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Sunday 9 December 2012

You're gonna need a bigger park....

Sunday, the 18th of November, 2012 started as any other Sunday in Fremantle. Hipsters gathered at Cafes, each claiming they’d put their woollen cardigans on that morning, before they were cool. They were joined by old Italian gentlemen trying to outdo each other with gesticulations as they sipped coffee you could stand spoons in.  Parents herded their children into cars headed for the nearest sportsground, revellers from the night before did the barefooted walk of shame from strangers houses, and the latest bunch of nutters to board a sheep ship rattled tins at the Markets to raise bail money.

But something was different. Something was in the air, something electric, like the moment before the lightning hits and the thunder rolls, when your hair stands up on end and your arm raises goose bumps with corrugations a trainee Shire grader driver would be proud of. You could smell it, rain on the horizon, or far off smoke from a distant fire. Or the dust of a thousand country cars as they weaved their way through the unfamiliar bituminised roads of Perth. If you build it, they will come, and come they did, in a display of pride that made more than one old cockie’s eyes moisten and voice falter before the day was out.

The residents can’t have been too sure what to make of the Landcruiser that pulled up alongside Merv Cowan Park at 7.30am. It must’ve looked as though the Clampets had arrived to Beverley Hills, with two barbeques, tables, chairs, countless eskies, a couple of tents and a suitcase stacked on the tray like a campers game of Jenga. Nor would they be sure what to make of the diminutive, boot clad, jean wearing young lady who jumped from the driver seat with a cigarette in one hand and the other instinctively cupped to the shape of a rum can. The reflex grip of the can was not surprising, considering Nicole’s steadfast refusal to let the lead car out of her sight during the trip from last night’s camp site, no matter how much green or otherwise was left in any orange traffic light. Nicole, along with her Mum Evy, were the roadies for the weekend, hauling the gear down the mighty Brand from Geraldton.

By 8.00am the sounds of sizzling snaggers echoed across the pristine morning, and the smell was wafting over the Stirling Bridge. Banners were raised as we staked our claim on the hill, the LIVE EXPORT SUPPORTERS sign clearly visible from the river. Already a crowd was forming, lured by a snagger, and more importantly, the chance to stare down the people trying to ruin them. You see, this is why we were all here, why, in the middle of harvests, of musters, of shearing, stock carting, fencing and any other number of jobs, we’d downed tools and trekked to suburbia. Because in a couple of hours’ time, the Stirling Bridge would be lined with activists wishing to shut down what we do. And after the last eighteen months and more, sitting back and doing nothing just wasn’t going to cut it. Not today.

By 9.00am, the designated start time, we began to worry. We’re gonna need a bigger park. And the piddly little PA system we’d bought just wasn’t going to cut it. The one thousand placards were being handed out like cards at the poker table, the pile of signs for folk to wear was disappearing like my chips at the poker table, and the roll of hay string we’d bought to tie them on was positively starting to smoke as lengths were peeled off. Poor Mike and Mick worked like slaves over the two hot plates, as kilo after kilo of snags were laid on then whipped off soon as they’d stopped kicking.

The day officially started after a tall gangly looking fellow managed to escape the hordes of media long enough to say a few hellos and thankyous. From there the microphone was passed to Catherine Marriott, whose words of wisdom, advice and assurance were not lost on the two hundred people there listening. Unfortunately the other thousand or more further back couldn’t hear a bloody word, so instead politely nodded and clapped along with the others. Up next was Blythe Canlon, whose experience in the Middle East over the Eid festival was very interesting, again, if you could hear it. Plans were already being made for next year to bring a speaker stack that AC/DC would balk at.

Meg Migdley took to the stage next, giving her perspective as a horse trainer, and about the shocking revelation that slow race horses become dog food. Obviously who ever thought that was a worthwhile story on the 7.30 report never followed the short career of Sir Lap-o-Nac (read it backwards), or heard a race caller proclaim if a horse doesn’t hurry up it’ll be doing laps at the greyhound track next week.

Finally, came a surprise packet. A young lad by the name of Spencer, whose inspiring proclamation that he’d just finished school and was heading into a career in agriculture despite the negativity around the place gave heart to many. In short, his message from the next generation to the current was “Don’t worry. We got this.” At this point a sudden wind must’ve blown some dust into a few people’s eyes, as in unison a hundred hands were raised to wipe away a tear.

Then came the cry we’d been waiting for. “They’re on the bridge!” Sure enough, a seething black mass was stretching out over the concrete walkway, having torn themselves away from their soy Frappuccino’s and general hand wringing activities for the morning. They seemed to move slowly, probably since every available parking bay within a square kilometre was taken up by country plated cars, and walking more than eight hundred metres may well have been the hardest work any have done for a while. We could see the enemy. This was why we were here.

Many years ago a famous poet wrote of a horse rider’s decent down a mountain side. I sincerely hope he was watching from somewhere that morning. The sight of hundreds upon hundreds of people from the landscape he wrote so intimately about pouring down the steep steps of Merv Cowan Park would’ve given him goose bumps. Now, I knew we had a crowd in the Park. What I didn’t know was there was another crowd waiting at the base for us. A stock agent at the base later told me he’d counted fifteen hundred and forty five people coming down those steps. Even taking in the usual ten percent error margin of stock agents, that’s bloody impressive. The two crowds merged and as one swarmed along the foreshore like a horde of angry Scots, though thankfully, minus the bagpipes. The police officer stationed under the bridge took one look at us coming and stood aside, radioing back to base with the now immortal words of “We’ve got a thousand angry farmers here, we may have a situation.” Not ten minutes later across the bridge screamed the Police Mounted Unit’s truck, in an obvious a public relations move designed to win the horse loving country folks approval.

The wannabe Occupy movement on the bridge were stunned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They are the “majority,” they have the WSPA commissioned survey of inner North Melbourne suburbs to prove it. As General Custer once (and only once) said “Where’d all these F%$king Indians come from?” They knew we were coming, but isn’t live export only supplied by a handful of graziers and rich pastoralists? Why the Hell were farmers here? And vet students? Aren’t vet students also Uni students? Uni students should be on the bridge. This slap in the face to their pre conceived conceptions was doing their heads in. So they did what they normal do when confronted with the truth. Stuck their heads in the sand and turned their backs to us. And came face to face with seventeen massive stock trucks. They were the meat in a farmer and truck sandwich, an ironic phrase in itself.

Stories will be told of the day Leedsy stuck it to the nutters on the bridge. How he downed tools Saturday to prepare, rallied the drivers and led the Convoy of Courage into the enemies territory. The chatter over the airwaves was deafening as passing fellow truckers saw a glimpse of the banner emblazoned rolling mass of steel, thundering down the highway like cavalry pouring from the hills in a surprise attack. “Stick it to the Greenies mate,” “Good on ya’s!” and “If I could turn this truck around I’d be with ya mate,” came the cry over channel 40.

The police had closed down the left hand lane in preparation, fearing the smell of empty cattle crates may prove to be too much for the delicate inner city palates of the protesters.  The line of trucks rolled over the bridge slowly, very slowly. Clearly Leedsy had put some thought into this, and wanted to make sure any  iron deficient brains of the bystanders had time the read the banners.

As well as possible reading difficulties, some of the bridge folk seemed to have trouble grasping the concept of physics, thinking that a thirty something tonne truck and trailer moving  at twenty kilometres per hour has less kinetic energy than one lady standing still. Fortunately for them, Leedys had foreseen this also, and had adjusted his brakes to a hair trigger. As protesters flung themselves in front of trucks like lemmings, this gave the guys at the rear a perfect chance to test their new air horns. You can now add hearing to the list of possible protester deficiencies.

The trucks finished their first lap and circled back preparing for another pass. Things were getting heated on the bridge. Someone, obviously concerned that the protesters considered all farmers to be heartless and cruel, took the opportunity to display some of his free range eggs to the line up. In hindsight, he probably should’ve stopped the car before handing out his free samples, but given the mood of the freshly frazzled crowd, it’s not surprising he didn’t.  Meanwhile, on the foreshore below, farmers were beginning to worry for their opposites above. It was a hot day, most of these folk had a vampire like complexion and all were wearing black. Any good farmer knows hydration is important, so decided to encourage the people above that a swim in the river would do them good. Not surprisingly, this was taken the wrong way by the mob, except for one charming young lady who had clearly been so swayed by our presence that she offered by way of placard to have intercourse with farmers, their families and indeed the entire live export industry. We are a pretty free thinking bunch, but not that free, and to avoid her taking offence at our polite refusal, Police moved in to remove her generous offer.

Faced with the knowledge that there simply were not enough Police on ground to prevent another lemming mass suicide attempt, the second pass of the trucks was aborted. Leedsy was probably slightly relieved. Cleaning greenie off the radiator grill is so time consuming and the paperwork is a nightmare. They rumbled off, heartened in the knowledge they’d backed their people and done their selves proud.

The protesters were beat. Even with the advantage of a city to draw on, public transport, living within walking distance and the full knowledge we were coming, they managed a crowd of a thousand. As yet we are yet to receive thanks from their organiser for the free publicity and incentive to their otherwise little known gathering. They moved off, a ragtag disbanded group, as down below backs were slapped, hands shaken and eyes dried. Then, like a summer storm that sprang up from nowhere, we too were gone, back to our lands and homes, leaving no trace of our ever being there, save for memories and stories that will be told to Grandchildren. “I was there when we said ‘We’ve had a gutful.’”
Video link to the rally -

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Raelene Hall said...

A fantastic overview of an amazing day and the goosebumps arose again as I read this. Well done to you Michael, Gemma, your extended family and every single person who helped out and attended. It was a proud day for Aussie farmers when we finally said we've #hadagutful and the whole world heard.

Anonymous said...

Very, very proud to be involved in this industry and my fellow Australians that participated in the day.Well done Cripps family and all the helpers who helped make it happen.

Fiona said...

Congratulations on this amazing effort, the video brought tears to my eyes and made me feel a depth of pride in what we do. Thankyou to all involved.

Jim 'Ironbark' McDonald said...

Well done MT and as always incredibly well written.

Unknown said...

Love it Michael and so well written once again. Us Queenslanders would of loved to have been there in the flesh but we were definitely there is spirit. Well done to all your supporters and we are another Primary Producer who's #hadagutful.

Gus Whyte said...

Well done Michael, what a great review of a wonderful day. Really big pat on the back to all the fantastic people involved in organising to "park-in". Do you operate a sheep depot or a depot for part time Journos?

BB said...

Great post Michael... you did great things. And you are very funny!

You know what I really hope? I really hope that some of those on the bridge end up standing beside farmers and fighting to help us produce great food for the world. I know I am a dreamer, but THAT would be a truly marvellous moment.

Fleur McDonald said...

Absolutely fantastic - when i watched the link to the video, I got tears in my eyes. I'm so proud to part of an industry which supports its own.

Flik Taylor said...

Well done to MT and all the organisers. I was there and it was the most inspiring thing I have ever been a apart of. When those trucks came into view and our supporters lifted their voices in unison to cheer I wiped a few tears from my eyes.... it was amazing. #hadagutful and not willing to be dictated to anymore.

Anonymous said...

Well written - When are the press going to tell both both sides of the story? All they can do is pick up any negative thought and run with it. Yes we have had a gutful of it and if it keeps up we will all have empty pockets. We are not bad people just trying to feed ourselves, the Nation and make an honest living.

Anonymous said...

A big thanks to Michael for the laugh and a big thanks to Leedsy for everything he does for the Livestock industry and advocating for Heavy Vehicles.

From those who couldn't get there..

Anonymous said...

Your open letter would do more to turn the other side than a hundred greenie hipster jokes. I just read them back to back. The open letter was well reasoned, and made your point better than a thousand placards on either side. This post has a lot of feeling in it, but it kills all the goodwill you had built up.

98% of those against live export as it stood aren't at the extreme. They're not going to keep going until the country is self righteously vegetarian. They likely just want to limit cruelty in a reasonable fashion. If they're being led by the thousands by a handful if extremists, it's likely the ones with the megaphones are the only ones that won't be shifted.

For the others; the ones that never got the whole story but would have listened to reason, well, driving a truck through a crowd of them was the worst thing you could have done. Now they've just got reinforcement in their that the half baked carefully picked facts that they've been told must be true; You just tried to run into a crowd of them with a truck. Obviously all the other stuff must be true too. And that's what they'll tell their friends and families when they go home.

I grew up in Wanneroo when was still mainly just bush. Years later I became good friends with someone that had grown up the western suburbs, and just didn't *get* stuff that I'd been told since before I could understand the words.

We decided we were going to go drive across to the eastern states, and so we were talking about what to bring. He seemed a bit confused as to why I thought we might need to bring anything much. Turns out they had never gone camping. I pointed out that things we wanted to take included quite a bit of water, and he was surprised that I wanted to bring more than just a bottle to fill along the way.

There was more of this sort of thing. It became rapidly obvious that my friend would somehow manage to die of exposure in Kings Park. I honestly didn't understand how he had managed to stay alive this long, or how on earth he had become so clueless.

Turns out that he'd not only never been camping, never been bushwalking, never put up a tent, never started a campfire, never needed to read a decent map, because his family just wasn't interested in that sort of thing so no one had shown him. He didn't believe me when I told him we got taught how to bandage snakebites in year 1. I was stunned he hadn't.

The first half of the trip I was half thinking that I'd turn my back and find him having done something mindbogglingly stupid, and a few times he did. Then there was the calm conversation through clenched teeth about road trains, breaking distances, and why when slamming on the brakes after overtaking so he could pull over had lead the truckie to be so gosh darned angry with us. He went pale when I explained that they had very near jacknifed trying to avoid turning us into a fine paste and what the consequences would be.

Thing is, shortly after this, and luckily not too far into the trip,he started thinking about what was actually around I'm and the greater consequences. Its not that he'd be so stupid to, say, drive up north without water now, its just that at the time he'd never been somewhere without scheme water, so it didn't occur. He realised at least some of what he didn't know. He wasn't stupid, and I only had to tell him once why you leave gates as you found them

Anonymous said...

(Cont.from prev comment)

So I work a desk job. I build computer networks and generally work with a bunch of people who probably don't actually think lattes grow on trees. Running cables, lifting 30kg servers and crawling through narrow places is about as hard as it gets physically, but they'll not sleep for 3 days if that's what it takes to get the internet back up for people (as half of them ended up having yo do between Christmas and New years). People tell them that their job is just surfing the net and being useless, but they have a much better idea about how reliant people are on the internet these days... The people giving them crap don't realise that if they need to call 000, their VoIP phone isn't going to do them much good without something for it to talk over. So when they get the fifth automatic page at 3am saying something else is broken they just deal with it.

I really don't think many of then would have ever thought about different breed of sheep, but I'm going to give them them a link to your open letter, which will make them think about it.

Next time someone tries an overly simplistic slogan to convince them who is only giving once side of the story that obviously it's totally black and white and why don't you sign this petition and turn up to this rally... well, instead I would bring popcorn.

Most of the people that poll as against live exports have never heard your story. They are not stupid. They are more than likely able to be convinced that it's not as black and white as it seems.

Getting your message out there is hard. It's literally your life and those of the people and families around you. It's blindingly obvious to you where this is going. Yes there are some people that are completely in disagreement with you and will never change their minds.

But please remember that even though they are the loudest and angriest and most organised, they are a tiny minority. And strangely enough a bunch of students protesting angrily barely makes news. They won't barely get a mention on their own.

But the rest are just people you haven't convinced yet. Don't alienate them even if they're on the other side of the bridge. Maybe they're already wondering if they're on the right side.

(Attempting to drive through then at this point of with anything that needs more than an A class license may possibly lead to some unintended bias)

Michael said...

Thank you Anon for that comment. You are right, lumping all those opposed in the vegan tofu hippy club isn't correct, but so far as making people laugh, it works a treat. The 1000 odd people on the bridge feel strongly enough about it to get up on a Sunday and stand in the sun for a few hours. I doubt anything I say or write will change their minds. It may however, bring a smile to a few peoples faces who could do with one.

Anonymous said...

So Michael, are you planning to have another "gathering" (for a lack of a better word)?
I dare say, as the last one reached the 1000 people, the next one would double or triple that number?
I look forward to a day when the agricultural community can start having a bit more sway in government, especially on rural issues.
It is funny how there are those extremist greenies out there, who are happy to jump into bed with anyone, yet they whinge and complain that the country girls and guys have no morals... Bit hypocritical, if you ask me.

Joanne Anand said...

Hey everyone. This is well written but seriously misinforming people. We aren't all a dark lemming mass and extremists and nutters and the rest as you are so desperately trying to portray us, you'll find there were people in the ban Live Export crowd who came from all walks of life, I myself just a normal, average mother and wife who had driven down to Fremantle on my own to protest the horrific treatment of gentle animals such as cows and sheep of whom I label as their animal names, not as 'stock.' I don't call myself a vegan, vegetarian or anything and am just fed up with crying over my dinner at night when I see cows, steer and sheep being treated atrociously in those places they are shipped to, where they go to meet their unwilling demise with beatings, tail snappings, eye gougings and the rest. I believe if we are truly civilised we can find better ways and methods which is all we are asking for and as much as you like to portray people like myself as out to ruin people's lives, it has absolutely nothing to do with farmers so please stop with all that. It is about the treatment of these intelligent, sentient beings after they have left the care of those farmers who I know do genuinely care about their animals. I am not a green, I am not a hippy and I am not anything. I am just a human being who respects my fellow species and who, in the face of the evidence which has been documented time and time again, wants to see compassionate changes put in place i.e. CCTV cameras in every slaughter house, jobs being brought back home so we can cherish those animals and treat them with the respect they deserve, and much, much harsher penalties for anyone daring to abuse or hurt those who are dying for us. I know many people like myself and when you care about animals, you ignore any kind of extremists because extremists do absolutely nothing for any cause. Labelling us as all the same is simply absurd and very wrong. You may have had a gut full because all you can see is the money you may lose but in the minds and hearts of people like myself, we have had a gut full of barbarism and the cowardly abuse we have seen proven to be happening as a part of the vile industry which is the live animal trade and we suffer more than you know at the sound of their bellows and the terror in their eyes. I've loved dogs and cats and I know that cows, sheep and pigs are no different so if I would be opposed to any dog or cat suffering in the same countries these 'farm' animals are being sent to, why wouldn't I speak up for them too? The real issues are being ignored here whilst people like myself are being made out to be trying to ruin people's lives. Well, it is so untrue and I will not stand for it. Let's all be honest and up front with one other here, from one hard working Aussie to another.

Michael said...

Joanne, like it or not, opposing this trade is ruining lives. If you read my comment above, I know very well you're not all vegan hippies. But the most loudest opponents are, and again, the post was more about raising spirits and creating smiles than a documentry style account of the day.