Inside the Collection

World Environment Day, the changing nature of protest

Benny Zable dressed in his protest costume
Benny Zable Image courtesy Powerhouse Museum

The theme for World Environment Day (WED) in 2011 is ‘Forests: nature at your service’.
Over the last forty years there have been many protests in Australia on a wide variety of issues. Significant among them is preserving forests for now and the future. Protests on this issue have ensured that there are a range of forests, like those at Terania Creek, the Daintree, Chaelundi State Forest and some of the South East forest in Eden, New South Wales. Some areas of the South-East forests have recently been incorporated into National Parks, others continue to be woodchipped.

The forest protests in the twentieth century have involved the strong presence of people like the mime artist Benny Zable. He has opposed the logging of the South- East forests and the damming of the Franklin River as well as mining on Fraser Island. His protest costume emblazoned with the slogan ‘Consume Be Silent And Die’ was on display in the Museum’s permanent exhibition Ecologic for nine years. Benny was often arrested at protests simply for standing there.

Protest on environmental issues have taken numerous forms, like the community action of 13 middle class housewives who combed with the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the 1970s to stop the development on bush land in Sydney. Known as The Battle for Kellys Bush the struggle took ten years to change legislation and create a park It is regarded as the beginning of the Green Bans.

Kellys bush protest stand Text "Kelly's Bush"
2010/ 59/1 Kellys bush protest stand, used at one of the community awareness events, Hunters Hill early 1970s. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Organisations such as Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society have played an important part in the process of environmental change. They have raised awareness on the many issues and mobilised the public.
The organisation ‘Clean up the Harbour’ was begun by yachtsman Ian Kiernan in 1989 and evolved into ‘Clean up Sydney’, and eventually into Clean up Australia. Its power is such that it has gone global to become ‘Clean up the World’ with an estimated 35 million people from 120 countries taking part every year.

Clean up the Harbor Flag
Clean up the harbour sign. Collection Powerhouse Museum

As Ian Kiernan describes Clean Up Australia and its events as “ Friendly, non-confrontational, but a very powerful protest ”. Interview 2000

With massive changes in the way information is spread, a consequence is the way we protest. Community action through organisations like Earth hour and pressure groups like GetUp! used the tools of social media to their benefit. They provoke community engagement and enable increasing numbers of people to have a voice. The outcome is an increasing pace and impact on social and environmental change.


Written by Anni Turnbull, Curator Design and Society

3 responses to “World Environment Day, the changing nature of protest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *