The Rise and Fall of a Teenage Climate Activist

Folks, at fifteen years of age, I took my first stumbling steps as an environmental protestor (aka: a public nuisance or village idiot, according to the wise and thoughtful sages on Facebook). 

So, before Greta, there was Greg!  The Green… as in naïve.

My mate and I were fishing in the Calliope River behind the Gladstone power station and our fun was being ruined by the fog of coal-fired smoke pouring over us from the station’s three giant stacks. 

We could barely see each other in the brownish haze, and little did we know just how harmful it was to breathe that stuff in. 

Wheezing our way home on our pushbikes, I proclaimed, “Someone needs to do something about this!” 

For some obscure reason, I decided it should be me.

Using the original internet (the Yellow Pages), I found the address of the environment office and the next day, my mate and I fronted at the counter.

A man who looked like a late 70’s version of Dilbert, popped round the corner.  “G’day lads, how can I help you?” he asked pleasantly.

“The, um, the ah, powerhouse, um, smoke, you have to do something about it,” I stammered, then added, “Please.” 

We might have been protestors, but there was no need to be ill-mannered.

“No worries,” he said, “What are your names fellas?”

We gave him our names then he said the words I have since come to dread hearing from any official: 

“I’ll look into it.”

Basically, this is code for another well-worn phrase which ends with the words: “…. and the horse you rode in on.”

I didn’t know that back then, so we pedalled home, thinking that because of us, Gladstone would be a much less smoky place. 

Smug mode initiated!   

Look, I was fifteen, and naïve, trusting, innocent and utterly gullible (actually, I still am in a lot of ways), but even now I’m really embarrassed to admit the following:

The next morning, I peered out my bedroom window fully expecting to see clear, blue skies over the three, big, stacks.

Back then I had so much faith in Government officials that I still can’t believe how many months went by before it finally dawned on me that nothing was going to change.

It would be another sixteen years before I saw any reduction in noxious smoke coming out of those stacks.

Still, I was very grateful for the following:   

  1. How the support of one good mate will give you much more courage than you’ll ever have on your own.
  2. That the man in the environment office didn’t start laughing until we had left the building.

Today, I’m delighted to see so many young people joining together to protest for a better, cleaner tomorrow.  And, if any of them are still listening to anyone over 40, then here’s some wise, and encouraging, words from an old American union campaigner who knew his stuff:

“First they ignore you.  Then they mock you.  Then they attack you.  Then you win.”

Well, I’ve been ignored and mocked, Greta’s still being attacked, but guess what’s coming round the corner!

You will make a difference (but just not as fast as you’d like… trust me on this).


This article first appeared in the Regrow Queensland e-zine. Check it out!

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