There were protests taking place in Australia’s major cities today.
Melbourne’s action took place at the State Library of Victoria.
While there may not be a town square or city square in Melbourne, the Library’s lawn seems to serve that purpose for political gatherings.
I’d seen signs promoting the protest for the last few days and you don’t need to read Twitter or the Facebook pages to realise how angry people are.
To put this into a size perspective, an area half the size of Europe is burning and the fires are visible from space.
On Sunday afternoon, the smoke darkened the skies over Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand… and not only Auckland.
The sky above the land from Hamilton to Auckland which is a distance of seventy miles was grey. It was like twilight, five hours before actual sunset.
Auckland is approximately 1,200 miles away from the fires in New South Wales.
I arrived in Melbourne on Monday afternoon.
I couldn’t see the ground when I looked out of the plane window as it came in to land. The drive into the centre of Melbourne from the airport was along murky roads – some of the poor visibility possibly attributable to the light rain.
However, I took a walk by the River Yarra and the buildings were shrouded in a smoky haze that you could both smell and taste.
It was another day or so before the smoke cleared though the strong smell and taste were gone by Tuesday morning.
This is what a clear day in Melbourne should look like.
The language being used to describe the fires is apocalyptic. The Age provides live updates on evacuation warnings and describes the fires: mega-fires caused by merging fires and spiralling fire tornadoes.
This is not hyperbole.
While so many areas are burning, life apparently goes on as usual in Melbourne. The fires are so far away from here.
Fundraising, however, is visible everywhere – from billboards on buildings to the tip jars in the pubs – everyone is trying to do something to help.
Today’s protest was criticised by politicians as diverting police resources from efforts to put out the fires.
Counter arguments have criticised the fact that the New Year fireworks were not cancelled when that would have diverted police resources too.
Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian writer Jackie French describes what is happening where she lives and the need for community action to challenge political complacency over the Bushfires. I strongly recommend you read it.
From what I can see, the protest is an expression of anger at years of inaction on the climate crisis but they’re also a mark of solidarity with the thousands of people whose lives have been affected/destroyed by the fires and a sign if appreciation for the firefighters, many of them volunteers, risking their lives to bring the burning under control.
Although it rained all afternoon and became heavier into the earlier evening, the weather didn’t seem to dampen the turnout.
The lawn in front of the Library was quickly packed. I asked a police officer how many people he thought were there: “No idea. Loads.”
There were people of all ages. This is not ‘only’ student activism. This is an issue that affects everyone.
I’d estimate 5-10,000, as the space filled up quickly and still people were arriving with many spreading out onto the surrounding streets.
The crowd was good natured and relaxed.
I couldn’t hear the speakers but the band was good and the crowd chants were clear. Views were very clear: “Fuck you, ScoMo! We deserve a future too”.
The protest was scheduled to march down Swanston Street, and was gearing up to do so but I had to leave before they started walking – ferry to catch.
There were police officers in attendance – all looking calm and relaxed – and this looked set to be a very peaceful protest.
Demands for an election were warning up the marchers as they prepared to walk.
I doubt that this will be the last protest criticising government inaction on the bushfires.
If you want to help, this website has a list of the causes – communities, firefighters, animal rescue, etc – that you could support. Over $140M(AUD) has been donated.
The damage done by these fires and prevention of further fires is going to need a longterm response.