06 March 2014
Narrabri farmer goes in to bat for coalmine protesters
One of the bat protesters
Long-time resident of the Narrabri shire, farmer Clifford Wallace, 63, said he was only doing the right thing by allowing activists protesting at the nearby Boggabri coalmine to camp on his property. Now the local council is telling him to boot them out.
It's a kick in the guts. I'm a model citizen, Wallace said. I wasn't expecting to see that. But I was expecting to see some form of retaliation for supporting these fellas.
These fellas are a ragtag group of environmentalists, calling themselves Front Line Action on Coal, bent on disrupting work on a coalmine located deep in the Leard state forest, run by mining giant Idemitsu Resources. In February, three members of the group made headlines by breaking into the mine dressed as bats and hanging upside down from coal loaders.
In 2014, it is outrageous that these senseless coalmines are allowed unrestricted licence to destroy public forest, irrespective of their ecological value. Idemitsu's expansion, together with Whitehaven Coal's new Maules Creek mine, will see more than half the Leard state forest turned into a barren wasteland, Helen War, one of the costumed activists, said at the time.
Dressing as bats was intended to draw to public attention to the plight of the long-eared bat which inhabits the forest, and which the group says is threatened by the mining. Idemitsu says it has acquired more than 10,000 hectares for biodiversity offsets, which it says create a significant wildlife corridor, linking vegetation between the Leard state forest, the Nandewar range and the Namoi river to preserve the region's biodiversity.
At least 30 people have been arrested trying to stop the Boggabri mine, as well as Whitehaven's nearby Maules Creek mine. One activist was taken into custody on Wednesday morning for suspending himself from a tripod while playing a saxophone, blocking the gates to a Whitehaven coal loader in Gunnedah.
Wallace, who has lived in Narrabri for more than 28 years, allowed the protesters to camp on his land after they were evicted from their last encampment on Road reserve. But on Monday the Narrabri shire council issued him with a notice of intention to issue an order to have the activists removed.
Council has received numerous complaints from residents in relation to the increase in traffic, dust and noise as a consequence of the camp at its new site, it said in a statement. It has found that camping is prohibited on Wallace's property because the land is zoned for primary production, and unless Wallace issues an objection, an order to evict the protesters is expected to be issued Friday.
It's extraordinary that the council is apparently responding to complaints about noise and traffic, yet we're fighting a massive open cut coalmine that will dump 18,000 tonnes of dust over the community, with 24-7 truck movements and blasting in a quiet rural area, Jonathan Moylan, one of the protesters at the camp, said.
He questioned the environmental value of the offsets made by Idemitsu, which might be one of many offset programs examined by a Senate inquiry into green offsets for mining projects, expected to be set up by Labor and the Greens.
As far as we're concerned, there shouldn't be bulldozers working on state forests while there are serious probity concerns, Moylan said.
Moylan is currently awaiting trial for allegedly sending out a fake ANZ bank press release in January 2013, claiming the bank had pulled finance for Whitehaven's open-cut coalmine. The mining company's share price is alleged to have dropped by $314m as a result of the hoax.
Wallace said, so far, I haven't seen any letter at all from the council, though he knows he has registered post waiting for him at the post office in town, which he says he 'might' get somebody to collect for him.
And if ordered to, will he evict the activists? Not that I can see at the moment, he said. I'll stick by my word to them: they can stay as long as they want.