YOU could remain soberly neutral, if you wanted, about the crowd that came to Newcastle's Civic Park on September 20 for the Global Climate Strike.
In the scheme of Hunter turnouts 10,000 people is half a Knights crowd (when the team isn't in freefall), or a concert in the vineyards by, say, a Daryl Brathwaite.
But that Friday afternoon the crowd built from all directions, almost imperceptibly, on one of the first hot days of spring. The glare intensified and parents rubbed SPF 50 into small limbs and suddenly, expecting a few hundred, you craned your neck and found yourself in a football crowd of non-football people.
The PA scratched and whumped to interrupt the murmur, which had the chatty timbre of a music festival or a farmer's market. On the stage beside the fountain were high school kids, mostly girls who'd merged their banana-yellow School Strike 4 Climate tees with their uniforms.
"We are here, we are united...". "We are stepping up because you won't...". "Time is up!"
Forks of rhetoric, rather than whole speeches, reached the people among the park's salad of trees.
Some speakers sent ripples through the crowd. Seventeen-year-old Abby Manning punched the air with her blazer rolled to the elbows, and a family with three kids who'd ridden quiet single file from Tighes Hill let loose a volley of cheers. Manning was loud without bending the needle to "shrill", which seemed important today.
When 15-year-old Lambton High student Alexa Stuart began to speak, it wasn't with the force of Manning. She looks young for her age; slight, pixie-haired, someone you could imagine Prime Minister Scott Morrison having in mind when he describes talismanic Swedish teenaged climate activist Greta Thunberg causing "needless anxiety" among kids. But Stuart as much as anyone was the reason this protest was happening, and she took the microphone and listed her demands.
"Dear Mr Prime Minister..."
A halt to new coal, oil and gas. Total renewable energy and exports by 2030. A "just transition and job creation" for fossil fuel workers and communities, a theme she had emphasised in media spots before the rally.
"I never thought I'd be speaking in front of 10,000 people," Stuart recalled a fortnight later by the park, on a bench overlooking the spot where she'd stood onstage.
It was late afternoon, and Stuart wore her yellow School Strike shirt again. At the start of her school holidays she had caught the bus back to the park, and her red "Stop Adani" earrings spun with vigour. The strike was something she described with the fervour of a happening still fresh.
The stage had become an object of stress when the local union owners of the platform used at the previous Climate Strike, Hunter Workers, declined to offer it again or take any part this time around.
The snub left School Strike 4 Climate to raise $600 for another stage. When Joanne McCarthy reported the union's backflip in the Newcastle Herald, the Facebook comments included, "lol, nothing better than the left eating itself".
"That was a setback," Stuart said.
"Actually, it was really disappointing."
School Strike 4 Climate, in the Hunter, is a collective of mainly high school students (some much younger) backed by more established groups like the Hunter Environment Centre and the Wilderness Society.
In pulling out of the rally, Hunter Workers undermined the local movement on its brightest day, as about 300,000 people took part in strikes across Australia.
Subsequent calls for weakened emissions targets by Hunter MP and federal Labor shadow cabinet member Joel Fitzgibbon, who'd watched his political life flash before his eyes at the May election following a pro-coal scare campaign by One Nation, have further disillusioned Stuart.
"We've had some good talks with [Newcastle federal Labor MP] Sharon Claydon and [Shortland federal Labor MP] Pat Conroy, but people disappoint you," she said.
"The status quo isn't working. In many ways, we're actually moving backwards."
Stuart's father is a lecturer at the University of Newcastle and her mother a practitioner of the textile-reuse movement of upcycling. Her older sister, Jasmine, is studying renewable energy engineering. Stuart takes public transport, rides her bike every day and observes a vegan diet to reduce her carbon footprint.
She rejects the idea of herself as coming from an "activist family". Her three-rally-old involvement in School Strike 4 Climate began at the (much smaller) Newcastle event last November. That day formed the blueprint - pithy signs ("No Planet B", a cartoon ScoMo in a flaming house declaring "This is fine"), unselfconscious chants, a willingness to own being off school - for the strike of September 20.
The main difference this time was demographic. Perhaps reassured, or eager to support their kids' passions or actually concerned about climate change, parents formed a sizeable bloc. One memorable placard - a mean-looking model coal ship - belonged to retiree Scott Alcorn, its stern marked "Joel Fitzgibbon".
This would turn out to be the biggest demonstration in Newcastle since 2003, when 16,000 people protested the Iraq war. From Civic Park it poured down closed-off King Street and hooked through Cooks Hill to Darby Street, where the torrent of people took 18 minutes to thin out.
There were waves from café diners, apart from a man who twanged performatively into his phone, "I'm stuck here with the cockheads".
As the Herald covered the strike, 41 people took the time to click on a Facebook livestream and select the "laughing" emoji. Thirteen more selected "angry".
This was out of 429 reactions, and a poll on the Herald website found 82 per cent supported the strike. But the comments, whatever they are worth, were overwhelmingly critical of the kids.
The charges were many and varied - hypocrisy, for owning smartphones, for having parents who own cars, for planning to eat fast food after the rally that would have "packaging".
Naivety, because climate change is a hoax, because the climate is always changing, it's not man-made, or there's nothing we can do unless China does something. They want a day off school. Coached by parents, brainwashed by teachers. The Mattara parade used to be as big, I remember.
The comments, at the time of writing, featured a user with a dead pig for a profile picture calling the demonstrators "f---stains".
"Even those criticisms reflect the intention by some of these people to avoid talking about climate change," University of Newcastle business school post-doctoral research fellow Vanessa Bowden said.
"The kids are missing school, they're going to end up in the dole queue, they've got their mobile phones. It gets telling with an issue this difficult."
To mention the comments to Stuart is to realise you're compelling a young person to consider that she has spoken up about the challenge - at least for she, her friends, the scientific consensus - of our time. And this, in part, is the response.
"I read the comments early on and I decided not to anymore. It's just hate. These people are wanting to hate on us."
Says Manning, who also goes to Lambton High, the comments on other cities' mastheads reached disturbing levels of toxicity.
"There have been rape threats," she said, plainly.
"A lot of the criticism of boys has been oh, they're just wapping school. But we're really inclusive. So for the boys who don't stereotypically look like they'd wap school, some of the reaction has been to call them names like 'faggot'."
Stuart seems on the verge of tears discussing it. It is less about the words, she said, and more the maddening knowledge that people hating online can't be reasoned with.
Two Saturdays into October, Stuart and Manning were back near Civic Park running a festival stall forced inside the library by the rain. A bossa nova band was playing blisteringly loudly and a boardroom offered relief. The news seemed full of climate updates, but neither teen seemed eager to veer from her lane.
Extinction Rebellion - with its choreographed public set-pieces - was a group to be supported in principle, said Stuart, "but we put a lot of value in being inclusive". There doesn't seem to be a local chapter. She nudged the conversation onto bigger concerns, like the growing number of 100-year storms.
Still. That week, Studio 10 host Kerri-Anne Kennerley had called for protesters to be "used as speed bumps" which, in an age of increasingly normalised vehicle attacks, didn't seem like a comment that should be normalised.
But any hope of tapping into some Millennial vs Boomer resentment was dashed by Stuart being unaware of what Kerri-Anne had said and, I suspect, who she is.
A woman in about her 20s checked on us a couple of times, saying I should "talk to Nick", a man about the same age. Something told me they were the PR side of things. Nick went unconsulted.
Stuart and Manning seem to enjoy each other's company, running the stall, riffing with the hint of a sisterly dynamic. The day was for recruiting people, they said, especially those seeking reassurance they didn't have to know every single thing about climate change.
At one point the pair giggled about their School Strike group chat, some comment about the extinction of bees that had been too much even for them.
"There is some pretty dark banter," Stuart said.
In the coming years she will choose her subjects at school and it's surprising, at first, that she leans towards the humanities. An alternative to striking suggested by its opponents is for kids to "be in school", become scientists, make a difference.
Stuart shrugs. We already have climate scientists, she says, who've told us what's happening. Where has that got us?
Underpinning it all - the strikes, the stalls, the hours of logistics and pondering, on her runs through the bush in Jesmond, things like droughts and storms - seems to be a hardening instinct to call bullshit.
That it wouldn't matter how brilliant a scientist she became, how adroitly she navigated party politics, how generously she engaged with the people online who treat her like a shrill, anxious little girl. That this is her moment to try something, or regret it.
"If they understand how much trouble we're in, how we're not just carrying on with business as usual but putting on the accelerator as we veer towards the cliff, I have to believe people don't want that," she said.
"I have to believe they're not just being evil, because we're out of time. We were out of time 10 years ago."
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