Long time green activist Martin Cubby is used to being on the other side of a protest line from coal miners.
The former Greens candidate for Wollongong City Council was one of the organisers of the Climate Strike in 2019, where a key demand was halting the Adani coal mine in central Queensland.
Now, however, he's standing shoulder to shoulder with Illawarra miners, firmly in support of the proposal for offshore wind turbines off the coast of the Illawarra.
"It's an opportunity to replace the burning of fossil fuels for power and other uses," Mr Cubby said. "It's incredibly exciting to back something in, rather than stop something. It's a bit of an odd feeling, to be honest."
Joining Mr Cubby in support of the wind turbines is a red wall of organised labour from industries dependent on carbon. Representatives of miners, manufacturing workers and maritime seafarers are in on the push, and South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said workers saw the jobs associated with manufacturing and maintaining wind turbines as they ticket to the future, as coal mines begin to close down.
"We now have an opportunity before us for those workers who form a backbone for our region's economy to play a critical role making and maintaining the clear energy technologies that our planet needs right now," he said.
In the week where in-person drop-in sessions were held in the Illawarra for residents to find out more about the proposed offshore wind zone, concerns expressed in person and online have often foregrounded environmental and economic objections. An online petition that has gained over 2000 signatures since November in opposition to the proposal environmental degradation and livelihood destruction as a result of the wind farm proposal.
Mr Cubby and Mr Rorris say the opposite would eventuate.
"If we don't do anything about climate change and knock back renewable energy projects, whales, dolphins and all the marine species that people profess to be concerned about are facing an existential crisis over the next decades," Mr Cubby said.
"You could not have scripted this any better for Port Kembla," Mr Rorris said. "What gives us confidence that this will be local, substantial and continuous is that the technology we are talking about is so big, and of such capacity, that it will require a permanent workforce to maintain it."
It's not the first time that Mr Rorris and the union movement have joined with unlikely bedfellows to pursue green energy industries and bring them to Port Kembla. A similar effort bringing together the Labour Council, local councils, the University of Wollongong and the business chamber - now Business Illawarra - launched in 2009, but despite having some successes folded in 2013.
Mr Rorris said this time around he was not going to let future industries pass the Illawarra and its workforce by.
"When I hear wealthy landowners on the coast, whose main concern is what they consider to be their rights to this unblemished view of the ocean, and they're asking coal miners and blue collar workers to sacrifice their careers, I say, 'Get real,'" he said.
"The burden for saving our planet has to be shared evenly, it should not be based on wealth, and it should not be based on people's property interests."
This week, federal energy and climate change minister Chris Bowen went to Newcastle to speak with community members there concerned about the plans for offshore wind in the Hunter region.
A similar split in the community has also occurred in the Illawarra, both in person and online, and Mr Cubby had spent part of his week going back and forth in the comments sections of community Facebook pages.
Despite this pushback, Mr Cubby was confident that a coalition of environmentalists and workers could make the project succeed.
"Building clean, secure jobs [and a] clean energy future. We can do that," he said. "We just have to make sure we back it in and get it done in the right way so that our city has a future that's not threatened by coastal erosion, by constant threats every summer of bushfires burning along that beautiful escarpment and extreme weather and heat events that make it less of a great place to live."
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