As ma in tho of as During the long hot Australian summer the forest was being watched over, and ro preparations were being made. It had been a tense few months in the campaign for Leard state forest, an ecologically vital remnant Whitebox gum forest on the Liverpool plains of A New South Wales, Australia. I came to the on-site camp to help actions designed to physically halt operation of the coal mine by (primarily) chaining and locking people ('protectors') in harms way of machinery using various home-made apparatus. We perform these actions repeatedly to p ro tec t as mu ch fo res t as p os s ib le b y sto pp ing as Ve mu ch 'work ' as p os s ib le . Rumours had been circulating and each heavy truck that come by may have been the first in g the inevitable stream of vehicles carrying buildings, machines, and equipment to begin the demolition of the forest and construction of Whitehaven Coalâ€™s new Maules Creek mine. Not only will the mine destroy much of the forest, but the 30 million tonnes of CO2 released annually from itâ€™s product will be on par with the annual emissions of the entire nation of re New Zealand. When heavy machinery was spotted moving in on trucks, red alert was sent out to the networks of protectors that had built up throughout the campaign and a rolling blockade began. A 63 year old Tamworth man chained himself to a car at the gates, despite w owning an engineering firm that sold equipment to the mines. Others blocked truck movements of a morning, locked themselves to excavators or tied themselves high up in treesits attached to ma ch ine ry. s Every night new actions were planned, and energy built as successes mounted. Protectors locked onto machines at dawn, confounding workers who arrived shortly afterwards to commence their day. The first action we were involved in locked up a specialised tree felling p bulldozer for over half the day. Once the protector had been taken away by police we moved off through the forest only to halt, awestruck, at the sound of crashing timber nearby. We turned and moved back towards it expecting to come across the source within a couple of T hundred metres. The sound of snapping timber and a roaring engine echoed through the It forest. Half a kilometre later we saw a bright yellow beast moving through the forest pushing th down fully grown whitebox, eucalypt and cypress trees as though they were matchsticks. It pr was clearing a path for a new road to bring in heavier equipment and speed the way of the d a ily s trea m o f wo rk ve h ic les . Th e con tras t to ou r la s t v is it was s ta rk .
Leard Forest Blockade
After observing the behemoth for some time we headed back for camp. Away from the valley with the machines, the forest was peaceful. We followed wallaby trails as bird calls echoed through the trees. After a few hours walk we stopped for a break in a wallaby hideout. A handful of circular dirt pads had been worn under a canopy of shady bush. Having only snatched a couple of hours sleep on the forest floor the night before we soon drifted off. Coming to in the peace of the forest, it was hard to imagine our bush cubby being reduced to a du s ty p arc e l of a ir tu mb ling a ro un d a n e no rmou s to x ic p it. We assembled in the early hours of the morning and headed out in the dark. Arriving near the site of the soon-to-be mine we unloaded our heavy cargo and set off into the night.
As we walked across the fields the moon rose a pale crescent in the east. We reached one of the machinery depots and the team split. Continuing on, the bright lights of the site office appeared in a a saddle before us. A huge halogen lamp turned night to day, and it was hard to feel as though we werenâ€™t clearly visible. We reached our destination and prepared to set up, but the roar of an approaching engine and lights bobbing through the bush sent us into hiding. We lay still as a security vehicle approached and drove within ten metres of us. They ro ared o ff do wn the ro ad an d we retu rned to o u r task. As dawn broke, a five metre high tripod sat astride machinery, with a protector dangling from the top. Further back, the other team had set up a single long aluminium pole held up by lines running through no less then thirteen machines. Moving the machines or cutting the line would cause th e p o le to top p le with the p ro tecto r ato p it. Velyama gate blocked. Eastlink gate blocked. Northloop and Testons lane blocked. Every main access way to the mine site had a tripod and sitter in place to prevent access. A crowd had gathered at Velyama gate in a mass show of opposition to the mine. The forest would be safe for to day at least. With little else to do, we lay in the bush and waited for the police response. Five hours later we received word of multiple police cars and a police rescue truck headed for the site. Time dragged on. Unbeknownst to us, another protector had locked onto a cherry picker in the night and the police were busy detaching them. They arrived soon enough, along with a gaggle of mine workers and site management, and proceeded to improvise by standing on an excavator blade to retrieve our protector! The sitter had thrown their ropes over the top of the tripod and generally made an enormous tangle, so it took some time for the police rescue team to get them down safely. Once the protector was down and arrested, the police and workers took off with the newly freed ch erry p icker in ho t pu rsuit. Arriving back at camp that afternoon there was a huge buzz. Some of the tripod teams had packed up minutes before police arrived, saving the apparatus for another day, and there was all round agreement that it was a brilliant action, with on site work stopped for the day and some excellen t med ia co verage. The company later claimed that the day had been a rostered day off and no work was scheduled. It seems odd that so many workers had turned up on an RDO. They must love their jobs so much they donâ€™t mind putting in some unpaid overtime. Standard company practice is to downplay any protest action. Every time there's an action they declare that there was no effect on the operation, and yet figures like $50 000 of lost productivity consistently pop up quietly on police charge sheets. Admitting the true cost of ongoing action wouldnâ€™t do their share price any favo u rs.
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