Real Media came across Julie Macken when we heard her voice describing the 2019/20 Australian wildfires in a recording used as part of a protest at the British Museum. The event, organised by BP or not BP? marked the opening of the BP-sponsored Nero: the man behind the myth exhibition. As part of the performance, which included three violinists and a troupe of ‘fire-dancers’, Julie’s voice could be heard (on a smuggled sound system) describing the devastating wildfires, which she experienced first-hand while working as a Rural Fire Service volunteer.
Julie Macken began covering climate change in the early 1990s when she was working for around a decade as an investigative journalist at a national newspaper, the Australian Financial Review. She then worked as a consultant for Peter Garrett in the opposition Labour Party, with various unions, and in the financial sector trying to raise money for wildlife corridors. She moved to Greenpeace for five years, worked with ActionAid, and ran the Greens’ election campaigns in New South Wales. Currently she is researching a doctorate – a psycho-analytical investigation of how Australia became “a nation that tortures refugees” – while working part-time at the Justice and Peace office of the Sydney arch-diocese.
She also somehow found the time to work with the Rural Fire Service for the past couple of years. The RFS is entirely made up of volunteers who train at the weekend, theoretically supplied with equipment and protective clothing by the government, but often working with damp handkerchiefs instead of masks, and with limited or missing equipment and trucks.
This vast range of experience puts Julie in a position to speak about the way politics in Australia has been corrupted. The country actually worked against reaching agreement on strong climate action at the Conference of the Parties (COP) summits, mainly because of the power of its coal lobby. Like in the UK, the capture of the media by extreme right-wing oligarchs has allowed populist clown Scott Morrison to stay in power, while racist treatment of refugees has reached a point where a new law has been passed threatening life imprisonment simply for trying to escape repression or the effects of climate change.
During the Australian summer of 2018/19, unprecedented wildfires spread across the ancient forests of Tasmania, partly due to new weather patterns – lightning storms without any rain. As a result, worried fire chiefs asked Scott Morrison to warn him of the coming summer and asking for overseas help, but he ignored them, and the megafires later became world news. Near Sydney, the ancient forests in Grose Valley went up in flames, and at one point the city was surrounded by three mega-fires, shrouding it in a haze of smoke which stopped people from going outside.
Thousands of RFS volunteers fought day and night against infernos so fierce they created their own weather systems. Thirty six people died, more than a billion animals were killed, over 2000 houses and many millions of acres of wilderness were destroyed. Much of the land was burnt so hot that it was sterilised by the heat and will take decades to show signs of life.
The thing is that all of this was predicted more than a decade ago, and yet virtually nothing was done to prevent it, and even though the cause is known and it’s predicted to happen again, the Australian government and a handful of energy corporations are going ahead with the Burrup Hub, a huge natural gas project in the remote north-west of the continent.
The Burrup Peninsula is home to the greatest collection of rock art in the world. The ultra-hard mineral red rock in the area breaks into stunning boulder formations as changing weather patterns cause it to expand and contract, and for tens of thousands of years, Indigenous people have sculpted depictions of animals and nature on these boulders. Despite the historic and cultural significance of this land, companies such as BP and Shell are in partnership with the Woodside corporation in this massive Burrup Hub natural gas extraction project, which will develop two offshore gas fields as well as onshore fracking.
The scheme provides very little local benefit, with just a few thousand jobs on offer in an area where more than a million people are employed in other sectors. Critics describe it as the most polluting project ever to be developed in Australia, and over the course of its life it will emit 6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution, with grave consequences for the climate.
Julie Macken believes the project is likely to go ahead, despite being so bad for so many people. This demonstrates how corrupt the so-called democratic system is, and how change from beyond that system is the only way we will have a safe future.