Over 100 people are today shutting down construction of the controversial Maules Creek coal mine project in northwest NSW, escalating a blockade of the site that has been underway for over two weeks.
Four groups of protesters have blocked four entrances to Leard State Forest, and another two are in the project area on tripod structures that are preventing Whitehaven Coal from continuing preliminary construction work.
Maules Creek local Roslyn Druce is among the 100 people at the blockade today and said, “This blockade has given our community hope that we are not just the collateral damage of the coal industry. It is the forest that has brought everyone together. This blockade is doing the job the Government should have done, protecting an irreplaceable forest.”
Among those risking arrest today is Bill Ryan, a legally blind 91-year old Kokoda veteran, who is taking part with his 65-year old son. Bill is joined by men and women of all ages and backgrounds, all of them refusing to allow Whitehaven Coal’s contractors to enter the site to build the mine.
Leard Forest Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “The men and women taking part in this blockade have been compelled to make sacrifices and put themselves at risk of arrest to protect something of great value. This mine should never have been approved: Environment Minister Greg Hunt can put a stop to all of this by revoking the approval that was mistakenly given to clear this forest for coal mining. We certainly won’t be giving up on this community, this forest and the people that love it.”
Follow #leardblockade on Twitter for updates throughout the day.
Photos will be made available soon.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dolly Talbott. I’m a Gomeroi woman born and raised in Gunnedah. My family are here among you today. We go back ten generations, by European records. And my great, great, great Grandmother was born just down here on the Namoi, at a place now known as the Woolshed.
My grandfather Reg Talbott, his mother and his grandparents were all born just around the corner here in Rosemary Street, and most of you know my father Dick Talbott. He’s been up here a few today so I think you know him. He’s lived and worked here all his life, and in his words, ‘there is hardly a property around here that I or our mob haven’t worked on over the years’. And I must ask him if that includes the Lairds’.
My mother was also a proud Gomeroi woman, and again we go back nine generations, from Borah Crossing and Caroona. We know our ancestral lines and our ties to Gunnedah and its surrounding areas date back much further.
You’re probably wondering why I’m on about all this family history. Well I thought about getting up here and damning Whitehaven Coal to bits. But I want people to understand, this is not just about coal and money. For us, it’s also about family. It’s about our heritage, our culture, our ties to this country, that is what is being destroyed.
I along with many others who have been on country in the Leard Forest have been where Whitehaven Coal are putting the rail spur, and have seen why it needs to be protected. I have felt the spirit of our ancestors out there. I have felt their pain.
I have seen our sacred places and our burials and other sacred areas. I have sat and listened and seen the footprints that were left for us to follow.
One of the proudest and most powerful things I witnessed is the Elders, back walking on their country together. Remembering and sharing those memories with each other, with us, their children and grandchildren, beside them. Sometimes these memories were obviously but even with this, the contentment of being together, walking on our country and seeing that love of country in their eyes is something I will always remember.
This is our culture, the sharing and coming together of our mob, and that is what is being destroyed.
I am not ashamed that it upsets me, and I cried when I cried when I knew the bulldozers had gone in. I seen the photos of our country and the destruction of our sacred places. I felt the anger and frustration of not being able to stop them.
My family have a direct ancestor who lies in a traditional burial out there on Vellyama [farming property adjacent to Leard Forest, now part of Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal project site]. Yet Whitehaven are not allowing us access to our sacred places. Our Elders have been denied access and threatened arrest and disrespected.
I am sad and disgusted that our own mob are allowing themselves to be manipulated and bought off by Whitehaven Coal. But then there are those of you who have stayed true to yourself, and not put a price on our culture, and shown our Elders and ancestors the respect they deserve. To those people, I am immensely proud of you all.
I want to thank also my brother Steve, and those others, for having the guts to walk off when they did, and I will stand beside them every step of the way, because I believe in what we are doing and I am deeply proud of Steve, as he has shouldered a huge burden in this process, as our spokesperson and standing up with us against Whitehaven Coal and their racist bully boy tactics.
There is another person who we value and respect, who has become a part of our mob, and has supported us unconditionally. You know who you are and your tireless efforts bound you to us, and our country, always.
The government departments of OEH, Department of Planning, and Environment, Minister Greg Hunt, have failed the Gomeroi people, the traditional owners of this country. None of you at a state or federal level have shown any respect or even taken seriously our complaints and concerns.
Ministers at a state and federal level are failing to implement their own Acts. Ministers have had our section 9 and 10 for 83 days and have not shown enough respect to even stop the bulldozers while they determine a result.
One would think it would be given some consideration, after all, we are the traditional people of this country and given what is happening, one would have to ask the question, what is going on between our governments and this mining company?
In Steve’s words, Whitehaven seem to be a protected species. They are certainly more protected than our sites. Government and its agencies have failed us, especially our Elders who are under great stress because of their actions. Whitehaven Coal is a foreign company but instead us blackfellas are being treated like the foreigners.
It is time for Tony Abbott to step up and ensure his ministers act accordingly, and back his words of wanting to be a prime minister for our people. A good starting point would be here in Gunnedah, stopping this destruction.
To Whitehaven Coal I say, we are not going away, and we won’t roll over and play dead while you destroy what is sacred to us. We will fight for our ancestors, our Elders and our families, and our country.
Just remember David and Goliath, also remember who came out on top.
Courtesy of Lock the Gate