Protesters converge to halt Adani’s coal mine

Protesting at the Adani workers' camp. Photo: FLAC/FB

People from across the nation are heading up to the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland to put themselves on the line to stop Adani’s coal mine going ahead.

We arrived at the Frontline Action on Coal (FLAC) protest camp in dry scrubland, late at night and with the reddish, full moon rising from the horizon.

That first night, which was really cold, I vaguely heard a rooster crow at 4am. We got up at 7am to have breakfast, followed by the daily morning meeting at which camp organisation was discussed.

There is a First Aid team, a gardening team, a media team, a research team, a legal team, a toilet crew, a hot water crew and a shopping team for supplies. There is also an induction group for new arrivals at the camp.

There are generally 30-70 people there at any one time.

The Birri people of the Gubba nation have sovereignty over the camp and their language has been introduced into various aspects of the camp: gimba means listening; nudja means understanding and benali means gardening.

We were asked to identify the name of an Aboriginal clan on whose land we grew up on as a way of acknowledging that Aboriginal people inhabited Australia, that the land was stolen and was never ceded by First Nations people.

No one can participate in direct action on the coal front until they have undergone training and understand the principles behind Non-Violent Direct Action. We took part in a five-hour instruction session, talking through different tactics and strategies.

Our legal rights were explained, along with our obligations to follow police instructions to avoid arrest. The fines are usually in the range of $1500.

After a day’s discussion and planning we left early the next morning for Townsville to protest against companies that had tendered to supply pipes to the coal mine.

We decided to block the gates to the company factories for as long as we could to stop delivery trucks from entering or leaving.

The gate closures at the Iplex Pipelines plant went smoothly: the workers did not seem to mind as it gave them a few hours off work.

After a break for coffee and sandwiches, we moved to Vinidex plant in the industrial part of Townsville. It turned into a harrowing experience.

We were blocking two gates, 20 metres apart. As we put up our signs and banners a huge semi-trailer drove past.

The driver then did a U-turn on the grass verge and drove straight towards the six women holding a banner at the gate.

The brave women held their ground.

He then inched further and finally stopped with the bull bars of the truck at chest height all the while honking his very loud horn. The coward refused to come out of his truck.

The semi-trailer was blocking the whole road, so cars and vans coming off the roundabout drove onto the verge to get around it.

Another car drove directly at us on the second gate and only swerved when he was at our feet.

The driver of a second car yelled obscenities and headed for Jasmyne, an Aboriginal friend who was holding a First Nations flag.

When the semi-trailer driver finally dismounted, yelling more obscenities, he was told by our legal observer that the police were on their way and that he could go to jail for his dangerous driving. He yelled back that he was going to “get one of us some day”. His hands were shaking and sweating profusely.

The police came, banished our filmmaker and eventually breathalysed the driver (refusing to show us the result). No charges were laid and the driver was free to go.

A swim on the way home helped soothe our jagged nerves. We were so proud that our women had refused to be intimidated.

There were further meetings the next day to discuss tactics before heading to the workers’ camp at Galilee Basin.

We set off on a five-hour drive, through bush and rough roads, to get to the workers’ camp in the middle of nowhere. These workers live in hot, uncomfortable demountables. The security guards would mostly not engage in discussion.

We arrived at 6am to block the change of shift. We covered three gates with banners and posters pointing out the irresponsible use of Great Artesian Basin water and the impact of coal on people’s health.

We were able to stop two trucks from entering, after convincing the driver it was a disastrous mine.

Unfortunately, the workers escaped out through a back gate. However we held up activities for five hours as the police had to come from Clermont, two and half hours away. No one was arrested, as it’s too much trouble for the police to do the paper work.

We all felt it had been worthwhile. The people at the anti-Adani camp are grandparents, women with young families, Aboriginal leaders from all over the country, and youth who don’t know if they will ever become grandparents.

They are dedicated, committed, well-organised and generally lovely people to chat to and discuss politics with.

I would urge anyone thinking of going to the FLAC camp to do it. You will be very welcomed.

All of us can play a role — and it doesn’t have to only be stopping trucks.

Meet Annie, retired public servant and anti-Adani protester

Annie, a retired public servant and grandmother of two, was also at the Adani protest camp near Bowen.

Annie grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney in a housing commission home. Her family had serious health problems and could not work. She left school at 15 years old to help support the family. At 19, she gave birth to a daughter and later became a single parent.

She always dreamt of being able to study and eventually enrolled as a mature age student at Southern Cross University at Lismore, the first in her family to attend university. She graduated in environmental science and secured a well paying job in the public service in Canberra.

The deciding factor for Annie to join the protest camp was the Queensland Labor government’s extinguishment of the Wangan and Jagalingou clan’s Native Title which she condemned as a continuation of the colonisation of Indigenous people.

When Annie retired 5 years ago, she became a climate activist joining the Knitting Nannas and Stop Adani Canberra. She coordinates an activist art group, Artivism, which makes banners, flags, screen print T-shirts, towels and aprons at their weekly meeting to spread around including to the school students who took strike action on September 20.

Meet Katy, single parent, graduate and organiser

Katy has been involved at the anti-Adani camp near Bowen for some time, organising actions in the various towns nearby and at the mine site itself.

Katy is a single parent with a five-year-old girl, who is also at the camp.

Katy is a university graduate in the social sciences and has an on-line environmental publication called Wild Open.

The climate emergency promoted Katy to devote her time to the camp. She let go of a home and said no to a high paying organiser position with the Greens.

She said that while her daughter is of school age, she is learning a lot in the camp including how to build a beehive and becoming a lot more self–confident.

Katy said her epiphany came as scientists insist that time is running out to save the planet and governments and the media refuse. “It is all so worrying: I’m giving up my comfort and routine for my child’s future. It is a small sacrifice,” Katy said.

Kathy found the Frontline Action Against Coal camp. While her family were worried about the isolation, they are proud of her stand. Her mother was a strong feminist and a member of the Black Panther movement. Katy is an amazing organiser who knew how to inspire us.

Meet Jean, school teacher and activist

Jean, a school teacher in her 40s, drove from Melbourne to the Adani protest camp near Bowen with a couple of friends.

She became an activist after trying to stop trees from being destroyed in a park near her home in 2014. The park was well-used by the locals and had become a wild life corridor for native animals. But the Melbourne Cricket Club wanted it and decided that 150 old trees needed to be cut down. The community was lied to about the supposed benefits.

The tree cutters were protected by hundreds of police, and while many locals were upset they didn’t do anything but watch.

Jean jumped in front of someone wielding an electric chainsaw and yelled stop. With the chainsaw still on, he grabbed her by the left shoulder and flung her to the ground.

The police did nothing to help Jean, alleging the tree cutter had saved her. But she found proof of corruption and sent it to the authorities. The police refused to lay charges and she realised they were only interested in protecting the powerful.

She realised that we have to take power into our own hands.