The reluctant activist: Heath Joske and the Fight for the Bight

Josh Kirkman
Swellnet Dispatch

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

Comments

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 11:28am

Good work Heath, looks like the for the 1st time ever im going to have to vote greens, as from what i hear both Labor & Liberal arnt against Equinor.

Ash's picture
Ash's picture
Ash commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 12:14pm

Or a decent independent, I'm lucky I've got one here. Total admiration for Heath and the way he is stepping up to the plate on this issue. I don't blame him for being nervous but to put his nerves to one side and himself in the spot light is above and beyond. Thanks.

seen's picture
seen's picture
seen commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 12:37pm

legend

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 12:37pm
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:25pm

on yah Heath - powerful and informative speech - thank you for being a leader

beenjammin's picture
beenjammin's picture
beenjammin commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 12:38pm

I know this description is thrown around a lot these days, but the guy is a legend.
Well done.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:09pm

Well done Heath on fighting the good fight.

epictard's picture
epictard's picture
epictard commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:20pm

If they need permission from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, which appears to be an Australian Government Authority, why is the target of the protesting Equinor, and not the Australian Government?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:26pm

Equinor recently pulled out of drilling for oil in Lofoten, partly due to protests by Norwegian surfers claiming it as a surfing wonderland.

I imagine Heath is hoping they'll show the same mercy on Australian surfers.

epictard's picture
epictard's picture
epictard commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 2:35pm

Impressive show of empathy from such a large company.
It will be great if the same result is achieved, yet at the same time very sad that our own government did not put a lid on it earlier.

This country's inability to move away from fossil fuel dependency is surely going to come back to bite us sooner or later.

beenjammin's picture
beenjammin's picture
beenjammin commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 4:38pm

NOPSEMA are an independent body without political interest. Now that I’ve shared that I’m off to the bathroom to hurl my guts up.

Spearman's picture
Spearman's picture
Spearman commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 3:48pm

Great effort Heath, to step up like this is a big deal.

How bad is it that our own politicians that are meant to serve the public, create policies to better our lives and future generations have somehow thought this is in the interest of the Australian people.

The politicians that approved this should be named and shamed.

Finntim's picture
Finntim's picture
Finntim commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 4:19pm

You're a good man Heath, thanks for being the voice of protest and reason in the face of absolute environmental lunacy.

Big Undie's picture
Big Undie's picture
Big Undie commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:05pm

I don't usually comment on anything...but...fucking LEGEND...we've all gotta keep fighting this thing until it is not going to happen !!!

Big Undie

D-Rex's picture
D-Rex's picture
D-Rex commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:09pm

Seems hypocritical to want a NIMBI but still wear a wetsuit, surf a PU board and drive to the SA desert to surf. Why the F do these activists get the high moral ground?

chin's picture
chin's picture
chin commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:18pm

Not anti-oil Rexy, just anti drilling in the bight.

Lucas Gibbs's picture
Lucas Gibbs's picture
Lucas Gibbs commented Thursday, 23 May 2019 at 12:06pm

Anti drilling in the bight... for oil?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:25pm

Sheeesh...how many times must this no brainer be trotted out...?

The Earth isn't short of oil, British Petroleum recently said there's 50 years plus of reserves from easy to access fields. And by the time those sinks have run dry, most people, BP included, surmise that oil will no longer be the world's primary energy source.

So why risk it..?

Sub-argument: Equinor is a 2/3 state-owned company that fills the coffers of Norway's sovereign fund, currently travelling at around $200,000 for every single citizen of Norway. Norwegian kiddies have no problem paying for education of putting a deposit on a house. So why are we providing for their future while fucking ours? If it MUST be drilled then we should be the beneficiaries.

Sub-sub-argument: Heath's wetsuit contains no petrochemicals...

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 12:38am

You know i rarely comment on things like this but in regards to the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, that's what drives me fucking mental!

Australia, truly one of the most resource blessed countries on earth and its citizens reamed seven ways to Sunday. Aussies pay amongst the highest energy prices in the world without exception- gas, electricity, fuel, water.

Can you believe that the LNG that heats my house, cooks my food and warms my bath here in Japan, comes from Australia and is about 40% cheaper than you guys are paying back home?

With the exception of water, Australia can meet its energy needs dozens of times over, why on earth do we prop up these foreign multinationals?

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

BA's picture
BA's picture
BA commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:38pm

Heath has done an amazing job and is an inspiration! I'm uneducated in all this but am keen to know what can be done that makes a real difference? What are the steps of approval or rejection for Equinor, how as a collective group could we influence that rejection?

BA

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 7:58pm

Epic speech, well done Heath!

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 8:16pm

Go you legend.

Fingers crossed.

t-diddy's picture
t-diddy's picture
t-diddy commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 11:32pm

Great work Heath! Go greens!

Johno210's picture
Johno210's picture
Johno210 commented Thursday, 16 May 2019 at 11:35pm

Equinor are majority owned by the Norwegian Govt - 67%.
The Norwegian Govt announced in 2017 they will no longer import fossil fuel motor vehicles post 2025 ! ?

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/norway-to-ban-t...

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 7:00am

Well done Heath....would have been hard to stand up like that and deliver....!

simba

Chris Tacke's picture
Chris Tacke's picture
Chris Tacke commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 8:05am

While the world is run by accountants and economists growth, growth ,growth, we are doomed the world needs a massive shift in thinking

northeasterly's picture
northeasterly's picture
northeasterly commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 9:23am

Well done Heath Joske. You're an inspiration. Keep leading the charge for all all us. We're right behind you.

Pat Hollingworth's picture
Pat Hollingworth's picture
Pat Hollingworth commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 11:40am

Talk about having real skin in the game. Keep up the great work Heath, I hope it gets knocked on the head (although fear it will not).

Pat Hollingworth's picture
Pat Hollingworth's picture
Pat Hollingworth commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 11:41am

Talk about having real skin in the game. Keep up the great work Heath, I hope it gets knocked on the head (although I fear it will not).

ShaneAbel's picture
ShaneAbel's picture
ShaneAbel commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 2:24pm

Lots of emotion but not a lot of assessment They have been drilling for oil in Bass Straight for a very long time one of the roughest stretches of water in the world and how many oil disasters have we had .I hope Heath doesn't drive a car or fly overseas to go surfing because we have to get the oil from some where so ok to drill any where else in the world but not in Australia

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 2:36pm

Bass Strait is between 50-100m so if something does go wrong it will be much easier to get on top of compared to the 2,000m+ depth Equinor are looking at.

And again regarding that last line, the world is moving away from coal and oil so why put at risk such a unique and pristine environment. We all drive cars, fly in planes and use these chemicals but the shift away from these products is slowly being made. Also it looks like Heath has set up a semi-sustainable plot of land on the West Coast to make as little impact as he can. He's out there leading.

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 2:46pm

It's all about depth of the drilling and also response time (perhaps THE biggest issue). Lincoln is the closest harbour and no-ones getting out and into the winds during a big blow. Put those together, drill depth and dangerous location, and you've got a risk lots of people around here dont want to take.
Also, most oil and gas platforms in the strait are off Gippsland in shallow water blocked by Wilsons Prom from swell.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 2:50pm

Thanks Derra.

davestybay's picture
davestybay's picture
davestybay commented Saturday, 18 May 2019 at 8:13pm

Average Bass Strait well - 84 m
Montara well - 75 m
Deepwater Horizon well - 1522 m
Proposed Equinor well - 2239 m (the oil is approx 2000 m below the contact point with the ocean floor - ie we hit oil at the 4000 m mark)

Indonesia still has court actions continuing over loss of fishing grounds from the Montara spill (Received very little publicity)

Issue around the Horizon Spill: “In 2015, National Institutes of Health sources estimated that 170,000 Gulf residents would die of spill-related illnesses over the next five years. Springsted report https://truthout.org/articles/when-covering-up-a-crime-takes-precedence-...

Equinor's own modelling states that a capping rig with the technology to handle a blow out in the Bight would take 15 days minimum to transport from Singapore. Support vessels, set up and location of the capping rig could only be done when the swell is below 3m. The time frame to cap a blow out in reality could extend to months,

Equinor's modelling shows that blow out oil would effectively spread from Esperance in the West to Eden in the East and effect Tasmania.

Lobster, shark, abalone, oyster, tuna, scale fisheries, tourism and more would be affected by a spill. Oil mining the Bight is a direct affront to the local indigenous population.

Incidentally, Australia just became world's largest exporter of gas ... our resources go out but only a fraction of the benefit comes back to the Australian population.

There is simply not enough space here to continue with points as to why drilling in the Bight is a bad idea.

CSIRO recently developed encouraging technology to utilise ammonia for storage and transport in hydrogen powered vehicles ... if you are anti EV.

Patagonia produce their wetsuits out of renewable latex.

Kevchecksurf's picture
Kevchecksurf's picture
Kevchecksurf commented Monday, 20 May 2019 at 8:54am

Great comment! Perhaps you should contact heath and help wrote his speeches. This one was very good but seemed to be too focused on a few fishermen and the concept of protesting because we are concerned about not being able to surf. The issue is much bigger than this and I think 98% of protesters would agree.
The reason that surfers are standing up is because we have been asked, and because we have seen the environment that is under threat.

Spearman's picture
Spearman's picture
Spearman commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 7:41pm

I wanted to know who is pushing for the drilling, if anyone wasn’t already aware see an article from https://www.afr.com/business/energy/oil/norways-equinor-pushes-ahead-wit...

‘Federal Resources Minister Matthew Canavan has argued oil exploration must be encouraged to try to reverse Australia's declining self-sufficiency in oil. The last well in the Great Australian Bight was the unsuccessful Gnarlyknots-1 well drilled by Woodside Petroleum in 2003 at a cost thought to be more than $100 million.
The National Resources Statement released last week by Senator Canavan lists developing new resources in new basins among the key priorities for the government, and notes the Great Australian Bight "could have enormous oil and gas potential".’

Well thats confirmed where my vote is not going.

n!ck's picture
n!ck's picture
n!ck commented Friday, 17 May 2019 at 8:05pm

Onya Heath. Thank you

philosurphizingkerching's picture
philosurphizingkerching's picture
philosurphizing... commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 7:55am

Thanks for the link Dave, incredible story .

Two excerpts from that link.

BP used two kinds of toxic chemical dispersants to sink the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, manufactured by Nalco Environmental Solutions. Approximately 770,000 gallons were injected at the wellhead while the oil gushed, while another million gallons were sprayed on the oil slick on the surface. Tens of thousands of cleanup workers, Coast Guard members, fishers and coastal residents were within range of the airborne chemicals, and many of them were sprayed directly with Corexit, which when mixed with crude, is 52 times more toxic than crude alone.

And this.
“While the plaintiff’s steering committee for this disaster walked away with between $350 and $700 million in fees and the claims administrator walked away with $155 million, all the victims who were compensated shared in only a $60 million payment,” Henderson has written about the situation. “Those paid from that $60 million represent only a small fraction of the injured who helped in the cleanup and live in the designated impact zones.”

Robo's picture
Robo's picture
Robo commented Sunday, 19 May 2019 at 11:04am

Glad i didn't take Heath's advice and vote for Rob Oakshot lol. Love your work Heath but getting him involved wasn't going to do you any favours.

Tim Pak Poy's picture
Tim Pak Poy's picture
Tim Pak Poy commented Tuesday, 21 May 2019 at 4:03pm

Things aren’t looking good for the Bight after Nopsema gave approval this week for 3D Oil’s seismic testing in Bass Strait as part of exploration plans by the oil and gas company. The Australian fishing industry has significant concerns for the tuna, scallop, lobster & oyster fisheries; researchers from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies and Curtin University found in 2017 that noise from seismic airguns significantly increased mortality in scallops and zooplankton. Environmental managment planning of the effect on breeding southern right whales and other species is crucial to preserving these pristine waters. Nopsema is the govt agency responsible for environmental management in our waters, whose CEO was previously responsible for facilitating major mining and oil and gas projects, attracting investment, and promoting trade and economic expansion for the WA Govt, while their Head of Environment Division is ex-Woodside Energy and Shell Global Solutions International. Will they be planning for the long term health of our waters or the short term health of our lifestyle.
With whale populations are increasing we have the opportunity to leave our waters in better condition for coming generations than we inherited it.

MartinNow's picture
MartinNow's picture
MartinNow commented Wednesday, 22 May 2019 at 5:42pm

So.

How did you vote?

For the future?

Or your self centred stuff?

Collectively Aus voted for suits who suck coal, and bankers and big corporations.

We better do better next time.

If there is one.

MartinNow

Lucas Gibbs's picture
Lucas Gibbs's picture
Lucas Gibbs commented Thursday, 23 May 2019 at 12:22pm

Perhaps this will shed new light and raise awareness towards oil consumption within the surf industry, which is what we, as surfers and consumers, should be paying attention to.