Leard Forest, NSW. Tuesday, 5.30pm
Tears are welling. One has escaped and bolted south. I can feel it galloping down my cheek. In a sort of nonchalant, fly-chasing way, I swipe it away. I don’t want anyone to notice. Luckily, I have my sunnies on, and my Akubra casts a deep shadow over my face.
The sun is hanging like a ripe lemon over the western horizon. I can’t actually see the horizon because a white cypress pine blocks the view. Under the pine are people from the protest camp up the road.
Leard Forest provides some shady relief against a sun that still burns like an open fire despite the late hour. The sunlight fingers the forest and the green drips gold. Australia.
In the opposite direction is hell: a treeless mountain of mined rock, a flat-topped mega-monument to the stupidity of men, an altar to the dollar deity where life itself is sacrificed. Oi oi oi.
Huge trucks zigzag up and down the artificial mountain’s face, white dust clouds clinging to the gigantic wheels for a moment and then letting go.
The coal mine is buzzing, gearing up for an expansion that will turn this forest into another hole that will stuff the wallets of a few fat blokes and stuff an already stuffed atmosphere.
The sun is setting on Leard Forest.
Here, at the very boundary between what has been and what will be, we stand.
In front of the barbed wire and prickly warning signs, Davey Bob is singing: ‘Tell them no, leave it in the ground…’ Three other musos back him.
One of the two mine security guards who have just turned up is talking to the woman filming the song. She explains the obvious – ‘we’re making a film’ – smiles, and keeps filming.
The other guard is a Tongan. He’s a big bloke and doesn’t look like someone you’d want to mess with. Grim, dangerous. They’re tough, Tongans.
But they have a weakness. Oh yeah.
Like kryptonite to Superman is a guitar to a Tongan. While his mate combats a woman’s smile, the big bloke is pulled to the music like a bee to honey.
As he nears the players, the professional grimace is replaced by a grin which blooms into a smile when Davey Bob smiles at him: ‘We got to stop this now, tomorrow’ll be too late…’
The guard sidles through the band. He stands behind Davey Bob, beaming. Behind him the new mountain shimmers in the heat: ‘After the horse has bolted, it’s no use to lock the gate…’
It’s the perfect shot: four musicians, a protest song and a smiling security guard (who now cannot help but groove to the beat) backdropped by the coal mine blight. The woman films. Behind her the protesters dance. Behind them, I cry.
‘Tell them no, leave it in the ground…’
I don’t know if I’m sad because of what has been lost: the bountiful country of the Kamilaroi people who lived in huts beside the Namoi River feasting on eels, crayfish, tortoises and freshwater mussels. (There are middens near here.)
Maybe I’m sad about what will be lost: this last bit of forest, the aquifer which made this land a farmer’s wet dream, a reliable climate.
Maybe I’m crying for all the sadness in the world.
Or maybe I’m happy. Happy to stand here with people who care; people who feel the pain but respond with love. There should be an award for these true-blue Australians. I care nothing for Triple J’s hottest 100 or who wins the cricket.
I care for these people and respect what they do. Oi oi oi.