I left Lismore in company with Hannah, a student on study break. At Chinderah we picked up Nadia, an organic-food marketer with boxes of supplies for the camp. In Brisbane we detoured to add Sam, a musician with whom I’d shared a stage a week or so ago, during the volatile Extinction Rebellion rally in the CBD, where 72 people were arrested, including 17 from the Northern Rivers.
We drove through the day to Yeppoon, where we stayed at a house rented by Stop Adani activists. Next morning I jumped aboard with Johnno, an old blockading comrade. His vehicle was heavily loaded with a generator, climbing gear, and other blockading paraphernalia.
Johnno has a distinguished activism CV, having been at the Franklin with his friend Bob Brown. He yarns about blockading throughout the decades – Mt Etna, Pine Gap, Fraser Island, and the Daintree, then at Washpool, Chaelundi, Wild Cattle Creek, and other iconic North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) blockades during the Nineties.
We arrived at Camp Binbee in the late afternoon. On the final stretch from Bowen we passed three police cars – they’ve been regularly surveilling the camp. The police and Adani security often send drones over the property to glean information and the local council launches them from an unfriendly neighbouring property in so-far fruitless attempts to close the camp down for allegedly flouting council regulations.
Red Alert – call to action
In the highly functional camp I saw a number of familiar faces and a whole lot of new ones – it’s a regularly changing demographic that’s doubled this week and expected to surge as more people arrive in response to the Red Alert sent out over Facebook.
Hayley Sestokas, a Frontline Action on Coal (FLAC) coordinator sent out that alert.
‘Just to be clear, this is not a FLAC camp,’ she explains. ‘It’s a home base to a bunch of different organisations of which FLAC is just one. Extinction Rebellion is another, Reef Defenders, and others.’
Sestokas sees the camp as an organic template for social change.
‘We offer a bunch of different workshops. This morning there was a renewable-tech chat, one on making kombucha, another on composting. It’s not all radical direct action stuff, we’re actually trying to make the world a better place.
‘People contribute to making decisions about what we’re making here and I guess the way we do things are representative of how we would like to see a shift within our greater society. So everybody’s valued and we’d have a lot fewer of the problems we’re facing today if the world were more like that.’
Adani has no social licence
Sestokas has seen years of action have an incremental effect.
‘A friend in Bowen showed me a newspaper article where Adani said they were going to start construction in 2013. That’s six years that we’ve stopped them. It’s not just us doing direct action; it’s the various legal challenges, combined with stripping away Adani’s social licence and being a hindrance every step of the way.’
After a terrific meal and broken sleep I woke at 7am for breakfast. The familiar schedule of meetings began at 8am – with strict regulations to leave phones behind. The oppressive electronic surveillance by police and Adani’s punitive security make this a necessity.
The endless meetings, process, and protocols are all designed to keep the camp running, keep it sanitary, centred, and sane. People are arriving constantly; European backpackers, grandmothers from the Gold Coast, teachers, nurses, students. These are people with strong opinions and high ideals who have decided it’s time for immediate, sustained action against the climate emergency.
There’s a strong conviction that the odds are stacked against them. That despite the warnings of climate scientists that the Galilee Basin is a carbon bomb that could tip the balance of catastrophic climate change, the courts, the police, local council, state and federal governments are hellbent on outlawing every conceivable avenue of resistance. Their ever-increasing powers of intimidation haven’t stopped a steady stream of ‘bunnies’ offering themselves up as ‘arrestables’ on various actions.
Clancey Spice, a young woman from Canberra, is facing punitive damages from Adani contractors Aurizon, a company 49 per cent owned by the Queensland Government, after occupying a tripod blockade on their Newlands railway line last year. Spice already faced fines of $2,200.
Eroding right to protest
But in November 2017 Aurizon took out a $750,000 strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) case against FLAC Inc, to stop them from trespassing on the railway line but also in their words, inciting, encouraging, or procuring anybody else to take action against Aurizon. A few months ago Aurizon amended their statement of claim to include Spice and four other bunnies.
‘They’re seeking $75,000 in damages against me, plus the costs of court proceedings if we lose, which is likely $30–50,000 each,’ Spice said.
‘It’s a classic SLAPP suit. If they get away with this it only becomes easier for the ruling class to erode the foundational rights we have to protest.
‘Sometimes it feels like we’re in a war. The climate movement, like so many social-justice movements, is pushing back against the ever-encroaching presence of the monstrous right. It’s funny when people say they aren’t political, or that as a group or movement they try to be “a-political”.
‘I guess that’s what privilege is. Knowing you won’t suffer as much as other people. Climate change is already affecting poorer people, but eventually the fires, food shortages, malaria, and violent conflict will come for them too.’
Last Friday I joined an action planned to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Terania Creek blockades, the long-running protests that created the World Heritage-listed Nightcap National Park. It’s also the 30th anniversary of NEFA’s rolling blockades and, as a celebration was planned during the action, Johnno volunteered his vehicle as a people mover. Three other vehicles and twenty-five people travelled through the night to arrive at a drilling site planned by Adani contractors.
A single bunny locked on to the drill rig while protesters bantered with contractors over cups of tea and chocolate.
When the police arrived at 8.45 they defected Johnno’s vehicle for a broken indicator cover, though the indicator was working. They gave a move-on order, requiring everybody to vacate the area to a seemingly arbitrary 30km radius or be arrested – despite the fact we were on a public road.
The story went to mainstream media, covered by Queensland’s 9 News and regional Queensland newspapers. The bunny was released that day on bail. Her bail conditions decreed she join a long list of people who can no longer return to Camp Binbee for specified periods.
Not all actions are so amiable. At previous actions I’ve attended at the Point Abbot coal terminal near Bowen I’ve seen mass arrests amid ferocious police tactics. Protesters of all ages in this campaign are often highly emotionally charged. Many of them believe that the only option left is to break unjust laws.
Cases designed to punish those against Adani
Greg Rolles, geography teacher and former soldier, is also facing a $9,000 fine and enormous SLAPP suit for blockading Aurizon’s rail line.
‘I identify as a Quaker, part of a group called Christians for Climate Action Australia. With the impending ecological crisis, my motivation is to get people of faith everywhere to be more engaged with the destruction of our creation.
‘I’m representing myself on a climate-change defence, saying I’m trying to protect all our homes – and here’s the evidence. Convict me if you want, but please take this into account.’
SLAPP suits, draconian police powers, Labor and LNP politicians drafting new legislation to further outlaw protest, the bankrupting of Wangan and Jagalingou spokesman Adrian Burragubba by Adani’s lawyers – all these factors do make this seem a fight against stacked odds. But the mood in the camp is ebullient. Training for non-violent direct actions (NVDA) are in full swing and the majority of new arrivals seem intent on pursuing arrestable actions.
Hayley Sestokas is optimistic. ‘I don’t believe this Adani project will go ahead. When I go home for a break in rural Victoria and I drive through an underpass in a small town and there’s Stop Adani spray-painted over it I feel so heartened, because the truth is, 97 per cent of Australia doesn’t want this to go ahead.
‘But the reason it hasn’t happened yet is we’ve fought it every step of the way. I believe we have to keep fighting right to the end of this and beyond, because there are more projects around the corner. Rinehart has plans, and Palmer, and outside of the Galilee Basin there are plans to frack the Northern Territory, the Kimberley, and the Pilliga and if we beat coal to just herald a new age of gas, I’ll feel like we’ve lost .’
Mick Daley is embedded at Camp Binbee, the Stop Adani protest camp in northern Queensland where hundreds are expected to travel in response to a Red Alert, as Adani begins land-clearing operations on its propose mine site.