Civil Disobedience and Disco Dancing at the Leard Forest

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Photo and story Des Pensable (c) 2015

I spent the weekend at the Bat Attack event at a new green front line action camp called Camp Kashmir, protesting about the destruction of over a thousands hectares of the Leard State Forest by Whitehaven Coal. They are building a controversial massive coal mine located near Boggabri in mid-western NSW, to supply coal to a diminishing market in a world concerned about Global Warming when Australia needs to keep 95% of its known reserves in the ground.

The event was originally planned to be held at Camp Wando which is private property owned by a local farmer who has been objecting to the damaging effects that the mine is having in the local environment. He and many of his fellow farmers are concerned about the dust, the noise and how it is destroying the homes of many endangered species. It’s also ruining the underground aquifer for all the farmers in the district that rely on it for water in the dry season and even more so in droughts.

The event was moved to another farmer’s place after the Council tried to stop it from happening at Camp Wando. The Councillors seem to be for some reason working in the best interests of the coal company rather than the local farmers. The situation is complicated by the fact that local farmers would normally complain to their local politicians but not in this case.

It might be no surprise that their politicians are National Party MPs who are not interested in any farmers complaints as the political head of Whitehaven Coal is Mark Vaile, formerly head of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister under the Howard government. The stench of political corruption is overwhelming with the mine having been approved by the corrupt Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald.

Unfortunately the mine is continuing, destroying a beautiful rare forest and producing coal to the detriment of Australia’s international image while making the world’s Global Warming problem worse.

On the positive side we had a wonderful time. As always, visiting a greenie front line action camp is like visiting your own family. People you do know are overjoyed to see you again and even people you don’t know greet you with a hug. We had a bonus, two of our good friends and great poets from Sydney, Candy Royalle and Dave (DC) Carter were a part of the entertainment line-up.

We arrived late on Friday night as did many others after a difficult job finding Kamp Kashmir. It seems someone had sabotaged the road signs making it difficult for newcomers to find the place. But true to form the camp had hot drinks and hot food waiting for all comers no matter how late they arrived.

Setting up a tent in the dark can be quite taxing. Fortunately my partner Jo and I have had plenty of experience camping and managed quite well after first quaffing a couple of glasses of a nice fruity white wine. The sky was amazing, bejeweled with countless stars. The Milky Way was exposed in all its glory, a sight rarely seen in the city owing to an excess of light from street lights and buildings.

In the morning we discovered that we were among about 150 people camped in the farmer’s home paddock which was about 10 hectares in size and covered in dry native grass. We were just up from a dry creek bed but in the shade of a large tree which made the 30 C midday heat bearable. The surprise was that there were no showers owing to the fact that they had to move camps at such short notice. No one complained as real Aussies are made of tough stuff.

At the communal breakfast we met old friends and dozens of new ones, we went over the camp rules which were simple enough, no drugs, alcohol only in moderation, minimal politics and good will all around. The newbies were moved off to workshops on the Leard forest and its biota; the politics of coal mining and Global Warming; the concepts of non-violent civil disobedience and the legal ramifications of it, which took most of the day.

After a communal dinner that evening the farm took on a new persona for the first time ever, it became a disco. The entertainment line-up was huge with more than a dozen bands and groups busting to make a noise and they did from dark into the early hours of the morning. What an intriguing concept, civil disobedience classes during the day and dancing the night away. It worked marvellously well. Candy Royalle and Dave Carter added to the magic with great performances.

The next day the enthusiasm was infectious, many were keen to protest about the destruction of the forest. Some had decided that they were prepared to be arrested and decided to have a mass lock on to Whitehaven equipment destroying the forest. Others including Jo and I who weren’t prepared to get arrested but still wanted to have a protest decided to go to one of the Whitehaven entry gates and stage a protest there. Still others stayed behind to help in running the camp.

Both protests were greatly successful with 10 people locking onto the bulldozers and stopping the destruction of the forest for a day. The people were arrested by police but most released without charge.  In the other protest over 90 people protested loudly to the Whitehaven company staff at a company mine road entrance and were recorded by an ABC TV crew for a documentary to be shown at a future date.

The fun continued on for the next few days with more people arriving every day. So how did everyone survive without a shower? Well many traveled about 10 km to the nearest river and swam in the cool refreshing water there. Others rediscovered one of the greatest joys of life, It rained on Sunday and people all over the camp danced in the rain, got soaking wet, laughed and ran around like kids enjoying being a part of nature again.

Every week, more ordinary people both young and old around the country are objecting to our state and federal politicians who deny the effects of Global Warming on our great land. These new green Aussie activist heroes are having fun socializing with others while trying to save our world from the Fossil Fools like Whitehaven that wish to destroy it for profit. Why don’t you join  a green activist group us and help save the planet!

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To get the emotional feeling of being on a protest action check here.

More stories, poetry and philosophy by the author are available here.

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Des Pensable

Des is a native of Sydney where he currently lives with his partner Joanne. He has a PhD in neuroscience and worked as a biomedical scientist where he published widely in several areas of science. Since retiring, he’s been a keen writer of poetry, stories and philosophy which appear on his web, blog site and on line literary publications. He is also a performance poet that appears regularly in venues around Sydney.

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