The reluctant activist: Heath Joske and the Fight for the Bight
The ‘Fight for the Bight’ started as a looming threat to a way of life. A small group of people in an isolated region of southern Australia were faced with a corporate giant from the fjords of Norway that wanted to risk all that they value for some oil. A fossil fuel that is no longer compatible with a healthy future was threatening a sustainable way of life in one of the planet’s last wild places.
But they were so few and the threat so large. What do you do when a company like Equinor, backed by one of the richest countries on the planet, is staring at your patch of paradise, oil-lust in full effect?
You activate, that’s what you do.
“I never wanted to be an activist, but the situation Equinor has put myself and others in has given me no choice.”
Heath Joske is sitting in a café in Oslo, scribbling into his diary, developing the words he will deliver at the Equinor AGM in 24 hours. He has been in Norway for a few days now, participating in what might have been the first ever ‘paddle out’ in Oslo to protest against the 67% state-owned oil giant Equinor.
He’s nervous, a guy who doesn’t crave the spotlight but who has now found himself in the middle of one of the biggest environmental fights in surfing’s history. He feels the weight on his shoulders - Lucky he paddles into southern bombs regularly enough that his shoulders can handle it.
“I feel like I am representing a lot of people in this, so I do want to say the right things and make sure that its powerful. They need to know that there is a majority of people on the coast who are strongly opposed and threatened by Equinor.”
Motivated by the natural beauty of his adopted home in the south; inspired by the support of community members from all walks of life; driven by a concern for the future of his own young family. The nerves are real for Heath, but the stronger emotion is still anger.
“I’m really pissed off. I feel like they have no respect for our lifestyles and culture that we have had for a long time here, since Europeans came here, and for indigenous people too, who have been here a lot longer.”
“The amount of damage this could do is way too big. I don’t know how they could look at their own spill map and still think this is a good idea. It spins me out, but it definitely makes me angry.”
In his time in Norway so far Heath has been at the centre of an historic paddle-out, spoken on various panels about the issue, even participated in a ‘die-in’ with activists from Extinction Rebellion. He has also met with ‘the enemy’ (Equinor) itself in the lead up to the Equinor AGM at 5pm on Wednesday to voice his concerns (and display the fire in his eyes up close) to the suits in Equinor’s HQ.
But the anger is not only reserved for Norway’s ‘petro-elite’, Heath’s clear-eyed about the complete lack of leadership and spine in Australian politics regarding the issue right now.
“I am just as angry with our own politicians in Australia. You have the potential next Prime Minister Bill Shorten saying that if we don’t take action on climate change now, we’re failing the next generation, when this whole generation is screaming about the Bight and Adani and want these things to be stopped.”
“These politicians are playing games to win votes and people just want them to step up and make the right decision.”
When you hear Heath speak to a crowd about the issue at hand, it is remarkable to hear the depth of understanding he has on the technical aspects of drilling in treacherous seas like that which Equinor is proposing. He rattles off stats about response times for spills, the rate at which ocean currents will carry oil eastward in the event of a spill, concrete capping stacks, drilling depths. He has clearly done his research and the scruffy beard and bare-feet defy the knowledge he has on the issue.
Not to say that all surfers aren’t up for the task of learning about an issue and understanding it’s risks like Heath has, but to be able to do this kind of research, then step in front of a crowd and argue the case, or walk into a board room with suits hanging university degrees on the wall behind their desks and tell them that you see through their bullshit, is a rare quality in the surfing community.
Heath Joske is a rare species of surfer, and the type the world needs right now.
Australians will make their call on who will lead the country in only a few days now. Heath will continue his work trying to mobilize the surfing community to step up and continue the fight. While he was very content being a fisherman and surfer in South Australia, raising a family in one of the country’s last truly wild places, he is now equally as content taking on the role of spearheading the fight for the bight on distant shores.
He may be a reluctant activist, but Equinor mistakes this reluctance for ineffectiveness at their peril.
// JOSH KIRKMAN
Photos by Hallvard Kolltveit and Paulina Cervenka