STOPPING BUSHFIRES - Blockading National Parks

THE BIG BAD FIRES START IN NATIONAL PARKS
FROM RALPH BARRACLOUGH, LICOLA VICTORIA... ANOTHER BRAVE VOLUNTEER WHO HAS STOOD UP TO ATTEMPTS TO OSTRACISE HIM FOR GOING PUBLIC

Baby Ringtail in WINC care. Wildlife rescue workers say they search for day after day & rarely even find dead bodies where once there were known colonies of native animals. Gone without trace, vaporised by heat.

Park blockades have been the single most successful activity at Licola to publicise Alpine National Park concerns. For the most minimal outlay publicity has gone across Australia. Our line of approach was different to many, in that we deliberately set out to make it known that we would be non violent because we had such high respect for our police. It was not until about 18 months after the event that it really came home just how successful this blockade had been. Politicians and many others took notice of people who were not radicals protesting.


The first blockade lasted 4 days. While this was reasonably long, it was a first and there was a need to show that the community meant business. There was a need to have the activities start during the week when the local media was working. A lot of the time there was only one person to stop vehicles and hand out material. These numbers swelled with as many as could be found on the weekend and when the media came along (they arranged to be there).


The blockade was planned well before it was put in place. 3,000 copies of an information sheet were printed outlining the environmental mismanagement  of the park, it was headed "Alpine Park Blockade." Sheets were mailed to politicians beforehand, so there was no doubt about what the issues were. The strategies for the media coverage were run past the media we had a good working relationship with. The Police were neutral but played a big part in planning, as we believed they should in any protest.

 

The Blockade

The blockade consisted of from one to twenty people at the entrance of the park, then shifted just out of Licola to the road to the park. Vehicles were stopped by two people who had red singlets (the Police asked for this to make them more visible), the occupants were given the information sheet and shown large boards of photographs of environmental damage covered up by track closures in the park. The whole atmosphere was friendly, with a number of these people actually joined in the blockade. Nobody stopped appeared to object and many asked what they could do to help (this was one of the areas we fell down on, as we did not have a kit to hand out for those wanting to get involved). As soon as the information was handed out (it was clearly stated the blockade was there for environmental mismanagement of the park), and after a friendly chat, the people went on their way. Every effort was made to spread the word and gain supporters.


Signs

There were three hand painted signs on the road each side of the blockade. The first was a kilometre away, it said "ALPINE PARK BLOCKADE AHEAD," the next was about one hundred and fifty meters from the blockade, it had "ALPINE PARK BLOCKADE PLEASE SLOW DOWN," the final was at the stopping point, "ALPINE PARK BLOCKADE." All the signs were about one and a half meters across and made from laminated foam, but cardboard  from cut down boxes would have sufficed.


Police

The police are often the victims of a protest. The local police were adored by the community and it was decided at the very beginning that there was no way they would be used for cheep media coverage with claims of police violence to attract big time media. What is not often known is how staged protests usually are. Some of the most violent confrontations on television, between the BLF and police, were all staged. The BLF picketed a gate, they stopped anyone going through, handed out material then let them pass, while this was going on, police and BLF teams had a volley ball court rigged up and this is where the real struggle was. When the media come along the volley ball stopped, discussions were held as to the best vantage points to set up cameras and the battle was carefully planed so it could be well covered for maximum effect. The police were all part of this planning.

 

The battles with building workers were very well done, with just enough people to fill the close up filming and more when a wide angle shot was required. Like most protests, if something did not film all that well, it was repeated until it was covered. When the media had their footage, both parties went back to the volley ball court.


It was decided with the Licola protest that there was no way violent, confrontation was going to be involved. This meant far less media coverage but it also showed respect for the local police. It was felt there was no way country people needed to be shown up like the radical green movement.

 

The police were invaluable with their help, freely advising how everything could be organised to keep it legal. There was nothing kept secret from the police about the planning, once they saw the plans were being followed, they only turned up for a visit to say good-day, or when there was media coverage. The community rarely missed an opportunity to make it very clear that they held their police in the highest respect. This had the advantage of concentrating the spotlight on what the protest was about and overall got the message across very well.

 

It is perfectly legal to protest by blockading, or picketing a gate. Protesters are allowed to stop vehicles, explain the reasons for being there and hand out literature. They are not allowed to permanently close up a place and rarely try. Most places are closed because they do not want to promote a scene of confrontation, Parks were quite paranoid of this.

 

Media

The media love well organised protests where the organisers know what they are doing. Most journalists like to include a bit of journalistic licence, if they know they are not going to become unstuck.

 

The media were well informed beforehand with the information sheets going out under embargo, they had time to read them and ask questions. This was a good way of insuring each network had their own individual slant on the story. News gathers all like to have a different story, which is a real advantage to protesters with multiple issues, it allowed a broader coverage. Journalists all like to think they have the best stories, this insures the coverage stays around longer. A lot of thought went into just what slant would go on each story for each network. Some media like sensational stories and others want hard hitting factual social issues.

 

Everything to do with any protest revolves around the media. Over the years we had put a lot of time in getting to know them. Press releases were sent out the day before, embargoed until 6-00am.

 

The blockade started on a week day, as most media do not work weekends. On the first two days the radio networks started from 5-00am. with TV and newspapers after 8-30 am. There was a ten minute interview over regional radio before it started. It was made very clear that there would be no S11 activities and if any occurred the offenders would want to be praying the police got their hands on them before our community did. This interview mainly focused on the environmental mismanagement in the Park.

 

Information Sheets

A detailed information sheet was essential. This sheet was used to focus on the issues involved, brief the media, advertise the blockade, make it known that the protest would be non violent and alcohol free, a handout to people being stopped and above all a long term give away to keep the issues alive. It has even been used by people we have never heard of, as background information after the recent Sydney fires over 12 months later.

 

A lot of care was put into this sheet, and previous ones, so as they could continue to be used long after the event, and not become dated. There has now been over 5,000 distributed from Licola, they were almost as relevant over twelve months later. While the sheets have been faxed, mailed and given away at blockades, by far the most have been distributed from the counter of the local store. Few people coming to the area are in any doubt of the issues involved, and the bureaucracy has just about given up trying to discredit the issues. Not one person has challenged us on the accuracy of the contents.

 

Information sheets were relatively cheep and easy to print in the thousands. When the community agreed on the content, a computer disk and material to be scanned was taken to a supportive printer.

 

S11

What happened at Crown Casino had to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of people turned up to fight police. There was no organisation or anyone in charge, no media kits to explain the issues and possibly no press releases. Nobody took the trouble to get to know reporters beforehand to have contacts for individual stories. Abusive language and piss bombs were hurled at police who were forced to defend themselves, of which they are very capable. This is great media stuff to insure coverage, with only one problem. Almost nobody had any real idea what the issues were about. All the media had to report on was a violent confrontation that would have disgusted any decent caring person, and who cares about the opinions of such a scruffy unruly disorganised mob. Politicians actually made mileage of standing up to them. The saddest part of the S11 protests was that the issues of globilisation they were concerned about deserved coverage.

 

A protest from only a handful of people, from a very small and impoverished community, got more coverage of the actual issues involved, than hundreds of S11 people fighting with police who would have bent over backwards to let them get their message across peacefully. Well conducted protests concentrate on the issues involved and use minimal distractions to gain attention.

 

Notice Board

A strategically placed notice board to promote the issues was essential. This was made easier when it was found that the village notice board, taken over by Parks Victoria, had been accidentally placed on private land. The lock was carefully undone and the contents replaced with community information outlining the struggle with park management. This all continues despite well failed attempts by Parks to close it down.

Parks Victoria

Parks were notified of our intention to blockade the gateway to the Park by the Police. Parks came back with the line that the gateway was in fact in the park and any protest would be illegal without a permit.

 

A letter was sent to Parks outlining the necessity for a protest and how it was in their interest, as park management was wrecking the environment. Copies were taken to hotels, poked under shop doors and pinned to notice boards. The letter ended up with a wide circulation, faxed and photocopied out of existence we believe. Parks responded by saying that no permit was necessary for a protest on a public road.

 

There is little doubt that Parks were not equipped for blockades. Both Parks and DNRE were told by us beforehand that every effort would be made to allow personnel through with minimal confrontation. All DNRE and Park personnel were told by their superiors that they were not allowed near the area.

 

Lightning Blockade

The second protest was a lightning blockade, with less than half an hour to prepare. Parks were found to be blocking off a 140 year stock route leading to the high country where there was a bitter dispute over the banning of cattle grazing. When we grilled the  Ranger supervising the works in front of a video camera, he refused to answer questions.

 

Lightning blockades had been planned before this blew up, letters had already gone out advising we intended to do this. All that was necessary was phone calls to the media, police and finally Parks themselves. The road signs had previously been tied together and the information sheets packaged up ready to be thrown into a vehicle.

 

The blockade lasted not much more than two and a half hours. A runner was despatched into the park to advise the contractors working on the stock route that they would be let through after a small delay. We had no intention of letting any Parks personnel through without police help and we meant every word of it.

 

The convoy of contractors, DNRE and the Ranger was stopped inside the gate. After about ten minutes it was agreed to let the contractors and DNRE through, but not the Ranger. It was a very humble Ranger who informed us that work was almost completed to reopening the stock route. While this was going on, he was getting radio messages about every 5 minuets from Parks asking if he was safe, or being threatened. It was much as if they thought he had been captured by a band of cannibals.

 

L.Ralph Barraclough Licola  3858  Ph 03 5148 8792  7 August 2002.

 

lralphb@bigpond.com      http://communities.msn.com/Licola Community

Disclaimer:

The Licola Community and individuals involved, do not guarantee that the information provided is without flaw of any kind. It is not recommending or suggesting this publication be used by individuals or groups as a basis, or for information for any future picket, blockade or any other purpose. The Licola Community and individuals involved disclaims liability for any error, loss or other consequence from reliance or use of any information in this publication. The information provided is presented as an account only and the reasoning behind, the Alpine Park blockades at Licola.

 

 

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