Summer clearing of the Leard State Forest

A piece on the last 3 weeks of Whitehaven Coal’s Summer 2015 clearing  of the Leard State Forest

The smell of fallen trees;
Sweet sap and diesel.

With the Milky-way overhead, and a good few k to go, we can already smell the clearing. It is a visceral smell. Last year in the first round of clearing, I was shaken, this is the smell of coups, of other frontiers – not here, not the Leard Forest. This year, our hearts are hardened by love, by rage, grief, and general sleep deprivation. We walk, in our op-shop camouflage, a motley crew weaving our way through the bush. Leaves crunching under foot.
The forest is dry. The North-West is dry. The January rains didn’t come and the cattle are eating hay. Bores are pumping sand in the hills, and the willy willys are whipping up turned top-soil. Farms around here can’t afford less water. The drought is still here, and with the surety of more to come as this landscape is changed irrevocably. The mines plan to drop the water table, draining the surrounding landscape, whilst CO2 emissions will contribute to the climate crisis. Yet the plans to mutate the northwest into a mining complex continue to push on, despite community opposition, despite a plummeting coal price, despite the traipse of ICAC findings and allusions. And the resistance pushes back, at every step of the way.

We walk on, through some of the last box-gum woodland on earth, looking for clearing machines. It is disorienting being in the bush while it’s being bulldozed. The topography of the place changes day by day, and each bushwalk calls for a re-evaluation. A beloved ridgeline, a safe haven, where we’ve sat on lichen covered boulders with diamond firetails, brown tree creepers, and tawny frogmouths, is on one visit sprayed with H’s signifying that it’s next to be cleared. Juliet, Luca, and Tiffany held that ridgeline for days, by occupying tree-sits, before it was bulldozed. On this walk the ridge is gone, and we can only navigate by the silhouettes of sparse habitat* trees against the light from Whitehaven’s mining compound.

At the edge we gather our breath, make camp beneath a beautiful big ironbark with a scar on both sides, half of it is a hollow home and dozens of bats dart from its limbs. We crack open the trail mix, right on the edge of what might be overburden by next spring. There are scar trees, sacred sites, and burial grounds throughout the forest, the marks of tens of thousands of years of love, knowledge, and care for this country.

We walk out into the clearing. The smells of sap and diesel are overwhelming. Our boots sink amongst the piles of dead trees, in the soft churned up earth. Tonight is much the same as last night. Except yesterday Ruby was high in the fork of an ironbark, attached to a rope, immobilising a massive dozer. Tonight there are less than a handful of habitat trees left, with security spotlighting them. Now Whitehaven has finished the second round of clearing for this year they have cleared enough for their teetering overburden pile to expand.
I can tell you the exciting news, of how we are spreading across Australia, and how we are not letting up. There have been close to 400 arrests defending this forest. Whitehaven was the worst performing company on the ASX 2013/14. There are huge, and diverse groups of people trained in civil disobedience, in tactics to peacefully and effectively resist, organising across the country. But for the moment, rest with this grief, of what we are doing to the last of our woodlands, to Gomeroi sacred sites, to farmland, and our climate, and steel yourself to make a change, to take action, because we have no choice.

*As part of the environmental regulations required to clear a forest, ecologists identify habitat trees. These trees a left standing for one day longer than the surrounding bush, to “allow” animals to relocate.

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