Horseshoe Beach is a popular dog walking beach for Novocastrians. Watched over by Nobby's Lighthouse it curves around behind the breakwater to the Harbour mouth. From this beach the huge bulk carriers for coal and grain are grand to behold as they come and go under tug in the channel maybe 300m from the shore.
On Saturday 21 March, the 4th annual People's Blockade of Newcastle Harbour, biggest coal port in the world, transformed Horseshoe Beach into a blaze of colour with a mass of tall orange and sky-blue flags bright in the sun, the glorious flags of Benny Zable a-fluttering in the breeze, proud and beautiful banners rigged high ("Cut Carbon! Now or Never!" and "Stop Newcastle Coal Expansion") and a bright orange line of maybe two hundred kayaks drawn up at the water edge.
There were lots of people too; young people, old people, children and a smattering of Green celebrities: the Hon. Lee Rhiannon MLC, epic kayaker Steve "Cry Me a River" Posselt and Cr Simon Clough from Lismore
And there were costumes and floating artworks: a sinking Opera House (the immortal "No War" in red on its sail), a melting iceberg with plaintive polar bear, a bunch of worried penguins also with an iceberg and a three decked pirate ship improvised from milk crates, barrels and inner tubes lashed to plywood sheets.
But, except for one which slipped by while we were setting up, nary a coal ship to be seen!
From between our flags, the morning sun glistened to us off the ship-free Harbour and when the flotilla cast off, it occupied the shipping channel in a swarm uncontested by the police.
No dredge barges and tugs came by either. Usually two sets of these work around the clock coming and going hourly dredging the river bed from 2 m deep to 16 m to prepare for a new coal loader which is intended to double the export capacity of the port.
Victory to the People! The Beach, the Harbour and the future were ours!
At previous Blockades the police had fended off the swarming kayakers to let the coal ships pass. Last year a kayaker had been injured when a police jet ski rode up upon her kayak from behind. Now the cops face a compensation claim for her injured back.
But this year the cops and the Harbour Authority had acted in concert to close the Harbour for the time of our Blockade rather than risk a confrontation which might echo around the world.
This day the police had two high speed zodiacs and no water skis. A 40 ft cabin cruiser was positioned across the channel between us and the coal loader. To all the world it looked as if it the cops were blockading the Harbour.
Stealing our thunder, I thought, and got on the Peacebus.com PA and asked them to move aside, lift their blockade and let us do what we had come to do. No deal. No laughs from them either.
We paddled out to the channel and clustered around the pirate ship which stayed on the Harbour for over 7 hours with Benny Zable standing on its deck in his costume and holding up a sign reading "Endangered Species". In the afternoon when the illusion of seaworthiness began to break up, Benny was to be seen on the sinking deck going down but holding his sign to the last.
What a great day it was; festive with water sports, music, art and good food too. This is what a People's victory looks and feels like: high spirits and happy smiles.
Not that Big Coal is admitting the fact of our victory. The PR mills of the coal lobby are many, cashed up, Murdoch friendly and they are nothing if not great deniers. Our story got page 18 in the Newcastle Herald for example, a run on ABC Radio Newcastle and AAP on Sunday but was out the news by Monday morning.
Blow hard, ye liars!
A different drum is beating, a different wind blowing in our sails. We know we are onto something and the coal criminals must know too in some covert, core and corrosive way.
We have movement, art and joy. Every day we stop the coal ships is a community building victory celebrated in the open amongst uplifting friends.
And every day we stop the coal ships is a day nearer to stopping coal exports forever.
One day at a time and one port at a time.
All praise and gratitude to the Newcastle Rising Tide mob for their dedication, courage and savvy organising.
For the Earth!
To the dust!
26 March 2009
Photographers: Nat Lowrey, Conor Ashley, Jeremie Canavesio and Graeme Dunstan