Timbarra: fighting corporate greed
By Corinne Batt-Rawden
LISMORE — On June 7, more than 80 protesters gathered at Timbarra Mountain, near Tenterfield in northern NSW, in an action against the Timbarra gold mine. The activists, who came from Lismore, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, investigated a cyanide leak and obtained samples for analysis.
The protesters were harassed by police, mine security guards and miners. The activists formed a human barricade which prevented a truck loaded with dynamite from entering the mine site.
Friends of the Earth, the National Union of Students, the Southern Cross University Student Representative Council, the Timbarra Direct Action Group, the Jabiluka Peace Bus, Resistance and local conservationists and residents have all taken part in the campaign to stop Queensland-based multinational Ross Mining from destroying the area's pristine environment. The mine is strongly supported by the NSW Labor government.
The campaign has involved non-violent direct action, legal challenges and political lobbying. A permanent camp has been established near the mountain.
The fight to protect Timbarra Mountain has not had much support from the local media. The Lismore Northern Star has published articles supporting the mine, calling it an economic bonus for a depressed area. The Tenterfield Star has printed the names and addresses of 68 anti-mine protesters, totally disregarding the danger of violent retaliation from miners who feel their jobs are at risk.
On January 19, around 100 protesters constructed four tripods on Timbarra Road. Police panicked at the size of the protest and reacted violently, arresting 12 protesters. In early May, more than 100 protesters blockaded the access road between Tenterfield and the mine site.
Ross Mining and its government supporters are moving to clamp down on the campaigners. A delegation of Tenterfield local government leaders, Ross Mining executives and local MP Richard Torbay are to meet with NSW resources minister Eddie Obeid later this month.
Torbay threatened: "I support people's right to protest in an orderly manner, but I am concerned that protesters seem intent on disruption, regardless of the merits of the mine. I will be working hard to change the laws to protect companies that are doing the right thing."
Ross Mining admits that it plans to use 700 tonnes of cyanide each year to extract gold from the mine. One gram of cyanide is the lethal dose for humans. The mine will also use 75 tonnes of caustic soda and 60 tonnes of hydrochloric acid to extract 50,000 ounces of gold, worth $20 million a year. These chemicals represent a significant environmental threat to the region because the mine is on a highlands, which feed into the Clarence River.
Ross Mining and the government have ignored the wishes of local Aboriginal people. There are a number of native title claims on the area, by members of the Bundjalung and Malera people, who regard the mountain as sacred.
There is opposition to the mine from five government departments, including the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The NPWS considers the Timbarra plateau to be of "outstanding and unique conservation value".
The plateau contains ecosystems ranging from dry heath forests to warm temperate rainforest and is home to endangered and threatened species including the Hastings River mouse, brush-tailed wallaby, stuttering frog, glossy black cockatoo, sooty owl, tiger quoll and parma wallaby. It contains five flora species of conservation significance, four of which are threatened by the mining activities alone.
The Timbarra campaign has widespread support in the region and Australia. While hundreds of people have been involved in direct actions at the mine site over several years, more needs to be done to mobilise support in local population centres such as Lismore and the major capital cities. Several successful fundraisers have taken place in Lismore and Nimbin.
Rallies, public meetings and fundraisers can show the depth of opposition to the mine and, along with a direct blockade, force the government and Ross Mining to back down.
Activists also need to attempt to make contact mine workers and convince them that they have the same interests as the environment movement.
The action on June 7 showed this will be difficult. Due to the fear of unemployment, some miners were willing to physically defend a greedy corporation that is reaping profit from their labour. To address this, the campaign needs to put forward demands which address the concerns of workers about their jobs.