Aboriginal elders arrested over Bulga anti-mine protest

Issue 
Wonnarua elders Kevin Taggart and his sister Pat Hannson, who were arrested after telling police they would not move from the si

Two Aboriginal elders were arrested at a protest against multinational mining company Rio Tinto blasting at the Mount Thorley-Warkworth coalmine in the Hunter Valley on July 18.

Wonnarua elders Kevin Taggart and his sister Pat Hannson were arrested after telling police they would not move from the side of Putty Road.

Residents of the village of Bulga are protesting against the expansion of the Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine, the closure of Wallaby Scrub Road and the destruction of Aboriginal and European cultural heritage.

Wallaby Scrub Road is part of the convict-built, heritage-listed Great North Road, and a much-used public thoroughfare. Rio Tinto has also have been given permission to blast through Saddle Ridge — a precious cultural site of the Wonnarua people, which also shields the village of Bulga from the noise and dust rising from the super pits of Rio Tinto's Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine.

The protests follow the NSW government's controversial mine approval after a Planning Assessment Commission found the benefits of the mine expansion outweighed the costs. This followed two successful court appeals of earlier mine expansion approvals, where judges found the social and environmental costs of expansion were too great.

Another 10 residents at the protest were moved on by police after a three-hour stand-off, to enable Rio Tinto to carry out blasting operations at the mine. Taggart was released on bail on the condition that he does not return to the protest site. He said the environmental impacts of the mine expansion, closure of Wallaby Scrub Road and destruction of Aboriginal heritage sites were “really important to me because they're so devastating”.

Bulga resident Stewart Mitchell said Bulga residents had fought for more than six years to stop the mine expansion. "Justice was cruelly snatched away from us by the New South Wales government, which re-approved the mine project, and stripped us of our right to challenge the new approval in court," he said.

"The rules are rigged against us. We have been left with no option but to protest.

"We set up our peaceful vigil in frustration with a system that values coal above all [else], and we are used to the state government siding with Rio Tinto against us. But even we are shocked that the state government would send in the police to break up a peaceful vigil."

Residents are undeterred by the arrests, and declare they will continue to hold protest vigils against the mine and a process they have slammed as “inherently unjust”.

"We are taking a stand for justice. Community and culture is more important than coal. We now have a lot of public support in New South Wales and we expect that many people will come to our vigil to support us," Mitchell said.

Bulga residents and supporters are gathering every day from 8am on Putty Road, near Wallaby Scrub Rd, Bulga (1¼ hrs from Newcastle, or 2½ hours from Sydney) to protect cultural heritage from the expansion of the Warkworth coal mine.

[Check out Stand with Bulga on Facebook.]

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