Over one hundred people have blockaded three entrances to the site of Whitehaven Coal’s controversial Maules Creek coal project, near Boggabri in north west NSW today, stopping preparatory work to clear the forest. Four protest sites have been established, including one that is stopping trucks from leaving Whitehaven’s nearby Tarrawonga mine.
Many of the people participating are doing so for the first time responding to calls from the local community opposed to the mine and the devastating impacts it will have on their land, their water and their health. The Maules Creek mine will destroy irreplaceable critically endangered woodland in the Leard State Forest, draw down the aquifer used by local farmers and release thousands of tonnes of coal dust onto surrounding farms.
Rick Laird, a fifth-generation farmer in the area is at the protest, and said, “We are overwhelmed that so many people have come to help us stop this mine. We’ve been fighting it for over three years, and have tried every means we have of stopping it, and protecting our forest and our water. It’s come to this now – people have come from across the country to stand with us in protest."
One of the people risking arrest today is 75-year-old Raymond McLaren, from Tamworth, who has never taken part in this kind of activity before. Mr McLaren said, “This protest is a remarkable convergence of people with a common interest in protecting a unique forest. I am here to defend the forest.”
Local landholder Roselyn Druce said, “We need help to stop this mine, we are people who care about what’s right for the environment and that’s why we are here today. If this mine goes ahead, we could lose our water, our livelihoods and our community.” The protestors are locking up the forest and preventing Whitehaven contractors from getting in and preparing the site for clearfelling. They are vowing to remain in place.
The protestors have also read out a statement from Gomeroi elders, traditional owners of Leard State Forest, expressing anger at the loss of cultural heritage and practice and Whitehaven’s failure to protect spiritual places of the Gomeroi. Georgina Woods who travelled to the site from Newcastle to support the community action said, “There are some places that should be off-limits to open-cut coal mining and Leard State Forest is one of them. This community has done everything it can to demonstrate the mine is unwelcome here and we are determined to do everything in our power to stop it. We’re calling on people around the country to come and join us to protect this place.” Images and video will be available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leardstateforest/