This opinion piece by 97-year-old Uniting Church Minister, Rev. Alan Stuart, was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 29th November, 2023. It was after he was arrested, along with 108 others, for blockading the world's largest coal port.
See also this interview in SBS TV
I never would have guessed that, at 97, I would be arrested on a small boat blockading the world’s largest coal port for a climate protest. But last Sunday, at Rising Tide’s People’s Blockade, that’s what happened.
Along with more than 100 other people, I was arrested at the end of a 32-hour flotilla blockade of the Newcastle coal port, with hundreds more supporting us from the beach.
I did this for my grandchildren. I did this because I was inspired by my two granddaughters, Jasmine and Alexa, who are working so hard to address the climate crisis we face. I have been so proud watching both girls try so hard to get their voices heard for so many years. They’ve signed petitions, written letters, organised rallies, visited politicians, and educated the community. Jasmine has studied hard and is now a renewable energy engineer, working to be part of the solution.
They have tried asking nicely, and their voices have continued to be ignored by our government. And then, in the past year, I have watched both my granddaughters get arrested for climate protests. It was hard to watch. I was scared for their safety and I wished they didn’t have to do it.
Photo credit: Brydie Piaf
But more than anything, the fact they were standing up for what they believed in deeply inspired me. So I felt it was up to me to show them I am willing to do all I can to help protect their future and the future of other people. I have never done anything like this before. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, but I decided I needed to stand with my family and do what I can to help stop new coal.
As a Uniting Church minister, I have spent all my life caring for people. Taking this action was just another way of showing that love and care, not only for my loved ones, but also for people who are already being impacted by climate change and for future generations.
This includes caring for workers who will be impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels. That’s why it was really important for me to know that Rising Tide was calling for funding for a fair transition for workers by introducing a 75 per cent tax on coal export profits to go towards funding that transition.
When I see how many people are dying from extreme weather like floods, storms and fires that are exacerbated by climate change, I find it incredibly distressing. As a minister, part of my job throughout my whole life has been taking funeral services and caring for people when loved ones die. I see how much of an impact every single death has on their loved ones and their community. So, when I think about the scale of death and suffering that will occur because of climate change, I find it devastating and almost incomprehensible. Every single life is sacred, and we should be doing all that we can to protect that life.
My eldest son, Christopher (who had also never done anything like this before), joined me on a little pink dinghy and another friend rowed us out to join the blockade. I hit my back on the back of the boat sitting down, but it didn’t hurt for long. Everyone was very supportive but unfortunately, the batteries in my hearing aids went flat, so I only heard a little of what they said.
When I was arrested, the police towed my boat back to a jetty and helped me off. I heard lots of cheering as I got out and as we walked by supporters. Later I was surprised when my youngest son told me they were cheering for me. I had no idea.
Afterwards, it was lovely meeting the two youngest people who were arrested, Myles and Rosie, both 15 years old. There are so many inspiring young people fighting for their future.
I am sad that this type of action is needed, but until the government listens we need to keep up the pressure.