The Walk Against Cyanide
a report of the Walk Against Cyanide
undertaken by Winiata Puru, Trappa and Friends
September 2006


Winiata Puru checks out outside the gates of the Orica cyanide plant in Gladstone Qld, 6 July 2006

The Cyanide Watch campaign of public place SpeakOuts in the towns along the cyanide route took on a new flavor when it was crossed on the road by "Uncle" Winata Puru and his companion and protector, Trappa, and their Walk Against Cyanide.

Not that either of them were aware of Cyanide Watch when they set out; we seemed to exist in parallel but separate universes.

Part protest and part pilgrimage, Wini and Trappa had begun their Walk in Brisbane after Wini had returned there from the Students of Sustainability Activist Road Trip which included the protest at the gates of the cyanide manufacturer, Orica in Gladstone.

Winiata said that walking was a way for him to feel in contact with the land and the ancestors and it created opportunities to meet people one to one and talk about the cultural and environmental desecration caused by Barrick Gold's cyanide gold mine at Lake Cowal.

The Walkers were heading to Lake Cowal following the rail cyanide route in an approximate and serendipitous kind of way, doing detours to accommodate the welcoming of friends, taking rests and time out as the country invited, singing up the land as they went.

Wini also has a sacred dance to offer: the Lake Cowal Bird Dance which Wini had choreographed two and half years ago when he was in residence at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, and a keeper of the sacred fire. became aware of the Walkers and met them when they came through Byron Bay Saturday 16 August. Cat "Atomic" organized a reception for them in Ewingsdale.

There it was learned that the Walkers had come south from Brisbane following the beaches and the party included Easton, eco-warrior who had also joined the SoS Activist Road Trip to Gladstone and points north.

Easton arrived bearing a 2 kg sea salmon which we feasted on that night. His story was that four such sized salmon had leapt out of the waves onto the beach in front of him and that he had only been able to carry one; the other three he shared with an Osprey eagle and Brahmany kite. Ocean blessings: an auspicious sign.

Help was what Wini and Trappa were seeking because they had set off without any support vehicle or media back u. It was wing and a prayer stuff.

Amy, Adam and baby Lucy, Friends of the Earth formerly of Blackheath, now of residents of Konorigan, near Nimbin, had provided road support and hospitality for the Walkers for the Byron, Lismore, Nimbin leg.

Winiata and supporters arrive in Lismore, 26 August 2006 and .com were present to welcome when they arrived in Lismore on Saturday 26 August, together with other friends of Lake Cowal living near at hand, Al Oshlack and Binni, Binnah, Johnny Chai and Terra.

The Cyanide Watch signage, flags and banners were arrayed beside the Tourism Information Centre in Heritage Park, Lismore. With little by way of publicity and Saturday being a bad day for media coverage, it was an understated action but an uplifting gathering of friends none the less.

The curiosity of the few passers-by was raised by our colorful presence and responses were always positive. There we met the Deputy Mayor of Ballina Shire, Cr John Felsch, who had arrived driving a white limousine for a wedding party which had come by for their photo shoot.

Group photo with wedding limo driver, Cr Felsch, Lismore, 26 August 2006

While waiting for the return of the bridal party, Cr Felsch approached us and, learning of our mission, expressed his most enthusiastic support. Ballina is at the mouth of the Richmond River and supports a sizable fishing industry. He took off his chauffeur's hat to pose for pics with us.

On Friday 1 September the Walkers arrived in Nimbin. A rainy day, they had opted to accept a lift from Adam. Johnny Chai set up a tarp over the pavement near the bus stop by Alsopp Park. and .com were there with colour again. Johnny Chai served chai and we dodged the showers.

Street rig and vehicle line up in Nimbin, 1 September 2006

The Mayor and General manager of the City of Lismore were in Nimbin that day, meeting in the nearby Community Centre, a rare occasion. But they declined the invitation to witness the Lake Cowal Bird Dance which went ahead anyway, Wini dancing on the pavement, video-ed by Paris Naday and web cast live by John Peace.

The following Tuesday, the Walkers went onto Casino now with road support from Johnny Chai and went ahead a set up accommodation and a dance performance opportunity with the new principal of Casino Primary School, Margie Hayes.

Formerly principal of Nimbin Central School for 12 years Margie had moved to Casino to be closer to her aging parents and was finding the Casino school yard dead my comparison to the everyday stimulation of Nimbin. She welcomed the Nimbin nuances of Wini and his mission and with the minimum of notice she organized Wini to perform to a school assembly and various classes.

Meanwhile went ahead to set up publicity for the Walkers in Grafton. Whimsy took the Walkers via Yamba and not until Tuesday 12 September did they arrive.

Jennifer the Maremma and I hung about Grafton, camping by the mighty Clarence River, meditating on rain and water ways, invoking the blessings of all the deities who protect water, making media and community contacts, using the free wireless broadband of The Emporium Cafe in South Grafton and generally being a visual presence around the town. by the Grafton Bridge over the mighty Clarence River, 6 September 2006

The local media were very receptive and the Grafton Daily Examiner of Friday 8 September carried a Cyanide Watch report and Radio 2GF carried news stories.

We met the Walkers at Ulmarra, a former Clarence river port on Monday 11 August. It was a splendid procession with Wini and Trappa striding along bearing a Koori and a Eureka flags and crawling ahead and Johnny Chai coming up behind with signage.

The Walkers on the jetty at Ulmara, 10 September 2006

The Walkers reported that, unlike their entry into Casino, they had had lots of positive responses from passing motorists lot's of thumbs up and supportive honks. This might have been due to the media work done in Grafton. It might also have something to do with the powerful symbolism of the walkers and their Koori-Eureka flags: they were a stirring sight to see together.

I was happy to discover my dear friend Floresta ("Flo with a W"), the locally renowned "Doofbitch" of Wotherspoon Street North Lismore, had joined the Walk. A 64 year old Leo like me, she is a self healed paralytic and for her the Walk was a mighty affirmation of her "throw away your crutches" faith. She can be a bit tottery on her pins but she can also stride with the best of them, forehead first, pure will and faith pulling her on.

Also joining the Walk at Ulmarra was Jennifer Bioganio, a 31 year old "Italian Catholic pagan" formerly of Lismore now of Tuntable Falls. Jennifer was on her way to Melbourne when she saw her friend and mentor, Flo walking by the highway.

Here the Walkers were blessed with the companionship of a woman in her prime, full in body and spirit, one who could banter with the best and happily cook up a feast at the end of the day and she on a pilgrimage of sorts and with time on her hands. Perfect.

Out of respect for the elderly Jennifer the Maremma, she dubbed herself Jennifer Duo.

That night the Walkers and their escort vans crossed the Clarence and camped in Strontium Park on the north bank about 5 km east of Grafton. Wini put a tent up on a jetty looking out across the broad waters. We lit a fire and Johnny Chai put a tarp over the back flap of his van to provide some shelter from the intermittent showers.

Wini sang his Maori songs, Trappa his Pooge and Fenian songs and Jennifer discovered they had some common ground, both had done seasons as "carnies" working the show circuits of NSW. Jennifer Duo had worked a season for her "carnie" uncle and Trappa had been a bull rider, spending 10 years either chasing the rodeos or recovering from injuries. Love was in the air!

Wini has a natural grace and beauty and he lives for and in beauty. Across the camp fire Wini told me some more of his story which was inspirational as the Walk itself.

Seems he was born to a poor Maori family and had suffered some cruelty at the hands of white welfare institutions. He was also born with a hole in his heart and just walking 20 metres would exhaust him. For the ten years before remedial surgery he watched with yearning as others ran, jumped and climbed. He showed me the long scar on his sternum from the open heart surgery: his initiation marking.

Intitiation into dance it would seem. Grey haired and broad of body now, one can still see what a glory he must have been as a young dancer. It was dance that brought him to Melbourne and it was a dance teacher who guided him out of his troubled times there.

"Mum Shirl" the late and great Aboriginal matriarch of Refern who in her life time fostered more than 65 children was the next major influence. They met one day at the counter of a Refern Health Clinic. "Who are you?" demanded Mum Shirl and, without heeding Wini's affront, started giving him orders.

"You are going to look after my children!" she declared.

And so it was, Wini claims, that he was adopted by Mum Shirl. He spent the next 14 years on and off as a house parent to different groups of Aboriginal children 5 or 6 at a time under 10 years some wee babies needing bottle feeding, cooking, cleaning, caring for them, and loving his immersion in the extensive networks of tender loving kindness that sustains Aboriginality through all the dysfunctions, alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse, oppression and madness.

Wini also says it was Mum Shirl who told him to go to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra and there he stayed for the better part of 14 years, cooking for people, being a host, a carer and the keeper of the sacred fire. Many an activist in Canberra for a protest, or merely passing by, has taken refuge at the Tent Embassy and received Wini's welcome and hospitality.

Established 26 January 1972 on the lawns in front of Old Parliament House, it is Australia's longest continuous protest, an eyesore to some, its shanty town appearance totally appropriate to others. Ever under threat, the Howard Government targeted it with wedge politcs by offering money to build a new Aboriginal Embassy. In an ensuing power struggle, Wini was assaulted and driven out.

Picking up on the defence of Lake Cowal issue, Wini supported Uncle Chappie Wiliams, Wiradjuri elder and Canberra resident, in taking flame from the sacred fire at the Emabssy to Lake Cowal. When the eviction came, Wini took refuge with a collective of Lake Cowal defenders in Condobolin, a place and support group he now calls home and family.

Next morning before entering Grafton and led by Wini we shared a smoking ceremony to invoke the blessings of the ancestors on our journey.

Wini, Trappa, Flo and John Peace sharing smoking ceremony before breaking camp and walking into Grafton, 11 September 2006

The Walkers Against Cyanide approach Grafton, 11 September 2006

Because Wini would not tie himself to any predictable ETA, I was frustrated in setting up any official welcome for them when they arrived at the Grafton Civic Centre. I had been negotiating with the Clarence Valley Mayor and other Councillors to receive him with a civic reception, but it was not to be.

I did manage to get Wini and interview with the Anglican Bishop of Grafton with the view to Wini dancing his sacred Lake Cowal in the Catheral, the most elegant sacred space in town, built on a bora ground, i understand. I also had a faint of hope it might lead to Anglican support along the road.

Again I was frustrated by Wini's reluctance to be organized by me. Not a practicing Catholic but raised in Catholic institutions, he was ambivalen the about Anglicans and failing to understand what it meant when I said 'Grafton in an Anglican town'. Nor did he appreciate the powerful support the former Anglican Bishop of Grafton had given the campaign to close the Timbarra gold mine.

The Reverent Keith Slater, Anglican Bishop of Grafton, received us kindly and with great interest: "First time I have ever met a bishop," says Wini.

Honored but none the less intractible, Wini bailed out on the sacred dance in the Cathedral idea even as I was giving the Bishop the pitch. Wrist to forehead, he declared: "I don't want to dance in the Cathedral." His Grace's smile broadened as noted the pulling of the rug from under me and he soon dismissed both us and our mission.

But i did manage to get a photographer from the Grafton Daily Examiner there and all the Walkers gathered for a photo shoot. A brisk wind had arisen and the photographer loved the flapping flags. Getting down on the grass on his belly, white shirt and all, he took a very dramatic photo of the Walkers and their support crew, flags a-flying on the Clarence River bank, convivial yet heroic, like the image of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. It featured in full color on page five in the Grafton Daily Examiner two days later day.

Report in the Grafton Examiner page 5, 14 September 2006

The Walkers then crossed the Clarence on the Grafton Bridge, an unusual double decker bridge, a riveted girder structure, rail underneath, highway on top.

Crossing the Grafton Bridge, 11 September 2006

Wini later said this moment, realizing the vastness of the river (biggest by volume in Australia) and the fragility of the Bridge across which an estimated minimum of 30,000 tonnes of cyanide passes annually, was a powerful one for him.

In South Grafton the Walkers were received kindly by Annie and Pete, the proprietors of The Emporium Cafe which is in a huge old emporium which also houses a cafe and also the Clarence River Environment Centre.

Through Annie I had been introduced to Kirsten and Edmond, residents of a bush community in Pillar Valley, about 30 km south east of Grafton, who had offered refuge for the Walkers there. There we drove that night.

Pilla Villa, as the community is known, is on 860 acres of forest and is about 20 years old, having had some ups and downs as a residential community. We were given access to the commodious community building and kitchen and there we were in residence for 4 days, honoured guests in a garden of friends. Bodha Gwen came down from Gondwana and joined us there for a couple of days.

On Thursday evening we were treated to a feast and Wini enchanted Pilla Villa residents and their children with a performce of his Lake Cowal Bird Dance.

John Peace, Wini, Johnny Chai and Floresta in the morning sun, Harmony and Jennifer Duo in love, Trappa extolling VB as a tonic, Bodha at ease at the Happy Wheels' table and the Pillar Villa crew bidding the Walkers farewell, 18 September 2006

The Pillar Valley Pillar Villa crew planted a tree in our honour and dedicated it to clean water for all future generations, 18 September 2006

We were also invited us to set up a concert and reception in The Emporium on Friday 15 August. We were a big presence in South Grafton that night and though we were few, we were blessed by great music and songs from our friends and supporters.

On Monday 18 August the Walk commenced again south to Coffs Harbour and Bellingen. It was accompanied by Pilla Villa folk for the first leg. John Peace, Johnny Chai and Floresta having returned to Nimbin and Lismore, Jennifer Duo providing vehicle support.

Near halfway Creek, south of Grafton, Wini strides out and Trappa takes up the rear. They are accompanied by Kirsten and Edmond of Pillar Villa and their children Harmony and Oram, who have taken a day off school to show their solidariy with the Warkers, 11 September 2006 went ahead to Coffs Harbour and Bellingen but the gap between our parallel universe was widening. My offer to set up media and a civic welcome was rejected by Wini and impractical anyway given Wini's reluctance to commit to appointments. Wini and Trappa had told me they had friends in Bellingen so I camped beside the Bellingen cemetry, waited and meditated on impermanence.

For a photo opportunity I set up the banner rig on the banks of the Bellinger River and The Coffs Coast Advocate carried a Cyanide Watch story and photo on Thursday 21 August.

Coffs Coast Advocate report, 21 September 2006

Cyanide Watch rig by the Bellinger River in North Bellingen, getting noticed 20 September 2006

Jennifer Duo called after the Walkers arrived and i hurried to meet them in Bellingen town. I heard them before i saw them.

Wini was shouting his outrage and he glared and directed his rant to me as i approached: "How dare you tell an Aboriginal person what to do!" Trappa in kilt was strutting, bristling for a fight and glaring too, but not at me.

Sun buffed, glowing with good health from the walking and dressed to impress, the trio looked magnificent. Seems they had no sooner set up their banners and laminated information sheets on the pavement than the officious Bellingen Shire Ranger had ordered them to get a Coucil permit or move on.

Two cops soon arrived to restore the peace, one of them a detective in plain clothes and pussy bummed of mouth. The Walkers engaged them defiantly all talking at once. "Forty five towns and Bellingen the first and only one to refuse to hear us!" exclaimed Jennifer.

Banners and paraphenalia on the pavement was the technical offence but the deeper offence was that of raised voices in Bellingen's sedate streets. When the sour faced detective raised the issue, Wini sqelched him with a wrist to forehead: "Oh do please forgive me for expressing my emotions."

The Bellingen Three having won the right to be in public place and sing up the country in the name of the Wiradjuri and their sacred heartland, Lake Cowal. 21 September 2006

I ran to get my camera but by the time i got back the peace was restored, the pavement cleared, the cops staying well away and the trio were singing their songs. I rigged some banners and flags on bamboo poles to give them some visual presence.

While there they were approached by the local indigneous welfare worker who had heard the commotion and who offered to make some calls and gather some support. Wini declined the offer saying he didn't want to create trouble for them.

Next day I set up the flags and banners at the Oasis Growers Market in the Bellingen showgrounds. It was a small market and we were a big and colourful presence. Wini and Trappa sang their songs and we made many friends.

The Bellingen Three having won the right to be, sing up the country in the name of the Wiradjuri and their sacred heartland, Lake Cowal. 21 September 2006

The Walkers were camped by the Bellinger River near Fernhill about 5 km out of town and I went and joined them there for night before departing south.

The camp was idyllic, on the banks of the river, under shade of casurinas, a smoky fire on the sands. They had been there 4 days. Under the stars and into the night Trappa and i shared long necks of beer and muscat and stories. Fenian Trappa wanted to know about the role of the Irish in the Eureka rebellion, and celebrating the Eureka rebellion in Ballarat being my upcoming gig, I was pleased to tell him.

Wini not being a boozer and not much interested in Austalian radical traditions lay to one side, his shawl pulled over his head as if to keep at bay my fierce and fiery story of courage in the face of tyranny.
Next morning he fussed over the Walker's Journal that Bodha had given him. Since Pilla Valley the Journal had collected autographs, stories and written blessings; Wini himself writing and drawing in it. Now in the morning sun he was sticking in the photos which i had taken and printed up for him, the self reflecting hero's journey. A journal keeper myself, I knew it well.

Trappa was committed to being in Newcastle for the TINA (This Is Not Art ) Festival of 28 Sep - 1 October, Jennifer Duo, Jennifer Uno (the Maremma) and me too.

This left Wini without road support and although he prayed for support to continue the Walk, none came. He was to go on and stay with friends at Port Macquarie, the Walk Against Cyanide on hold for a while.

It was subsequently to reassemble and pass through the Blue Mountains and onto Lake Cowal for the convergence that took place there in October but I saw no more of it.

Mahamudra, magnificent gesture, is what Tibetan Buddhists would have called the Walk Against Cyanide for it had the same noble but hopelessly ambitious quality as the Bodhisatva Vow, not to take Nibbana till all beings in all realms are released from suffering.

By Walking Against Cyanide, Wini had lifted to awareness his concerns about the desecration of Lake Cowal like a beautiful lotus and for all those who heard about it by word of mouth, by email or by meetings along the way, wherever the Walkers went in fact or in myth, their gesture created inspiration and uplift.

How puny our awareness raising efforts seem beside the persuasive power of corporate media, and yet how powerful and persuasive the good news of artful, good hearted, Earth defending resistance is in these times. Like a parched land hearing the sound of distant thunder, the Walkers were the good news of rain coming.

And we a bunch of friends, walking toward the Friend, standing tall and being visible ... for the Earth!

Graeme Dunstan
posted 11 October 2006
edited 31 December 2006

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