*Luca, Anise and Nelly Yi and Harry Haggar (Photo: Isabella Garrido)
Like thousands of young people across Australia, Bega Valley siblings Luca, Anise and Nelly Yi, are part of the global School Strike for Climate movement.
Along with their friend Harry Haggar, they watched in shock as their cause was brought into vivid focus during this summer’s deadly bushfires.
It was Harry and several of his Mumbulla School classmates who organised the first Bega student climate strike and they’ve continued to hold regular protests in Littleton Gardens since.
“We sort of thought that Bega didn’t really have a strike so we thought that we should make one,” Harry explains.
For Luca, Anise and Nelly, it was their first time participating in a protest about climate change.
Luca says the reason he joined that first protest was to push the climate change message and to feel like he was doing something.
“You feel very helpless a lot of the time so it’s good to be able to feel like you can help in some way,” he said.
Anise has noticed how the community has changed since the fires began.
“A lot of people have changed. A lot of people look sad around the streets.”
Henry adds: “We have a couple of friends who don’t want to live here anymore because of the fires, so they’re either moving to town or moving away which is pretty sad.”
Bega’s student climate strikers (Report: Kate Atkinson)
Earlier this month, in a room at the back of the Bega Valley Shire Library, Kalpa Goldflam and Vivian Harris, hosted a meeting for community members interested in learning about climate activism.
Kalpa and Vivian are members of Bega’s Climate Action Mobilisation (CAM) group.
John Turville is new to climate activism and attended the workshop because he wants to engage in more significant change.
“I’m sick of being like a bystander, because this is the third natural event we’ve had here in the last four years,” he said.
Phoebe Turner and Kalpa Goldflam (Photo: Isabella Garrido)
Vivian Harris and John Turville (Photo: Isabella Garrido)
In 2016, Bega experienced major flooding, followed by devastating fires in Tathra in early 2018. This summer, bushfires burnt along the Far South Coast for months and have only just been contained.
Kalpa and Vivian, along with other climate activists in Bega, conduct a protest every Friday morning by walking around a busy pedestrian crossing in town.
“For the first couple of weeks I was writing a little blurb afterwards about what kind of reactions we were getting,” she explains. “How many people came and joined us, how many toots and waves we got, how many smirks and shouts we got out the window.
“I’ve stopped writing them because it’s shifted more positively, so I don’t need to keep a record of it.”
Kalpa also acknowledges that since the recent bushfires, responses to their protests have changed.
“There’s one or two who are still really negative… but on the whole the mood has improved, they are more supportive.”
“And we have more people saying thank you for doing this.”
Phoebe Turner, who also attended the CAM workshop, was evacuated from her farm five times during the bushfires.
“All those little practical things, those everyday routine things just aren’t there at the moment. But on another level, on an emotional level, it’s really messy – so, so messy.
“But through that messiness comes connection to other people so that’s been really positive.”
Not all agree with climate activism. Some local farmers in particular feel efforts need to be directed elsewhere.
Fourth-generation dairy farmer and independent councillor Tony Allen is among them.
“It’s nothing to do with climate change,” he says.
Cr Allen, who was thrust into the national spotlight the day Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Cobargo, believes the bushfires that burnt part of his farm and damaged his property, were caused by the overgrowth of forests and mismanagement of national parks.
“A decision was made to lock up a parcel of land, without a risk assessment, without any scientific knowledge or assessment of what that decision may lead to in time.
“We’ve lost friends down the road, we’ve lost farms, we’ve lost cattle, we’ve lost sheds, we’ve lost buildings, all because of that fire. That’s just not fair, it’s wrong.”
— Kate Atkinson @katebatkinson
*This story has also appeared in the Bega District News