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[ Remembering the FoE Rides against Uranium ]
Melbourne always managed to have more riders than from Sydney, which is surprising given the longer distance involved. I suspect part of the reason for this is the stronger bicycle culture in Melbourne with its flatter geography. The 1977 ride against Uranium from Sydney was large enough for three different routes. This included a ride via Wollongong, Moss Vale and Goulburn; a central west route which went over the Blue Mountains via Katoomba, Lithgow, Bathurst, Orange and Cowra. A third route went straight down the Hume Highway for those with minimal time. Riders from Melbourne also took different routes in self-sufficient decentralised groups.
Cyclists once again met up in Yass with Banjo Patterson Park being a sea of tents and the Soldiers Memorial Hall also being utilised for cooking, sleeping and planning for our protests and occupation of the parliament House lawns in Canberra.
The last day cycling from Yass to the outskirts of Canberra was like touring in a critical mass with hundreds of cyclists. On the outskirts of Canberra we formed up into a long line two abreast. This formation was maintained most of the way into Canberra, but massed up near Civic. Eight cyclists were arrested on the Commonwealth Avenue bridge in Canberra due to confrontational tactics by the police. The Canberra Times of Thursday 19th May 1977 reported on the front page: "Violence in Uranium Protest .... Eight arrested after Bridge blocked." Reading further on you find the real reason for the bridge being blocked by cyclists:
Mr Max Phillips, 25, a sociology student from Adelaide, explained how the trouble began on the bridge. He said he was in the southbound lane about 2pm when a car hit his bicycle.
"When I looked around I saw an orange Valiant with a Canberra citizen bearing a wide grin", he said.
The demonstrators had then stopped and sat down in the middle of the road, obstructing traffic.
One of the cyclists told the Canberra Times that police had said the responsible people should move off and then they would start clearing the irresponsible. When nothing happened the police arrested four people. One was Mr Bill Lichacz, one of the main organisers.
Later scuffles broke out when police moved the cyclists.
Police attempts to push back the demonstrators to clear a path for the waiting traffic were hampered many times by the large number of bicycles, which made the job of crowd control much more difficult.
Noticably absent is any indication of police action against the offending motorist who ran into the bicycle of Max Phillips. I remember finding myself in front of a paddy wagon taking away arrested cyclists. I did not attempt to stop in front of the vehicle but cycled extremely slowly before a burly copper charged at me from the side and pushed and dumped myself and my bicycle out of the path of the paddy wagon. Eventually the cyclists consensed to leave the bridge and cycle the short distance to the parliament house lawns to set up our tents.
Over the next few days protests continued in Canberra:
"Demonstrators rode bicycles and walked, peacefully, carrying placards, to Civic from the lawns of Parliament House, where, organisers said, more than 500 demonstrators had set up tents as part of an 'alternative energy festival'. They went to the Department of Natural Resources, in Hobart Place, where they put up placards and chanted. About 70 of them invaded the department's office in the AMP building, putting up stickers. They were ushered out by policemen. They then went to the department's office in Tasman House to talk to the Secretary, Mr James Scully. Policemen stopped them in the foyer. Then they went to the Civic shopping area. An organiser, Mr John Holmes, said the protest was aimed simply at getting media exposure on the uranium-use issue." (Canberra Times 21 May 1977 Page 9)
Ironically, at the same time as the above protest in Canberra, conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was telling school students in Hobart "that there seemed to be very little forseeable industrial use of solar energy and that coal was a much better prospect". Thus research in solar energy technology has effectively been hobbled by governments, with continuing priority funding into non-renewable fossil fuel technology, with its high green house gas emission problems, and its entrenched corporate elites.
Cycling protests were definitely proving popular and a powerful manifestation of the campaign to Stop Uranium Mining.
Sources: Canberra Times May 19,1977; Canberra Times May 21, 1977; The Age May 19, 1977 (P3); SMH May 19, 1977, recollections by John Englart.
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