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[ Remembering the FoE Rides against Uranium ]
Also came to be known as the Woobora tribe from running together the initial letters of the ride: W.B.R.
Peace and goodwill to all mankind. Let this message stick, as a sacred symbol from the Yuin Tribe, guide you and protect you for your long journey. Through the message stick will come humanity and love to all people, no matter what creed, race or religion. Gods blessing to you all.
In Canberra on March 6, 1982, aboriginal elder Gabu Ted Thomas handed over a message stick to fifty cyclists in Canberra to take to the world. Women at an International Women's Day rally presented a scroll symbolising the opposition of women to war and violence. Five months later forty four cyclists rode into Darwin.
My photo album that documented some of the earlier rides against Uranium was carried on the ride. A couple of years later the album found its way, somehow, back to me.
At Byron Bay on the North Coast of NSW in April 1982, the World Bike Ride arrived only to hear reports of high levels of radiation around the town. The radiation was caused by the tailings from sandmining which had been carried out there for the past 30 years. One of the minerals that was mined was Monazite, which contains the radioactive thorium. In the refining process, the tailings had been sold as fill to local residents to use in building and construction. Several hotspots in homes and at a local school were discovered.
In 1982 the World Bike Ride set up an Atom Free Embassy at the Ben Lomond mine site in North Queensland as part of the campaign to prevent this mine from being established.
After Darwin ten cyclists went on to Japan visiting the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and attending an international peace conference against Atomic and Hydrogen bombs. Other cyclists travelled around south east Asia. In 1983 and 1984 the ride continued through Europe, with a report being published in Chain Reaction and reports also in Freewheeling magazine.
One of the cyclists on the World Bike Ride for Peace was Zohl dé Ishtar. She cycled throughout East and West Europe, carrying with her stories of the Indigenous Australian and Pacific experience of colonisation and resistance. During 1983-88 she lived at Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, the internationally famous women's resistance camp outside a US Nuclear missle base in southern-England.
Another participant in the World Bike ride was Paul Marshall, an activist in Friends of the Earth in Townsville who also participated in the earlier Rides against Uranium. In an April 1982 Woobora newsletter Paul outlined the importance of the ride:
The task ahead lies more in dissolving the cynicism and sense of defeat amoung those whose energy and experience is vital to stopping the nuclear beast. We ride then, a diverse collection of people both old and new to the struggle, to carry the message of hope. To show to all that we will not lie down and accept defeat, to echo the cry: "If you don't fight, you lose". We ride for those with the courage to stand up and speak out; for the thousands who by word or action are working for peace and a world we can be proud to hold in trust for the future.
Stephanie Pillore is a member of a dedicated group of conservationists who are pedalling the world to promote world peace and nuclear disarmament. As the last issue of Freewheeling went to press they were passing through Sydney. They have now almost reached Darwin. Here Stephanie describes some of their experiences along the way as they travelled up the east coast on their way to Asia and eventually Europe and the Americas.
We sat under the sign that marked the border of N.S.W. and Queensland and drank a welcome cup of tea. The World Bike Ride had made the 1 500 kilometers from Canberra to the Queensland border.
For many of the thirty-five cyclists it was their first experience of touring. And what a tour! We were riding for issues of deep concern to us. The buildup to nuclear war, and Australias part in it through the uranium industry, which we feel must be stopped. We were calling for implementation of disarmament strategies and the abandonment of nuclear energy with its unresolved problems in the areas of waste disposal, reactor safety and workers health. We were also riding in support of Aboriginal Land Rights. How different these goals made our touring experience.
We thought back to some significant experiences of the ride . . . The send off from Parliament House Lawns on the 6th March arid. the first hard days on the road north: the strong Union support in Wollongong and Newcastle; the radioactive picnic at Lucas Heights; the meetings with Aboriginal leaders in Purfleet and Kempsey, the turnout for the film night at Port Macqurie and the benefit concert and buslidance at Lismore; the part we played in exposing the effects of radioactive wastes of sandmining at Byron Bay . . .
And then there were experiences on the road. The highway trucks and headwinds, the quiet country roads and glorious freewheeling on downhill stretches. The longed for refreshment breaks and the satisfaction of reaching our destination at the end of the day. A particular section of our route that stands out was the Stroud Gloucester Road (Pacific Coast Cycle Trail).
We welcomed leaving the highway at the Stroud turnoff, for a good country road with little traffic. Rain showers passed quickly and added to the beauty of the lush green countryside. The most hilly section was from Gloucester to Taree. The pub squash at the Krambach Hotel never tasted so good. We slept that night under a huge fig tree overlooking the Manning river, and woke to the sight of bicycles silouetted against the sunrise.
Our border stop was memorable in itself. We slept near the lighthouse lookout at Point Danger with Surfers Paradise towering across the bay. As the police cars cruised past, we were reminded, that if hassled, we only need move several yards to be back in N.S.W.! Whether in a showground, camping in a paddock, or in a private home, The World Bike Ride has not been without a place to sleep.
Now the Woobera tribe (as the W.B.R. is known) is experiencing Queensland. Coping with motorists has never been easy but the agressiveness on the road seems intensified here. Yet we've been shown many acts of kindness, from free drinks to places to stay. It was exciting to be part of the Brisbane Peace Rally on April 7th. There the marchers were so much more aware of their rights to peaceful demonstration. The question of Land Rights was strongly debated and as expected this intensified as we head further north.
We hope to reach Darwin in early July and be in Japan in August for Hiroshima day. From there we hope to cross the vast expanse of the USSR on the Trans Siberian Railway to Moscow, and then carry our message of peace to Europe.
The World Bike Ride, those intrepid cyclists who have pedalled from Melbourne north into Queensland for the cause of world peace and nuclear disarmament, have reached Darwin. In her third and final installment Stephanie Pillora recounts their progress to date.
"Where are we going? Darwin!"
For so many months Darwin has been the goal of the World Bike Ride, and we have arrived. With a police escort we rode into the centre of town to be met by a cheering crowd. We were forty strong and we had made it. We'd made the 6,000 kms from Canberra where we'd left in March. Our jubilation was irrepressable.
I was reminded of the day we rode into Townsville, the halfway mark of the journey. A hectic three weeks of activity had commenced there with a similar welcome in the mall. Townsville wasn't new to the issue of uranium mining and nuclear energy. Controversy over Minatomes' Ben Lomond mine, only seventy kilometers away, ensured that. The press covered the activities of Woobera (World Bike Rides' adopted name) nearly every day. The focus ranged from our protest over the mine to tree planting with the mayor. As well as learning about uranium mining first hand, we also learnt about the oppression of aboriginal people first hand, from those we met. We were saddened by the apalling state of land rights legislation in Queensland.
There was a lot of work with the Ride itself, in preparing for the desert crossing, purchasing trailers, water containers and spare parts, ordering bulk food, organising fruit and vegy deliveries, printing leaflets and so on. We also took the chance to clean and repair our bikes. The backyard of the place we stayed looked like a bicycle workshop at times!
As the weeks slipped by we were itching to get back on our bicycles and out into open spaces again. The first day out on our way to Charters Towers we were confronted by head winds, but even that couldn't dampen our enthusiasm at leaving. We were covering 80 100 kms per day, as towns were few and far between. Our fears of the `desert' crossing were unfounded. We had no problems with water supply, there were trees on most sections of the journey, the roads were good, and we weren't troubled by snakes or spiders. As one grazier told us, "you couldn't pick a better time to travel across here". However we weren't fully prepared for the freezing nights . . . . or for the flies at Barry Caves! Our mosquito net was the only place to escape them on our rest day there.
Our camps in the bush were greatly looked forward to, not only to rest and eat at the end of the day, but also to relax and talk around the fire. It was an important time to reflect and discuss the issues we were riding for. Waking up within four walls could never be the same as waking up to the rising sun and the sounds and sights of the bush.
We were relatively untroubled by bike problems. The riders with frequent punctures and broken spokes may not agree! It was comforting to know that there was always someone else behind you to lend a hand in case of difficulty. Our only spectacular accident was one cyclist who came off on a very steep downhill ride approaching Mt Isa. He was taken to hospital by the ambulance from Mary Kathleen Uranium . . . just one of the ironies of the journey.
Tours of both Mary Kathleen and Mt Isa mines provoked many questions. Mary Kathleen closes down this year. How can the containment of their dry and liquid wastes be guaranteed? The management could not answer these questions.
The day we left Mt Isa I remember perfect cycling conditions, - strong tail winds, undulating country, beautiful scenery. Two riders reported covering over 70 kms in two hours!
There were occasions for celebration. The border crossing into the Northern Territory was one of these. Music, dancing, Helgard's birthday party, and a group photo marked the occasion. It was amazing what food supplies could be brought out of panniers at times like these.
As we progressed on our journey into the territory, we had increasing contact with aboriginal people. We showed our film `On Sacred Ground' to a number of communities, and made many personal contacts. We were told of the racism in these parts and it was no myth.
As we got closer to the end, our food supplies dwindled. Living on meusli and lentils tested the most stalwart riders. As on so many occasions before, our need was met. One of the few truckies who had sympathy for us, donated us a load of fruit and vegies and 100 dollars. The day after our muesli ran out, he brought us food for breakfast down from Darwin. He was just one of the truly generous people who helped us in our journey.
The days became much hotter as we progressed north and people got very tired. Our stay in Katherine was a good chance to rest and to prepare ourselves for Darwin. With the help of friends in the environment movement in Darwin, we were able to muster our energy and make sure that our arrival here was the significant event it was.
Darwin has meant changes for Woobera. Members have left already, others are preparing to leave for Japan to continue the World Bike Ride there, and the remainder are working on peace issues in Darwin. The response here has been most encouraging. Despite major setbacks to the cause over the Ranger agreement and the go ahead for B52 bombers, there are still many people here who are not happy with Australia's contribution to the nuclear fuel cycle and America's defense system. The struggle goes on.
It is a much smaller group who are continuing the World Bike Ride in Japan, but it is going on. We await news from the group as they join with the Japanese peace movement for Hiroshima day commemorations.
Of course, the earth did not give way easily to those pioneers. They toiled several decades, sweating and struggling, and the earth admitted only those few who really understood its soul.
from `The Tale of Yamsubetsu'.
Murray, Paul, Alex and myself met the Kawase's on September 1st. Mr Kawase typifies those early pioneers who settled and farmed Hokkaido starting just over 100 years ago. Mr Kawase's farm lies in the middle of the largest military artillery and rocket range in Japan. For 21 years the authorities have been pressuring Mr Kawase to move. Mr Kawase refuses to be parted from his land.
Hokkaido is roughly 1,000 km north of Tokyo and much closer to the Russians! In size and climate it is very similar to Tasmania. Kushiro, on the south coast is a 31 hour boat trip from Tokyo. It cost Y14,000 (approx. $56) plus Y2,000 each bicycle. After much fast talking by Murray, production of W.B.R. stickers and postcards, and about 30 minutes of talking, we got our bikes on for free. We avoided the ship food and took our own!
At Kushiro we were met by two local members of the Peace Group, one on a ricketty old bicycle who led us to their house. On many occasions we were treated to Japanese hospitality and generosity and this was to be one. The Japanese people go out of their way to make gengin (foreigners) comfortable.
From Kushiro, the excellent paved road follows the coast west past lonely beach fronts, green cultivated fields and rugged mountains to the north. I have never cycled through or seen as many tunnels as in Hokkaido. We were looking for the military transmitting tower, Loren C, on a desolate part of the coast, but when the beautiful road turned into a rocky mountain climb, we decided to look for a camp for the night. Our first camp out by the sea since Queensland, we feasted on genmai (brown rice) and soba (buckwheat noodles) and vegetables. (White rice is the Japanese staple food, we tried to avoid it when camping.)
Day 2 and we reached Obihiro, 70 km inland, passed more beautiful green valleys, fields and rivers on a moderately busy road with light cross winds. Occasionally we had a tail wind, lucky for us pushing very heavy loads. September is a relatively dry month and we were lucky so far. By 4 p.m. we had met our welcoming hosts, Mr Hiriabiashi, owner of the Rancho El Paso (!) and Professor itch of the local university. Not surprisingly, our cuisine that night was not typical Japanese. At many places the Japanese used us to practice their English conversation, on this occasion at an American missionary house. Professor itch could speak good English, very rare in Japan, however, that does not necessarily mean that he could understand our feelings. We were guided around Expo '82, and one item that had Alex's interest was a very small solar battery charger just perfect for Alex's electronic bicycle!
Then we headed for the mountains. Originally we had planned to cycle through Daisetsuzan National Park but we were warned of bears! And so it was arranged for us (automatically, so it seemed) that we were to cycle via Karikachi Pass and meet in Furano, winter sports centre of Hokkaido. However, that night we were able to camp out under the stars near a shrine in a beautiful forest. This came close to many fond memories of camping out in Australia - only all the stars were different!
Next day, we climbed 630 metres in 8 km to Karikachi Pass then down to more beautiful rivers, valleys and forests. As in Australia, much of Hokkaido's forests have been used for wood and replanted with orderly lines of Pine. Before Furano, we stopped at a small village market and were given large hot bowls of steaming soba, free of course.
We reached Asahigawa, a large city of 300,000 by 5 p.m. and were met by 4 members of Gensuiko, the Japan Council Against A and H Bombs. This group consists of many teachers and we stayed at one of their homes.
A teacher, Mr Takasaki, viceprincipal of a large high school, invited us to visit his classes and speak to his pupils. We spent half the day talking to different people, all of whom supported what we were riding for. At another meeting with a local politician we discussed the presence of U.S. forces and weapons both in Australia and Japan. We also discussed the build up of the Japanese Self Defence Force (Army), declared illegal by the post war Japanese Constitution. We also visited the Press Club and on Saturday morning we had our photos in five different newspapers.
On the road again towards Sapporo, the capital but this time we had the pleasure of a 30 km bike trail following the river where the old railway used to be. This was the most enjoyable part of the ride away from the noisy traffic. Night fell and we camped in a large park on top of a hill in the mountains. Around midnight cyclone 16 arrived and it howled and poured continuously till dawn. Most of our clothes and sleeping bags were drenched and we faced a strong head wind and rain all the way to Sapporo 70 km. Now I was dreading having thrown away my mud guards in Townsville, the last time I saw rain.
Arriving at Sapporo wet and tried, we were thankful of the hot food and dry accommodation waiting for us - thanks to Gensuikyo. It took us two days to clean up and dry everything out.
We decided to spend one more night at the Buddist Temple, Nipponzan Myohoji. As at Kushiro and Tokyo, our original hosts, we were treated warmly and fed great food. Here also they gave us a generous donation.
Now we were able to rest up in Hokodate waiting for the ferry which was to take us back over to Honshu and the ride back to Tokyo. For the last five nights we have camped out and climbed over the steepest hills of the ride. Alex was often using his 20th gear and me my 14th, thank heavens for our triples.
Hokkaido has many fond memories for us but none so heartening as the generosity and hospitality of the people we have met, and their dedication to a peaceful future. Sayonara!
The World Bike Ride is still in progress. In our last issue one of its members now in Japan wrote of their experiences touring in the northern island of Hokkaido. In this WBR Update the riders are touring through Japans main island of Honshu.
West of Tokyo and north of Kyoto is an area of bays and coastline unsurpassed in beauty we have seen so far, in Japan.
The section from Tsuruga to Tottori along the coast is approximately 280kms of continuous ups and downs, passing numerous small fishing villages and farming hamlets.
Beautiful? To the unknowing eye, yes, but to anti-nuclear bike riders not so because just over that mountain to the right, the one with all those power lines going over it, lies `you know what'?
You guessed it! Between Tsuruga and Tottori there are eight (8) nuclear power plants, seven of which are currently operating. One, the Mihama No. 1 was closed down last summer because it was proved by the local anti-nuclear group to be unsafe - too many accidents. Hence Disaster Area. You can't eat fish in Wakase Bay, between Tsuruga and 60kms west, or often even catch any there, so polluted and radioactive is the water. Also, the Japanese (and us Wooboras) eat a lot of seaweed, known as nori. When the Tsuruga No. 1 reactor (Boiling water reactor, 357 Mwatts capacity) discharged its stored radioactive primary cooling water into the bay in 1981, the local fisher people were paid off for their loss of catch that season (they were forbidden to sell any of their catches) and told that everything would be alright thereafter. It's a pity they were unable to tell the sealife, the mussells, the crayfish, the seaweed, etc, the same story.
Of course there is an active antinuclear power plant group in Tsuruga. We met a few of them, but what of the majority of the townspeople? The government and electric power company officials proclaim that nuclear power is safe and clean and necessary for the Japanese economy, and many Japanese do not question those `in authority'. It is a part of their social upbringing.
Across the next headland is Mihama No.1, No.2 and No.3. In 1973 No.1 (pressurised water reactor (PWR) Capacity: 340 Mwatts) shut down because of two accidents: 1. Broken steam turbine. 2. Fuel core damage.
Accident 1 was concealed by the company for seven years and accident 2 for 3 years. Finally, accident 1 was leaked by an anonymous plant engineer in 1980. This lead to a massive drive by locals to have petitions signed to close the reactor down, which proved successful this summer.
The list continues. 50kms west we find Takahama 1 and 2 (2xPWR; 826 Mwatts). In 1979 the No.2 reactor "leaked" 80 tonnes of primary core cooling water into the containment vessel. The mop up this spill and repair leaking pipes, the power company employs young or over 50 year olds as day labourers who receive their yearly radiation dose of 500 mRems (milli Rems) in 10 to 15 minutes! If they get sick later, as `day workers' they are not entitled to any worker's compensation or sickness benefits. The 80 tonnes of radioactive water was discharged into the bay, little by little when nobody was watching.
All this along a Quasi National Park whatever that means.
With facts such these we are only more determined in our bike ride to see a nuclear free future, We feel sometimes frustrated and depressed along with the local people who must live under these radioactive nightmares.
Here in Hiroshima, it is hard to believe that an atomic bomb virtually wiped out the whole city 37 years ago, but it is a fact that over 150,000 people died, many of them a quick death. But death by cancer is not quick and this is the fear that hangs over these people we have met, living near nuclear power plants. How do they win against the glossy P.R. propaganda rooms at the power sites and the lies and bribes of the electric power companies and governments?
We think that truth and justice, spread by honesty and `People's Detente' will succeed in the long run, if we keep up the struggle. But, how many more must suffer??
Members of the World Bike Ride are touring in Japan. In his final report from the land of the rising sun Christopher Williams describes their journey through the southern island of Kyushu and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
" . . . . . It is the same with the scientists. He pores over books night and day, straining his eyes and becoming nearsighted, and if you wonder what on earth he has been working on all that tune - it is to become the inventor of eyeglasses to correct nearsigh redness, "
- Masanobu Fukuoka from "The One Straw Revolution"
As the remnants of Woobora (Cathy, Paul, Miranda, Oliver, Murray and myself) begin to sit out the icy Japan winter on Masaobu One Straw Revolution Fukuoka's Natural Farm, I look back to the two (amongst many) most unforgetable memories of the last six weeks riding.
Firstly it is of Oliver racing through hairpin corners near Saga (see map) from a 560m pass and overtaking firstly a car then a 15-Beater bus.
The second is of frozen fingers near the summit of Mt Unzen refusing to untie my helmet strap.
Oliver has a racing framed fast bike with a 27 x 1 3/8" tyre on the rear giving about 1 - 2 mm clearance in his chainstays. Sometimes you experience on a good tight-framed bike the desire to go as fast as you possibly can - which is often the case with Oliver. This time, with long downhill sections and perfectly cambered tight corners, Oliver was at times, well, let us say he was not going slow!
I did not see him overtake the first car. I was caught behind it as the dark of night grew so that you couldn't see around the approaching bends, but I did see Oliver pass the bus. He was behind it for a long time and when he finally passed it, he said that the ten or so men inside were jumping up and down cheering on their driver to go faster!
Japanese love competition!
After leaving Nagasaki, Oliver and I decided to "go up Unzen", a volcano of 1,360m. Unfortunately (or fortunate for us!) we left it a little late and arrived at the start of the toll road at 5pm. They close this road to the summit at 5pm because at night they were getting temperatures of minus 5° and the Rangers don't want to have to get up in the middle of the night to fetch out some stranded frozen motorist whose engine has stalled!
My knees were aching from the three hour slow climb up to 900m, and the cold was starting to freeze them up - I attempted to remove my helmet so that I could put on my parka hood but couldn't undo the straps, my fingers refused to obey. At this stage I knew only one thing - I must get down to Shimabara 25 kms away.
At the bottom, stopping to thaw out my aching fingers and knees, I found Oliver in a small office huddling over a gas heater, shaking. It was 30 minutes before he stopped. (shaking that is!)
Woobroa's "official" itinery finished at Nagasaki where we passed many days in the Peace Memorial Park joining in with other demonstrations and protest actions, such as the "7 day Fast for Peace" in which Sally Participated. Also Sally, Oliver and I joined a one hour protest sit-in against the Soviet nuclear test explosion of December 9. We stayed 4 nights at the Nipponzan Myohoji Temple and were entertained by the wood-fire cooking of our host, Gozaiamas (Gozaiamas pronounced [in Australian] Goz-zaya-mus from the Japanese "ohayo, Gozaimamas!" meaning "Good Morning!") The next five nights were spent as guests of the Hibakush Centre (Abomb victims) opposite the Peace Park. Here we were in constant contact with people who had been maimed and disfigured by the Atomic bombing of August 9, 1945, and it made us think that perhaps our work had only just started, not finished, in Nagasaki.
We also called on the Mayor with suggestions that Nagasaki and Townsville, Qld become "sister cities" and that the trees we planted in the Carmody St. park, Townsville, be declared Australia's first "Peace Park". Mayor Motoshima agreed to begin communication with Mayor Mike Reynolds. Also the mayor agreed to give us a letter to take through China and U.S.S,R. urging other cities and people to work for peace and disarmament.
After Kumamoto (see map), some decided to hitch to Beppu while the rest (Oliver, Cathy and Paul) rode. My knees were still painful from Unzen so Miranda and I hitched on a "bonetruck" to Beppu.
It was near here that Oliver decided to "go up ASO" (see map). Mt Aso has the largest crater rim in the world of approx. 179 kms circumference. This time Oliver made it all the way to the top (see map) and he said for the last 4 or 5 kms there was much snow beside the road and two frozen lakes at the top.
To descend into the old crater, as the highway does, is an amazing experience as you can see the barren ring of mountains encircling you. Half way up Mt Aso is a Peace Pagoda standing out brilliantly as the sun hits its white, smooth surface.
From Beppu the ferry to Misake takes 2 hours. Beppu is singularly interesting due to many hot springs up the sides of the mountains steaming water vapour into the cold air. From the top of a building I got the impression that the city was encircled by a wall of smoke and fire, and made aware of the ever present and potentially devastating power of Mother Nature.
From Misake the road follows the coast over a mountain range past Ikata nuclear power station to Nagahama and Oyi, By this time, we had all grown bored with the same lies of the glossy PE rooms at the power plants so we decided to avoid this one `tourist attraction'. We also decided to take different routes, by accident, to enjoy the quiet of cycling on our own for some precious head space. Thus I rode via Ozu, a beautiful town in a valley and then head out to Nagahama and follow the coast road up to Iyo to Mr Fukuokas Natural Farm.
In this part of Japan foreign tourists are rarely seen - many people stop and stare at you as you ride past and sometimes come up to you to practise their English conversation on you. This day, eating lunch outside a supermarket, a young woman came up to me just to talk "English" with me.
The last 29 kms from Nagahama to Iyo was via a beautiful quiet road which followed the coast the whole way - it's a pity it wasn't longer? Arriving at the farm on Dec. 24, my birthday, seemed to me a good birthday present. I found Oliver had arrived the day before and was picking `mikans' - mandarins on a mountain orchard of Mr Fukuoka.
Having lived a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle as an organic "no-dig" farmer for the last 40 years, we have much to learn from this enlightened man. If people want to create a healthier, more peaceful society they must first begin with themselves.
It is from people such as Masanobu Fukuoka we can be shown positive advances towards a nuclear-free future.
On this mountain, on this land, I can see just that reality.
In previous issues we have followed the journeys taken by those intrepid peacemakers members of the World Bike Ride for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament (WOOBORA) across Australia from Melbourne to Darwin and then through parts of Asia. At present all the Wooboras are gathering in Europe to take their message onto the roads there. In future issues we will continue to present their epic journey. Oliver Portway was one of the Wooboras who rode to Darwin from the South East. This is his account of the World Bike rides uneasy progress from Darwin to Asia and beyond.
After riding for 6000km through Australia 45 Wooboras rode into Darwin on July 19th a ragged and unkempt looking bunch, but happy and in high spirits after 4 months on the road. But soon after arriving, the problem of `what next' soon became apparent and many Wooboras obviously felt at a loose end. Murray, Paul, Chris and Alex, the advance party to Japan soon had their tickets bought and were involved in their own preparations. Soon after, the 2nd overseas contingent, planning to go to Singapore then Bangkok enroute to Tokyo, also bought tickets. This began as Sean, Sally and Miranda. Then Dave, caught up in the enthusiasm, also decided to go. I was at a loose end, sitting in a coffee shop that evening with Sean and Murray, saying I had enough money to get there but that was all. It didn't take long for them to convince me to take the chance and come. So the next day I bought my ticket, and at the last minute Meredith also bought a ticket, which made 10 Wooboras heading overseas, spirits were high and everyone was excited. I decided to make a blitz trip to Adelaide, plug Woobora in on Hiroshima Day, sort out my own affairs and finances and return to Darwin, all in two weeks. I made it with one day to spare. During this time Murray and Paul left, and one week later Chris and Alex also departed, all Tokyo bound.
Paul and Murray arrived in time to attend the world conference against A and H bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August the 6th and 9th. Chris and Alex arrived on the 7th. They got their way into Tokyo. Narita Airport (infamous for its forced building) is 60kms from Tokyo and at first navigation in Japan is very difficult. After roaming for two days they caught the train to Tokyo from the southern suburbs and collected their bikes the next day. A few days later they met up with Paul and Murray. With these four united, planning for Woobora in Japan began.
Meanwhile the second overseas contingent was preparing itself for departure. After farewell parties and much merriment, we left on Friday the 13th, which earned Sal, Meredith and Miranda the title of Woobora witches. We spent a week in Singapore adjusting to the heat and S.E.Asian way of life, and met up with Cathy from N.Z, also travelling the world by bicycle, and the eight of us set off for 100km of riding up the East Coast of Malaysia 3 weeks of hot, sticky, but pleasurable riding. Unpredictable rain and sleazy Malaysian men hassling the women were our main troubles.
Food and accommodation were both cheap and plentiful. The tour was highlighted by some beautiful jungle riding, monkeys swinging and chattering high in the trees, and some delightful coconut lined beaches.
One bad experience I had at this time was food poisoning near Kota Bharu. It made me very sick so Meredith and I went ahead to Kota Bharu and I paid a visit to the local hospital. After a long wait I was examined and the doctor decided to keep me in overnight for observation. The ward was like a scene from the Crimean War, no free beds, so I was given a stretcher in the aisle. The rats were the biggest I have ever seen and the cats were suffering from multiple rat bites. I didn't stay long but escaped out of a back door and a 2 metre fence, then off to a private clinic and several days later good health returned.
Time was running on so we decided to catch a train to Bangkok. Here we got Woobora mail from Japan that didn't sound very promising. This was during the early days when the boys were depressed and spending lots of money. Much decision making had to be made.
Dave and Cathy are going to Nepal and India. Sean is going to China, and Sal, Miranda, Meredith and I decided to go on to Japan. By this time, Paul, Murray, Alex and Chris had started riding in Hokaido.
The four of us arrived in Tokyo, and after a couple of days headed up to Aomori, the northern most city in Honshu, to meet the boys on their return from Hokaido. The next day the meeting happened much to their surprise, as they hand't known that we were coming. Lots of smiles and hugs and happiness and the Woobora spirit was strong. From here seven of us rode south to Tokyo, taking about four weeks Paul's visa expired and he couldn't get another extension so he had to leave the country, much to his disappointment. Some great riding was done during this time, especially around Nikko.
We were also busy meeting peace groups of many different kinds. Unfortunately, just before Tokyo, Alex's front rack decided to get closer to his wheel, and wrapped itself into the wheel causing some damage to Alex as he was thrown forwards over the handle bars. A broken jaw and loose front teeth, plus bruises and grazes were the damage but Alex is okay now and in Tokyo, broke but working. His front wheel and rack were also written off which presents him with another problem.
Undeterred, the remaining six of us left Tokyo and are now in Hiroshima, still together many adventures and meetings later. We six are a mixed bunch, equally diveded between 3 men and 3 women. Coming from different backgrounds and different parts of Australia we are bound together by the spirit of Woobora, and our concern at the state of the world and the path it is taking to nuclear destruction.
The engaging saga of those globetrotting 'peacemongers' members of the World Bike Ride for Peace and Nuclear Disarmarment (WOOBORA) has gradually unfurled in Freewheeling since March last year. Having spun their wheels from Melbourne to Darwin, and gingerly up through Asia, six of the Wooboras found themselves ensconced in Hiroshima, anticipating the European summer. Christopher Williams, who previously reported on their trails in Japan, now describes the dichotomy he found in Europe.
Early in May I arrived at the International Convention Centre in Berlin where the Wooboras had chosen to regroup. Not knowing whom I would meet, it was a joyous occasion to see their happy faces: Jennie, Zohl and Pavel, rode from Copenhagen to Hamburg where they met Derryk having flown in to Amsterdam from Bangladesh; Jennie-Marie and Mira having flown from Tasmania, Vikki from Bangkok, Martin from West Germany and Paul and Kathy from Japan. For some it was 10 months since we had last seen each other.
Then came the serious business of our input of Australia and the Pacific Region into the Conference. The 2nd European Nuclear Disarmament Conference attended by over 3,000 delegates proved to be an unmanageable event for many people. Firstly, the sheer size and complexity of the organisation and the building reduced many people's input to a minimum. Secondly, most forums and discussions were too crowded for individual response, and often the panels were exclusively male "experts" - okay for some fact finding but not very helpful to the many grassroots peace movements trying to stop the new generation of medium range nuclear missiles from coming to Europe this year. Thirdly, no delegates from the Warsaw Pact countries could come because they couldn't get visas. People from East Berlin were also in this situation.
At the conference we learned how serious the situation is in Europe, showed our slides and our film "On Sacred Ground" and made many contacts and friends.
Soon it was May 27 and time to begin our journey to the west: by hitchhike - a kind reply to our advertisement brought us an empty Kombi to take our 9 bikes to Braunschweig - it is not permitted to ride bicycles anymore from West Berlin to the West German border.
Then the riding began, as close as possible to the border and via back roads, nearly always into a headwind.
June 16: Czech. border: "10 anxious Wooboras are patiently lined up waiting for our passports to be checked. We are on our best behaviour for a good reason: one of us escaped with his parents in 1968 and this is his first visit back to his country since then. Now an armed guard checks our passports, a friendly smile and chat and we are waved through - benefits we enjoy being an 'officially invited Peace Group' "
We are on our way to Prague to attend the "World Assembly of Life and Peace against Nuclear War", and immediately notice the difference: automatic machine guns on the barbwire fence makes way to quiet, carfree roads and old, battered buildings - like stepping back in time. Food is cheap, vegies about one third the cost in Germany. We camp out in a small forest on our first night and enjoy the calmness of Czechoslavakia.
Life in a Communist country is different than say Germany. Examples: there are often queues to buy ordinary foods at stores that only open for 3 or 4 hours each day; many magnificent churches and palaces are left to run down arid are boarded up; there are no "discounts" or "specials" at supermarkets; no throw-away bags or tinaluminium cans. All juices and beer come in returnable, refundable bottles /great system!/; bikes are exchanged or rebuilt from secondhand parts; "Peace" is an official government policy and workers must pay for Peace Conferences by direct donations from their pay packet; the U.S. dollar is a sort of God figure, and Czech tourists must pay exorbitant amounts to Their banks to buy hard cash to travel with - hence a black market in money exists; the variety of shops is very limited, with many shops just selling the same products.
People are much more shy, guarded, almost afraid to talk to you - you soon realise that this is a Soviet controlled country, when an older person will come up to you and talk of the old days. You feel that a rigid system controls their lives.
On to Prague, a small but beautiful city, we are escorted straight to the "Peace Village" at the student quarters at the edge of the city. Immediately, you realise that everything is planned, structured, leaving no room for spontaneous action; we are housed in separate rooms requiring 4 security checks before entering. Later this is increased to 8! Woobaras feel isolated and insulated from the ordinary Czech people. At the World Assembly, many speeches are made saying how bad the U.S. military is, but no mention is made of the Soviet military. One day there is an illegal demonstration and arrests are made, but we are unable to learn who they were or what they were doing. We mention Charter 77, an independent underground peace group but our officials just say, "no, those arrested were just drunk and disorderly".
We make a few contacts, meet up with old friends from the official Australian delegation, many who met us as we cycled in Australia and enjoy their company on a boat cruise. When we leave Prague, we are a little wiser, but also feel that there is little we can do to change the oppressive system many people liver under.
Unable to have our visas extended we must cycle directly to the Austrian border, past many cherry trees, their fruit ripe and will give more than one Woobora a belly-ache. Passing many polluted lakes and rivers we encounter mosquitoes, making it too unpleasant to camp out.
Near the border, the guards patrolling with dogs play a joke on me, while pretending to 'arrest' the others. Jennie-Marie sticks peace stickers on their rifle-butts and they laugh with us.
Soon in Austria we notice the difference, expensive fast cars, expensive prices - we find a beautiful lake in a forest and enjoy a quiet rest day. We meet Millie and Margarete, two young Austrian women who decide to join us until Budapest.
Before Vienna we visit the mothballed Zwientendorf Nuclear Power Station. Completed in 1978 but never allowed to operate because the following year, 50.5% of the Austrian people said 'No' in a referendum. Typically, we did not receive a very warm reception here.
In Vienna, more bike repairs, a film evening and accommodated by members of the "Hiroshima" group. We also visited our Nipponzon Myohiji Buddhist friends who are building a Peace Pagoda beside the Danube.
When we left we decided to follow the Danube all the way to Budapest but after 3 nights of fighting off large numbers of mosquitoes, we decided to go inland.
July 12: " . . . we cross over into Hungary, no problems."
Hungary is different from every other Socialist country. Every person says something different about living here. We found people very open and friendly, many would give us money and occasionally food. The shops are varied and there are many small private industries. It is said that Hungary is the "Gayest Camp in the Eastern Block!" Peace again is official government policy but this time independent peace groups are tolerated, (only just) but not encouraged. The government leaders still do not allow public criticism, of the kind you would find in the west.
Rock music is everywhere, people wear very fashionable clothes and are free to travel to the West - with certain limitations. Generally, the lifestyle here appears the same as in the West, only the queues are longer. We spend days trying to organise our trip to USSR in vain and days trying to buy tickets and get visas through Czechoslavakia and Poland. Moscow does not want us to ride bicycles in USSR, we have been trying for almost one year and still seem no closer. After one week of frustrating tensions and telephone calls, we part ways. Paul, Kath, Jennie and Zohl leave for Sweden while Murray, Deryk and I spend 4 more days organising a trip to Filand via Poland.
We plan to regroup in Sweden. We still have a long way to go to disarmament.
Paul Marshall is a member of the World Bike Ride for Peace, Disarmament and a Nuclear Free Future.
Preparations are all but complete in Western Europe for the first deployment since the 1960s of USA ground-launched, mediumrange nuclear missiles capable of striking the USSR within minutes. The first of the 'new generation' Cruise and Pershing II missiles are likely to be deployed in Britain and West Germany at the end of 1983, with other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries to follow in the next five years.
A group of Australian cyclists visited the Fulda Valley in West Germany where some of the missiles will be sited. Paul Marshall met many of the people living under the increasing threat of nuclear war, and reports on the antinuclear movement and the variety of protest in the region.
Imagine cycling, heavily laden, along a quiet German country road. There are twelve riders; four are local people from the town of Bad Hersfeld. It's a pleasure to have them with us since only the day before our two friends from the Berlin Green Cycles had returned home. Without these people, or the other Germans who joined along the road, we were reliant upon our sketchy knowledge of German and upon our leaflet. At first when we had cycled out of Braunschweig, the share of leaflets we each had taken seemed to burden our cramped panniers. But it wasn't long before we found their worth and appreciated even more the assistance we'd received in Berlin from the Alternative List (a forerunner to the Green Party) who had printed them for us.
We knew that any conversations begun with a leaflet could be joined by one of our friends from the local peace group. Many eventuated, and one fervent conversation which began with a stop in a small village to decide on our route ended with well-wishes and a donation from a seventy-year-old man. He had been a spectator to a wedding procession and chose instead to test the views of our thirteen-year-old local companion. The two shared the knowledge that their homes were targeted with NATO nuclear weapons.
We were in the middle of Fulda Valley, which straddles the border with the south-west corner of East Germany. Here political geography has created a corridor along which the military mind imagines advancing troops. Many of the new generation missiles planned for deployment in West Germany will find their way to Fulda Valley. Certainly this was one occasion on which I wished that our itinerary was less tight and that we might have stayed longer in the area.
Most people have heard the phrase `tactical nuclear warfare' but it takes actually living in a place like Fulda Valley to bring its implications home. There was a videotape shown to us by the Green Party in Lauterbach, a USA army production entitled Fulda Gap which portrays tactical nuclear armed units swinging into action. To the army film the Greens had added interviews with local people. They seemed not to favour even a localised nuclear war.
Of course, when the USA Pentagon changed its warfare philosophy from 'mutual assured destruction' to 'limited (tactical) nuclear warfare' this had to be put into administrative effect. A training manual was produced covering the procedures and policy for the unleashing of battlefield nuclear weapons. It outlines how a nuclear conflict should be escalated only in a step-by-step way, and in the first instance suggests that commanders of these weapons avoid targeting towns with more than 1000 inhabitants. This offers little restriction since the many villages scattered throughout the valley are generally smaller than that.
At cycling speed it is much easier to observe one's surroundings, and we found the examples of local opposition to the new missiles many and varied. We saw murals painted on the sides of buildings, stickers on windows and placards on trees. All of them carried reference to the NATO plan to clear out `small pockets' in Germany's few remaining patches of forest to create hiding places for the mobile missile units. One mural uses a forest, a bulldozer, and a mushroom cloud to depict the scene `yesterday, today, tomorrow?'.
We had gone to Lauterbach, site this year of the annual Hessentag festival, at the invitation of the local branch of the Green Party. After arrival we learned that they had been refused permission to enter their float in the parade and that our participation was similarly restricted. That parade was routed through the old town, right past the threestorey building which hosted us. The residents were draft refusers and had already hung their banners out the windows - one was the household's coat of arms portraying a knight in armour breaking his sword. The other referred to NATO as the 'North Atlantic Terrorist Organisation'.
(Germany has a system of military conscription which requires all young men to serve 18 months in the army. They can if they wish work their way through a series of court hearings where they must demonstrate their pacifist principles, and thus win the right to serve two years on low pay in a social institution such as a hospital. They also have the choice of moving permanently to West Berlin where the military draft does not operate.)
It wasn't long before our colourful 'Disarmament, north, south, east, west' banner joined the other two. However, it seems that someone disapproved of the scene since the police came in the early hours of the parade morning and, using step-ladders, removed our banners It took persistent visits to the police station before our banners were returned, but the 'Uranium: No thanks!' flag which disappeared from one of our bicycles the same morning was not returned. In response to our complaints the police inspector wrote to say that unless we could produce evidence the matter would be dropped.
By the time we left the town of Fulda and cycled out of Fulda Valley we had made some good contacts, shown our slides and the film On Sacred Ground several times, and given out many leaflets, fact sheets on Australia, and contact lists. Newspaper reports told of a group of Australians who had come a long way by bicycle to lend support to the nuclear free zones movement and to help build better international cooperation. Our thoughts had begun to turn to the details of our planned cycle to Prague, a precedent allowed by that city's hosting of the 'World Assembly for Life and Peace' and the associated 'Youth and Student Peace Village' to which we had been invited.
We had started our ride through Germany two weeks earlier in Braunschweig, because cycling down the border between East and West Germany was the shortest way to Prague and because we knew it to be a highly militarised zone. After participating in the second European Nuclear Disarmament Conference in West Berlin, and receiving the invitation to the Prague event, we explored the possibility of cycling through East Germany. We discovered that the only road previously permitted for cyclists had been upgraded into an autobahn a year ago, thus restricting its use by cyclists. So we hitchhiked to Braunschweig, settled ourselves into the backroom of the Green Party's office, and finalised our plans. The Greens are very active in the Braunschweig area and have managed to put a woman into parliament, demonstrating the support they are winning in the area. Their office is a resource centre of environmental, peace, and women's literature, stickers, badges and posters. They regularly take parts of this centre into the street on a stall which folds out of a bicycle trailer, and we happily joined them in this activity. They arranged for us to meet with the mayor, arranged a newspaper interview, a talk at the high school, a film and slide night, and, from a bundle of photocopies taken from the information in our display folders, they started a file on Australia and the Pacific region.
To their north the Braunschweig Greens are lending support to the campaign to stop the building of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Gorleben. But they are more actively opposing the dumping of low and intermediate-level waste in an old iron mine 15 km to their south. The authorities claim that the Shak Konrad mine is isolated from groundwater and thus presents no environmental problem, but the Greens contest this in an impressive booklet which outlines their many objections to the dumping program. The state government has rejected their call for a full inquiry.
Every town we visited has its own story. For instance, we found while in Gottingen that the anti-nuclear magazine Atom Express, which has its base there, suffered a recent police raid in which their files were seized and their collective intimidated. The police pointed to the previous issue of Atom Express in which an article encouraging more active opposition to nuclear power was printed beside an article which explained how easy it was for terrorists to build a crude nuclear bomb. They asserted that the magazine was inciting people to nuclear terrorism!
Before leaving West Germany for Czechoslovakia, we visited the border province town of Mitterteich. We knew that people here were opposing the storage of nuclear waste near their town but were surprised by the strength of their opposition campaign. We were first greeted by large billboards on the out-skirts of the town expressing opposition to the waste-dumping plans. Our host there was the local petrol station operator who was happy for us to decorate his driveway with our flags and banners.
We were informed that some 40% of the people in the village were in some way involved in the campaign, but their voices seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Their immediate problem was the storage of low-level waste in a warehouse on the very outskirts of the village. Equally disturbing was the test drilling being conducted in a nearby granite deposit where the government wishes to dispose of high-level waste. Mitterteich is within the state of Bavaria, which could be described as Germany's Queensland, and where the law says that anyone arrested in a demonstration must, aside from any fine which may be levied, pay the costs of the police in being present at the demonstration, or a part thereof. In practice this has proven to be very costly for the parties concerned.
One could go on. We found a Germany with many ugly faces, but one where citizen action was truly inspiring, and one where many people offered us support and encouragement
Paul Marshall outlines the background to the World Bike Ride for Peace, Disarmament and a Nuclear Free Future.
The concept of our ride was born during the cold Canberra winter at the Atom Free Embassy which graced parliament house lawns from May to July 1981. Fifty people cycled off from those lawns in March 1982 after receiving a traditional message stick from Aboriginal elder Gabon Ted Thomas, whose tribal lands once encompassed Canberra. In the civic centre the women at the International Women's Day rally presented us with a scroll symbolising the opposition of women to war and violence. Almost five months later, after a very eventful and sometimes controversial journey, fortyfour of us cycled into Darwin. A forward party left immediately for Japan to attend the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. Those who remained made their presence felt in the uranium province protesting at the official opening of the Jabiru township, chaining themselves to the gates of the Fort Hill docks, thus blocking the first shipment of yellowcake to come out of the Ranger mine.
Altogether ten of us rode in Japan along a route that began in September in the northern island of Hokkaido and covered more than 3000 km to Nagasaki in the south and Matsuyama in the east. Along the way we were hosted by many peace and anti-nuclear groups, and had the opportunity to talk with many of the Hibakusha, the atom bomb victims. The story of that ride is to be found in the pages of Freewheeling and elsewhere.
From Japan we had hoped to cycle in China, then to catch the train to Moscow, there to join the Scandinavian Bike for Peace as far as Oslo. As it turned out, the Chinese government declined our application to visit China, though was prepared to grant us transit visas. The Soviet Peace Committee issued us with a much delayed invitation, though it refused to acknowledge our application to cycle. We chose then to begin our European leg in Berlin, where we continued with our requests to cycle inside the USSR.
At the time of writing, the World Bike Ride has accommodated itself on `Mother Earth' farm in southern Sweden, where work is underway on a newsletter and on the planning for the British leg. At least two members plan to spend the winter at `Mother Earth' and to operate an Australian anti-nuclear/Aboriginal/ environmental information centre from there. They would appreciate a broad contact with activist groups in Australia.
In one of Sydney's leafier outreaches an informal reunion of nine members of the World Bike Ride for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament (WOOBORA) was held in early December. Most of the people gathered hadn't seen each other since arriving back home from the Japanese leg - some nine months. Amidst laughter, anecdotes and quaffs of preservative free apple juice some up to date news of those Wooboras still in Europe emerged. Phil Somerville and a borrowed tape recorder gatecrashed especially to write this report.
As I was introduced around at this unusual class reunion the names echoed from half a dozen hastily-read back issues of Freewheeling: Meredith, Murray, Alex, Paul, Greta, Sean, Mark . . . here they were, flesh and blood. Some were fleshier than others having halted a regimen of bicycling 80 km a day on the world's crossroads.
Greta and Meredith were waxing nostalgic about the dawn raid on their tents by police in Townsville who were tipped off about the hundreds of kilos of drugs lining their sleeping bags. 'All they found was mould and they wanted to know if were were dealing it,' laughed Greta.
Finnbar Crennan rode with the group from Mackay to Darwin, about 2,8000 km. He was then 11 years old and aging rapidly. Paul Collen, who picked up the ride in Tennant Creek and made it as far as Darwin, spoke of his side trek round his native New Zealand to promote the World Bike Ride. 'I got a group going with a similar aim back in January. It was a little splintered because it was so new to them and passing through archconservative areas like the south island's west coast didn't help.'
The get-together was organised by Cheryl Katz, a veteran of the Sydney to Darwin section, at the behest of Murray Inglis. Murray and Chris Williams had continued from Japan onto Europe while most of the others attending this reunion had come home to consolidate thoughts and/or money. Murray arrived back in Sydney just four months ago. His tossed around enthusiastically as he talked with fresh memories of Europe.
'The peace movement is very strong there, very widespread. Early on we realised as Australians how ignorant we were of what a nuclear presence means. Over there everyone knows about the missiles - how many, where they're deployed and so on.'
The ride halted once they arrived in Budapest. The passage from central West Germany south through Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary took far longer than anticipated as their attention and time was absorbed all along the way.
'We thought we'd sail through these countries in a few weeks. It was a ridiculous assumption.'
With only a pocket of summer remaining everyone decided to call a pause until the following spring when calves had thawed and the core ride could be resumed. Everyone needed to get away from the whole draining presence of the project. Conversations of Pershing Missiles had reached the point of saturation bombing. Jennie and Zohl went off to attend a women's conference in Sweden. Four others decided to see something of Finland: Murray went with Miranda Wheeler by train to Gdansk where they met up with Derryk Parker and Chris and proceeded to Finland. They passed through Denmark and found it a staunch resistor of nuclear power programs. Looking north-east across the Baltic Sea they could see one or two nuclear plants grazing by the shoreline. So much for getting away from the whole draining presence.
Once in Finland they split up to explore its lakes district for three weeks. Murray found it a welcome change.
'Everywhere we'd been in Europe seemed shrouded in white haze. It was like biking through a company board meeting. Here it was so clear. And the water was so clean. Rivers in Germany were so polluted with chemicals that you could smell them long before you came upon them.'
The Wooboras met up on a collective farm in Sweden, near a town called Tollarp. Here they enjoyed being stationary for a while apart from weekly sorties into town to salvage thrown out fruit and vegetables from the supermarket. Pretty soon the market manager got used to the idea and began leaving the leftovers out in the street in marked boxes. The farm provided an opportunity to talk out too often postponed differences of opinion and perceptions. For instance, the concept of the ride as an international bike ride as opposed to an Australian bike ride. Since leaving Darwin they'd only had sporadic success in snowballing the size of the ride by attracting any and all nationalities to join. Perhaps people saw it as yet another centre-stage statement of Australian achievement; perhaps they adhered to a strong work ethic (as was witnessed in Japan). However, their contact with and impact on everyday people was good. So a resolution came down from the summit.
'We decided that come the northern summer we will all convene in England and continue the ride as a group, firstly around Britain then France, Spain, Italy and the Middle East. And of course there's Northern Africa and the rest of Africa.
We learned though that planning too far ahead is a bit of an illusion,' said Murray. 'I've come back to work up the money. I'm addicted to the ride really. I suppose we all are.'
Atom Free Embassy | Index | 1984 Ride to Roxby
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