Banner rig beside the rail and the Pacific Highway at the Yellow Rock Road level crossing, Urunga, NSW, 24 May 2007. Photos: Pip Wilson
Set up by the level crossing beside the Pacific Highway at Yellow Rock road just north Urunga, lanterns on poles framed the crossing signals as they flashed red and clanged. Some 14 cops in fluoro jackets and about 10 Cyanide Watchers stood by the rail watching together as a north bound freight train approached in slow grandeur.
As if genuflecting to our protest, the huge N29 locomotives came to us at less than walking speed and passed on. We saluted the driver as he went by, grateful for the caution and respect he had shown. Then he turned on the power and the passing wagons, 100 or so in number and maybe one kilomtere in length, gathered speed and were soon flashing past, a blur in the lantern light.
"That's it," Inspector Paul Kievens, Duty Officer of the Coffs/Clarence Police Command. "No more freight trains coming from either the north or the south till the wee hours."
He said this in the witness of Kat Mullard the Environmental Reporter for the Coffs Coast Advocate. He said it most earnestly to me earlier in the night, this being the third occasion. No cock crowed.
"Why hang about?" was the unspoken question behind his assurances, his interest being that he had at least 14 police officers on duty standing around and getting cold. The Cyanide Watchers had the beneifit of fire to warm them against the mist and damp cold of the river flats and seats to rest their bones upon.
Peacebus.com captain Graeme Dunstan and Andy Warstar at ease, Urunga, NSW, 24 May 2007.
Not one aggressive word or gesture was heard or seen that night from either blockaders or cops. Inspector Kievens had been model host and negotiator: ever respectful, direct of speech and open of heart. Even the OSG contingent were most respectful and restrained.
We protestors were enjoying our fire side companionship. There was a core group of five and these included Peacebus companion, John Peace, my anarchist blacksmith friend and Bellingen host, Tos Garrard, and his son Henry, Bellingen based writer, blogger and web publisher, Pip Wilson, John Peace and Andy Warstar, a 20 something Australian born, South Oregon raised, van dwelling troubador.
But we always seemed a bigger crowd. Like beacons the lanterns drew to our fire, local residents, adults and teenagers curious about our protest. Some knew of our protest from ABC Radio news; they all loved what we had to say and what we were doing.
Our number was also bolstered by the presence of three employees of the Coffs Coast Advocate, the environment reporter, Kat Mullard, her curious friend, Michelle, the Entertainment writer, and a smiling photographer, Bruce Thomas.
Those who lived by the rail told us that the freights usually came by nightly at about 9.30 pm. Now it was 10 pm
and no cyanide bearing south bound freights had passed and the cops were assuring us there would be none. So we claimed a victory. I rang Nat Lowery and she put out the media: Pacific National cyanide stopped for the night. Every day we stop the cyanide is a day closer to a complete ban.
Inspector Kievens did not deny it. What's more, he offered a deal.
Happy Wheels' starter motor had died when it arrived at Urunga.
"Pack up now I will get the lads to push start you," the Inspector offered. "But no photos, okay?"
It was a good deal. Kat the journalist had departed, there was nothing to be gained by staying later and we needed extra muscle. John Peace was walking with a stick!
So that's how the Urunga Blockade ended. Some 8 meaty OSG police officers applied themselves and pushed Happy Wheels across the rail line, the engine jerked into life and we all went our different ways.
The Peacebus companions, John Peace, and newcomer, Andy Warstar, took refuge at the cemetery in North Bellingen. The cemetery is on a hill surrounded by trees and is a very peaceful place, with lots of birds and smiling dog walkers. The morning sun is beautiful there this time of year.
I made breakfast and we sat about in the sun enjoying coffee and cannabis, listening to Andy talk about himself and sing his engaging songs. Born again hippie cum Woody Guthrie.
While we were there Kat rang to confirm the story. She had also rung the Regional Operations Manager for Pacific National who claimed it had been business as usual of the rail that night.
Someone is lying here: cops or corporation?
But what's new? Cyanide manufacture, transport and use is surrounded with lies, secrecy and denials. Here was one more lie uncovered by our witness.
And who cares? We were winning the story. The Urunga Cyanide Watch action was ABC Radio news up and down the North Coast of NSW, we had at least delayed the train, and the CoffsHarbour Advocate carried a photo astory with the headline: "Cyanide rail protestors claim victory".
But setting up the action had a surprise. As Happy Wheels was trundling from Bellingen to Urunga it was stopped by a motorcycle cop, Constable Glen Swift from Parramatta, ostensibly for a license check and breathalizer test.
That week Coffs Harbour was hosting the AGM of the Ulysses Motorcycle club and some 6000 grey, overweight, superannuated accountants in biker costume and Harleys had come to town.
A major event for Coffs tourism, it had taken three years to organise and promote. The pages of the Coffs Harbour Advocate were full of it and the towns all about were full of biker tourists. Banners on overpasses and signs in local stores proclaimed: "Ulysses Welcomed here."
The Ulysses bike line up Sawtell, NSW, 23 May 2007.
Police NSW had seized the event as an opportunity for some show policing that would demonstrate how seriously they were taking the challenge of biker organised crime and a huge and visible presence of motorcycle police, patrol cars and booze buses had been mustered. The locals were feeling besieged and now the colourful presence of Peacebus.com was a victim of the sham policing.
In his helmet and biker gear, Constable Swift, spoke and looked like a Star War trooper and I stood around waiting while he got on the radio and checked the license. I tried calling his Duty Officer boss, but Inspector Kievens was not yet on duty.
"Please stay off the road, sir," he directed me as if I was a senile dementia sufferer caught at the wheel. I could not hear the radioed response but whatever it was caused the constable's eyes to grow wide and his whole demeanor to change. So much so that he took off his helmet and revealed what a handsome and earnest young man that he was.
"Sir, you are under arrest," he told me. "A patrol car will come and take you to Urunga Police Station."
He was vague about the charge but firm about separating me from my mobile phone. The patrol car soon came and I had to empty out my pockets and suffer a pat down. No weapons but a crushed and forgotten box of matches was found in the back pocket of my jeans. Ever the fire brand.
As I sat kiddie-locked in the back seat of the patrol car I heard the two way radio mention John Penninton, aka John Peace as he was being subjected to a simultaneous license check at Urunga. Solidarity comrade!
There was some confusion about where I was to be taken. First I was told Urunga, then it was Coffs and finally it was back to Bellingen. Happy Wheels was left in the care of Henry Garrard, 16 yr old son of my host and my "work experience" set up helper. Before my phone was denied me i got a call into his father to come collect Happy Wheels and take it to Urunga.
At the Bellingen Police Station I didn't get past the backdoor. We were met outside by the Duty Sergeant waving freshly laser printed sheets of paper. In fact I wasn't under arrest, he told me.
"Sorry for the bother. Just wanted to make sure you got this summons," he said.
The summons required me to attend the West Wyalong courthouse on 28 June to answer a charge laid by Acting Sgt Paul Jones that I resisted a police officer while in the execution of his or her duties between 9.30 am and 12 noon on 09/04/2007, namely Paul Jones.
Scanning the Facts Sheet I noted that A/Sgt Jones had done me proud in his description of the event, the de-arresting of Dave Suttle, making me look like a folk hero, a kin to Ned Kelly. See Facts Sheet.
An unusual writer's block had been preventing me from describing the Easter events and posting to them to www.peacebus.com. Now someone else had done some of the writing for me.
I asked my escort to take me back and they were happy to oblige. By the time we got to the (false) arrest site, Happy Wheels was gone so I asked that they take me onto Urunga.
"Sure," the driver said and gesturing to the dashboard stack of electronic gear, radios and scanners. "The meter is ticking."
These coppers had also been rostered on from Parramatta. There were easy going, enjoying their cruise holiday in Coffs and district, curious about the charge and my notoriety.
"The protest action at Lake Cowal at Easter had gotten the nose of the Sergeant at West Wylong out of joint," I summarised. "He came to the protest camp the next day angry and attempted to make more arrests. He was unsupported and acting foolishly."
"Acting Sergeant," they corrected me.
Turns out that one of the officers knew of Lake Cowal and let me know he was opposed to the destruction of the Lake by the Barrick Gold mine. He was a duck shooter.
This was a worry, I thought. An alliance with the police that saves the Lake but not the ducks. "I would rather have duck shooters than gold miners at Lake Cowal," I conceded cautiously. I was in custody at the time.
The sun was down when we got to Urunga; a broken down Happy Wheels was waiting by the crossing for me with its wings unspread and a look of abandonment. Also waiting was my host, Tos and his barrister friend, the local Greens candidate. "False arrest," he said.
Whatever, I had no time for legalities then. The arrest and my absence had thrown thrown my Cyanide Watch comrades into confusion ("Like a headless snake," noted the OSG Sgt when introduced) and daylight time for the set up had been lost.
On hearing the news of the arrest from Tos, John Peace had taken flight and Tos himself was for abandoning the action. But his steadfast son Henry opted to stay and help me. As soon as the lanterns and the fire were lit, the action took form and our magic took power.
Another Cyanide Watch action and another Cyanide Watch story.
For the Earth!
To the dust!
25 May 2007
Peacebus.com captain, Graeme Dunstan recce-ing the Yellow Rock Road Crossing, north of Urunga, NSW, 24 May 2007
ABC News Online Last Update: Wednesday, 24 May 2007. 10.44 (AEST)Wednesday
Cyanide protesters hope to stop train
Police say they have advised a group of protesters against a plan to flag down a freight train tonight near Urunga, on the New South Wales mid-north coast, saying they could face penalties including fines or imprisonment.
Cyanide Watch spokesman Graeme Dunstan says they plan to ask the train driver how much cyanide he is transporting, believing increasingly large amounts of the chemical are being sent through the Northern Rivers.
He says the condition of some of the area's rail infrastructure is so poor that a derailment and toxic spill is a possibility.
Mr Dunstan says people have a right to know how much of the chemical is being freighted through the region.
"As the gold mining industry works lower and lower grade ores they use more and more cyanide," he said.
"They use cyanide to extract the gold ... these figures are not public. The Government's keeping them secret and so is the maker and so is the carrier."
NimFM News Monday 21 May 2007
Nimbin's Graeme Dunstan plans to stop Cyanide Freight Trains near Urunga from 6pm Thurs 24 May.
Podcast download 1 mb
ABC News on line Friday, 25 May 2007. 08:00 (AEST)
Senator echoes cyanide protesters' fears
Greens' Senator Kerry Nettle has defended the right of an environmental group to stage a night vigil in protest over the transportation of cyanide by rail through the New South Wales north coast.
Senator Nettle will be in Coffs Harbour and Bellingen this weekend to address a number of groups on various issues, including human rights and asylum seekers.
She says local environmentalists and activists are right to be concerned by the possibility of a cyanide spill.
"In the United States, in Turkey and in Argentina there's been bans on the use of cyanide in any mining processes just because of the tremendous environmental damage that comes from the use of cyanide," she said.
"It's not just at the mine site, it's about transportation and it's about the residue that you're left with where you've got waters with toxic cyanide in them and the implications that has for the local environment."
Wilson's Blogmanac Saturday, May 26, 2007
We stopped the cyanide train!
Never doubt the power of one, or two, three or four. Four or five of us stopped the cyanide train, with no money, but with candles, cups of tea and home-made banners.
I worked for more than five years in PR (public relations), and I'm here to tell you that the mega-corporations and their PR consultants are far more afraid of you than you can ever be of them.
What can you do in your locality, and in the world? What are we afraid of? Go for it! Find websites that will help you with ideas. You can google, right? Start googling. Start changing the world.
'Cyanide' rail protesters claim victory
Coffs Coast Advocate Saturday 26 May 2007 page five