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Chain Reaction's History

The Friends of the Earth micro-journal and magazine Chain Reaction (CR) began as the 'Greenpeace Pacific Bulletin' in 1974 as a combined effort of the developing FoE groups and Greenpeace who were collectively opposing nuclear tests in the Pacific. It changed its name to Chain Reaction in 1975.

Peter Hayes, Barbara Hutton and Neil Barrett were among the founding editors. In its early editions, CR often had an emphasis on practical issues such as how to build a wind generator. This was seen as one part of a politics of democratising technology and society – "technology for the people by the people".

From the start there was also a strong culture of activism and protest. The September 1975 edition of CR reported on FoE Melbourne's much-publicised "lavatory sit-in" to protest against Concorde aircraft, complaining about "super-expenditure for a super-luxury". The British Aircraft Corporation maintained a "bemused upper lip" but the Australian transport minister threatened to sue FoE for $1 million over the pamphlet, 'British Airways is Taking Australia for a Ride'.

The same year, hundreds of people took part in a bicycle ride against uranium from Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide to Canberra, where Bill Liechacz from FoE NSW burnt the coffin of the 'ALP Conscience' with a flame kindled by his solar cooker.

After a few editions of CR, it was decided to expand its anti-nuclear focus in order to become a national 'activist-orientated' environmental journal. But nuclear issues were hugely contentious at the time. Peter Hayes reported in 1977 that almost all FoE groups in Australia were working on nuclear and whaling issues, among others, and that FoE was dealing with a "vast influx of active and angry people".

A 1977 edition of CR apologises for its lateness which was a result of partially-successful efforts to stop loading uranium at wharves in Melbourne and Sydney. Meanwhile FoE had initiated the Atom Free Embassy at Lucas Heights because the Australian Atomic Energy Commission was storing uranium there.

In 1979, mining magnate Lang Hancock promoted the use of nuclear weapons to blast artificial harbours. Joh Bjelke-Peterson said he could not oppose uranium mining, "firstly because it would not be right and secondly because it would be wrong". He had previously promoted the use of nuclear weapons to halt the progress of the Crown of Thorns Starfish on the Great Barrier Reef. CR reported: "Fortunately, the starfish seemed to have slackened off of their own accord – possibly tipped off by somebody!"

In the early 1980s, Mark Carter, co-founder of the Food Justice Centre, and Leigh Holloway oversaw production of CR, which carried a lot of big picture strategic debate, with sharp layout and often striking covers. Some of the most inspirational inserts and editions date from that time.

Under the editorship of Mark and Leigh and, slightly later, Linnell Secomb, CR continued its evolution towards an emphasis on social issues. Cover stories included food politics, workers' health, women's employment in the service sector and jobs in Wollongong. Aboriginal land rights and debates over mining on Aboriginal land were recurring themes from the early editions of CR.

In the early 1980s, there were considerable differences of opinion about CR. In 1981, a faction of the editorial collective moved office in the middle of the night to 'save' the magazine from those they regarded as not having the "responsibilities we had to the wider national FoE and environmentalist constituency". The conflict was partly due to the sheer size of the editorial collective: the winter 1981 edition of the magazine credited 45 people as being involved with editorial decisions. Those credited included people who went on to become Senators, local councillors, authors, an adviser to Paul Keating and the first energy minister in the Bracks Government in Victoria.

After Mark Carter and Leigh Holloway left, the CR editorial team continued to grow, and contributing to it at this time were some long-term members, including Eileen Goodfield who dedicated more than six years of service and insight to the magazine. CR's commitment to ensuring equal involvement by women and men in the collective included providing free child care to people working on the magazine.

In 1986, Johnathan Goodfield resigned as one of the main editors after four years in the job, and a new collective, which included people who had already been involved in the group for some time, was established. This team included people who then contributed several years of effort to the magazine, including Ian Foletta, Eileen Goodfield, Fran Callaghan, Clare Henderson and Larry O'Loughlin.

Throughout its history, CR has had a reputation for addressing issues before they become the subject of common debate in the environment movement or broader society. One example of this is the debate over the use of the 'wilderness' concept in environmental campaigning; that is, whether wilderness actually exists in Australia given Indigenous management of Australian landscapes for thousands of human generations. Likewise, FoE and CR took up the issue of the impacts of herbicide use in timber plantations at a time when most other green groups were uncritically promoting plantations.

CR also helped raise awareness within the environment movement about counter tactics used by industry, including front organisations, PR, and 'dirty trick' campaigns. Bob Burton contributed much of this ground-breaking work. In earlier years, CR advertisements for FoE's 'Leak Bureau' had some success, the most spectacular being a leak which allowed FoE to expose an international uranium cartel in 1976.

A notable feature of Chain Reaction has the publication of debates on 'internal' matters concerning the environmental movement. In the early 1980s, this included debates over feminism and socialism, and in the late 1980s, there was a brief but intense exchange over NVA or non-violent action. In recent years this has included issues of political positioning within the movement and corporate engagement. This encouragement of debate has not been without controversy: discussion about the role of direct action and tactics by some groups created heated responses in the early '80s, and in 1991 an issue of the magazine on 'corruption in the environment movement' generated a huge amount of angst and anger amongst a number of individuals and environmental groups.

Clare Henderson and Larry O'Loughlin were the longest serving editors and were involved in producing the magazine from 1986 to 1996. When they moved from Melbourne to Adelaide in early 1989, the existing Melbourne-based collective disbanded. In the following years, Clare and Larry produced CR almost entirely through their own efforts although a number of people did work with them from time to time. Guest editors produced a number of editions, while Clare and Larry did the layout and production, administration and distribution of the magazine.

Their final edition, in the year that the Howard Government was elected, was a scathing analysis of the Coalition's failure on environment policy and the 'clean and green' image it was trying to cultivate. Its strong position on the partial sale of Telstra and images by left wing cartoonist, Heinrich Hinze, were a breath of fresh air compared to the timid green movement response to the new government.

The micro-journal had a brief period of non-production from 1996 until 1998, but apart from this period, it has been produced consistently for 33 years, almost entirely through volunteer labour. It was resurrected by Anna Burlow, Kulja Coulston, Tristy Fairfield and Barbara Kerr in 1998 with the first edition, appropriately titled 'Back from the Wilderness', taking an anti-nuclear and international focus.

(This is an edited version of a section of the 2004 FoE Australia book, '30 years of creative resistance'.)