Monday, May 16, 2011

328. Farewell Pete Gray, 1980-2011

Pete Gray

By Zane Alcorn, Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2011
Newcastle climate, forest and anti-war activist Pete Gray passed away on April 30 after a battle with cancer that lasted more than two years. Pete was a week and a half short of his 31st birthday.
Pete was a founding and active member of the nationally and internationally renowned activist group Rising Tide Newcastle, whose bold direct-action approach to climate activism has earned the acclaim of many supporters.
Pete became involved in climate activism after campaigning to protect the remaining sections of un-spoilt forests in Australia from logging operations by corporate profiteers.
Rising Tide’s dynamism owes a lot to its application of ‘lock on’ style direct action tactics — commonly used by forest blockaders — to coal infrastructure; coal trains, rail lines, coal loaders and associated construction sites. Pete was at the pointy end of many of these actions.
But Pete’s approach to activism certainly had more depth to it that than just “locking on” and the famous incident where he threw his shoes at former PM John Howard on the ABC television’s Q&A.
Longtime friend and fellow campaigner Georgina Woods spoke at Pete’s funeral on May 7 — which saw hundreds gather at Newcastle’s Christchurch cathedral — and told of Pete’s love of classical philosophy and of his landmark 2006 court case, in which he successfully argued that the NSW government should be taking the carbon dioxide emissions created when coal (from mines approved by the government) is burnt.
Pete was a keen chess player, sharpening his skills in a basement against his brother Gideon. Many a match was played during the years they lived together at the ‘dark house’, an old terrace house just down the hill from the cathedral.
It was only after Pete’s death that I learned it was he who conceived of the now annual People’s Blockade of The Worlds biggest coal port in Newcastle.
Pete was an anarchist and like many other anarchists in the environment movement felt that protests which involved taking non-violent action to directly halt production in many cases tended to have a greater impact on public debate than mass street rallies or the like.
This is not to say Pete was opposed to mass street rallies — he was an active participant in many. I believe the People’s Blockade is significant as it was a successful attempt to find a synthesis between mass action and direct blockade tactics; the protest involves hundreds of people paddling into Newcastle harbour to block the port for a day.

It is undeniably a direct action; evoking similar images such as that of Ian Cohen paddling in front of the nuclear warship USS Oldendorf in Sydney harbour back in 1986.
But importantly it is also a mass participatory action — one can imagine thousands, or even tens of thousands of people — blocking Newcastle harbour, possibly for many days, or even weeks.
Pete worked with many climate and forestry activists over the years and his loss was deeply saddening. Almost as sad as Pete’s loss was seeing so many other respected hardworking activists at his funeral, stricken by grief as they too said an early goodbye to their friend.
Pete’s wife Naomi is also a committed activist and founding member of Rising Tide, and she shared with those assembled at the funeral an insight into the deep love that they had shared.
Naomi related how from the time of Pete’s diagnosis they treated every day together as a gift; and that Pete savoured every last morsel of his time on earth; watching sunsets and moonrises from their home near Newcastle Ocean baths and enjoying swims in the sea and baths, even up until close to his death.
Those who addressed the funeral, burial and wake gave regard to the genuine friend, the brilliant mind and the passionate activist that we have lost. He was a very special person.
But Naomi passed on a humble message from Pete. She said that Pete didn’t want people to be sad because he had lived well, he had had a good life and enjoyed it, he fought his hardest to beat the cancer but couldn’t, and died well, cared for by his lover and visited by his many friends.
At the burial eucalyptus branches were burned in a smoking ceremony as people took turns heaping earth onto the grave. A vessel of water from the ocean was passed around for people to reflect upon; the water would later be returned to the ocean, a metaphor for Pete’s own dissolution back into the greater biosphere.
We miss you Pete. Thank you for your inspiring contribution to the movement and for your friendship.
Zane Alcorn is a member of Socialist Alliance in Newcastle and sings in hip hop band GRCO. GRCO wrote a tribute song to Pete, which you can listen to at

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