‘50 years of Friends of the Earth - fighting for environmental and social justice’
It’s our birthday, and it's a big one! This year, Friends of the Earth Melbourne is turning the big 5-0! That's 50 years of defending and protecting forests and waterways, standing as allies in the struggles for First Nations’ self-determination and land rights, opposing uranium mining, protesting the destruction of war, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and championing a just transition away from extractive industries.
In the early 1970s, a wave of progressive politics was sweeping the world. In Australia, the peace movement was opposing the war in Vietnam, and a resurgent Land Rights movement had established the Tent Embassy in Canberra. The women’s movement was changing how society worked, while the gay and lesbian liberation movements were taking to the streets and driving profound change. And the environmental movement was flourishing.
In Melbourne, people had heard about Friends of the Earth – a rapidly growing network of environmental activists who were grassroots and local but connected globally.
Back when FoE started in 1973, Australia was still killing whales. There was lead in the petrol, which was impacting kids in the suburbs around FoE’s home in Fitzroy. There was a nuclear industry which was determined to see mass scale uranium mining and a large network of nuclear reactors across the country.
50 years on, Friends of the Earth Melbourne has grown into a smart and effective grassroots campaigning organisation that gets results. Victoria now leads the country with its policies on climate action, renewable energy, and a ban on fracking - all as a direct result of collaboration between Friends of the Earth and communities across Victoria. It is by leveraging this grassroots power that we have been able to transform our energy system to protect our climate and environment.
Download our latest Poster Newsletter here - to read just a few of the historic community wins across the decades that have mobilised movements, resisted extractive industries, and transformed the political landscape.
Total ban on whaling in Australian waters. FoE organised protests around the International Whaling
Commission in Canberra in June, in coordination with Friends of the Earth Canberra and Project Jonah. Finally, whaling was banned in Australia in 1978. Following the announcement, we campaigned for a whale sanctuary in Australian territorial waters, a ban on the import of whale products, and for Australia to take a proactive role in international forums to secure global protection for all species of whale from whaling.
Our Food Co-op was established in 1975. Since then, we have diverted thousands of reusable containers, jars, and bags from landfill; locally composted over 15 years of organic food waste from our cafe; and have been saying no to plastic bags for over 45 years. Today, as a not-for-profit enterprise, every cent spent in-store on bulk goods, groceries and cafe meals goes straight back into keeping our grassroots community thriving.
Lead Petrol Phased Out. Working with local community groups on Punt Rd and community health centres, FoE ran a significant community campaign to highlight negative impacts of lead pollution on early childhood development. After a decade of FoE campaigning against lead in petrol, with the oil industry fighting back hard, leaded fuel began to be phased out in the mid-1980s and was totally banned in the early 2000s.
Stopping leach mining of gold in Victoria. In 1983 FoE Melbourne worked with the Aboriginal Mining Information Centre as part of a successful campaign to stop this destructive form of mining.
We hosted two Indigenous Solidarity Conferences in 1997 and 1998. These two ground-breaking conferences brought together impacted first nations communities and environmental activists in a forum for first nations people to share stories and build collaborations. The conference attendees included First Nations Women opposing radioactive waste dumps, the construction of a bridge through a women’s cultural site, and a lead zinc mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria, who shared their stories and built alliances that developed into several FoE solidarity campaigns.
Direct action to protect forests. More than 50 direct actions were organised by Friends of the Earth in the late 90’s, calling for alternative options to the destruction of native forests for paper. One of the more dramatic was a blockade of the 'extinction express' – a train carrying whole logs from Bairnsdale in Gippsland to the Midways woodchip mill near Geelong for export to be used in paper production.
FoE Melbourne worked with community activists from Geelong and the Otways to occupy the Midways woodchip mill on many occasions. Ultimately an Australian recycled paper industry was created.
First prosecution on a breach of logging permit. In 1994 FoE with the support of the Environmental Defenders Office took a forestry company to VCAT over logging breaches in a drinking water catchment in the Dandenong Ranges and won the case. It was first successful legal win against a logging company in Victoria’s history.
A huge win in Jabiluka. In the mid 1990s, we collaborated with the Mirrar traditional owners and
other environmental groups to coordinate months-long direct actions in Kakadu to oppose the uranium mine. FoE played a vital role in the cities, bringing people to the actions. In 2003, a historic win saw Rio Tinto / ERA give up its uranium mine plans, and commit to rehabilitate the Jabiluka mine site.
Stopping the radioactive waste dump. Federal governments have tried for decades to impose a radioactive waste dump on unwilling communities in a number of locations. FoE supported the senior Aboriginal women from the in South Australia to oppose the dump planned for their country, including through our Radioactive Exposure Tours and hosting the Kungkas in Melbourne for the Indigenous Solidarity conference. In 2004, then PM John Howard eventually abandoned plans for the dump in SA.
Goolengook protected. The Goolengook forest in far east Gippsland is home to Spot-tail Quoll, Long Footed Potoroo, Sooty Owl, Powerful Owl, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, and Greater Gliders and contains rare warm temperate/cool temperate “Overlap Rainforest”. It was threatened by logging when it was ‘discovered’ by FoE activists, who started to campaign for its protection.
Land justice and Red Gums. The Red Gum forests and wetlands of the Barmah Forest on the Dhungala / Murray River are part of the lands of the Yorta Yorta people. In 2009, after 12 years of working with First Nations groups, we helped win the establishment of a chain of new River Red Gum National Parks along the Murray, Goulburn and Ovens rivers in northern Victoria. In 2010 the Barmah National Park was proclaimed - the first Joint Management agreement in the state, which was between Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and the State of Victoria, with a plan to nurture Barmah National Park back to health.
A revolution in renewable energy. With the Coalition coming to power in Victoria in 2010, they
blocked off much of the state to wind energy and gutted the Climate Change Act, we established Yes 2 Renewables, which worked to build broad based community support for renewable energy. Shifting the debate and demonstrating strong community support for the clean energy revolution, we were able to shift the political narrative and subsequent governments rebuilt the Climate Act, restarted the Renewable Energy Target (the VRET), and committed to Emission Reduction Targets.
Fracking is banned in Victoria. In 2011, Victoria faced a massive threat from onshore gas drilling, which would have used the process of fracking to access the gas and damaged farms, land, water, and local communities. Working with 75 regional communities, we coordinated a 5-year campaign that won the first permanent ban on fracking in Australia. The ban was enshrined in the state’s constitution in 2021.
Brataualung Forest Park announced in Strzelecki Ranges. We have campaigned for the protection of old growth and cool temperate rainforest catchments of the Strzelecki Ranges since the 1990’s. After decades of collaboration with Friends of Gippsland bush, the Brataualung Forest park was announced in July 2018. The Protection of rainforest catchments in Agnes River, Franklin River, Dingo Creek, Albert River and College Creek has ensured habitat preservation for 800-900 Strzelecki Koalas, who previously lost 40% of their habitat to bushfires and plantation logging.
Emissions reductions in the era of climate impacts. From 2017 FoE mobilised community sentiment around the need for science-based emissions reduction targets for Victoria. In 2022 after 4 years of creative actions and alliance building to put pressure on the Andrews government, they finally announced that Victoria will reduce its emissions by 45-50 percent by 2030.
Native forest logging will end in Victoria in 2024. With the help and support from so many over the years, together we have brought forward the transition date from 2030 to January 1 2024. It’s been a long fight for many and a testament to the power of the people raising their voices and organising effectively for a campaign so dear to many people’s hearts. A range of tactics over more than four decades - from court cases and citizen science, to lobbying and direct actions - delivered this fantastic win.We have argued for an end to native logging but have always said it needs to be predicated on funding for a fair transition. We will continue advocating for the best protections possible for forests over the next 7 months and working closely with communities and the broader movement to ensure the best possible outcome for the forests of Victoria.
Thank you to Nicky Minus for their amazing 50 years of FoE Poster included in this issue. Nicky is a Naarm-based artist, graphic designer and unionist making work in support of grassroots and activist campaigns. They are a member of the Workers Art Collective, collaborating frequently with this group to run placard and banner workshops for protests, strikes and other actions. They are also FoE Melbourne’s digital storyteller. Check out their work on Instagram @nickyminus