Australian fire chief tells Extinction Rebellion to ‘cheer up and stop blaming climate change’

By Charlie Jones
January 14 2020, 12.25

Activists demonstrating in London over the Australian bushfires should stop emphasising climate change and be more positive, according to the area’s chief volunteer fire fighter.

Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion protesters took to the streets outside Australia House last Friday to demand action on climate change during the worst bushfire season in the country’s history.

But Mick Holton, President of the Volunteer Fire Association of New South Wales, thinks the focus on global warming is misplaced and the best thing Londoners can do is stay positive.

Mr Holton told South West Londoner: “We are seeing a situation where specific agendas are being pushed. Climate change is being pushed a little bit hard when it’s not the key factor here.

“It’s a separate issue to climate change. It’s potentially a factor, but the real factor is land management. So if we’re getting international support that’s really nice, but we need to make sure that it’s going to the right places.”

ACT NOW: Extinction Rebellion activists demand action

The chief ‘firie’ – as they are affectionately called down under – said colleagues in rural areas tended to agree with his views but city-dwelling firefighters were more keen to blame global warming.

“It has divided the community, but it’s their job to promote what they believe in,” said Mr Holton.

The fireman also said the best way for Londoners to help the crisis that has so far cost 26 lives, destroyed 2000 homes and killed over a billion animals – aside from donating directly to fire services – was to stay upbeat.

“Being positive is a good thing. We have a lot of negativity here. I’ve often said to people: ‘We will get through this, we will see better times ahead.’

“That’s where the media can play a role, just to say: ‘We spoke to someone with a positive attitude and we need to work together and move forward because there’s still plenty of good things out there.”

Mr Holton added: “The only bad thing about coming to Australia is a bit of smoke in the air, and that’s not everywhere.”



Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion activists who clearly disagreed with Mr Holton’s assessment of the situation spoke, sang and chanted of the need to tackle the causes of the climate emergency.

OUR HOME IS ON FIRE: Extinction Rebellion activists shut down the Strand

The vast majority of signs, speeches and theatrics blamed the blaze on global warming, with one chant of: “fund – the firies – climate action now” repeated throughout the day.

A passionate male orator from the group finished a speech shouting: “Do any of you think this isn’t connected to climate change? Do you?”

Wandsworth artist Jane Clark, 60, purchased Skippy that morning to help illustrate her point of ‘kangaroos not coal.’

KANGAROOS NOT COAL: Jane Clark with Skippy and Joey

Ms Clark said: “I’m here today because I want to lend my support to XR and the people of Australia to try and get the Australian authorities and private sector to protect their precious environment stop funding the dirty industries like coal and oil.”

The passionate knitter added: “Protesting is good. We need to educate our children. We need to spend our money supporting the green environment, not against it.”

Designer Matt Utber, 51, and film-maker Matthew Huntley, 55, were also in attendance with their ‘pretty crappy signs’.

Both men grew up in Victoria before moving to Stoke Newington.

Mr Utber said: “We all had to fight fires, it’s part of the Australian experience. But not on a scale like this, it’s just unprecedented.

“We’re here protesting the inaction of the Australian government, particularly towards the current fires but also over the last 20 or 30 years the inaction on climate change.”

“This is what you get when you ignore science. This is the beginning,” added Mr Huntley. 

The two men praised Australian fire fighters and even UK politicians for holding debates about the crisis in the House of Commons.

But while Mr Utber claimed the protests were an important vehicle for change, Mr Huntley had a different response when asked what he thought the demonstration would achieve: ‘Bugger all’.

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