First I'm going to make a bold call that will put some noses out of joint.
The Animals Australia's "No live export ban, No vote" rallies held across Australia this weekend were a flop.
Some supporters of the trade and myself attended the Melbourne rally with our big "Save Live Export" banner and stood across the street from the crowd of about 600 people.
A pathetic turnout considering the RSPCA live export rally we attended last year drew 3000 people from Melbourne alone. This rally did not achieve that turnout nationally.
The Animals Australia supporters were in fine form, some of them approaching us for quiet and considered debate where both sides got to say their piece and others simply intent on being rude.
One Animals Australia supporter insisted on standing next to me so that whenever someone asked me why I believed the trade should continue she could then speak over me and preach about how defending live export is "like defending the people who make child pornography because, you know, people make a buck out of it." Several members of the meatworkers union were content to snipe at us for being "greedy farmers" without having enough guts to come and debate or defend their arguments.
Out of this hostile environment something wonderful happened, a man who was passing by decided to stand with us, saying he was a long time supporter. Another man who stopped to wish us well and express support also decided to stand beside us to hold an extra "save live export" placard I brought with me. Passers by winked at us, gave the thumbs up or quietly whispered "we're with you" as they came past . Some stopped to argue with the protesters while others stood with us if only for short while before wishing us luck and walking off to continue what they were doing.
To say the least I was surprised at the number of people walking around the CBD that day that supported farmers and live export.
I can only come to the conclusion that people are beginning to see the truth about the live export trade and maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning ever so slightly in our favor.
For the past 12 months ABC TV has run what could only be described as a campaign against live export with programs such as Lateline and The 7:30 Report pouncing on every opportunity to show a negative live export story while Australian Story and The Project have done everything they can to paint Lyn White as a national hero.
Yet with all this negative media attention people I meet are always quick to condemn what was done to farmers with the live cattle ban last year and most are curious to know the other side of the story. They do not simply dismiss the trade as cruel and they do have an open mind when we give them factual reasons the trade should continue. Most agree the trade should remain when we explain the issues properly.
In short we do have some community support in the cities.
What does it all mean?
We haven't won, not yet. Some how I don't think the animal rights activists will ever stop opposing live export in fact I'm sure they are probably more dangerous now than ever. With compassion fatigue setting in and donations beginning to trail off as people direct the constant stream of emails pleading for more money into the spam section of their email accounts. It is only a matter of time before someone is put on plane to find another one off cruelty incident they can paint as "standard operating procedure".
The game is still on but it's half time. We know the oppositions strategies now, we've even copied a few of them ourselves. The next step is to capitalize on the willingness of people in the cities to hear our side of the story by putting it out there every time we can.
I said in an earlier post that "if we don't fight, we lose", at the time it seemed that our future was very dark but now there is the faintest glimmer in the distance, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Despite the millions of dollars in donations, a concerted campaign by WSPA and The Body Shop and all the friendly media attention they could ask for. The animal rights organizations could only get a fraction of the protesters onto the street they could 12 months ago.
It's safe to say whatever we are doing to fight for this cause, it's working.
At the rally on Saturday, once the speakers were finished and the crowd began to surge toward us to pepper us with questions and insults, one thought popped into my head.
"They've got us surrounded, poor bastards."