From its inception [in the 1970s], Friends of the Earth activists were strongly bicycle-oriented. Most rode bicycles to and from the office, wherever they were living. FoE provided a lot of support for bicycle actions for important initiatives such as Alan Parker’s Bicycle Institute of Victoria. This included periodic bicycle demonstrations in the Melbourne CBD. I am not sure how many drivers supported these actions − I am sure a lot were upset to be held up by the bicycle rabble. But we were tired of being killed and maimed on the roads and felt it was time for riders to push back against drivers.
I can’t remember who dreamed up the May 1975 bike ride against uranium mining and export. I am pretty sure it was Neil Barrett who came up with the idea. At any rate, it was a perfect concept for FoE. It was staged just after the Radical Ecology Conference held at Melbourne University over the Easter break.
Back at FoE, we had been organizing the first bike ride against uranium mining for many months. Organizing scores of riders was a huge logistical task given that we had almost no administrative infrastructure, but somehow, we managed. I joined the ride as it passed up Royal Parade heading north for the Hume Highway. Although I was fit, I began to really feel the pedals pushing back after about four or five hours. By the end of the second day, I was totally buggered.
But with each day that passed, we got stronger and used to the long riding hours. We’d pull into a small town and arrive at a local hall or church that had been sequestered somehow for the riders to doss down. A truck carried our gear and we’d lay down our sleeping bags, do bike repairs, and after a meal produced somehow by the support team, we’d “retire” to the local pub, then catch some sleep.
The Melbourne riders converged with the Adelaide ride in Yass. The next day was a short ride into Canberra. We struck our tents on the lawn opposite old Parliament House and began to seek meeting with the pollies. We also sent small groups of bicycles around Canberra to protest at various sites. I remember a bunch of us crowding into a lift with our bikes at a minerals and energy departmental office and the reaction of the office workers as we zipped around their building. It ranged from perplexed to bemused but not hostile. I am pretty sure we also rode en masse around Parliament House seeking to levitate it, but it stayed put.
Inside Parliament House, FoE Canberra activists were already walking the corridors. We spent a lot of time in the office of [environment minister] Moss Cass − I think some of us may have even slept in the outer office. In later years, the security services got wise, but that first year, we were fresh and new, and pretty much had the run of the town.
I don’t remember how we all got back to Melbourne with our bikes. The scariest moment on the ride for me was crossing a bridge where the Hume became two lanes only and some red-necks decided to drive their Holden ute at high speed down our side (their wrong side) of the highway forcing people up against the bridge wall. No-one was hurt badly on the ride, although we did have at least one prang when a rider came off and broke his collar bone.
This article is extracted from a history of the early years of FoE Australia: Peter Hayes, 2015, ‘Founding Friends of the Earth Australia: the Early Years’, http://friendsearthaustraliahistory.blogspot.com.au
Videos about the bike rides against uranium are posted at: www.australianmap.net/french-island/
From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/