Day 50 in the forest

It’s hard to believe that already 50 days have passed in the Front Line Action on Coal camp in Leard Forest. One Maules Creek resident describes the camp as reviving the lost art of conversation – a gathering place where people can meet each other. Even in this small community there are a lot of people who didn’t know each other before the beginning of the camp, and a firm alliance has been developed between local farmers, residents, supporters from elsewhere in NSW, environmentalists and other interest groups who are willing to take on this David and Goliath stand. It’s a real test of our political system – is it really so weak that a mega-coal-mine complex can be allowed to tear down the last bit of native forest, uproot local community, dig up productive farmlands and use phenomenal amounts of water to the detriment of our own health and the health of our children? Our camp shows that where politicians fail us, strong communities can drive change.

Vigorous community opposition and action have led to comprehensive approval processes where elsewhere the projects would be rubber-stamped. Here, none of the mine expansions have achieved final approval – not Idemitsu for the Boggabri expansion, nor Whitehaven for either its Tarrawonga or Maules Creek projects. Pressure on the banks have led to a couple of major banks deciding not to invest in these highly unethical and dangerous projects. High-profile blockades and actions have catalysed regional attention on these mines and taken steam off the pace of the expansions. Community members have observed that since the camp has started, the mines have started to pay more attention to their dust, noise and safety systems – perhaps not enough, but bearing witness has had its own effect. Rumours have been flying in the past few days about contracts for the Maules Creek mine being put on the backburner, and we have seen drill rigs leave the site. A little early to call, and the NSW government is yet to make a decision on the mine – time to ramp up community pressure!

Last week a number of eyes were scanning the skies for hint of a drop that the farms desperately need. Two brief downpours allowed currents to flow through this forest, if only for a while. Morning after the rain brought a fog that permeated through the tree-cover, gradually lifting to form glistening white buds of moisture on the outer edges of the plants as flowers of many different colours started to bud. El Nino seems to be coming to an end a little sooner than usual this year – perhaps a warning of what can come if we allow fossil fuel expansion to continue unabated. We are determined that here, at least, community rights, health, the local economy and ecology will prevail.

Today was the first day in court for Russ, Scott and Dan, who were arrested at mine actions at the beginning of September. The biggest pressure on the courts is time, and mentions, short pleas and adjournments are taken through as quickly as possible. The three didn’t enter any pleas and the case has been adjourned until November 27, but the heavy bail conditions imposed by the police, which would ban the men from camping or conducting wildlife surveys in Leard Forest were successfully challenged by the two banner-droppers – not a great surprise. We’ll just let the legal process take its course from here.

We would love to see as many people as possible come for koala surveys on October 6-7 – a great opportunity to learn about koala habitat and surveying, and a fair chance of spotting one of Australia’s iconic mammals! October 13 will be a koala picnic at the camp. We’ll definitely keep you posted about other coming events which are in the works!

If the next fifty days pass as successfully as the first fifty, we are on the right track to seeing the community and forests protected and prosperous… don’t miss out on being part of the change!