Cyanide Watch Report 25 April 2006

Defected in Dubbo


Peacebuses .com and .net at the Rotunda, Macquarie Street, Dubbo 21 April 2006

Cyanide Watch is now off the road and docked in Wedderburn (SW Sydney) for some rest, web updating and vehicle repairs. was defected by an officious highway patrolman at the close of the Cyanide SpeakOut in Dubbo last Friday 19 April. It was an individual act of bastardry and contrary to the tolerance and goodwill negotiated for the event with the Orana Area Commander.

The SpeakOut itself was a huge media success though not a crowd overwhelm. John Peace and I had negotiated to set up at the Rotunda in Macquarie Street, the long shopping strip of Dubbo and there we parked and displayed the signs on the Peacebuses .com and .net, rigged our Cyanide Watch flags and banners, tuned in the webcam and spruiked to the lunch time shoppers and the odd busload of Chinese tourists passing by.

Dubbo (pop. 33,000) is the major provincial city of western NSW and besides being a media centre (both Prime and WIN have news crews there, plus ABC Radio Western Plains and Radio 2DU), it is also a rail head and the major distribution point for various franchises including it seems Orica cyanide for gold mining.

After meeting with the police in Dubbo on Thursday afternoon I went looking for the rail to road cyanide transfer depot and discovered it to be managed by Patricks Transport and adjacent to the Dubbo railway station.

The Patricks depot manager guessed who I was from the media which had preceded and was most courteous. He confirmed what the Dubbo police had said: in the past month since he had been there as manager, no cyanide transports had come through and this was the only place in Dubbo with the facilities to unload rail cars.

Good news! It could be that the Cyanide Watch campaign had been a contributing factor in this hold up for I had made our intention to blockade the Dubbo cyanide depot very widely known. But I suspect  the absence of cyanide iso-tainers in Dubbo is more likely due to serious delays in starting up gold production at the Lake Cowal gold mine.

While at Lake Cowal over Easter we had learned that, although the excavation of the pit is proceeding around the clock, the milling plant is not yet working and thus neither is the cyanide leaching of ore.

Already 12 months behind schedule and the gold already sold on futures markets, these delays cost Barrick and its shareholders a small fortune daily. Excellent! May Barrick Gold bleed money till it dies.

Without the presence of cyanide in town, the form of the Dubbo action shifted to being a Cyanide SpeakOut, an open mike awareness raising exercise, and I spent Thursday parked by the Newell Highway in Parkes, putting out media to that effect.

Both ABC Radio Western Plains and Radio 2DU picked up the story and ran it as news. "Bulk transport of cyanide is an accident waiting to happen," says Cyanide Watch," for example, led the 2DU bulletin. Grabs of phone interviews were also broadcast.

Peacebuses .com captain Graeme Dunstan interviewed by Peter Ryan of WIN TV, Macquarie Street, Dubbo 21 April 2006

The federal member for Parkes, John Cobb (National Party), also the Minister for Community Services, gave the presence of Cyanide Watch a boost by putting out media release calling for the prosecution of the Lake Cowal protesters, describing them as "environmental urban terrorists".

He also assured his electors that he was "confident that the owners of the Lake Cowal Gold mine will comply with all of the safety and environmental conditions placed on them, ensuring safe transport, storage and use of cyanide at the mine."

Shades of the infamous Queensland National Party leader Belkje "Joe" Petersen and his "don't you worry about that" denials.

The most charitable thing I could say in response was that John Cobb MP lacked discernment. The least charitable was that the National Party was, like Belkje Joe, getting money in brown paper bags for telling such lies. All grist for the media mill.

The Dubbo police had made phone contact on Tuesday 18 April when we were doing roadside witness in West Wyalong. They had picked up on my ABC Riverina radio interview and were worried the Lake Cowal hordes of enviro-terrorists were on their way.

We hurried to Dubbo on Thursday afternoon 20 April so that we could meet the Dubbo Duty Officer, Inspector Brad Byrnes, and negotiate the action for the next day. The Orana Area Commander Superintendent Stewart Smith also attended the meeting.

Dubbo doesn't have many protests so we were a bit of a novelty. We found these senior police officers were both most courteous and respectful. John Peace asked directly what their policy was for protests and they assured us that our right to speak out would be respected and protected so long as our language was not offensive.

For my part I gave notice that our intention was to stop the transport of cyanide by road and rail and that sooner or later we would have to do that literally to a cyanide truck or three. I undertook to negotiate all actions, and neither confront, embarrass nor surprise Dubbo police; our argument was not with them.

Superintendent Stewart andInspector Brad agreed to treat the Cyanide SpeakOut as an educational event and did not demand that we fill in a Schedule One notice of public assembly. We parted on good terms and they gave me some good leads on Dubbo civic leaders who would likely be sympathetic to our cause.

I had already contacted the Mayor of Dubbo Cr Allen Smith and invited him to the SpeakOut. He told me he would be hosting a visit that day of the Mayors of Orange and Bathurst. Both these towns being on the cyanide rail route I encouraged him to bring them along during the lunch break. 

Cr Smith made no such commitment but he did reveal that he had served many years as a fireman and that he had a lot of direct experience with chemicals spills. In fact he had been in attendance when a shipment of cyanide had derailed in Condobolin some years ago.

All rumour to me, I have yet to find or read any report of that spill and here was someone who had witnessed it directly - and a mayor to boot. Media dynamite!

Leo, the host of the Radio 2DU morning program, is an old Vietnam war protester and rock and roller who came to Dubbo with a band and stayed to become a very popular radio personality; his program rating in excess of 50%. He gave me 30 minutes live to air and plenty of opportunity to talk of the cyanide hazard and invite people to speak up and speak out at our SpeakOut.

The interview after me was to be with Cr Smith and his fellow Mayors. I left asking Leo to get the Dubbo Mayor to tell of the Condobolin cyanide derailment.

At noon rolled around the shopping block spruiking for the SpeakOut but to know avail. Except for a couple of kids and a monosyllabic grey haired pensioner, no one took up the offer of the open mike and I got to be the only amplified voice in the streets of Dubbo that day.

Peacebuses .com captain Graeme Dunstan spruiks alone, Macquarie Street, Dubbo 21 April 2006

Dubbo people are a bit shy about public speaking it seems, but we were not ignored. I could see people listening 50 meters away and citizens walking by let me know they agreed with what I was saying. "Good on you," they said.

In fact the only adverse comment I received was from a grey haired citizen who I noticed writing down the registration number after the event. Turns out he was a retired cyanide driver.

"You are talking bullshit," he said staring me in the eye. "I carted cyanide for 25 years and never had an accident."

"Congratulations," was all i could say.

Superintendent Stewart Smith had come by before we started up the spruiking, still a bit nervous that we might have other things planned and a horde hidden in the Peacebuses.

He had about six officers in blue fatigues on duty in the street and no doubt others on stand by. Under his command, it seems he has a detachment of Operations Special Group police, the War on Terror riot busters that have proved to be such knuckleheads of late at Sydney protests. Heaven knows what they do with their time in Dubbo.

My police guard stood well back on the other side of the street, but as the hour wore on and it became apparent there was nothing much happening but me, they moved closer till they were a small and intimidating knot of blue just a few meters from the mike. My efforts to get a smile or some entertaining banter out of them failed and they hung about, a grim faced presence as pleasant and as inviting as a leaking septic tank.

An hour had gone by and I was getting tired of the sound of my own voice when an ordinance officer appeared. She came on strong about the Peacbuses being illegally parked, holding her ticket book at the ready. So heated was she that i got the feeling she had been tipped off and primed, probably by the police officers who so were quick to support her in having us move.

Our point had been made and I was happy to yield but while I was parking in the loading zone adjacent, the bull bar of Happy Wheels clipped the steel post of a parking sign with a loud bang. This brought forth Sgt Peter Robins, Highway Patrolman of the Canabolis Area Command.

Canabolis is the Orange area and officer's turf was probably the Western Highway between Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo. What was a highway patrolman doing standing around at our SpeakOut? Maybe it was he who had called the ordinance officer.

"When was the last time your vehicle was inspected?" he asked ominously. He took my license and began searching for defects while I fronted an interview for Prime TV.

Now Happy Wheels is a ten year old which has done a lot kilometers. Furthermore registration and a pink slip registration check was imminent. The Lake Cowal roads had been rough so it was no surprise to me that he found some defects - a cracked window screen and headlight lens, some missing screws on the signage mounting and so on.

None of the defects meant happy Wheels was dangerously unroadworthy, but they were enough to justify Sgt Robins putting a yellow sticker on the windscreen and directing me to have the vehicle off the road in 24 hours and to stay off the road until the defects had been fixed and Happy Wheels had passed a full RTA pit inspection.

The NSW Police Service is a big and diverse collection of humans and some of them have it fixed in their tiny minds that protest equals public disorder and as such is to be suppressed and frustrated by all and any means available. Sgt Robins was one of these and so he addressed me with polite contempt and acted as if he was doing the world a favour.

As he turned away proud in the witness of his grim faced colleagues that he had punished us for our audacity in protesting in Dubbo, I let him know how I felt.

"You are an arsehole," I said. "We negotiate an agreement with your commander but you know better."

"My duty is to enforce the law regardless of what my commander says," he replied.

"You'll find out," I replied.

And he will. Infallible is karmic law; infallible, just and sure. People assuming this kind of righteousness spend their life doing the right thing and wonder why they are loathed by their colleagues, and yea, even by their wives and children.

We were soon packed up on the highway heading east to the Blue Mountains. "We shall return'" I told the Prime TV crew and we will when the cyanide starts rolling.

Seven days and seven actions, our Cyanide Watch done well raising awareness of the cyanide menace. We had blitzed the news on radio, TV and local newspapers is south western and western NSW. We had certainly put Barrick Gold and its cyanide supplier Orica on the back foot.

Next morning, Saturday 23 April, with Nat Lowery, Sod and Amy of Blue Mountains Friends of the Earth we set the flags and banners up beside the Katoomba rail station for a photo shoot for the Katoomba weekly paper. I put out the mike and did a demonstration spruik and invited the others to do so too.

The City of the Blue Mountains is a 60 km long strip of suburbs in a vast National Park, the catchment for most of Sydney water, and its residents are fierce in the defence of both. Blue Mountains citizens have been known to block the Western Highway in protest in the past. 

Even with the horn speakers directed away from the shopping centre we attracted a small crowd of concerned citizens aghast at what they were learning about cyanide.

"Let's do a Cyanide SpeakOut in the park next weekend," they urged. Okay.

That day we learned that the western rail line is soon to be closed for at least 2 weeks for maintenance, which means it is probable, given the cyanide compliant and corrupt nature of the NSW government, that road transportation of the cyanide through the mountains during this time will more than likely be approved.

Barrick Gold have yet to realise the battle field upon which they must fight if they proceed with their plan to bring cyanide, 6090 tonnes a year for 13 years, from the Orica plant in Gladstone to poison the ground water of Lake Cowal.

Meanwhile a highway patrolman has given Barrick and its political courtiers a small win: is off the road and John and I are confronted with the major task of getting it repaired and passed by RTA inspectors. A heap of mechanical work and big expense will be involved.

But it is the Peacebus philosophy to give oneself up to whatever life brings and let obstruction become opportunity.

Getting Happy Wheels registered a year ago, in search of cheap tyres I had been directed to grubby corner of a Campbelltown industrial estate where I met a remarkable man. Of Lebanese extraction, he is a doer of deals at mates rates. I gave him a call and sat across from him at his desk in his workshop and listened as he called in favours.

"I have a friend who has been defected by the cops while protesting about cyanide in Dubbo. He is a peace activist who does what you and i neither have the time nor the courage to do. Can you help him out with ..."

And so it is that the set back of a defected vehicle has became an opportunity to build networks of sustainable resistance.

For the Earth. To the dust!

Graeme Dunstan
25 April 2006

Macquarie River camp, Dubbo 21 April 2006

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