Speaking Out in Katoomba
a report of the Cyanide SpeakOut, 30 April 2006


Jessica at the mike in Victoria Street Katoomba 30 April 2006

The bad news of cyanide boomed down Victoria Street, the main street of Katoomba, the town centre of the Blue Mountains, the PA horns on top of Peacebus.net angled so that the sound bounced off down the street both ways.

Arrayed across the street in Carrington Plaza, the grassed and landscaped area out front of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba's majestic Victoriana landmark, were the eight Cyanide Watch flags and the "Cyanide Spills. Cyanide Kills" banner.

For want of vehicular entrance to the Plaza, Peacebus.net, now bearing the PA of the defected and docked Peacebus.com, had had to park opposite and those who used the microphone did so standing on the road in front of the Peacebus.net mural.

The Eureka flag was flying high, the beautiful banner and its supporting flags glowed in the sun and the Peacebus PA was loud (but not too loud). Cyanide Watch was getting noticed; this is what speaking up and speaking out, is all about.

Natalie Lowery in Carrington Plaza, Katoomba 30 April 2006

Cyanide Watch was in town as a guest of Friends of the Earth Blue Mountains and making its presence known, giving concern about the cyanide hazard a voice and posing a fundamental question:

Why should the Blue Mountains people be a party to the hazards of transporting bulk cyanide in order to facilitate the profits of a multinational corporation, a few dead-end jobs in a far away town, and the creation of a monstrous toxic legacy - vast artifical lakes of permanently poisoned water in a major ephemeral wetland?

My Culture Lab friends, Willem Brugman and Catherine Hassall, heard the sound as they approached the rail underpass 50 meters to the north and had recognized my voice at once. Their two year old daughter, the goldilocked Maya Thiango, also recognized me, and all excitement, shining eyes and smiles she called my name and waved when she came in sight. How good for the heart are the smiles of friends when eyes meet in greeting!

The City of the Blue Mountains is a 60 km long ribbon development that follows the Western Highway and rail line, the east-west transport corridor between the Sydney basin and the Bathurst plains. North and south for over 50 km either way is canyoned sandstone country, a vast world heritage listed National Park and the catchment of most of Sydney's water supply.

We had been appalled to learn when the NSW Government revealed on 8 April, in response to repeated questions in the Parliament by NSW Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon, that the cyanide transport route approved for the supply of Barrick Gold's newly opened gold mine at Lake Cowal, was to pass by rail through the Blue Mountains.

More than 6,000 tonnes of sodium cyanide a year for the next 13 years and no one had thought to consult or inform Blue Mountains folk. We had had to drag it out of the government and this the parliamentary seat of Bob Debus, the NSW Minister for the Environment.

Both appalled and delighted we were because we knew how fervent Blue Mountains folk can be in defense of their natural environment. Some 90 km west of Sydney, people choose to live there out of their love for its trees, its birds, its fresh air, and its magnificent canyon views. They have been known to block the highway in protest in the past.

Here we knew Cyanide Watch and its call to ban cyanide gold mining as too, too hazardous and toxic would get a sympathetic hearing.

The SpeakOut was organized at a week's notice by a relatively recent Katoomba resident, Natalie Lowery, who is also national coordinator for Friends of the Earth. The action was preceded by a page 3 photo in the Blue Mountains Gazette of Peacebus.com from a photo shoot set up by Nat and Amy the Saturday before. It illustrated a full page story headed "Fears raised over cyanide transport".

Only a few of local greenies answered the call this time around, maybe 12 or so, and they sat about on the steps of the plaza, with a koori flag, the Blue Mountains FoE banner, and Lake Cowal pamphlets and merchandising laid out beside.

Mel turned up with a battery operate two speaker 30 watt CD player and soon the recently released Lake Cowal CD "Gold Mine - water more precious than gold" was playing. (Let me recommend it to you. Email me for a copy.)

Because Peacebus.net was parked beside a bus stop where day visitors wait for a ride down to the Three Sisters, there were times when it looked like we had a crowd. The tourists were certainly curious but who knows what they made of it?

At noon I opened the SpeakOut booming: "Citizens of Katoomba this Peacebus.com on Cyanide Watch ..." Oophs! I sent a silent prayer to Happy Wheels, absent friend and aloud explained our purpose and invited speakers. It was an open mike.

Natalie took the mike first and spoke passionately about local people uniting to defend their beautiful environment from the hazard of a cyanide spill. She was followed by young Jessica a Blue Mountains resident who had been arrested during the "walk on" at the Barrick Gold mine at Lake Cowal on Easter Sunday.

Youth worker Mel, looking splendid in her Lake Cowal T-shirt and street smart gear, spoke out, leaning against the mural of Peacebus.net and speaking into the mike as if she was invisible, a private person having a private conversation about the injustice and madness of having a profit chasing multinational corporation create the threat of a local cyanide spill and poison a distant wetland. The quiet sincerity of her voice was powerful.

Natalie had rung all the local Councillors who include two Greens, but none showed. Bob Debus was also invited and I called him to the microphone so that his absence would be noted.

Six weeks earlier Amy on behalf of Blue Mountains FoE had contacted Debus' electoral office seeking a meeting to talk about cyanide transports for Lake Cowal. We were hoping at that time he might help us learn the route. Despite a number of follow up calls, no meeting was forthcoming.

We were to learn that Debus has become an absentee member for the Blue Mountains who now prefers the comfort of a home in Balmain. But not only absent from his electorate, but also absent as NSW Minister for the Environment, it seems.

Not even the Blue Mountains Gazette could get a response from Debus direct and it was a spokesperson from his office who assured and consoled readers.

He said: " ... concerns were understandable but full safety procedures are in place."

"There are stringent rules for the transport of such material, including well coordinated emergency response and handling methods," he said.

Trust me, says the shonky used car salesman, as he tells another bare faced lie.

How can there be "a well coordinated emergency response" when the very fact of the cyanide passing through the Blue Mountains was news to all?

What the response reveals under the denial is that cyanide transport through the Blue Mountains is nothing new to the office of Bob Debus; the 6,000 tonnes a year for Lake Cowal cyanide is just the known quantity passing through at this time. There are other operating cyanide gold mines in the west of NSW and their hazardous materials transport plan have never been made public.

Steadily increasing quantities of bulk cyanide has been passing through for some years, a detail that the Minister for the Environment had neglected to tell his electors. That's how out to lunch he has become as Minister for the Environment.

The more we chase down cyanide, the more exposed becomes the corruption and complicity of the Sussex Street Labor Government, or, as I have come to refer to it, the Carr-Macquarie Bank-Iemma government of NSW.

Twelve months out from an election and on the nose big time, I am pleased to tell the story of the approvals for the Lake Cowal cyanide gold mine as damning evidence of their corporate corruption.

The SpeakOut had been in progress for about an hour and Jessica was on the mike again and making her poignant almost plaintive appeal for responsible action when the police arrived.

At the time I was in the Plaza eating hot chips with my activist mates, standing by and watching John Peace as he webcammed the event from his laptop with a satellite web connection. "The cops are here," i had Sod say and looking up I saw four big men in blue standing around, close and indeed over, wee Jessica who was speaking into the mike and attempting to ignore them.

As I crossed the road to help, I noticed their vehicle; it was the Search and Rescue Squad. How bizarre, I thought. Are they rescuing Katoomba from cyanide or from free speech?

The latter was soon revealed to be the case for they had come acting on a complaint or two, from shop keepers they said, to close the SpeakOut down. The smiling Snr Constable Matt U'Brien told me that a Council permit was required to operate a PA in a public place.

Neither I nor anyone else was fussed about winding up because we had had a fair go and made our point. But I had to ask: "How come the Police Search and Rescue Squad is enforcing Council by-laws? The Council has ordinance officers and rangers employed for that."

Snr Cnst U'Brien replied patiently as one might to a child or the senile, that the Search and Rescue Squad had been rostered on for general duties that day and that police have wide responsibilities. He asked for my details and I handed him my license saying with calculated irony: "You will find that I am well known to the police."

The presence of the police brought the event alive; people were watching and cameras were clicking all about the place. But there was no aggro in any of it and after I rounded off and put away the mike, I walked with the police officers across the road to their vehicle to see them off.

There we met their boss, he of the wrap around sunglasses and silver pips on epaulettes, the Duty Officer of the day for the Blue Mountains Local Area Command, Inspector Mark MacCallum, who had just arrived.

He too explained the need for a PA permit and pointed to Mel's CD player which was playing the Lake Cowal CD on the Plaza steps and said that technically that was illegal too. But he wasn't fussed about it.

Since it was our intention to do more Cyanide Watch actions in the Blue Mountains, I introduced Inspector MacCallum to Natalie Lowery and she told him of FoE Blue Mountains and something of our cyanide concerns.

The Inspector listened and suggested maybe we ought to book the Katoomba showground for our next event. We took his helpful suggestion as a kind of endorsement of sorts.

While Natalie and I were engaged in this conversation, a mature aged woman came brushing by saying to Nat and I in a voice meant to be heard by the police officers: "Good on you. I support what you are doing." In the context of our conversation her timing of her affirmation was a perfect.

Jessica started collecting signatures for a petition she had invented on the spot. She approached people passing, drinkers in the Carrington beer garden and also the cops as they were leaving. When they declined saying that as police officers petition signing was a no-no, she offered to bring it to them when they were off duty.

Victoria Street was quiet after the cops left and we set to and brought in the flags. With many hands helping we soon had the flags and banner folded, the bamboo poles bundled and all gear stowed. And we were out of there.

One CD had been sold and Natalie handed me the $15 for expenses. As soon as I could I converted the cash to cannabis and went visiting my Culture Lab friends. Sharing stories with Willem Brugman, actor, director, culture mover, over a black beer and a joint or three is ever a welcome and uplifting opportunity.

He told me he had gone off to do some errands and returned to Carrington Plaza to find us gone. He commented that Peacebus occupations of public place were like a medicine show arriving in town; quickly unfolding, it is all colour, sound and movement for a moment and gone in the next.

Nothing left but the medicine, the memory of magic and maybe a message.

The medicine and the magic of Peacebus are potent: being visible in public place, speaking up and speaking out fearlessly, sets a good example for citizenship and cultivates courage.

The message of Cyanide Watch was a warning to Blue Mountains folk about the cyanide hazard that their government has committed them to in favour of a profiteering and polluting multinational gold miner. Be alarmed.

It was also a warning message to the cyanide criminals and the corrupt and complicit politicians who are supporting them. Cyanide Watch is watching and ready to out you where ever you are.

For the Earth. To the dust!

Graeme Dunstan
8 May 2006

Peacebus.net in Victoria Street Katoomba 30 April 2006

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