The history of the environmental groups in Queensland:
Friends of the Earth The First Phase: 1972-1978
Friends of the Earth Brisbane began its life in 1972, one year after the launch of Friends of the Earth Australia, as the Conservation Movement Group at the University of Queensland. With just ten key members, who were essentially a group of close friends, the group worked predominantly on conservation issues, focusing especially on the campaign to save Lake Pedder in Tasmania, and on the establishment and consolidation of National Parks locally. The group engaged in some direct action, especially around the issue of rubbish dumping in Miala National Park, but was equally committed to providing opportunities for its members to appreciate natural spaces recreationally. A lack of funding and a lack of organizational capacity provided by staff were consistently identified by the Conservation Movement Group as key impediments to a more ongoing identity.
In 1974, the group formally took on the identity of Friends of the Earth Queensland. Essentially, this followed a reassessment of direction from the CMG group, and a push to become activist in orientation and disposition. FoE Queensland would, from this point on adopt a radical political position, and move to campaign around ‘brown’ issues. It established an office shop-front on the corner of Milton Road and Petrie Terrace in the Brisbane inner city, and retained many of the members from the original UQ group, as well as attracting others who would remain with FoE Queensland for the next ten years.
Through 1975-76, FoE Queensland would begin what its members would look back on as the ‘radical era’. FoE Queensland moved to West End, to the Learning Exchange Office on Boundary Street. From this point on, West End would be a part of the FoE identity, as both radically informed the identity and context of each other. The group would begin three major campaigns: a No-Nukes campaign, that also advocated the end of uranium mining and the expansion of an alternative energy economy; a No- Freeways citizen action group that campaigned for better public transport and held regular bike rallies through Brisbane; and a Radical Ecology group, that would work to articulate the campaigns of FoE into a more comprehensive approach to politics and practices. In addition, there was a People Against Packaging campaign, and some initial work with the Reverse Garbage concept.
FoE Brisbane were to move again in 1977, this time to the West End Resource Centre in Vulture Street. The core campaigns remained, with the bike rallies continuing as a visible FoE initiative. Anti-Nukes and Alternative Energy was supplemented by an Anti-Uranium Shipment campaign. However, the radical position and approach adopted by FoE, especially on nuclear issues, was to place them as one of a number of organisation actively resisting the threats to civil liberties that were enacted under the reign of the ‘Hillbilly Dictator’ of Queensland, Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson. On September 4th, 1977, Sir Joh would announce legislation that would ban street marches and non-violent direct action. Protest marches, he announced, “would be a thing of the past…. Nobody, including the Communist Party or anyone else, is going to turn the streets of Brisbane into a forum.”
Ever defiant, an anti-uranium rally was held in Brisbane on October 22nd. More than 400 people were arrested and thrown into police wagons, and a newspaper in Melbourne would refer to the mayhem as ‘Joh’s War’. Resistance to the encroachment on civil liberties by the Queensland State Government would be a pre-occupation of FoE Queensland over the next four years.
1978 saw the launch of the first FoEQ Environmental Film Festival. Through 1977-78, FoE also began to forge more enduring links with other organisations and political entities in West End, such as the Red and Black Bookshop, and through developing solid links with SMG and LSO. These links would be important in the coming years, as the battle for the right to be an active citizen in the streets of Queensland ensued.