photo Des Pensable – protest action at Whitehaven mine, 4th June 2014
Des Pensable (c) 2014.
I was one of many that received a red alert about a changed situation at Leard State Forest near Boggabri in western NSW two weeks ago. My partner and I had been at camp Wando at Maules Creek over Easter and I wrote a report of our time there called “Adventure in Wando land”, so we set off on the long trip from Sydney again as I was interested to see for myself what had changed.
The red alert had been called because Whitehaven, the company who wants to destroy the forest to dig a massive open cut coal mine adding to our already dire Global Warming problems had broken its environmental agreement not to bulldoze the forest during the winter while the native animals were in a state of near hibernation. In doing this they would be more likely to kill the animals that resided there rather than allowing them a small chance to escape and move elsewhere.
The first thing we noticed as we approached camp Wando was the increased number of police stationed about a kilometre from the entrance. There were about ten of them. We were stopped, I had my driver’s licence examined, I was questioned about where I was going and our car searched.
I asked why and was told that this wasn’t a road block and I was only being searched for “safety reasons”. As they don’t do this anywhere else in the state I might be forgiven if I thought that this might be termed harassment or perhaps they were just bored. After all, guard duty on a remote country road for a private company is not what they were trained or are paid for.
We were welcomed into the camp as warmly as on our first visit a few weeks earlier. I expected that it might be a bit tense at the camp as the previous week there had been stories in the news about spies being caught in the camp. Idemitsu, one of the shareholders of Whitehaven had admitted they had hired various companies to spy on the leaders and activities at the camp so that they could plan counter strategies to neutralise the protests at the camp.
Of course, if they were doing that then it showed that the camp’s activities were effective. After setting up our tent we joined the camp for dinner around the camp fire to find out the plans for the next day. There were lots there from the Bentley blockade, local farmers and lots of normal everyday people that normally didn’t protest about anything. The discussion was open and all had a say. The mood was of urgency and everyone present was keen for an action the next day.
The camp organisers were happy to assist but there was to be one change. Only the action organiser would know the location of the target. This was for security against leaked information as every new person at the camp was now a potential spy for Whitehaven.
The next day about two dozen of us were up early ready to leave at 8 am after a freezing night in the tent. The scene was familiar with dozens of people jostling for a better position around the camp fire all holding cups of coffee or tea getting their early morning caffeine fix before the action.
About 25 of us set off in a convoy but only one person in the front car knew the destination. We were stopped by the police at what was “not a road block” and the cars searched and we were asked where we were going. The answer was of course, we had no idea or sightseeing or a picnic somewhere.
We moved on, retrieved the banners and masks that had been hidden in a secret cache along the road to avoid them being confiscated by the police which term them “safety hazards” and continued onto the target which in this case was the gateway entrance to one of the Whitehaven mine areas. We blockaded the road and stopped all traffic to and from the mine until the police arrived and after an hour of negotiations finally left without any arrests.
The police captain was very patient, conciliatory and almost apologetic for having to move us on. I suspect he was thoroughly disgusted with having to waste his team’s time and tax payers’ money protecting a looting and polluting company like Whitehaven but had to do his duty. It was almost as if it he was sick of the stupid part that the police had to play in the grand scheme of one of our corrupt politicians itching to plunder our national wealth for their own benefit.
That evening everyone was in a good mood. Elation, there had been two actions, one that I had been on and another elsewhere that had resulted in a person camping in a tree that had stopped the bulldozers and both had been successful. We had a general meeting of the camp and I had the privilege to be able to perform some of my environmental poetry. The poems were enthusiastically welcomed and my poem “Locked On” which was about a protest action we did in May, was greatly appreciated. Thanks guys.
After the poetry we had a detailed discussion on the ecology of the Laird forest and overview of the Whitehaven’s Environmental Impact Statements. The professional ecologist pointed out all the weaknesses and corners the company had cut to get their plan accepted by the NSW government. Several other independent ecologists had also pointed out problems and errors in the EIS to the government but were ignored. It might be added that certain politicians currently appearing before the ICAC on corruption allegations were involved in the approval process.
The next day we were in action again. This time the bulk of the people in the camp went to Boggabri and protested outside the Whitehaven offices for World Environment day. The police came and moved us on. No arrests; back to camp; another double action day; another action that stopped the bulldozers. Everyone had a part to play. The demonstration outside Whitehaven offices may not have stopped the bulldozers but it diverted the attention of the police and the company causing them to fragment their resources allowing us to penetrate their defences.
My partner and I left the next day to return to our home just as a large convoy set off from Sydney to continue the good work that the activists in the camp were doing to slow and hopefully stop the desecration of the beautiful Leard State forest from the immoral mining company and their corrupt political backers.
We are many and if we act together we can stop mountains from being moved and forests being destroyed. I urge you take up the fight to save our land from those that would destroy it to line their own pockets. It’s our common wealth… not theirs. Thanks to all our friends at Maules creek both old and new.
photo Des Pensable – protest action at Boggabri outside White haven offices , 5th June, 2014