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[ Remembering the FoE Rides against Uranium ]
I was never one of the 'core members' of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Sydney, being heavily involved in other radical grassroots activity, so I somehow missed being involved with the first Ride Against Uranium. This was held in May 1975 with about 150 cyclists from Melbourne and Sydney cycling to Canberra.
The 1975 bike ride and lobbying is described in a two page report in the September 1975 Chain Reaction by Mike Frankel and Karin Ruff. Photos show Labor Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor with his "conscience"; A full size model nuclear warhead which was delivered to Rex Connor's Parliament House Office; Bill Lichacz from FoE NSW burning the coffin of the "ALP conscience" with a flame kindled by his portable solar cooker.
An important political fact to keep in mind is that this first ride was initiated while the Whitlam Labor Government was in office. This ride and the subsequent rides in 1976 and 1977 were organised by Friends of the Earth and provided an opportunity to generate public discussion on uranium mining, nuclear energy and alternate energy and transportation models, and provided an opportunity for a national meeting of FoE campaigners to co-ordinate activity.
From Little Things...
One day in May 1975, 20 cyclists set out from Hyde Park, Sydney bound for Canberra. The cyclists had the appearance of sixties flower children and Vietnam moratorium demonstrators. It was the Friends of the Earth protest against uranium mining. At Yass we were to join a larger group who had set out from Melbourne.
After camping outside Australia's nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, myself and the other cyclists freewheeled down the F6 tollway before it opened to motor traffic - waving at road workers. As we passed Clifton pubs, overlooking the scenic cliff faces near Wollongong, a supportive local offered us a beer.
Out from our campsite at Wollongong University the hairpin bends in the Macquarie Pass rainforest reared up before us. Some purists rode or walked our bikes to the top. The lovely Naomi cocked a thumb at the driver of some kind of low loader - he was no doubt surprised to find out he would be carrying 15 bicycles in return for the pleasure of her company.
With eight hours' notice, we organised a public meeting at Bowral. One member of the public rolled in from the pub across the street, listened for a short time to the assortment of hippies in the hall and left. A better organised public meeting at Yass attracted a couple of dozen genuine public.
On the last leg from Yass to Canberra we sat down on the roadway on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, attracting national media attention - which was not very favourable. We assembled on the lawns of the then Parliament House and Gough Whitlam's Environment Minister, Dr Moss Cass emerged, surveyed us nervously and urged us to go back to our local communities to spread our message. Nevertheless, we camped on the lawns for a few nights before dispersing.
What was so remarkable about our bumbling efforts at advocacy in 1975? It was the context: 27 years after the first Holden rolled off its line, Australia's love affair with the car was at its zenith. It was several years before the launch of the Bicycle Federation of Australia and the NSW State Bicycle Advisory Committee (the writer was the first cyclist representative). 'Big Bike Rides' and the touring calendars of state bicycle organisations were yet to come. There were few bicycle couriers and hardly any besuited bicycle activists. Although the political rides of the mid-70s seem bizarre now (and seemed bizarre at the time), they would influence much that was to come.
Index | 1976 Ride
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