East Fremantle came to a virtual standstill this morning as thousands of protestors on both sides of the live export debate took part in an incredible show of arms on what has become the most divisive issue involving Australian agriculture.
More than 2000 famers and cattle producers from as far away as the East Kimberley formed a protest along the Swan River which stretched all the way from Merv Cowan Park to Queen Victoria Street bridge as almost 1000 anti-live export supporters formed a human chain above them on the Stirling Bridge.
The incredible sight of thousands of farmers waving signs along the river foreshore as hundreds of protestors, clad in black, formed a chain across the busy bridge bought traffic to a virtual stop as cars honked and yelled in support of both sides.
The atmosphere became electric as several young supporters of the live trade industry ran across the bridge, revving up the crowd and inciting anger from their opposition. Police on horses and on foot were quick to intervene with troublemakers and escorted several off the bridge as well as attempting to control traffic, which was becoming chaotic.
A series of road trains covered in pro-live export banners travelled across the bridge, driving slowly to fill the entire structure, much to the anger of the Stop Live Export supporters.
Threats were yelled, paraphenalia was thrown and a couple of ardent anti-live export protestors ran onto the bridge and in front of the trucks.
Police were quick to quell any anger and removed fired up protestors from the bridge and the area.
A police spokeswoman said the crowd was generally well behaved and no arrests were made on either sides but two move on notices were issued.
The Stop Live Export organisation had publicly advertised the human chain as a show of opposition against the live export trade in the last few weeks, after recent publicity surrounding welfare issues associated with the industry.
But when Walkaway farmer Michael Trant heard of the planned protest he emailed some industry colleagues and friends to garner interest in a peaceful protest in support of live trade but said today he could never have imagined so many would turn out.
Supporters of the live trade industry turned out in their thousands, many carrying banners and signs saying where they were from or what they did for a living, to make their point clear.
Utes covered in dust and brandishing country plates lined the up market streets of East Fremantle early this morning as supporters of the live export trade slowly made their way to the park for a series of rallying speeches, giant barbecue and the protest itself.
“I’m stunned, I’m absolutely stunned. The turnout here was huge,” Mr Trant said.
“The first email went out three weeks ago just on the quiet and the response was that big. 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.”
Stop Live Export organiser Katrina Love said about 900 people had turned up to their protest.
“Everyone is really fired up, particularly because of the counter rally. We know that we have to show that we are the majority who are opposed to the cruelty of live exports.
“People from all walks of life have come here to show government and the media and the trade that we’re still here, we’re still not impressed with live export and we’re not going away until its finished.”
Animal rights activist Tina Elbrow, of Westminster, said she had eggs thrown at her from below during the protest on the Fremantle Stirling Bridge.
Ms Elbrow said activists wanted to work with farmers to grow the chilled meat export industry and eventually end the live export industry.
"We want better for the animals," Ms Elbrow said.
"We want abattoirs opened here and jobs brought back to Australia."
Police watched on as activist Rita Sam, of Hamilton Hill, had a heated argument with a farmer.
"Yes, it's an economic issue, but the animal cruelty has to be taken into account," Ms Sam said.
"It's not about not having farmers, but ending live exports."