It’s 2am and I’m fully clad in camouflage hiking through the forest. Ahead of me old mate silently raises his hand and the bushes around me rustle with the sound of half a dozen other activists taking cover. I feel my heart stop and slowly climb my oesophagus. The yellow flashing lights of a security patrol roll past on the edge of the mine property, no more than twenty metres in front of us. I can see the passenger’s bored eyes scouring our position, unaware of our intent or presence. The balaclava is damp and warm against my moustache, as I remember I need to keep breathing.
I’m in the Leard State Forest Conservation area on a ninja training and surveillance mission. We are there to inconspicuously erect a tree-sit on the edge of the only part of the forest we’re legally allowed to be in. An outpost to survey the ongoing destruction of our beloved forest for Whitehaven Coal’s idiotic Maules Creek Mine project. An outpost to assist planning in ongoing non-violent direct action against the project. We come from the Leard Blockade, the first and (inevitably) longest running blockade of coal mining in Australia.
We complete our mission by sunrise and return for breakfast with the family. The blockade site; Cliff’s property, ‘Wando’ is our home. I have only been here a couple of weeks, but I know my brothers and sisters, aunties and aunts, nephews and nieces here will be with me for life. Our community is a unique family, united in purpose and commitment to our goals. We may be at odds with some of the world’s dirtiest corporations, the state and federal governments might want us gone, but that only makes us stronger. The way we welcome any and all who visit, those who choose to stay, makes us the logical next step for all of those who kick up a stink about how screwed the world is.
We emerge from the back of our repurposed army surplus vehicle ‘Bambi’ to applause and cheering. I hug many of my sisters and receive more handshakes and pats on the back than I could possibly count. They know it’s the first time I have been a ninja. Their appreciation and support overwhelms me and I feel my tear ducts swelling. I play it off like it ain’t no thing – “It was just a training mish’ guys, calm down” – and we burst into spontaneous laughter as a tear rolls down my cheek. I haven’t slept and spent the whole night hauling materials across rough terrain, but I feel invigorated – ready to go again, itching. I cannot express my love for our family despite multiple attempts and I can see in their eyes I don’t need to.
Ours was not the only mission of the night. Our media spokesperson bustles past me giving an interview to some radio station commending the valour of two activists who have locked onto and immobilised bulldozers within the box cut clearing. My heart goes out to them and I feel a surge of anger at the collusion of government and corporate interests that has driven us to this point. It wasn’t so long ago that I was comfortable thinking that the government had the best interests of its constituents at heart. I know now that if the government was doing their job we wouldn’t be here. It might seem extreme to be sneaking through the forest under the cover of darkness in camouflage, I certainly thought so before I arrived. The reality is that the strength and resources of our enemy make such precautions of anonymity sensibly advisable in many situations. Contrary to media circumspection, most of us have jobs and or families.
As the day rolls along I find myself in the kitchen hacking up pumpkins. As well as a protest camp, Wando is a working farm and we all pitch in to make Cliff’s life easier. He contributes countless resources in addition to land for the cause, not least of which is a literal truckload of organic pumpkins. They are delicious, and we eat lots of pumpkin. Today’s lunch is pumpkin soup. As I carve away I’m filled with purpose in the knowledge it will fuel our family and our cause onwards. Certainly, I would know I was doing my part, just to feed the community and keep our spirits up.
We have united for one purpose with many motivating factors. We are fighting the destruction of the Leard State Forest. We fight for the endangered, endemic species of flora and fauna. We fight for and with the local farmers for their water security and our nation’s food security. We fight for and with the Gomeroi, who have called this area home for millennia. We, ordinary human beings, from children to war veterans in their 90s, from near and far, united in work and deed, are together an extraordinary force for climate justice. I am consistently amazed by the different stories and paths which have converged in this unlikely corner of the country.
I first came to the Leard by bicycle. For some time, with merriment and perseverance, I have fought fossil fuels by riding a bike. A few friends of mine from a previous cycle touring adventure invited me on a ride from Newcastle to the blockade. I am proud to say I left from the outskirts of Sydney and joined them in Singleton, all the way back in May, for a bike trip that changed my life. I find it difficult to remember exactly what I expected to find when I got here, but I know I had not intended to stay for very long. How wrong I turned out to be. I now write as someone who has cycled from both Sydney and Brisbane to be here.
During my first stretch here, roughly 70 people were arrested taking non-violent direct action against the mine to stop them clearing the forest during winter. Winter is a time when many endemic species go into torpor, a kind of sleep that borders on hibernation. How the environment and planning department allowed Whitehaven to bulldoze the homes of our voiceless little friends in their sleep is beyond me – but our response was strong and forthcoming. The Maules Creek Community Council appealed the biodiversity management plan that permitted the clearing in the courts, while we delayed and impeded work on the front line until a legal resolution was reached. On June 12, faced with an impending legal decision that would have gone against them, Whitehaven ‘voluntarily’ halted the clearing. A battle won, the war far from over.
It is clear to me now the war against climate change, as it is a war – two armies in conflict – is far from over but already in full swing. On one side, the forces of profit wish to mine every ounce of fossilised carbon from the ground. Once it’s out, it will be burnt, ever increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. From the atmosphere, it diffuses into the ocean, slowly but steadily acidifying the big blue wet thing that covers two thirds of our planet. Needless to say, unabated this process threatens all ocean life. Our fight to protect this forest, a carbon sink, from becoming a black hole, could not be more justified.
We are not a closed community, we are open to all who wish to join. I can’t wait to meet every single person who comes up here with a big smile on my face. They might be a seasoned campaigner or a first-timer like myself. I will go out of my way to shake the hands of those who donate time, food or money to the campaign. I love my family, and I feel blessed to be a part of it. No longer do I sit around wondering what to about the world’s problems, I get to fighting them.
If you would like directions to the blockade, further information, recent news or a way to donate if you can’t find the time to join our wonderful loving family, please, please, please, check out our website.
-This article was originally published in Dreamland Doof Magazine in September 2014