First day in the forest

Front Line Action on Coal (FLAC) camp has officially started! Today’s set-up followed a 150-strong meeting in Gunnedah yesterday on the impacts of coal and gas extraction on health. The meeting heard a huge number of concerns from residents about the effects of coal and gas-related air and water pollution on health, and resolved not to accept any negative health impacts from extractive industries, as well as undertake a health impact assessment in conjunction with the University of New South Wales. These broad concerns rammed home one of the reasons why taking action on the mines and mine expansions in Leard State Forest is such a fantastic idea!

Watching the sun rise over the mountains in Maules Creek over coffee put us in the mood to move the camp into the forest, where we intend to stay until the mines are stopped. Perhaps not a tall ask after all, since investors are starting to doubt Whitehaven Coal (part-owned by Nathan Tinkler and chaired by Mark Vaile) has the capacity to go ahead with their risky and highly-indebted Maules Creek mine project. Whitehaven’s shares have almost halved since their merger with Tinkler’s Aston Resources, and our blockade may be enough to knock this fanciful and insanely destructive mine project right on the head.

Driving up Leard Forest Road, the rich green cropping lands of Maules Creek transformed into stunning Whitebox Woodland, over 7,000ha of prime koala habitat, also home to threatened feather-tail gliders, diamond firetails, spotted-tailed quolls and wallaroos. To the left of us opened up the massive Boggabri mine pit, with piles of ground-up forest dumped along clear-fell to the north of the mine and failing regen to the south. The company had fenced off a possible camping area directly next to the mine, so we headed a couple of minutes down the road and set up Murray’s eye-catching teepee and marquee before setting up a fire-pit and dug a hole for the toilet donated by a community member. The community has stocked us up with enough food, tea and coffee and materials to last a while.

Two officers from the Boggabri police station arrived a while later for a cuppa and a chat. They didn’t have a problem with the camp and, as local community members, were well aware of the impacts that the mine would have. Of course the main reason they were there was to find out if we were planning any further action and to find out how many people would be arriving. Once we told them we were camping and they were our first visitors they headed off – the local police spend most of their time dealing with unregistered firearms, pig-chasers, thefts and drugs, so environmentalists are a bit of a new thing!

More visits from local mine opponents, a quick visit from a journalist from the Namoi Valley Independent – we were happy to pause set-up work for our visitors. As the sun set over the forest with nothing but bird-noises and the constant hum of mine-trucks, we were waiting for our roo leg to roast when another van-load of dedicated campers turned up and set in for the night.

The coal industry used to ignore opposition, but over the past five years a wave of opposition has grown and the west-ward expansion of this increasingly irrelevant industry from the Hunter Valley into the Gunnedah Basin and Liverpool Plains is being met with a new form of resistance. History is being made here in Leard State Forest – come out and join the movement!

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