Warwick and I are just home again after taking a group of silver-haired oldies from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society to the Leard Blockade.
The plan was that our obvious super-respectability and elder wisdom would look impressive on Facebook, and hopefully add more weight to opposition to the clearing of the Leard Forest for coal mining.
Here in the Blue Mountains we are no strangers to the threat of coal and CSG mining. Over the last 4 years the Society, and hundreds of its members, have put in more than 20 detailed submissions to do with the expansion of existing coal mines here and the establishment of new ones, 8 in 2014 alone. Earlier this year, to the horror of the whole Mountains community, a CSG exploration licence was lodged, covering virtually the whole of the Blue Mountains World Heritage listed National Park. We are still awaiting its outcome.
We’ve also fought threats to our own threatened species, and against inappropriate land clearing. And of course the threat of increased intensity and frequency of bushfires exacerbated by global warming is also a huge concern.
Armed with the banner of the Society and a number of signs Warwick and I had made, we were prepared to do a non-arrestable action. I had decided not to try to be arrested this time because of my responsibility to the group.
Because of our advanced years, knees and backs etc, we did it the easy way, staying in Narrabri in cabins at a caravan park and driving the half-hour out to the camp each day. The first night we all crammed in together to one cabin for a shared meal to start to get to know each other, and to practise singing my song Take Action for Our Land, to the ukelele accompaniment of one of the group. We planned to sing it around the camp fire the following night.
We made an early start next morning, first scraping the thick frost off our windscreens. In the luminous early morning light we drove out past the huge FIFO camp on the outskirts of Narrabri, through beautiful farmland (all under threat of CSG) to a warm welcome at Camp Wando. Almost all the young folks at the camp had been there when Warwick and I were there 2 months ago in mid-June, and they greeted us like old friends (well, of course that’s exactly what we were!).
They’d organised a busy day for us – they don’t call it a working camp for nothing! We started with a lively and fascinating induction that gave a vivid picture of the history of the issues surrounding the mine, and of the camp. Although I already knew a fair bit of this information from our previous visit and from research, I still gained some new insights especially into the long-term expectations of the activists of where events might go.
Then we had an NVDA (non violent direct action) training workshop, followed by a great lunch. I must say here, the food they produce at the camp is amazing. The kitchen is very impressive, well-equipped and organised, and really clean, and although almost all cooking is done over an open fire, it’s delicious and very varied.
Then it was back to work to discuss and plan our action, which was to take place the next morning. We were initially slightly shocked to learn that we’d have to be out at the camp for a 5.30 start, but soon we got into the activism spirit of things and started to feel quite excited about it all.
Later in the afternoon a field biologist friend from the Mountains who was also there, took us up onto the top of a steep hill that looked across the plains to the slope where we could see Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine under construction about 10 kms away. It was too far to see any detail even with binoculars but we could see the extent of the clearing. When there’s a heavy police presence in the area, the activists have to walk the 10 kms to get to forest to do their actions, usually starting in the middle of the night.
Dinner followed – a wonderful satay vegetable dish with noodles, and a huge pan of delicious potato wedges baked in an amazing old cast-iron oven with legs that has a fire built underneath it. We had planned to sing our song at this point, but in the end it didn’t happen because it was too pleasant just sitting and chatting, and hey, we were tired! After all, this pair below alone have 147 years between them. The oldest member of our group was a lovely and very impressive 80!
After dinner we headed back to Narrabri to get ready for a 4.45 start next morning. Fortunately it wasn’t as cold as it had been the previous morning, but it was still cold enough! By 5.30 we were at the camp, and the young folks joined us. First a van full of them drove off in a different direction to act as a decoy to the Whitehaven security guards. We then drove off to another point in the forest (yes, this time we actually got into the forest!) where we lurked for a while until a message came through that we should go – fast! – to the point where we could barricade. We arrived to see a truck being slowed by the young decoys, then grabbed our signs and rushed over to make our line, stopping the truck and after a while 18 vehicles of mine workers and security guards.
We stopped them for 2 hours.
Then we heard that the police were on their way from Narrabri. We decided not to wait and risk a fine for obstructing traffic, not wanting to make a donation to the police department, so took our signs and drove off back to the camp.
On the way, we passed the police car coming from Narrabri. It went out to the roadblock site then returned past us to pull over our field biologist friend’s rather battered Trailblazer. They went over it with a fine tooth comb, then issued him with 5 defect notices for very minor problems.
Back at camp there was a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, reheated baked potatoes and toast made on the fire, then took part in the usual morning camp meeting around the fire at which practical details of camp management are decided. We offered to be the helpers for making lunch. Then there was a de-brief on the morning’s activities.
We all spoke of how impressed we were by the young activists’ professionalism. They were so competent, capable and organised. We were especially touched by the fact that they had brought chairs for us to sit in while blocking the road, in case it had taken a lot longer for the police to come and we had been there for a few more hours. They really know how to help anyone who wants to take action, to do it in the safest way, and they are totally respectful of your wishes about what you’re prepared to do. No pressure! They in turn spoke of being impressed by our calm clarity about what we were doing – the wisdom of age, perhaps!
Another great lunch, then we went off to the barn for a workshop run by 2 clinical psychologists who were visiting from Melbourne to offer a variety of workshops for camp participants. We all gained some real insights into our various journeys in environmental concern and action, and left more hopeful and committed than we were at the beginning.
Then it was time to say goodbye. We were all on a bit of a high driving back, not that we thought what we’d done was really going to change anything, but just that we’d done something. We weren’t just sitting around wringing our hands about climate change and the degradation of our land, we’d made a start to doing more. Three of the group spoke about how they were seriously considering divesting their investments from the big banks; all of them spoke about committing to talk to and engage more people in a variety of ways, about these issues that are so vital to us here in Australia, and to the rest of the world.
Two have already said they’d like to go back to the Leard blockade and bring others with them. Somehow you can’t be in that environment and not be impressed and influenced by the commitment and determination of those young activists, who are putting everything they’ve got into this fight against Big Coal and its political pawns. We all feel so motivated now to start taking action ourselves, in whatever way we can.
If anyone reading this feels inspired to go to the Leard Blockade, my advice is, just do it! You’ll never regret it.
This last photo of Warwick and me says it all for us!
Warwick and me holding sign “Grandparents for Inter-Generational Equity”