Hundreds of thousands of Australians took to the streets on Friday as they called for greater action on the climate emergency in more than 100 cities and towns across the country.
Organisers of the school strike for climate claimed about 300,000 people attended dozens of rallies, including an estimated 100,000 in Melbourne and 80,000 in Sydney. The unprecedented climate crisis protests were likely the largest public demonstrations in Australia since the marches against the Iraq War in 2003.
“I fight for climate justice because everyone deserves a safe future,” 17-year-old student Niamh told a crowd that spilled out of a Melbourne park and into the city streets. “The government is not supporting it yet, but together we will change that.”
Sparked by the first climate striking student, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the protests have grown into a global movement. In Australia, they have garnered support from the wider environmental movement, but also from other non-profits and charities, unions and some businesses.
Friday’s crowds doubled the size of the student strikes in March, organisers said. Protesters ranging in age from toddlers to the elderly chanted slogans such as “we are not drowning, we are fighting,” and held up signs and placards.
Many were personally critical of the prime minister, Scott Morrison, who is currently in the US to visit Donald Trump. Morrison drew criticism this week after confirming he would not attend the United Nations Emergency Climate Summit in New York.
In Sydney and Melbourne, there were long lines to enter the rallies, which brought parts of both cities to a halt. Throngs of students, families, mums with strollers, officer workers and unionists filled Sydney’s Domain to hear from protest organisers, Indigenous students, Pasifika activists, and union leaders.
Large numbers also gathered in Australia’s other major cities. Organisers estimated about 15,000 attended a strike in the capital, Canberra, while there were about 10,000 people at rallies in both Perth and Adelaide.
Organisations striking included 33 Australian unions, 2,500 businesses including Atlassian, Canva, Domain and Intrepid, and faith institutions including the Anglican Church and Uniting Church, organisers said.
Universities said they would not penalise students who missed classes to attend, while the Uniting Church synod for NSW and the ACT also allowed their students to strike.