Melbourne’s protest – which coincided with similar rallies around the country – came despite condemnation and frustration from authorities about its timing.
Authorities had urged people concerned about bushfires not to attend as it could be a “distraction” for police and emergency services whose resources could be better placed elsewhere.
And on Friday evening, Premier Daniel Andrews also expressed his frustration that the protest was going ahead, particularly when the people battling bushfires around the state were utterly “exhausted”.
“Climate change is real – but now is not the time,” he said.
But the rally organisers – Uni Students for Climate Justice – defended their decision, seizing on comments from police on Friday morning that no police members would be pulled back from the bushfires to police the protest.
“For the past week I’ve been heavied by the Victorian government, the media and the police to cancel this important protest in response to the bushfire crisis on the basis of lies,” said Victorian convenor of Uni Students for Climate Justice Anneke Demaneule in a statement.
“It’s clear that this was never an issue of resourcing,” said the Melbourne University student.
“This was a cynical ploy to use the disaster-affected communities to shut down a protest in support of those very communities, and to divert attention from the real criminals responsible for this crisis.”
In a statement on Friday morning, a Victoria Police spokeswoman confirmed no police members would be pulled back from the bushfires to police the protest.
“However, we are frustrated by the timing of this protest and it will impact on other proactive initiatives and operations we have in place,” she said.
“It also means we now have to redeploy some of our officers who have only just returned from the firegrounds to the protests. This makes it difficult for us to manage fatigue and means officers who have been working around the clock at the bushfires may not receive a sufficient break.”
At the rally, Swanston Street became a sea of umbrellas as protestors kept arriving into the evening.
Greens Melbourne MP Adam Bandt was among the speakers, telling the crowd that firefighters around the country were “showing Scott Morrison what leadership looks like”.
“We were warned that it would be like this and what did our leaders do?” asked a fired-up Mr Bandt. “They carried on regardless and they made the situation worse – and Scott Morrison you share some of the blame… You will be held accountable!”
Thousands of protesters have also marched in hot and humid conditions in Sydney where Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi addressed the crowd.
“I stand in front of you today bloody angry,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever been this angry in my life.”
Shortly after 7pm, protesters took their demonstration to the streets of Melbourne’s CBD.
They marched down Swanston Street, towards Bourke Street, drenched but determined.
“What do we want? Climate action!” they chanted.
“When do we want it? Now!”
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist and investigative reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.
Bianca Hall is a senior reporter for The Age. She has previously worked in the Canberra bureau as immigration correspondent, Sunday political correspondent and deputy editor.