After all the petitions and letters, the fury and angst, mass meetings and picnics, a private go-kart track proposed by the local council for a great swathe of the top of Bathurst’s Wahluu Mount Panorama is no more — for at least the next 10 years.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley put a stay on the development in early March, using section 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984. The site’s importance to the local Wiradyuri women was recognised, effectively preventing the Bathurst Regional Council from approving the track.
By any conceivable measure, the go-kart track (or the ghost-kart track now) is small beer compared to the catastrophe of global warming and human rights violations in their multifarious forms.
If we had lost, there’d have been the usual mutters that the majority of people had been diddled yet again and in a few months’ time we would have had the perpetual buzz of a lot of grossly polluting hopped-up lawnmowers beating their way around a silly little circuit atop a hill.
But we won. With the demise of the track, one felt disbelief followed by elation that, for once, “we the people” had been successful in standing up for our rights.
We felt vindicated.
Yet, in the end, it felt like a mean and selfish victory. Mean because it was small, selfish because it affected only us.
Yet, it’s neither of these things. In effect, it’s a reminder that if we can win this, given sufficient popular will, we can win other far more important human rights battles.
Considered like that, this wasn’t just a go-kart track in a small country town that should never have got traction in the first place, but something emblematic of issues that are far greater.
The overarching lesson, for me at any rate, is that things don’t have to be as they are just because certain people are in power, because things are the way they are, or because a particular result looks like a fait accompli. It doesn’t have to be like that at all.
We can win.
In retrospect, we relied too much on the power of numbers. We had a petition with 10,000 signatures and many of us thought, wrongly, that in a town of 40,000 that would be enough.
Little consideration was given to what turned out to be our trump card: the fact that the track was to be built on an Aboriginal sacred site.
As a result, a few thousand people perturbed at the prospect of their peace being disturbed were about to fail in their endeavour to prevent it when, due to a spate of last-ditch letters, Ley stepped in waving the Aboriginal flag.
A Coalition minister waving the Aboriginal flag? Supporting a bunch of protesters? It was an unlikely scenario, but it happened.
When, for my earlier story for Green Left, I rang Bathurst Regional Council just before that last weekend, I was told that, without any shadow of a doubt, the first of 100 native trees marked for destruction would be felled on the following Monday.
Yet, the reprieve that was to end in a full-scale rout came just a few hours later.
The outcome was, to put it mildly, unbelievable.
But it proved that a game’s never over until the last card’s played. It doesn’t matter how heavily the odds are stacked against you, you can win.
The fact remains that the brawl over that little track, minor though it was — and its result — shows that such battles are well worth fighting.
The stoush over the ghost-kart track was also a battle over democratic rights, the recognition of Indigenous beliefs, a spat on the fringes of global warming, a fight against vested interests, a matter of women’s rights and, in so many ways, an environmental issue.
It was, in effect, the major war raging all around us writ small.
It was a lesson that there are no small battles — just smaller parts of far bigger ones.
A NSW premier once said of protesters, words to the effect: “Drive over the bastards”. The lesson of the ghost-kart track, for me at any rate, is that we should drive over the bastards before they drive over us.