These Activists Held Up a Train, What Will You Do?

It was like something from the Wild West

Still from “Lifetime Guarantree”

Growing up in the South West of Western Australia has taught me many things, but one of the biggest things is the power of community and how a community can create real change. In the late 80s and early 90s, a movement was building momentum in the South West, particularly in a small town of Balingup. Groups were popping up all over the South West with the focus of saving the endemic forests from the horrific logging taking place.

More than half the forested area of these bio-regions have been leveled since the colonial occupation began in 1826. This continual destruction of our native forests had to be stopped. One of the biggest threats in the area for the native animals and the greater environment was the logging of these old-growth forests. It was going to take something momentous to stop this. All of their campaigning over the years had helped in small ways, but it wasn’t until they galvanized a plan that would draw all of the publics’ attention to this pocket of the South West.

Every day 20–30 carriages of mulched up native forest were passing through the small town of Balingup, multiple times a day, and this was going on under people’s noses. No one was privy to the fact our native forest was simply going to Japan to be made into low-grade items such as cardboard boxes and things of such devastating nature. It wasn’t going to take a simple rally to help stop this, but that’s what they would tell the majority of the community, to keep their greater plan a secret.

In 1994 the Friends of the Forest organised this “rally” and gathered people far and wide, with their drums, loud voices and passion, to walk from Birdwood Park into town. What these wonderful activists didn’t know, was that during the planning of this “rally”, they had uncovered a manual on How to Stop a Train in an Emergency. This was the catalyst for the greatest rally to ever take over this region.

Still from “Lifetime Guarantree”

They had people positioned back along the tracks with signs saying words, as instructed in the manual, to make the wood chip train stop exactly where they had designated it to stop. Right in the middle of town. As the group marched onward, their drumming reverberating through the valleys, their hearts were full of hope and their lungs were full of passion. There was no way the government or greater lobbyists were going to take their forests away from them.

As they reached the middle of town and the train came to a halt, the strong opposition shouting to “run over them”, they stood their ground. Cassandra, dressed in a blue tutu, flanked by two other activists, marched towards the train. They had someone ready with a ladder so Cassandra could climb and perform a symbolic dance atop the mulched up native forest. Behind her, an unfurled sign, in Japanese, explaining to them what they were buying was our endemic native forest. As Cassandra danced, and rain poured down, the crowd was euphoric. This symbolic finger to the government got itself showcased on National TV and moved the nation forward to further protect our old-growth forests.

Still from “Lifetime Guarantree”

As the crowd of activists cheered at their win, as the train pulled away, there was a real sense of unity in how each and every one of them felt. They had finally won. The power of this community inspired action and showed the government and greater community that they cared and weren’t going to sit around and let the beautiful forests surrounding them get towed away in trucks or trains.

This incredible action was all filmed and this short documentary I created, tells the true story of how a tiny town can change a nation when they all come together.

“Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world.”

I hope this short documentary inspires you to inspire change within your community and realise the power we have when we come together.

“Lifetime Guarantree”: short documentary on Vimeo by Sophia Armstrong

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Lover of cappuccinos, dogs and the environment.

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Sophia Armstrong

Sophia Armstrong

Lover of cappuccinos, dogs and the environment.

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