From left Steve "Ducky" Coe, Mia Pepper, the Hon Lee Rhiannon MLC,
Graeme Dunstan, and Natalie Lowery, National Day of Action for Water,
Hyde Park Sydney 22 March 2006

Talking Cyanide
A Report on the National Day of Action for Water
Sydney, 22 March 2006


The foyer of the NSW Ministry of Primary Industries, Mineral Resources and Natural Resources was as secure and as unwelcoming as a prison reception room. We had come to demand that the Minister, the Hon Ian McDonald MLC (Labor) reveal the route that the cyanide transports are taking to supply the Barrick Gold mine at Lake Cowal - 6090 tonnes a year for the next13 years.

The Minister had been reluctant to do this, because of what he describes as "enviro politics" and the threat of a "not in my backyard" reaction from communities along the route. See the response to the question "Why so secretive?" put to him in the NSW Upper House by the Hon. Lee Rhiannon on 8 March @ www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LC20060308028

We, who have opposed the development of the Lake Cowal gold mine and the massive toxic consequences of cyanide gold mining, have been making a lot of noise about this corporate corruption of government in NSW. In fact we were lined up in Hyde Park across the way with flags and banners and the PA horns of Peacebus.com had been berating the Ministry through the glass of their sixth floor suite.

We were a delegation of three, Natalie Lowrey, national coordinator of Friends of the Earth Australia, Mia Pepper, a Lake Cowal activist and now a youth worker in Condobolin and me, Cyanide Watch coordinator. With a police escort comprising one constable, one sergeant and one acting inspector, we were permitted to enter the building and approach the Minister's office directly.

Mia and Graeme in the offices of the Ministry of Primary Industry 22 March 2006

After a few minutes in the dead air and the beige surrounds, a woman in tears came to the counter and, snuffling herself back to a business likeness, she took our request through the speaking holes of the bullet proof glass and went off to relay it to someone on the other side.

We lounged about waiting for another 10-15 minutes. Phones must have been ringing, urgent conversations about who and how to respond. The "who" took the form of a grey and gruff old man who mumbled his name through the glass and refused to say his rank.

He told us that we had come to the wrong place; that the Minister's office was up the street in Macquarie Tower with other Ministers; that the disclosure of the cyanide route was a matter for the Minster for Planning Frank Sartor, and that no, the Minister would not see us. Good bye and good luck.

Strange that the Minister's website should give Suite 6/201 Elizabeth Street as his office; strange that the policeman who negotiated our entry to the building thought it was the Minister's office too.

More deceit and denial from the NSW Government, we wondered? So what's new?

We protestors were not exactly surprised to be refused access to a NSW Minister and access to the truth about the cyanide transports. The NSW government is in serious denial about the short-term and long-term hazards of cyanide gold mining. Public ignorance for cyanide criminals is bliss sublime and the NSW government is in cahoots with the gold mining industry to suppress not only this information but also news of expressions of dissent.

But by officially ignoring us, the NSW Government was also noticing us in a cat and mouse game for media attention. True the daily newspapers and the TV channels ignored us that day, but we didn't go unnoticed. With our flags, banners, and PA we were a colourful presence in the CBD and our media release attracted a bunch of radio interviews.

Hear the story on The Wire, the current affairs program broadcast on some 200 Community and Indigenous radio stations around Australia, @ www.thewire.org.au/daydetail.aspx?SearchDay=2006-03-22

The protest was the Sydney part of National Day of Action on Water, which focussed on the Lake Cowal gold mine in particular and cyanide gold mining in general.

Cyanide Watch banner with a Water More Precious than Gold banner courtesy of the Iceland grrrls, Hyde Park Sydney 22 March 2006

It was organised by Natalie Lowrey of Friends of the Earth Australia and supported by sundry Blue Mountains activists, Cyanide Watch, a Wiradjuri man from Condobolin named Steve Coe, a bunch of grrrls from a Balmain squat called Iceland and Andy, a young man from Penrith who read about the action on Sydney Indymedia and plugged in.

The Hon. Lee Rhiannon of the NSW Greens also put out a supporting media release and attended in person. Her media release said in part:

"The government has to come clean with this information. The cyanide transportation is not a one off event. The mine has a life of 13 years and will consum more than 80,000 tonnes of sodium cyanide.

"Cyanide is highly toxic. Communities have aright to expect that emergency services will be forewarned that dangerous chemicals are en route through their region.

"NSW waterways are particularly at risk.

"The Greens will conytinue to push the government to release details of the cyanide transport route when parliament resumes next week."

Our action had assembled at the Archibald Fountain, the grand water feature of Hyde Park, just down the street from the NSW parliament. On top is the Greek God Apollo, god of light and reason, splendidly naked and wet, shooting his arrows through spray. We thought it appropriate for we had come that day to shoot some arrows of truth about water.

It was in effect the first Cyanide Watch action, and Peacebus.com cruised from Newtown across Sydney town with its PA and horns booming. Its crew was Natalie Lowrey, Mel, a 30 something bestudded activist and youth worker from the Blue Mountains, Jennifer the Maremma.

The PA gives presence and excitement to a Peacebus.com mission and the young women were in high spirits with Mel finding her voice to say plainly and loudly her opposition to cyanide gold mining and the mining of Lake Cowal in particular.

Graeme and Mel rolling and spruiking with Peacebus.com 22 March 2006

Kasia, another Blue Mountains FoE activist had come by train bearing her raindrop costume. As she entered Hyde Park she had heard the sound of Peacebus.com approaching and had hurried toward the sound, smiling and waving to us. Later she said the sight and sound of Peacebus.com, the courage and colour of it, had moved her to tears.

When Peacebus cruised into the Park, we were pleased to see an group of 12 friends and supporters sitting on the grass waiting for us. Dodging the tourists taking Fountain pics, we pulled up so that the ‘Stop the Cyanide!' signage faced up Macquarie Street. Not that it was to be parked there long because no sooner stopped than a police car did too and its driver demanded my driver's license.

"You have no permission to be driving in Hyde Park," Const Daniel Saad was quick to tell me. True and we had sort no permission (and no public liability insurance) for our action either. All was to be negotiable.

I told him I would be there only as long as it took to unload and while Const Saad got on the radio, I got busy untying the bundles of 10 pre-rigged flags from the roof rack, and unloading the steel posts, rubber ties and the post driver from inside.

The flags were soon lying about on the grass. I quickly drove in the first steel post and tied on the first flag so that both Const Saad and supporters could see the intention and the effect.

The flag itself was one of the ten I had sewn up with Kasia at the previous week's flag making workshop at Medlow Bath. Like the Koori Green flag, it had the Aboriginal sovereignty symbol (black above red with a yellow circle at centre) but instead of a green profile of the Nimbin Rocks underneath, it had, as suggested by Kasia, a blue profile of the Three Sisters, the iconic rock formation at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.

Friends of the Earth, Blue Mountains flag and the first version of the Cyanide Watch flag 2006

Also on display for the first time were the Cyanide Watch flags with the spiky heart eye and the green, blue and yellow stripes.

The designs worked beautifully but whatever the design, flags look better when they are upright and seen against the sky. Sgt Saad asked me to drive no more steel posts until he had further instructions. But now my comrades could see what needed to be done and they were urging for it such that Const Saad yielded.

Meanwhile I was otherwise occupied. An Aboriginal woman, came to me saying, "Graeme, Graeme. Do you remember me?" and embraced me in a warm, full body hug, her big brown smiling into mine.

No I didn't recognise her at once and was thrown into a very pleasant confusion by a hug so familiar that we could have been lovers, man and wife even in some former lifetime. Later I realised that it was an acquaintance from Cullen Street, Nimbin and that distance was making the heart grow fonder. More of that please, but first let me get on with the action.

Soon we had three officers from the City Central police station in attendance. In order of appearance they were: Const Daniel Saad, Sgt Ben Campbell and the Duty Officer A/Insp Mark Smith.

Mark Smith immediately opened dialogue, sized up the situation and started facilitating. Unlike the OSG at previous Peacebus.com actions (see www.peacebus.com/OSG), no problem for him was the flags and their bamboo poles.

We were few; maybe 15 in number, and all but three were young women. Nat distributed FoE Lake Cowal T-shirts and if we were few, we were certainly distinctive as a fashion statement. We posed for group photographs and Jennifer was the only one not dressed in black.

Lake Cowal fashions, Hyde Park Sydney 22 March 2006

Natalie later told me she had had a call from A/Insp Smith before we left Newton that morning. Seems he had been alerted to the action as a consequence of our media release. He was concerned that, in demanding information about the Lake Cowal cyanide route, we might be intending to occupy the Minister's office.

When we made clear our peaceful intentions and our citizens' right to know, he rang the Ministry building and prepared the way for us through building security.

The flags looked magnificent as we paraded across Hyde Park bearing our flags and we set up in Elizabeth Street with our banners so that the office workers above could see us. I also moved Peacebus.com up , jumped the kerb onto the pavement so as to be clear of traffic, pointed the horns upward and spruiked on cyanide.

Flag parade through Hyde Park Sydney 22 March 2006

Mia Pepper had borrowed the Wheelie Bin PA from Reclaim the Streets, Newtown, for the action. A broken lead had made it a pain to get working and when it did start up it was like having a barrow of noise, a deafening doof, in our midst.

The best thing about it was that it played a recording of a speech by ‘Chappie" Williams about the sacred fire at Lake Cowal. By holding the Peacebus.com mike to the Wheelie Bin speaker we were able to project the story to the glass towers.

Steve "Ducky" Coe spruiks and Graeme Dunstan amplifies the Wheelie Bin PA, Hyde Park Sydney 22 March 2006

But by this time Acting Inspector Mark Smith was getting calls and was under pressure to move Peacebus.com from the pavement. We had been spruiking loudly for maybe 30 minutes and we had seen pedestrians and customers in cafes across the street stopping to listen to us.

No more media calls were coming and nothing was to be gained by pushing the matter. I drove off and found a park place for Peacebus.com around the corner in Liverpool Street. While fumbling for coins, an Asian man, possibly a Chinese Thai, came up and offered me his parking ticket with an hour's parking still upon it.

The stranger had seen the Peacebus signage and heard the PA and he approached with an affirming smile. Random acts of kindness such as this bring magic to a Peacebus.com mission.

Back in Elizabeth Street I went with Nat and Mia and police escort up to Level 6 / 201 Elizabeth Street there to be refused. In the lifts and the along the way there and back, we talked Glocks and policing as a challenging moral responsibility.

On the pavement we debated whether we should pursue the Minister or declare the action over for the day. From my point of view I could see nothing to be gained by further protest that day. The respectful relations established by Mark Smith and his officers were reciprocated with respect, and none of the protesters wanted to push any boundaries that might cause loss of face for those officers.

We had done our business, spoke our truth, and got noticed. And so we opted to pull in the flags and disperse, not one harsh word said between police and protesters. Indeed the officers were most friendly and also kindly concerned about the risk I was putting my bum to as I bent it out into the traffic to pack gear into Peacebus.com.

We protestors went our different ways happy. The Iceland grrrls said how impressed they had been by the flags and applauded Kasia the seamstress when she took a bow. Andy gave me a warm farewell hug said how pleased he was to have participated, having the will but never the courage to protest before.

Nat and Kasia joined Jennifer and I onboard Peacebus.com and we adjourned to Regent Park at the west (Strawberry Hills) end of the CBD, set up table and chairs on the grass, made tea, shared a picnic and debriefed the action – another successful Peacebus.com occupation of public place.

Kasia, Nat and Jennifer at the Peacebus.com post action picnic in Regent Park, Sydney, 22 March 2006

From there we went to Green Senator Kerry Nettle's office in Devonshire Street Surry Hills and used a computer there to draft and send a media release. At the time Kerry and her staff were busy responding to flak from the Indonesian media over their support for West Irian independence but we were welcomed to use the facilities of the office like part of the family.

Ever since she was rough handled attempting to take the illegal incarceration of Australian citizens David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib in Guantanamo Bay up to US President Bush during his visit to the Australian Parliament in 2004, I have been a fan of Kerry Nettle. While in her office I read extracts from her maiden speech to the Senate in which she praised the community-based activism of the Greens.

So there was some symmetry in our visit as community activists to her office that day because much of the recent violence in West Irian has been associated with local indigenous resistance to the US owned Freeport gold mine.

Graeme Dunstan
written 24-28 March 2006

The Peacebus.com mural (lettering by Graeme, background mural by Elspeth Jones of Nimbin) in Sydney 22 March 2006

 


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