The front gate of Orica's Yarwun manufacturing plant.
The cyanide plant can be seen between the trees.
The back fence view of Orica's Yarwun plant showing the newly built amonium nitrate towers. The cyanide plant can be seen in the distance behind the tower in the foreground.
A mesh and barbed wire fence encloses the Orica chemicals plant at Yarwun, Gladstone, and a 5 meter high Orica logo marks the front gate. Chemicals for the mining industry are made there: ammonium nitrate for explosives and sodium cyanide for gold leaching.
The cyanide plant can be seen from the gate 100 meters away, a 30 meter high, 40 meter square piece of monumental engineering which fumes and festers with pipes, ducts and vents.
With an estimated output of 80,000 tonnes of sodium cyanide a year, this makes Orica the biggest corporate cyanide criminal in Australia and the third biggest in the world.
On Tuesday 19 July the Yarwun complex was locked down and the daily procession of trucks bearing cyanide in 20 tonne shipping containers to the nearby rail loading terminal was halted.
The massive steel front gate was not only closed but also guarded by about 12 Queensland police officers on the outside and an equal number of Chubb Security officers on the inside. The police also had a dog and trail biker at hand.
The big Orica logo by the gate was beset by colorful flags and banners and the PA on Peacebus.com was cranked up and pointing to the admin offices. Earth Reggae was in the air: "Stop the cyanide! ... Indict the cyanide criminals!"
Before the Peacebus.com banner rig, Easton speaks out.
Peacebus.com was in town on Cyanide Watch and supported by 16 activists, companions on the Queensland Activist Road Trip which left from Brisbane after the close of the Students of Sustainability conference on the St Lucia campus of the University of Queensland during the previous week.
The managers of Orica, publicly accused of cyanide crimes, were alarmed and taking the action very seriously.
And so was the local and regional media. That morning the Gladstone Observer had a front page photo of me looking piercing, strong jawed and grim from under my Cyanide Watch cap and quote from me saying: "We have come to close down the Orica cyanide plant. They are cyanide criminals." The story also led on the local radio news. AAP Brisbane had picked it up too which means it went out on their wire service nationally and internationally.
On the day at the front gate cameras were present from the local newspapers and the regional TV news, and phone calls for regional radio interviews came in.
Except for Uncle Winniatta, the Road Trip crew was uniformly young, 20 somethings, some students, some full time activists, from Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane, and some international travelers along for the ride.
Winniatta is a 40 something Maori, raised by the late "Mum" Shirl in Redfern and formerly, and for many years, he was the keeper of the sacred fire at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. Now he is resident in Condobolin and focused on the Wiradjuri campaign to reclaim from cyanide gold mining their sacred heartland at Lake Cowal in central NSW.
Marshaled by Winniatta in two ranks, each person holding a white plastic spoon ("Just a teaspoon of 2% cyanide is lethal") and the front line holding before them a long Save Lake Cowal banner emblazoned with the words "cyanide killers", under Koori and Torres Strait Islander flags, the young activists approached the gate with great dignity and solemn purpose.
The police before the gate braced and the media camera people rushed to position themselves. But there was no violent confrontation: the procession stopped up against the police line, a powerful purpose simply making its presence known.
The Activist Road Trip crew at the front line
The Gladstone Observer next day carried a front page photo of that moment - the cops look seriously attentive and on duty and the activists, young, determined and tenacious.
Then Uncle Winni stepped back and, accompanied by ten of the young activists, led the Lake Cowal Bird Dance as Kev Carmody's "Thou Shalt Not Steal" song boomed out from the Peacebus.com horns and wrenched our hearts.
Draped in blue cloth, the dancers turned and wheeled in the dapple shadow and, at the source of the poison destined to pollute forever vast waters above and below ground, they danced for the water birds and all future generations upon the Earth.
Winniatta leads the Lake Cowal Bird Dance
The day wore on, the police continued to turn trucks away from the gate, the media departed, and the Road Trip Crew sat in a circle under the flags and banners on the grass verge, talked tactics and took lunch.
They agreed to present a list of demands to the Orica plant management and while drafting, hand and biro set to note paper torn from a pad, the police commander undertook to bring the site manager to the gate to receive them.
Lunch break and circle meeting
We had understood from the media people that the Orica plant management had been ordered by the Orica HQ in Melbourne to make no comment and no response to the accusations of cyanide crimes being made against them.
Rob Mossop, Site Manager Yarwun, appeared somewhat reluctantly at the gate, guarded by police officers and Chubb security. A frowning, sharp eyed, big bodied man, he had the slump of one who carries a heavy burden. He declined the invitation to come forth beyond the gate and so we met him there in a frame of steel bars and blue uniforms.
Orica's Yarwun Site Manager, Rob Mossop
As two young women took turns reading the demands, he listened patiently. I don't have a copy of this list but as I recall some demands, reflecting the haste of their drafting, were flaky. Not to worry, the general drift was that they, the young activists, and I wanted Orica to respect the Wiradjuri heartland and the water of future generations and stop making and supplying cyanide to the gold mining industry.
Site Manager, Rob Mossop, listens to and receives the list of demands
Talking truth to power, it was a powerful moment when the light seemed especially bright and everyone, cops, activists and paid security were listening, fully present and bearing witness. The brightness suggested to me that beings from the unseen world were with us bearing witness too: future generations infinite, protective deities numerous and hosts of far seeing angels.
Winged words were on my lips.
I took the opportunity to remind Rob that he, as the master maker of cyanide, was as culpable for the vast toxic consequences of cyanide gold mining as the managers of Degussa AG, makers and suppliers of the toxic gas and cyanide derivative Zylon B, were culpable for industrialized genocide done by the Nazis.
"How many cops does it take to run a cyanide plant?" I asked generally.
Addressing Rob direct and in the witness of all, I told him:
"It gets worse for you from here. This protest is just the first and now that the Orica cyanide plant is an established national target for green activism; you can expect more actions, including blockades, site invasions and lock-ons and all the while loud accusations of cyanide crimes will be made. And you the biggest cyanide criminal of all: may your children not despise you."
Rob Mossop protested that the decisions were made in Melbourne at Orica Australia HQ.
"Tell them that we are coming for them too," I responded at once.
On behalf of all I thanked Rob for having the courage and respect to meet us at the gate. He turned away and slumped off. Watching his departure I thought: "Poor man. What a burden, what health breaking stress - all responsibility and no power."
The decision to close down the cyanide plant will be made by anonymous bean counters in Melbourne but it will be engineers like Rob who will turn off the valves and switches, clean up the mess and take the public blame.
But then that's the Faustian bargain he has struck. The poisoned challis he has foisted upon the Earth, he will in time drink from too. Such is karma, such is fate.
Gladstone Cyanide Watch was an action well done and artful. Yorro! Yorro! Everyone standing up alive!
Thank you Uncle Winniatta. All hail your noble heart and fine sense for artful ceremony making.
All gratitude and praise for the courage and clear witness of the young warriors on the 2006 Queensland Activist Road Trip.
Gratitude too for the respect, goodwill and honorable witness of Snr Sgt. Peter McFarlane and all the officers of the Gladstone police present that day.
Queensland Police,(from left) Acting Snr Sgt Ben Campell of Rockhampton, Snr Sgt Peter McFarlane of Gladstone, Snr Sgt Mike Dixon, Gladstone District Crime Tactician, and Const Rob ?
For the Earth!
May all beings be well and happy.
For the Earth. To the dust!
27 June 2006
A cyanide train departing Gladstone. Each shipping container holds 20 tonnes and, at one gram per lethal dose, enough to kill every human in Australia and still have some left over.