Protestors today have launched a blockade at the site of Whitehaven’s controversial Maules Creek coal project in North West NSW, turning back vehicles seeking to clear the forest for construction of rail infrastructure.
The project, located in North West NSW near Boggabri, has been dogged by controversy. It will clearfell a large area of Leard State Forest, including nationally critically endangered woodland and endangered wildlife habitat, and is opposed by members the local farming community. Now, the blockade has brought farmers, Traditional Owners and environmentalists together.
Protestors have established a blockade at the edge of the forest, and are preventing bulldozers from felling trees for an access road. Construction work has been halted and the protestors are vowing to remain in place.
Rick Laird, fifth-generation farmer from Maules Creek, said, “We have exhausted every legal and political avenue to make our voices heard. Whitehaven’s mine will destroy our community and our livelihood. We’ve seen this happen in mining areas all over the country – eventually the farmers will be forced to move out. My family has lived here for generations: we are prepared to fight for this place."
The campaign to stop the mine has delayed it so far by 18 months, and local environmentalists are waiting for a decision by Environment Minister Greg Hunt to suspend or revoke approval for the mine due to allegations the approval was based on false or misleading information.
The Maules Creek project has drawn the attention of people from around Australia due to its impact on critically endangered Grassy Whitebox woodland, and cultural heritage sites of the Gomeroi people, the traditional owners of the Leard State Forest.
Traditional Owner Elder Uncle Dick Talbot said, “Leard forest holds many significant sites for us. Whitehaven Coal have completely ignored our pending legal request for an order to stop work to protect our cultural sites.” Mr Talbot is calling for Whitehaven to stop work while a decision is pending on their request, saying, “I will fight on to save my culture until my last breath. Claims that we are a minority are disrespectful to senior elders and traditional owners, and we would like an apology.”
Georgina Woods, of the Leard Forest Alliance, said, “Whitehaven Coal thought they were ready to start clearing this forest, but they didn’t reckon with the determination of people from far and wide to support the community here and protect this forest. We will not be moved on. We are the only thing standing between this forest and its annihilation.”
A clip showing footage of the clearing that prompted the blockade is available at greenpeacemedia.org
Photos of the blockade will be uploaded when they are available.
Information about protection orders for Aboriginal heritage can be found here