Voicing their concerns

Perched 50 metres off the ground on the side of a power station cooling tower is not your average way of spending a Thursday night.

For Chloe Aldenhoven and Dominic O’Dwyer, from anti-coal activist group Quit Coal, it was the only way they felt they could remind the Federal Government and the wider community about the “threatening impacts” of climate change.

Speaking to The Express shortly after 9pm on Thursday while hanging from cooling tower maintenance cables in custom-made climbing hammocks called “wombs”, Chloe said despite the day’s gruelling climb, the pair were “quite comfortable”.

Then she dropped Dom’s sleeping bag.

“Were very diligent to ensure all our gear was clipped on; that was my one job right now, to hold this sleeping bag, and I dropped it,” Chloe said.

It was the beginning of a long night for the pair; a steady downpour of rain lasted most of the night, which quickly turned the “comfy” situation into a long and sleepless night.

By morning, Chloe was feeling the strain; breezy conditions were hindering the pair’s ultimate goal of unfurling a 21-metre banner reading “Government Funded Global Warming’ down the side of the cooling tower, and fatigue was setting in.

The mission was at a crossroads.

Twenty-four hours earlier, the pair had breached Yallourn Power Station’s perimeter fences and hooked onto the maintenance cables for a hasty climb out of arms’-length of the quick-to-respond emergency crew. To the casual onlooker, the climb looked over before it had begun; the pair appeared stuck below the cooling towers’ bottom ledge, where water cascades after its condensation inside the cooling tower.

“That was a horrible part of the climb for us; that was really wet down there,” Chloe said.

Within a hour of the climb, the site was flooded with emergency service personnel.

According to Victoria Police incident commandeer Inspector Ron Gardner, the pair’s apparent initial difficulties lead authorities to believe Chloe was already suffering “suspension trauma”. While the pair’s eventual ascension over the ledge allayed initial fears, police quickly became concerned about the maintenance cable’s integrity, which Insp Gardner believed had not been serviced for more than 10 years.

“We’ve got some seriously grave concerns about the protestors’ decision to go ahead with this climb; we are in charge as lead operation to monitor any threat to the power supply, but everyone’s concern is with the welfare of the climbers right now,” Insp Gardner told The Express at the time.

By early afternoon, news had already reached the Yallourn North general store, while the spectacle was drawing its share of local rubber-neckers; one driver sped past with his thumbs up out the window in support of their cause, while a tradesman beeped his horn before he delivered a drive-by two-fingered salute.

Meanwhile, 20 metres up the cooling tower, three weeks of training by Chloe and Dom, which included scaling mountain ash trees was helping with technique, but in direct sunlight on a 35 degree day, the elements were clearly taking their toll.

“It was pretty exhausting; we were definitely feeling it in the heat,” Chloe recollected that night.

When the Bureau of Meteorology issued a storm warnings for the Latrobe Valley, the protestors again found themselves questioning their resolve, however when the “storm” front came through, wind gusts only lasted 10 minutes.

Chloe was due to restore communication with The Express the following morning after packing up her “womb”; however, exhausted from the overnight ordeal, she felt she was no longer comfortable nor safe in suspension.

The onlooking crowd of supporters cheered when she mounted a cherry picker, raised to intercept her on her descent. After an inspection by paramedics, called onto the scene to monitor welfare, Chloe was taken off site for processing at the Moe police station, where she was charged with trespassing offences.

Meanwhile, Dom, without the burden of equipment and gear, was climbing rapidly to the top of the cooling tower to deploy a smaller back-up banner, traversing the distance gained the earlier day in a third of the time.

According to police, Dom descended for his arrest at 3pm; the pair will appear in the Latrobe Valley magistrates court on 11 February.

“We understand we are up for some potentially serious consequences, but this is too great an opportunity to highlight the fact billions of dollars are being poured into compensation for a dirty industry, when the community could be benefiting from a head start to a more sustainable future,” Chloe said.