Deep in the Leard State Forest in northwest NSW, something massive is stirring. Whitehaven Coal – under the direction of former Nationals leader Mark Vaile – is set to construct the Maules Creek mine, decimating local farming communities and critically endangered woodland in the process.
The deep pits cut into the rich black agricultural soils, for which the region is famed, risk dropping the underground water table by 5–7 metres. At the headwaters of three sub-catchments of the Namoi River, it is a place where the waters begin. Water, our most precious resource, is once again under attack.
Leard State Forest, near Narrabri, is considered a national biodiversity hotspot and home to more than 395 native species. Maules Creek mine will turn 1,600 hectares of this rare forest and surrounding farmland into an open-cut coal pit. If Whitehaven Coal gets their way, they will mine climate-altering coal 24 hours a day – with potentially devastating impacts on several threatened and vulnerable species, including the masked owl and koala. The only thing standing between that forest and the bulldozers is community.
Despite approval by former Labor environment minister Tony Burke and financial support from the ANZ bank, a community campaign against the Maules Creek mine has severely delayed construction. Farmers and environmentalists have united to stop bulldozers clearing the forest for mine construction work. Many have never been involved in a protest before. All feel they are doing what our government should be doing.
Phil Laird, fifth-generation farmer from Maules Creek and unlikely environmental campaigner, has been fighting the mine proposal for years. In deep National Party heartland, Laird has been transformed into a legendary forest crusader.
Mine construction is due to start in early January and concerns about the impact of the mines on nearby farmland and livelihoods has driven Laird and his neighbours to send a plea for broader public help. ‘If you don’t protect this, where do you draw the line?’ says Laird.
Protest, or better-termed ‘protector’, camps are infused with a strong sense of camaraderie and the people are typically generous and warm-hearted.
One of the most reassuring aspects of being involved in a community protest camp is the opportunity for everyone to contribute in a way that’s comfortable for them. Some people get involved in peaceful (and often creative) direct actions, others help with essential chores like preparing food and maintaining equipment, while some simply visit to bear witness or to donate vital supplies.
It is now only ordinary citizens like you and I who can stop Whitehaven Coal and their plans to destroy Leard State Forest. From protests aimed at the company’s shareholders, customers divesting from the ANZ bank and by ordinary citizens holding up site construction work. It takes a whole community to win a campaign like this, and the handful of committed activists on the frontline need tangible support. To get involved, contact Ahri Tallon on 0423 515 941.
The Gasfield Free Byron Shire group is hosting a community information night tomorrow (Saturday January 11), 6–8pm at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall. Campaigner Ahri Tallon will be speaking.