Heath Joske never really got a chance to celebrate his part in saving the Bight. Just as the news broke that the giant Norwegian oil company had pulled out of the Great Australian Bight, taking their rigs with them, the pandemic rolled in and shut everything down. Bight locals didn’t even get the chance for even a barefoot bush-doof.
Since then, Heath has spent the best part of two years at home on his property outside Streaky Bay, but it hasn’t been lost time. He’s taken the opportunity to work the land. The old sandy, stony sheep run he bought five years ago badly needed some love. Heath’s good mate Addy Jones came over, and with a borrowed earth mover they’ve been busy cutting swales in the hillside, contouring it to hold water, ready for tree planting and the spring rains. The Joske’s property is already coming back to life, but it’s a long-term investment. It’s a family thing. Heath’s folks did the same thing with their North Coast property four decades ago.
Reflecting on it today, Heath sees the Bight campaign as a huge win for collective action. “It makes you feel like your voices have been heard and that people power can make a difference. That whole campaign grew and grew and it became this huge movement. At the point it went national, right around Australia, I had quite a bit of hope that the oil company was going to listen, even if our own government wouldn’t.”
Leading the Bight campaign alongside Heath was Anna Taylor, who lives just back up the road in Bramfield. When the news broke that they’d finally won, Anna called Heath. They both shed tears. Fossil fuel companies tend not to lose these fights in Australia. It was a win for the Bight, but a bigger win for a liveable future. The win sparked all sorts of other campaigns and campaigners.
You might have read in the last issue of Surfing World the story of Anna’s nephew, Leif Justham. He’d been riding his pushbike around Australia to encourage people to switch their superannuation away from funds investing in fossil fuels. Leif had looked into it closely and realised Australians, without knowing it, were funding oil, gas and coal projects on a huge scale through their super.
Leif never made it. A few days after he left Anna’s place he was hit by a road train on the Nullarbor and killed. The months since have been tough on the family, but they’ve found strength by keeping Leif’s campaign alive. It’s taken on a life of its own. Leif’s super crusade has been mentioned in Parliament, in the national press and all over social media. Hundreds of people have switched.
One of those who’ve picked up the cause is Heath. He started looking around at where the big super funds were investing and was horrified. He’d put a couple of years into bringing down one oil rig, only to realise that Australians were unwittingly investing in fossil fuel projects right around the country. “Once you realise how much of that money is going to fund those big corporations and doing so much damage, it’s pretty sobering.”
Australians have $3 trillion sitting in super. It’s an eye watering chunk of change but for most people, as Heath describes it, it’s “invisible money.” Most Australians don’t even choose their super fund – their employer does – let alone take five minutes to look at what their money is actually funding. Most super funds have their hands dirty in fossil fuels, although there are a number of ethical super companies out there now investing in renewable, sustainable and climate-friendly projects.
“There’s a hell of a lot of power in switching out where that money goes,” says Heath, who switched his super straight away. If just 10 per cent of that pool of Australian super divested out of fossil fuels, you’d have enough to fund a complete transition to renewable energy in Australia. There are plenty of sites like Market Forces that compare super funds on their fossil fuel stance. Switching takes five minutes.
“Watching Anna and her sister (Leif’s mum, Helen) carry on this campaign has been pretty inspirational,” says Heath. “They’re hurting, but they’re just powerhouses. They’re really trying to make Leif’s legacy go as far as possible. The reaction has been pretty wild, to see his message getting out there. I’m sure Leif would be stoked.”
– SEAN DOHERTY