The Australian Movement against Uranium Mining: Its Rationale and Evolution

Marty Branagan


This paper begins with a brief historical overview of the Australian movement against uranium mining, before focussing on two major campaigns: Roxby and Jabiluka. It describes the reasons the activists gave at the time for their blockades of the Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia in 1983 and 1984. These reasons – such as perceptions that the industry is unsafe - have changed little over time and were the basis for the campaign against the proposed Jabiluka mine in the Northern Territory in 1998. They continue to be cited by environmental groups and Aboriginal Traditional Owners to this day as new situations arise, such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

The paper then describes how the movement evolved between the Roxby and Jabiluka blockades, with changes to the movement’s philosophy, strategy, tactics and internal dynamics. This analysis includes a comparison between two anti-nuclear bike rides, one a year after the 1984 Roxby blockade and involving some of the same activists, and another at the time of the Jabiluka blockade. This author was present at all these events, and provides an emic (insider) perspective within a longitudinal participant-observation methodology. Although this perspective obviously has a subjective element, the paper fills a gap in that there is little written history of these blockades (particularly Roxby) and more generally of Australian resistance to uranium mining, let alone the aspects of nonviolence and movement evolution. It is an introductory history of these campaigns, examining the direct action components, the practicalities of nonviolent campaigning, and the evolution of Australian anti-uranium activism.

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