not sure how many of them are actually going to get used. And there’s lots of cool signs and someone’s just started playing music. There’s also a fair bit of media; there’s photographers and 3CR’s here. They’re going to live broadcast the hour of speeches and all the rest of that stuff. So that’s interesting. 

Oliver: And there’s people from the Greens party, yeah. Oh, someone’s just got traffic cones.

[SOUND OF PROTEST CHANTS: The youth are rising, the youth are rising]

Allie Hanly: Okay, Oliver. So what’s happening now? It’s 12 o’clock.

Oliver: A big group of people from one of the groups came across the road and the police have blocked off the road. So only trams can get through, and to not have kids get run over.

Allie Hanly: That’s important. And there’s a guy with a bike that’s got like three or four or five different attachments at the back, like different trailers and trolleys and things just riding around in circles on what is normally a very busy intersection. I quite like it. 

Oliver: Yeah. That’s pretty crazy. And there’s people with flags from Extinction Rebellion and…

Allie Hanly: There’s some chanting happening over there; I can’t hear what they’re saying.

Oliver: Oh, and there’s another banner over there. Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.

[SOUND OF PROTEST CHANTS: Scomo’s got to go, Scomo’s got to go]

Allie Hanly: Soon after this, we were politely invited down onto the street.

[SOUND OF SHOUTING: Everyone get on the road!]

Allie Hanly: So down we went. We wandered around a little and admired more signs and heard more chants. 

[SOUND OF CHANTING]

Allie Hanly: There’s quite a few young people in their school uniforms. And there’s quite a few who are not in school uniform. And there are some people here who are obviously older than high school age. Yeah, it’s an interesting mix of people.

Oliver: I think there’s a lot of parents and people who know students, and yeah adults to supervise.

Allie Hanly: Yeah, and support.

I love that sign. It says ‘I’m too young to be having an existential climate crisis.’ I also like ‘we skipped our lesson so you can learn yours.’ 

Oliver: Someone had a sign that said ‘the earth is hotter than Spider-Man.’ I thought that was funny though. 

Allie Hanly: And then the speeches began. They went for over half an hour, so I won’t share it all, but I’ll give you little snippets.

I’ve focused on the young people and the Indigenous people that spoke. There was also a speaker from Trades Hall who spoke about the importance of climate justice through the lens of how climate will affect people’s ability to work in increasing temperatures and how job security and safety will be affected by climate change. But I decided not to leave that one in for the sake of time effectiveness within the podcast.

[SOUND OF CROWD CHEERING LOUDLY]

Shu Jong (MC): My name is Shu Jong and I will be your MC for today. Unfortunately the other MC couldn’t make it. Today we will be welcomed to Country by Willie Pepper from the Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council.

[SOUND OF CROWD CHEERING]

Willie Pepper: Wominjeka. My name is William Pepper, and I am the Boonwurrung representative here today. As a representative of Boonwurrung, Melbourne’s First People, I am pleased to be able to welcome you all today on behalf of Arweet Carolyn Briggs. I’d like to pay my respect to the Boon Wurrung ancestors and elders, past present and emerging, and special guests here today. We’re especially pleased to recognise the commitment the School Strikes for Climate has made in paying respect to the spirit of this land and the first peoples. Through this you’ve shown the willingness to honour sacred ground. It is important for all Victorians to understand and appreciate the history and culture of the Indigenous people of Melbourne who have played a significant role in the development of Melbourne itself, both before and after European arrival, as they’re unknown to many people who live on this beautiful land. 

The struggle to preserve their culture and traditions began with the ancestors back in the 1830s. One of the lessons we should take from this struggle was the way in which the elders and leaders forged the alliances that has led to many of the achievements that we take for granted today. And whilst we’ve all descended from different language groups and clans and countries around the world, we can all learn from this lesson. 

The word ‘welcome’ in Boon Wurrung is wominjeka, and it translates to ‘come with purpose’. But it’s a contract between the people as the custodians of the land and yourselves, to guarantee safe passage for those who asked. 

According to tradition, this land has always been protected by our creator Bunjil who travels as an eagle, and by Wahn who protects the waterways and travels as a crow. Bunjil taught the Boon Wurrung people to always welcome guests, but he always required the Boon Wurrung to ask all visitors to make two promises that I will ask of you today: to obey the laws of Bunjil and not to harm the children or the land of Bunjil.

This commitment was made through the exchange of a small bough, dipped in the water, and spoken words: wominjeka. Protect our land guys!

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING AND CLAPPING AGAIN]

Shu Jong (MC): The stories I got told about my family’s home country were predominantly about pollution. Not about my culture, food or the people, but about how factories were pumping out smoke, about how the pollution rates were the highest in the world, about the smog in the air that filled people’s lungs. And as I grew up, I also learned about the sandstorms that would stain the atmosphere red and have gotten worse with climate change, how people would need to wear face coverings just to walk down the street, so they would not get sand in their eyes. 

And then I learned that this was all a part of their daily lives. What was made out to be so tragic sufferable and scary when I was a child, it was all normal. It angers me and it infuriates me that the greed from corporations and people in power is forcing communities to live through environmental destruction and it’s become normal for them. Their fixation on profit is putting so many lives and communities at risk, communities that are contributing the least to the increase of climate change but are facing the worst of its impacts.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

Shu Jong (MC): And then just last week, it was announced that the government no longer has a legal duty of care for us. It’s frustrating and it’s infuriating. It shows us once again that our government is willing to do anything so that they can keep their profits and their power. So let’s channel that anger and let’s scream at the top of our lungs while we march and let’s create some change.

[SOUND OF CHEERING AND CLAPPING FROM THE CROWD]

Shu Jong (MC): We’re all well aware of the climate crisis that is facing our country and Earth right now. The ongoing floods in New South Wales and Queensland have no doubt been amplified by climate change. Future floods and natural disasters are expected to occur more frequently with more extreme and destructive consequences if our government does not act now.

And adding to that are the frightening facts revealed by the IPCC’s report this year. With the way things are going now, the world is set to face more extreme and destructive weather events increased fire risks of 10 to 70% by 2050, reduced snow cover of up to 60% by 2070, and an increase of climate refugees as more and more parts of the world become uninhabitable.

What’s even more frightening is that just recently the Arctic has faced a 30 degree increase and the Antarctic a 40 degree increase compared to its normal temperatures. At last year’s COP 26 Glasgow Summit, Scott Morrison couldn’t even do the bare minimum and signed zero pledges agreeing to phase out coal.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD SAYING: Shame!]

Shu Jong (MC): Scott Morrison’s government wants to tell us that adequate solutions to the climate crisis is relying on new technologies, which haven’t even been invented yet.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD SAYING: Shame!]

Shu Jong (MC): We have had enough. We need a fair transition to renewable energy now so that every person has the right to be able to live safely wherever they may be. 

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

We are here to make it clear that his government must put people over profits. What do we want?

[CROWD YELLING: Climate action!]

When do we want it?

[CROWD YELLING: Now!]

Shu Jong (MC): We recognise that the voices of frontline communities must always be at the centre of our fight for climate justice. And speaking now is Brittney Henderson, a Wiradjuri and Boon Wurrung person who has grown up on the Kulin Nations their entire life. They are currently working as an Indigenous Office Bearer at Melbourne University’s Student Union.

Brittney Henderson: I’d like to acknowledge the fact that Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people have managed this land sustainably for thousands of years.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

Brittney Henderson: …protecting the waterways, animals, plants, trees and communities. I acknowledge the ongoing work in cultural reclamation, language, and customs, as well as the emotional labour that underpins this work. I acknowledge the ways in which colonial structures, racism and climate inaction affect First Nations people disproportionately, and the ways in which Australia has a culture of denying these institutions is an act of gaslighting.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

Brittney Henderson: I acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and will never be ceded. My name is Brittney Henderson. I’m a Wiradjuri Boon Wurrung person. I’m not here to speak as an Aboriginal person, nor am I here to talk on behalf of Indigenous people or provide an Indigenous perspective. I acknowledge that my white-passing privilege allows me to walk this earth, that it heavily influences the way in which I experience the world around me, and that is not a privilege afforded to many other First Nations people. I’m simply here as someone who is bloody scared that not enough is happening to stop a crisis that we’ve known about for decades.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

Brittney Henderson: I’m scared for my community, my country, my family, my friends, and my totem. All around the world there are examples of Indigenous people living on this land sustainably, and it’s not fair that the people who are least likely to be affected are the ones who get to decide the debate. 

It’s really important to centre Indigenous voices. And in saying that it should be understood that that’s not a one-way transaction. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not about to give up years of cultural knowledges and practices while still being treated as second class citizens. Black people are still dying in custody, overly represented in prisons, out-of-home-care, and have significant disparities in mental health and physical health statistics.

It’s not fair to ask for traditional practices of land management while ignoring the other ways colonialism has affected these peoples. I’m here to say that’s not fair. It’s not fair that these people who run the government and will not be facing the brunt of the climate crisis will get to enforce these policies.

Members of parliament who due to the powers and structures and privileges, are predominantly white cis-het men. In the last few years we’ve seen incredible examples of school students taking charge of the climate crisis. However matters of global importance shouldn’t be fought by students alone.

I demand something better. I want something more.

I want something intersectional, diverse, efficient in tackling crises that will affect us all eventually. I do not mean to suggest that these school strikes are not important, just that children and young adults shouldn’t have to put so much energy and effort into convincing everyone else that this is actually important.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

Brittney Henderson: I hope that the climate crisis to start with, and more than anything I hope that we see action and movement towards renewables. But it’s also my hope that this demonstrates how devastating and dangerous colonial governments and ideology is. I wish for a future where Indigenous people are not the diversity hire or congratulated for making it to university.

I wish for a future where Indigenous people are valued beyond their knowledges but for their lived experiences and cultural engagement. That is why it’s going to solve the climate crisis and I hope I am alive to see it.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHEERING]

Shu Jung (MC): Thank you so much, Brittney. That was incredible and so moving.

Okay, so now that we are all hyped up, it’s time to tell the city that we are here. Thank you everyone for coming. So what do we want?

[CROWD YELLING: Climate action!]

Shu Jung (MC): When do we want it?

[CROWD YELLING: Now!]

[SOUND OF PROTEST CHANTS: What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!]

Allie Hanly: Then we started to move and chant and it really wasn’t until everyone started moving that we got a sense of just how many people there were. We walked several large city blocks across, and then down and then back across, and up and down hills. We ended up near the back and the number of people in front of us filled each double city block.

And it was really quite amazing to see that many people there. It was cool. Oli and I stopped to record the climate choir, who I instantly loved. We did an interview as we walked with a girl called Maddie who was very passionate and very excited to be there. And then we turned another corner and kept on walking and there was the climate choir again, set up on the steps of a very official corporate kind of building, singing sweetly about the collapse of capitalism or you know, some such thing.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHANTING AND CLAPPING: Coal, don’t dig it! Leave it in the ground, it’s time to get with it!]

[SOUND OF THE CHOIR SINGING: …Bye bye coal, reduce climate stress…]

Maddie: My name is Maddie and I’m nine years old.

Allie Hanly: Maddie, what makes you want to come today? 

Maddie: To stop climate change, because it’s really bad.

Allie Hanly: And who have you come with today? 

Maddie: I’ve come with my grandparents. 

Allie Hanly: I see your grandpa’s holding up a sign. Did you make that sign?

Maddie: Yes, I wrote it on the train when we were coming down here. 

Allie Hanly: That’s great. What does it say?

Maddie: It says ‘There is no planet B. We want action now. We want a green planet’ and ‘look after our planet.’ 

Allie Hanly: They’re excellent things to say. Have you had a good time? Oh, hold on, that’s loud.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHANTING LOUDLY: Fossil fuels have got to go!]

Allie Hanly: I heard you leading some chants before, was that fun?

Maddie: Yes, that was quite fun.

Allie Hanly: And what have you thought about all this? Is this your first ever protest? 

Maddie: No, I’ve done another protest in my life, but this is my second. 

Allie Hanly: Is it exciting how many people are here? 

Maddie: Yeah, I actually didn’t think there’d be this many people.

Allie Hanly: Do you guys want to say anything about being grandparents? 

Grandparents: We’re just so proud of her that she wants to be involved. 

Allie Hanly: It’s so great that you guys are here to help her be involved. It’s so beautiful. 

Grandparents: This is the future generation. These are the ones that are going to be affected most by what’s happening.

Allie Hanly: Thanks so much you guys.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHANTING] 

Allie Hanly: So we walked about a block through the city with frequent stops, and now we’re turning down into… what street is this? Bourke Street. And continuing. I’m not sure actually where our end goal is for this. Who knows? It’s obviously been pre-arranged because the police and all the streets have been shut off very carefully.

[SOUND OF THE CHOIR SINGING AND THEN THE CROWD CHEERING]

Allie Hanly: That was about it. It had taken a couple of hours all up being there, and we were both pretty tired. I think both of us are more on the introvert end of things, so being amongst so many people was tiring for us. So we grabbed some sushi and caught the train home. 

Okay we’re at Flinders Street station, we’ve just had some sushi to keep us going because we were both a bit tired and hungry after the march. Oliver, what did you think of it all?

Oliver: I thought it was good. There was a lot more people than I expected to be honest. And a lot more… this time I could see a lot more parents and older people. There was a choir of… like the Climate Choir I think they were, who like sung and they were good.

Allie Hanly: I liked how they were just there on the side of the road as we marched past. And then we went around this huge block and then they were there on a different side of the road. They’d sort of done a short cut and set themselves up to sing again. I loved it.

Oliver: It was great. 

[SOUNDS OF TRAIN STATION]

Allie Hanly: How do you feel at the end of it? 

Oliver: Um, I feel a lot more like encouraged to do something, I guess. Yeah, it was pretty exciting, I guess. And I think I might do it again. 

[SOUND OF TRAIN STATION ANNOUNCEMENT: Welcome to…]

Allie Hanly: My feet are sore. I’ve got sore feet.

Oliver: What were your thoughts about the protest?

Allie Hanly: I thought it was awesome. There were so many more people. Like when we first… we were an hour early when we first arrived – we were one of the first people there, but just gradually get more and more people showing up. And I don’t think we even realised how many people were there until we started marching and we sort of ended up near the back and then we moved forward again and got to see how many people were there and it was great. 

Yeah. I thought it was great. And there were so many… like that little nine-year-old girl that we interviewed, she was so great. She was yelling out the marches and getting people to respond to her calls and stuff. And she was so clear about how she felt about climate change. I thought it was brilliant. And that her grandparents were supporting her. I thought it was awesome. 

Um, it was great to see so many young faces and… people who obviously really care. It was cool.

[SHORT MUSICAL BREAK: BIRD CALLS AND GUITAR]

Allie Hanly: It’s been a couple of months since that Student Strike in the city. And I called my brother’s house last night to chat with Oliver to see what he thinks about it all now that some time has passed. I didn’t record that conversation, but he did say that it felt in retrospect a bit like a school excursion, because there was so much walking and standing around and listening to people talk.

I joked that it should be built into the school curriculum. That would be such a great idea, but then Oliver very astutely made the point that you can’t strike from school if your school is officially taking you to the strike. So there’s something in that. He was still glad he went and I’m still super proud to have been able to go with him on his first protest.

So fast forward a couple of months. We’re within a week of the federal election. There has been ever-increasing calls for climate to be a priority and we’ve all seen clips of our politicians dodging and squirming when confronted by students asking them about climate. So the student strike movement, as I mentioned earlier, organised another round of marches and protests and actions for Australia, and Castlemaine got involved.

I went along and recorded it. And you’ll recognise a couple of the people who have featured on Saltgrass in the past. Chilli was the MC at this event and a year or so ago she gave a wonderful speech at a previous student strike in Castlemaine. And then Kath Coff was there as well to acknowledge country.

There are some voices you haven’t heard on Saltgrass before. Speeches were made by local students who have been key organisers of that event, and a group of young people who are very excited to be there and had very clear feelings about climate. So we’ll hear all of that now.

Chilli: Hi, I’m Chilli. I’m one of the organisers of this school strike. I’ll be your MC. Kath Coff is going to come up to give an acknowledgement of country. 

Kath: Hello everyone. I don’t often do acknowledgements, but when you have amazing humans as these lot ask you to do an acknowledgement to country about two months ago, and made sure I continued to have it in my diary because they know me very well…

[Laughter from the crowd]

Kath: Who wouldn’t?

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge country on this beautiful country from Leanganook to Yapinya, to Tarrengower, Kooroocheang. I’m really… have a strong belief that country in this area should be named the name that it should always have been, not the name that it currently is. Lately I’ve been asking people maybe to go and actually look up who Castlemaine was, who Barker was, who Mitchell was, who Alexander was. They’re names that have placed on country, they’re nothing to do with its true value or meaning. I’d also like to acknowledge that country was never ceded. And I hear people say that a lot. And what that means to me as an Aboriginal woman is it means that the pain’s still held in country, is still there. And it’s there every day. 

But I want to also acknowledge the amazing ancestors of before, their constant drive and push for healing, their generosity and love. And sometimes for me personally – I can’t speak for anyone else – they get really bossy, that’s why I continue to do what I do.

But also too I’d like to… believe in this space, I just holding the spot. We never really as Aboriginal people believe we hold any particular value more or less than anyone else in our community. Because we do for the greater good of everybody else. And something I think we do very, very well, and I often get confused why I have to have conversations with adults in regards to who we should listen to in regards to country, who we should listen to in regards to the future, who we should listen to in regards to what mistakes we have made and we have made many. 

I want to talk to the youth here to let you guys know as an Aboriginal woman who is educated and holds positions of privilege and power, I continually push back on other adults that while you are in a position of privilege and power, you should be making the change and doing what you can to change in regards to what the devastation has caused on country and with each other. I getting more and more angry to be honest, that adults who believe it should be left up to the youth to make this change happen. Because we are the ones that have the power right now. We are the adults that can do that. So I tell all you young people to push back on the adults that you know, because I’m really worried and I can understand you guys are. The change that we know needs to happen, won’t happen if there’s a whole heap of adults walking around asleep and not doing what they need to be doing.

[SOUND OF CLAPPING AND CHEERING]

So I don’t want our youth to feel hopeless. With all the power that then push and drive and street walking and desperation that they have done before, to feel that there hasn’t been any change. I would like to acknowledge the current elders of this amazing land that we stand on: Uncle Rick Nelson, Aunty Julie McHale, Aunty Kerri Douglas for their tireless generosity, constant cultural load, and their constant love for everybody. It’s a big task. 

So lastly it’s to our absolutely spectacular, strong, amazing future humans, the energy and the power of them I hold dearly and it is everything to me. The reason I get out of bed every morning is to fight for country and to fight for our young people and the generations and the generations and the generations to come.

So thank you everyone for allowing me to speak, you gorgeous humans, and let’s really power on hey?

[SOUND OF CLAPPING AND CHEERING]

Chilli: Thank you so much Kath. Now some of our other organisers, Gemma and Arlo, are going to do a speech together.

Gemma and Arlo: We are striking today because we need climate justice now. With an election coming up in just one week, we need to make sure that the elected government is held accountable for taking real action on the climate crisis. 

Today we’re demanding that the elected government put people over profit and commit to net zero by 2030 and 100% renewable by 2030. 2050 is too late. This would mean no new coal, gas or oil projects, including the Adani mine. The primary cause of this climate emergency is the mining and burning of coal, oil and gas. Our government should be helping move Australia beyond fossil fuels and to 100% clean energy. 

The elected government needs to fund a just transition for all fossil fuel workers. We need to make sure that this transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable and sustainable energy that no one gets left behind. Safe, dignified work for everyone who needs it should be ensured.

[SOUND OF CLAPPING AND CHEERING]

Gemma and Arlo: We need funding for First Nations led solutions to the climate crisis. We need First Nations voices at the forefront of this fight. 

We are seeing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis: from extreme bushfires in 2019 to 2020, to flooding destroying communities in Queensland and New South Wales. These will only get worse, more frequent and affect more people. The climate crisis will affect everyone, but especially those in marginalised communities. 

[SOUND OF CARS TOOTING IN SUPPORT AS THEY DRIVE PAST]

Gemma and Arlo: We are at the edge of a climate catastrophe. This is why whoever is elected needs to listen to us and take our demands seriously. We are the youth and the people in power cannot ignore us. And we cannot wait any longer for climate justice.

[SOUND OF CLAPPING AND CHEERING AGAIN]

Arlo: Now, Gemma and Chilli are going to lead some chants and then we’ll start marching.

[SOUND OF THE CROWD CHANTING: What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!]

Allie Hanly: So we marched around the block, this time on the footpath. There was no police presence and we got friendly, supportive toots from people driving past.

[SOUND OF CROWD CHANTING: Coal, don’t dig it! Leave it in the ground, it’s time to get with it!]

Allie Hanly: When we got back around to the Market Building, I noticed a group of girls who were chanting together. They were young and very enthusiastic. I had a quick chat with them before everyone went home.

[SOUND OF YOUNG PROTESTORS CHANTING AND LAUGHING]

Allie Hanly: Hey, do any of you guys want to talk to me? To go on a radio show on MAINfm?

Young protesters in Castlemaine:  Yes please! Yes!

Allie Hanly: So have you guys been to a protest before? 

Young protesters in Castlemaine: No. Yes. I’ve never been to one, but this is the first one and it’s amazing. I really think we should have more of them in the world because they make a huge difference in how people see things. 

We’ve been to a few, in Melbourne. Yeah, I’ve been to some in Castlemaine, but that’s it. 

Allie Hanly: Who’s been to a Melbourne climate protest?

Young protesters in Castlemaine: We were going to go, but then the bus, um, well, everything got cancelled because of the trains… 

This was the first time that I’ve ever done a strike like this. And I found it really fun.

Climate change is getting really bad and it needs to change.

It really does.

Like really fast.

I don’t want to be also the first time I’ve ever done one. And it’s been really, really fun and amazing. 

Adults should think about the future for us kids.

It’s not their future it’s ours.

And our kids’ as well.

And our kids’ kids’ kids! 

Who probably won’t even exist if we don’t do anything. Yeah!

Allie Hanly: What were you going to say? 

Young protesters in Castlemaine: I’ve never been to a protest before, I found it really fun though and I want to do it again sometime. Yeah. 

I also like doing all the chants. We’re probably going to go for another lap…

We should have an annual protest every year. 

Yes!

Allie Hanly: Does anyone else wanna say anything? Anyone who hasn’t spoken?

Young protesters in Castlemaine: I’ve been to one in Melbourne and another one here. They’re really good and important. 

Allie Hanly: When did you go to the Melbourne one? Was that recently? 

Young protesters in Castlemaine: I was in… It was quite a few years ago. 

Allie Hanly: How old were you do you think back then? 

Young protesters in Castlemaine: I was in grade two and I’m in grade six. 

Allie Hanly: And you remember it? 

Young protesters in Castlemaine: Yes. Yeah, we bought badges and stuff and it was really fun and important.

Allie Hanly: Did your parents take you to that or do you have older brothers and sisters who were involved?

Young protesters in Castlemaine: My parents and my grandma. 

Allie Hanly: And finally I found the two girls who had made speeches at this event and asked them what it was like to be up there. 

Hi, you guys. So you guys were instrumental in organising today’s rally and march. What got you guys involved in this stuff?

Young protester Castlemaine 1: Well I got involved in 2021, during lockdown. So yeah, it was a lot of online meetings. Yeah. 

Young protester Castlemaine 2: Yeah. Um, I got involved like the start of this year, I think it was, or like around then. I mostly knew about it because Niamh one of the main organisers from here is my cousin, and Arlo’s my friend. So yeah.

Allie Hanly: What was it like to organise an event like this and what’s it like, what does it feel like to be up there and see all these people and lead the chants?

Young protester Castlemaine 1: It’s very empowering. It’s… yeah like that we have a voice in the future and yeah…

Young protester Castlemaine 2: Yeah, basically what Arlo said, it just feels so like powerful.

[SOUND OF YOUNG PROTESTORS CHANTING: Fossil fuels have got to go!

Allie Hanly: So that’s it for today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it. There are links to things discussed in the show notes on the podcast and at saltgrasspodcast.com For those of you listening on MAINfm or 3MDR, please note that you can listen to all episodes of Saltgrass on your preferred podcasting app. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Please subscribe to the Saltgrass mailing list to get reminders and updates about the show. Again, you can do that by going to saltgrasspodcast.com 

This program is made possible with support from MAINfm and the Community Broadcasting Foundation. Find out more cbf.org.au 

My name is Alison Hanly. Thanks for listening.

[SALTGRASS THEME PLAYS: Salt of the earth people, grass roots change. Listen to all episodes of Saltgrass on your podcast app or at saltgrasspodcast.com]

Transcription by Allie Hughes

Note: Saltgrass is produced to be heard. Some elements of the podcast may not translate easily to the written word. Transcripts are created using both speech recognition software and human transcribers, and though we do our best to avoid errors they may occur. Please check the audio before quoting in print.

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