Soon after the long drive home to Bellingen from the Leard blockade, I rang my 98-year-old dad and Kokoda veteran, Mick. I told him about my arrest, really not knowing what he would think.
We have a pretty good relationship and are able to chat about most things, so not surprisingly he didn’t flinch when I told him of my civil disobedience. In fact he said what a good thing it was that I had stood up for something that I passionately believed in. That meant a lot to me.
Of course, I mentioned having met 92-year-old Bill Ryan, another Kokoda vet at the blockade, and 82-year-old Simon Hasleton, prepared to put their bodies on the line. I remember Bill saying it was funny how a 92-year-old can suddenly get the ear of the media in a tweet. The likes of Bill, Simon and others certainly added credibility to the Leard blockade, but I don’t wish to lessen the value of anyone there. Bill described us as “the cream of society”.
Good friend and fellow nurseryman, John Ross and I decided to join Act Up 3 (non violent direct action training) by chance. We had been wanting to support the campaign for some time, but because of commitments with our businesses, we had trouble in nailing a date.
I really didn’t know what to expect and I certainly wasn’t wanting to be arrested, potentially the first in my family.
Then along came Phil Spark, the Tamworth ecologist who dispelled any lingering doubts that I may have had about the need to take direct action.
Whitehaven Coal had been required to set aside an equivalent area of forest as biodiversity offset, however a dodgy ‘scientific’ process ensured a largely unrepresentative area had been chosen. This has been verified by two other independent ecologists. I had recently heard this and similiar issues aired on ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing and I was appalled by Whitehaven Coal’s conduct. If they were prepared to break the law, then so was I, albeit for honourable reasons.
My biggest concern with the new coal mine has always been related to global warming. We are reliably told that in order to check the concerning rise in global temperatures, we need to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and move toward renewables. So this huge new mine just doesn’t add up for me. The release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the same day was timely, with the chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, stating: “The world needs to be jolted into action”. Well, I was ready to be part of that jolting.
Briefings prior to the ‘action’ were impressive; I was energised being in the midst of so many dedicated and passionate people, all with a common concern for our environment.
We awoke very early to a clear starlit sky and were soon off to join the readied convoy of cars to take us to the mine site. I was reassured by the scale of the protest, with about 80 protestors that I knew of entering the site and many others who would protest from public land. Safety in numbers.
Getting in the front gate of the mine site was easy once security was distracted by our numbers. I’m pretty sure my sub-group – the ‘wise elders’ – were all tense, not knowing how this was to pan out.
None of us had been arrested before and we knew we were breaking the law. But what is the alternative, when planet earth is under threat? Governments won’t act and big business rules. Peaceful civil disobedience is our best weapon. Reassured, we took up our positions around the huge earthmoving machinery, effectively preventing their use. Banners were unfurled and we organised for the freelance media accompanying us to record the event.
When police arrived at around 10am, I thought they would give us a warning and then ask us to leave the site.
I would have obeyed police direction, as we had made our protest; media was getting our message out to the world and we had delayed work all morning. Also, I knew a few protestors had ‘locked on’ to machinery in order to delay their use even further. However, it soon became apparent that we would all be arrested and so, at precisely 12.20pm, about 7 hours after entering the site, I was arrested.
I was treated fairly, given a seat in the shade and became part of a processing line. While waiting for my turn in the ‘charge room’ I watched in the distance as 3 or 4 massive earthmoving machines wound around the side of a distant hill like alien monsters, eating it away.
If only those operators understood our protest; that we had taken this non violent action for all of us, for all of our children and grandchildren, for our future.
A few tears welled up, was it necessary to be arrested? What would my family think? Would I need to attend court? What would the fine be? These thoughts happened in the space of maybe 10 seconds, then I looked around at my comrades and I knew it was okay.
We could hold our heads high and be proud knowing that we had done what we needed to do for our planet.