When we started The Sunrise Project in 2012, we established a small grants fund for local community groups working to solve the climate crisis. Named in memory of activist Peter Gray, the fund has since given 109 grants totalling over $600,000 to groups all over Australia.
On the ten year anniversary of Peter Gray’s passing, it is timely to reflect on his legacy and the profound changes that have taken place on the issues that he campaigned for so passionately.
Pete was only 30 years old when he tragically died of bowel cancer shortly after he came to national prominence for throwing a shoe at former Prime Minister John Howard on national television. But his most significant contribution was his sustained climate activism as a founding member of Newcastle-based grassroots climate action group Rising Tide, working tirelessly to raise awareness of the role of coal in driving climate change.
Fifteen years ago, it was heresy to be talking about the end of the coal industry. The industry was unassailable with steadfast support from politicians, investors, and financiers. One of the early campaigns that helped to build the profile of coal exports as a problem was in response to XStrata (later subsumed by Glencore) proposing to build the Anvil Hill coal mine (later renamed Mangoola) on some of the last remnant woodlands on the floor of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
Pete took the matter to court, challenging the proposed coal mine, and was successful. In a groundbreaking decision, the NSW Land and Environment Court found the mine had not been properly assessed because the NSW Government had failed to consider the greenhouse gas pollution it would cause when the coal was burned. The case ensured all coal mines in NSW are assessed for ‘’Scope 3” greenhouse gas emissions.
Pete’s fight goes on: this week the NSW Independent Planning Commission approved an expansion to the Glencore-owned Mangoola coal mine in the Hunter Valley, despite Glencore’s commitment to ‘Net Zero Emissions by 2050’.
Pete was determined to sound the alarm about the impacts of mining and burning coal on our communities, environment, and global climate, and to act boldly to arrest coal expansion. He was motivated by a deep sense of moral responsibility: to defend forests from logging, land and water from coal mining, and more broadly for peace and justice.
The communities who have been funded through the Peter Gray Community Action Fund have the same determination, boldness, and courage to take on global coal companies and recalcitrant governments. They also bring joy, humour, and a sense of mischief to sustain themselves in the fight for climate justice.
The Peter Gray small grants have resourced citizen science projects scrutinising mining operations; expert reports and analysis of environmental impact statements; First Nations’ projects to protect country and culture; outreach to farmers and faith communities; workshops on activist mental health and wellbeing; conferences and activist trainings; resourcing musicians to support rural community campaigns; and countless community gatherings and creative protests.
We’re proud to be able to continue Pete’s legacy and to support community groups working to solve the climate crisis. To find out more information about how to apply please visit sunriseproject.org/grants/