Work utes covered in dust and displaying country number plates lined the streets of East Fremantle early yesterday as supporters of the live export trade slowly made their way to Merv Cowan Park for a rally to counteract a protest against the practice.
Supporters of the live trade industry turned out in their thousands, many carrying banners and signs stating where they were from or what they did for a living.
Similarly, people from all walks of life donned black clothing and turned up to oppose the industry, with protesters wearing signs that described what they did or who they represented.
Teachers, a butcher's daughter, vegetarians, government workers and a concerned parent were among almost 1000 people who supported a halt to livestock export.
By 8.30am yesterday, hundreds of pro-live export supporters had gathered at Merv Cowan Park as sausages sizzled on a giant barbecue and posters were passed around.
Just over an hour later, and with numbers in the park still growing, their opponents had gathered at both ends of Stirling Bridge several hundred metres away, keen to make a statement against live export trade.
At 10am both rallies kicked into high gear with cheers and chants escalating as a boat emblazoned with a "support live export" banner cruised along the river while a news helicopter hovered overhead.
Police were out in force controlling traffic and ensuring peace prevailed among the two conflicting groups. A police spokeswoman said the protesters were generally well behaved and there were no arrests.
A series of road trains covered in pro-live export banners travelled slowly across the bridge during the hour-long rally, sparking anger and verbal threats from the Stop Live Exports crowd, who had been promised sole occupancy of the bridge for their protest.
For Geraldton farmer and pro-live export rally organiser Michael Trant, what began as an email to industry colleagues and friends about standing up to the animal welfare activists turned into an unprecedented groundswell of support.
Mr Trant said he was stunned by the thousands who turned up in support of the industry at relatively short notice - and during the busy harvest period.
"The first email went out three weeks ago just on the quiet and the response was that big," he said. "This isn't what farmers do, we don't do this sort of thing, ever.
"I hope this is the start of something - this isn't where it ends, this is where it starts."
Many young protesters turned out for both sides yesterday. Cloverdale teenager Ainsley Palmer, 17, took part in the stop live export rally. "I'm vegetarian and really love animals," she said. "It was good seeing all the support, I wasn't expecting this many people."
Ben Mills, 22, is the third generation of his family to run Warrawagine Station near Marble Bar and made the 1500km trip to Perth with his partner Caitlin Uren to show their support for live trade.
The station exports between 4000 and 6000 head of cattle each year and relies on the trade for up to 90 per cent of its income.
"We thought we were a quiet voice but as you can see, we're a force to be reckoned with," Mr Mills said.
"Everything outside the Perth CBD is farming country. I think people underestimate how many of us there are out there.
"We don't like animal cruelty, we are animal lovers. I've got 25,000 babies at home and I love every one of them and they wouldn't survive if we didn't look after them."
Just after 11am, the bridge was clear and most of the farming crowd was starting to disperse. Many made the most of the sunny weather to enjoy a drink at the nearby Left Bank bar before making their way back to their farms.
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