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[ Remembering the FoE Rides against Uranium ]

Ride Against Uranium 1981
Sydney - Canberra

John Englart
May 2004

For three years no rides occurred, although educational activity and direct action protests kept the issue public.

For example, in Melbourne there were demonstrations on East Swanston Dock of ships carrying yellowcake. Sigrid McCausland in her paper "Movement and class: The anti-uranium movement in Australia" describes the protests:

On 2 July in Melbourne the most serious confrontation yet between anti-uranium demonstrators and unionists on one side and the police on the other occurred. The Columbus Australia, a container ship bound for the United States, called into Swanson Dock after loading yellowcake in Brisbane. The use of horses and physical assault tactics against protesters on the dock by the police engendered a reaction from the wharfies - they refused to load any further cargo and called a twenty-four strike of the entire port of Melbourne on 4 July. The Melbourne Branch of the Waterside Workers' Federation defied their union's federal leaders in imposing a ban on the Columbus Australia and on future work on ships carrying uranium.

In Sydney I was arrested during September 1977 in civil disobedient protests in the middle of the night at White Bay Container Terminal to stop the export of Uranium yellowcake. Late at night convoys of trucks with a police escort left Lucas Heights near Sutherland, and traveled at high speed the 40km through innercity Sydney. Local Sutherland residents and members of the Atom Free Embassy alerted people through use of telephone trees. Several hundred people were mobilised and attempted to stop the trucks reaching the wharf through non violent direct action. Mass arrests and quite brutal police attacks on demonstrators occurred which made front page news not only in Sydney but around the world. But the yellowcake was loaded, and the ship departed with its cargo.

In late 1980 a couple of people who had organised the FoE Rides Against Uranium 1975-1977 - Mary Elliott and John Holmes - approached me about another bike ride. We felt the issues needed more public discussion and it was time for another ride. The 1981 Ride Against Uranium in support of trade union bans, Sydney to Canberra, didn't have endorsement of any environmental organisation, although FoE Sydney provided informal support. According to a leaflet, Cliff Dolan, President of the ACTU, spoke at the start of the ride in May 1981.

It was a smaller affair, about 30 people, but it was a cohesive group. The rides have never been solely about serious politics, there has always been an element of having fun and looking after ourselves and the environment. We traveled first to Lucas Heights, where we spent the night outside the AAEC Nuclear Reactor, then to Wallacia and over the Blue Mountains and down through Oberon and the Abercrombie River, Taralga, Goulburn, Tarago, Bungendore, Queanbeyan and Canberra.

Once again our protest encamped on the lawns of Parliament House. A tour of embassies engaged in nuclear Power and nuclear weapons occurred. At the West German Chancellory a delegation was briefly admitted to communicate our concerns. All the remaining embassies also admitted a small delegation. It seems that once one embassy met with a delegation it became diplomatic protocol for the rest to follow.

Photo: At the gates of the AAEC
1981 (Sydney) Ride Against Uranium at the gates of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission at Lucas Heights

Photo: Approaching the Abercrombie River
1981: Approaching the Abercrombie River

Breaking camp at Bungendore
1981: Breaking camp at Bungendore for the final day riding to Canberra

Photo: Singing protest
Singing protest against the nuclear cycle

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Photo: Queanbeyan Age article on bike ride and Route map
The Quenbeyan Age article on the Ride against Uranium
and the Ride Route map.

Atom Free Embassy
Establishment of Atom Free Embassy on Parliament House Lawns

Photo: USA Embassy
Visiting the embassy of the USA
to protest nuclear policies

Photo: British High Commission.
Visiting the British High Commission
to protest nuclear policies

Photo: Embassy of Japan.
Visiting the Embassy of Japan
to protest nuclear policies

Photo: USSR embassy.
Visiting the Embassy of the USSR
to protest nuclear policies

1977 Ride | Index | Atom Free Embassy

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Last modified: June 15, 2004

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