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Affirming the Sacred at Lake Cowal

Peacebus, a glory of colour, a banner rigged along its side like a sail and PA booming, rolled up and down Main Street, West Wyalong, to announce its presence and hove to beside the elegant old Bank of New South Wales building at the corner of Church Street and set up directly outside the offices of the West Wyalong Advocate.

It was Easter Tuesday 2 April 2002 and Peacebus had come from Lake Cowal 43 km away to tell the citizens of West Wyalong not to bank on the gold mine, which was approved for development at Lake Cowal and at that time stalled by an injunction ordered by the NSW Land and Environment Court.

While Peacebus companions, Shiri, Charisse and Danielle, deployed our rainbow and koori banners, I got up on the Peacebus roof with the mike. But even as I prepared to speak a women appeared amongst us, breathless with outrage and indignation at the impertinence of our intention.

She was, she said, a Bland Shire Councillor, Barbara Stephenson by name. She ordered removed our koori banners, the bamboo poles of which were tied with rubber straps to sidewalk bollards. "You have no permission for this", she repeated.

We did actually but I wasn't there to argue the point. Spruiking to the citizens of West Wyalong was my game.

Out of politeness, Charisse and Danielle took down some of the banners as I watched from the roof. My impulse was to tell the Councillor to take them down herself and get a photo of her crazy passion. But I held my peace and stood apart admiring the gentle, yielding, non-confrontational style of my companions. As my voice boomed on the PA, I watched Cr Barbara clucking calamity like Henny Penny, to the passers by who had stopped to listen to me across the street.

We knew many citizens of West Wyalong would find our news difficult to hear. In 1996 when NSW Premier Carr rejected the recommendations of the first commission of inquiry into the proposed mine development, the towns people closed businesses for the day and some 3,000 rallied in Main Street to demonstrate that "The town is Mine". The PR job done by the miners had been thorough.

Our action had been negotiated and confirmed with both officers of Bland Shire and the local police. When Peacebus came through West Wyalong on its way to the Lake Cowal on Good Friday we had stopped by at the police station and introduced ourselves.

Snr Sgt Peter Gould, who had served at Lismore and seen some of the action at the Timbarra gold mine protests, was waiting to greet us. He knew of me and Peacebus by reputations. He introduced me to Sgt Pat Swift, who was a man of generous smile and the duty officer for West Wyalong over Easter and on Tuesday.

The police officers came out onto the veranda of the old police station to see Peacebus and we negotiated the business there. Friendly, country style policing this. I could imagine such meetings happening under this veranda when the road was dust and horses. Jennifer dog alighted from Peacebus and, like many dogs before her, sat in the shade of the veranda, there to be petted and admired by the police officers.

Pat's young son and his mates were there too, on their bikes their curious eyes looking up at us from under baseball caps. Like many other citizens of West Wyalong, he had heard that the hippies were coming to town.

News of our mission was carried by the West Wyalong Advocate of 26 March alongside the headline news of the injunction. Inside there were two half-page photos, one of the Barrick’s Manager, Evaluation and Communications (read: Chief Doctor, Spin) standing beside and pointing with a hint of exasperation at two huge and idle drilling rigs. The other was an image taken from www.peacebus.com of Peacebus in Freedom Ride livery. The caption said different slogans about mining activities at Lake Cowal had draped it for the CHOGM protests on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.

Curious too was a bunch of folk on a the balcony of a grand two story federation style house across the road where they were celebrating Good Friday with wine glasses in hand. The beautifully painted side panel of Peacebus “Water more precious than gold” was directed towards them.

I waved and they called on me to explain myself. I offered to do so on the PA. A command performance? I asked. Yes, the agreed.

The theatrics of the opportunity were irresistible. The intersection was effectively the civic centre of West Wyalong with a big Catholic Church, school and convent was on one corner, the Council officers on another, and the manager’s residence of the former Bank of NSW on another. It was like I was an actor in a pit theatre and my wine sipping audience, the aristocracy in their box.

It was 10 am on Good Friday and a reverent hush lay upon West Wyalong. Even Main Street, which is also the Newell Highway, was quiet. The feeding chortles of magpies a couple of blocks away were the loudest sounds.

Shiri got up on the roof and swivelled the speakers towards them. I cranked up the amplifier and stood in front of Peacebus and explained our mission. To affirm Lake Cowal as sacred. "It was not that we do not want prosperity for West Wyalong", I said. "Rather we were concerned about the risks to life, the destruction of landscape and the enduring toxicity of modern gold mining".

It was a short spiel and I finished with "Let the rich eat the gold they got. Water more precious than gold", a flourish and a bow. Playing their role to the max, the curious Good Friday revellers applauded grandly and moved inside.

On the other side of Peacebus the police officers were listening too of course and before we parted, Pat said: “We will protect your right to speak." He also promised to come out during Easter and visit us at the Lake 43 km away.

Like the Good Friday spruik, the Easter Tuesday one was short. The proprietor of the Luxor Cafe beside the West Wyalong Advocate objected, saying the sound was making it difficult for his staff to hear orders and disturbing his customers at the sidewalk tables. He later said that he feared being seen to be even geographically associated with anti mine sentiment would be bad for business.

I had given Sgt Pat Swift my mobile number and he called me even as I spoke on the microphone. "I am getting complaints", Pat said. So was I. A couple of men across the street were yelling at me. "What do you know about West Wyalong?" they were bawling.

"Okay. I'll wind it up then", I told Pat. And so we did. Our point had been made.

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Our Easter Tuesday action had been provocative, but calculatedly so. We were not there to win hearts and minds. We were there to be noticed.

We were there to let the voice of Lake Cowal be heard; the voice of the ancestors who from time immemorial had experienced Lake Cowal as a place sacred to life. And also the voice of future generations of humans, yabbies, fish, birds and mammals, creatures of all kind, who are calling for their rights to life and water uncontaminated by toxic tailings.

Although my companions were eager to derig and depart as quickly as possible, I urged them to sit with me at the sidewalk tables of the Luxor Café and be open to engagement with passers by. To make eye contact and invite dialogue. To be calm, firm and fearless in our truth.

A couple of men had become so angry at our presence that they had shouted. Some passing women suggested cyanide be laced with the coffee I ordered. The inevitable “get a real job” was taunted in passing. But for every abuser there was another who came by and offered quiet gratitude and praise for what we doing.

While tying down the poles on the roof of Peacebus, I noticed Sgt Pat stroll by. He waved acknowledgement to me, flashed his big smile, and kept on walking. Unfussed.

The action may not have won many hearts in West Wyalong but it got me an invitation to talk live on ABC Radio Riverina next morning at 8.45 am. Prime listening time for the south west of NSW.

Shiri and I had driven Peacebus to Bathurst through the night. After Shiri had departed by bus to Sydney, I stayed camped beside Bathurst railway station. The Lake Cowal Easter companions were all dispersed now. Waiting for the interview I sat in the sun savoured the sadness of the parting, breakfasted, sipped coffee, smoked a pipe and prayed most earnestly that the ancestors and future generations of Lake Cowal would find voice in me.

The producers call came and then the voice, a torrent of eloquence, a river of passion, of colourful imagery, attention holding shifts in pace and tone, of stories, humour and quick intelligence. And fierce. "Monitoring is bullshit! Facts of life: miners lie, politicians are corrupt and whistle blowers are punished." And finishing: "We are going to the Gold Summit to scare the pants of gold investors. The cyanide gold mining era is over! Water more precious than gold."

The interviewer steered with a couple of questions but otherwise let loose the bridle. Afterwards the producer came on the line and congratulated me. "Great radio. You have a wonderful voice for radio", he said. Me? The voice of my prayers. A voice of the ancestors and future generations.

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The Peacebus companions who gathered at Lake Cowal to bear witness to the sacred were six plus Jennifer dog, Molly ewe and Jolly Jesus, The Lamb.

The essence of bearing witness is being noticed. And there was no doubt that the Peacebus pilgrims were being noticed.

The front page of the West Wyalong Advocate 26 March had carried the following story beside its headline story "Court Injunction stops drilling".

"Despite the injunction, the colourful and crusading Peacebus.com will still celebrate the sacred when it goes to Lake Cowal this Easter to bear witness to the environmental folly of setting up a cyanide gold mine in a major wetland.

The Peacebus is supporting Mr Williams is supporting Mr Williams in his opposition to the mine development claiming it is too much of risk for the lake and the life it supports.

Peacebus plans to set up a camp in the public reserve by the Lake and celebrate Easter there.

"I do not expect Peacebus and company will be large in number, but I know our witness to the sacred at Lake Cowal will be powerfully symbolic", said Peacebus captain, Graeme Dunstan.

"We will be maintaining a sacred fire vigil there and each in our own way will be reflecting on the Spirit, the impermanence of things, the ever renewing nature of Nature and the story of Christ’s passion. Lake Cowal resurrection." he said.

Father Peters Edwards, an orthodox priest from the Melbourne Mission to Seamen, will be guiding the Easter meditation at Lake Cowal.

Mr Dunstan describes Peacebus’ mission as "a pilgrimage" and invites other interested pilgrims to come along with Peacebus either as crew or in convoy. Further information 0412 609 373.

After Easter Peacebus will be rolling on to the Gold Summit at the Melbourne Conference Centre 14-16 April. Inside Mr Randall Oliphant, president and CEO of the Toronto based Barrick Gold will be giving the keynote address. Outside Peacebus will be advising the assembled gold miners and investors that the cyanide gold mining era is over and that it would be wise to disinvest."

The mine developer Barrick Gold was certainly paying attention to our mission too. For although the drilling rigs at Lake Cowal were idle and lined up like ships awaiting the wreckers, the mine site was on full alert with extra security staff. Video surveillance had been set up and visitor vehicles were being followed and photographed. We even had an aerial surveillance fly by of a light aircraft.

And the miners were plainly nervous. I had no doubt that in Toronto on the other side of the globe the President and CEO of Barrick Gold, Mr Randall Oliphant, was receiving regular reports of our presence. Along with burgeoning legal expenses, security now another cost for Barrick's investors.

Death by a thousand cuts to Lake Cowal gold mine! May the mine bleed money till it dies! May crows pick the dead flesh from its bones! May its bones bleach and turn to dust in the sun on the dry Lakebed!

And what were we much spied upon pilgrims doing? Sitting at ease. Breathing in the breezes. Tending to a fire and the comforts of good companionship. Telling stories. Sharing heart poetry. Noticing birds. Letting the landscape of a sacred Lake seep into us. Easter and we were witnesses to a resurrection of the Spirit at Lake Cowal.

One never knows who will be the Peacebus companions for any particular mission. No knowing for sure until Peacebus arrives at its mission destination, unfolds its butterfly wings and opens in hospitality.

First to reach the Lake was an old friend who wants to be known as Jack Wayward. He is a 64-year-old nomad who put eight years of witness, research, writing, organising and money into the campaign that brought the Timbarra heap leach gold mine undone. Many camps we had shared. My heart had leapt at the news of his intention to be there. Fitting out a new rig in Melbourne he had worked 14-hour days to get it ready in time and had driven through the night.

Shiri Barr, a 34 yr Israeli/Australian, a former kibbutzim and sometime social ecology student at the University of Western Sydney, was my companion on Peacebus driving it through the night to Lake Cowal from Byron Bay. She joined the Peacebus mission when she heard about it while helping out at the Rainforest Information Centre in Lismore.

Such a good companion, such an incisive mind, thoughtful, challenging and helpful. To my mispronunciation of her name as 'Cherie'’ she was calling me 'Grame'. I got to like it for it soon became associated with good ideas and excellent prompts. However when in praise and gratitude I suggested the honorary title of Buswife, she demurred.

Shiri had recently separated from her soon to graduate medical student husband, and was planning to return to Israel to work for peace. So all though Easter there was dialogue about healing from the heartbreak of love and war. This prompted Jack to tell the story of a great love affair, which had led him to a dive into Judaism in search of Earth roots ("present but miniscule"), to study scriptures under the guidance of a cantor in a cold attic, to once be the Torah bearer in a chant dance around the London synagogue, to wanderings in Israel and a brush with Mossad.

When Peacebus arrived we were greeted by the mine’s chief of security, Peter Donnelly, who was waiting in a beautiful new maroon land cruiser. He pointed Jack out to me parked way out in the dry Lakebed amongst the reeds soaking up the sun, soaking up the landscape. Brother nomad, companion of the holy path. Under a vast sky on a vast plain, I ran to his embrace.

We set up camp under a huge old red gum just below the high water mark of the Lake, right beside the fence dividing the private land where the miners had been drilling from the public reserve they intend to drill, lit a fire, made tea, put out the banner rigs ... and waited.

Next came Nicolle 34 years, she too had driven late into the night from Newcastle where she had left her children with their father. A mediator by profession she is also a dread-locked veteran of the Timbarra campaign. Nicolle, Jack and I had been companions at Crooked Creek reserve the campaign base camp on Timbarra sacred mountain. More recently Nicolle had been a belly laughing Peacebus companion for the HEMP Party Aston by election campaign of July 2001.

Late in the evening, another car arrived driven by Charisse, a 24 yrs old former resource management student at Southern Cross University and now a volunteer organiser at the Albury-Wodonga Environment Centre. She had met Peacebus in Lismore while it was doing roadside vigils for peace before the federal elections last November. Driving by she stopped to inquire and accepted a cup of tea from me.

Back in her hometown of Albury a friend of hers who specialises in video security had told her of an offer of work he had at Easter, monitoring hippies protesting at a gold mine. Peacebus. She had checked the Peacebus website and had now joined up.

With her was Danielle, a year 9 student and dancer from Albury Wodonga, the daughter of a friend of Charisse. Charisse had come via the family Easter camp at Jingellic. Danielle hearing about the sacred Lake, the threat of cyanide gold mining and the Peacebus mission opted to tag along with Charisse. Green acolyte.

Father Peter Edwards, the orthodox chaplain of the Melbourne seaman’s mission who had given refuge to Nicolle and I and the other Aston HEMP campaigners when Peacebus broke down on its way to the Victorian Police HQ, did not show. So no Orthodox Liturgy of St Gregory (the old Latin Rite) in English, at dawn on Easter Sunday, as promised. But the sun came up anyway. Christ is risen!

What exquisite grace we shared! The company of vast dry flood plain, two old farts and a bevy of beautiful women, fair of face and bright of spirit. At ease. Under intense surveillance. In witness to the sacred. Companions on the holy path. What an elegant action!

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What to say about the sacred at Lake Cowal?

The Lake basin is flat and huge, its grasses and reeds yellow. Looking east 15 km away a green line marks the trees of the far margin. Behind the Weddin Mountains rise up blue mounds on the horizon. Vast sky. "Just like a Namajera painting", exclaimed Shiri when we arrived. Shiri had spent some time at Hermannsburg in Central Australia and had been to the Albert Namajera Museum.

Jack Wayward who had made many a spiritual journey through landscape both in Australia and overseas described it as powerful, understated, quintessentially Australian.

Together we listened to and felt the wind (pranic breath, Jack says), and with deep quiet in our hearts, watched sun rises and sun sets, moon rises and moon sets, Good Friday, a full moon. At one with the ancestors who from time immemorial had done likewise on the margins of this life supporting Lake.

I experienced the Lake as feminine and nurturing. That the mission had attracted so many women seemed to confirm it for me. This was the first Peacebus mission not to be predominately male.

But it was also in the nurture of the camp, in how we prepared food, listened deeply and helped each other. Visitors too. Café Lake Cowal was soon in full session.

Our publicity had given rise to curiosity. On Easter Sunday and Monday we entertained a steady stream of visitors. Most of them local people including local landowners taking their Easter house guests for a drive. In each case it was the women who were the most receptive to our mission.

The first visitor was Lorna Eshiu; a 70 year old, widow of the former Bland Shire Engineer and our West Wyalong host. When I had come through West Wyalong in February to reconnoitre the Lake and the action, I read an excellent letter by her against the mine development and published in the West Wyalong Advocate. It was the only letter published against the mine during the 1996 pro mine protests.

I looked her name up in the phone book and gave her a call. An animal loving, eccentric freethinker like me, we got on like a house on fire. A one time trainer of and breeder of sheep dogs and now a dog minder for her friends, she adored Jennifer and Molly. Molly chose to lamb in her drive way. We had sat together in the sunset, drinking wine, witnesses to the miracle of new life, happy midwives.

Lorna was fascinated by the Peacebus companions but indignant about the mine security taking photos of her and her car on a public road. She railed against this intrusion on her privacy and subsequently rang and complained personally to the Bland Shire General Manager.

All theatre of surveillance to me. Reality TV for cyanide criminals, I say.

The next visiting vehicle bore a father, a West Wyalong businessman, and his daughter, a Wagga boarding schoolgirl. She was following the Lake Cowal gold mine controversy as part of a school project, read about the Peacebus mission on the net and had come to get photos. Her father was bit of an authority on the Lake and the landscape. Been there, as a boy fishing it seems.

The next was a local quarry man and his wife, gentle Christian people and curious. The quarry man had worked in a local tin mine and had personal experience of the cover-ups and environmental short cuts of the mining industry.

So it was with the stream of visitors. The men would speak of the good times they had camping, boating, fishing and duck hunting. The women would be touched by our mission of protection.

In between times I worked to finish the detail of the off side panel of Peacebus, which read: "Turn towards kindness! No gulags! Let compassion rule!" The image was of sad faces and figures of Afghan refugees and it was painted by Elspeth Jones on the street outside the Nimbin Museum in the two days before mission departure (plenty of sad-faced refugees of the Drug War there to model upon). The faces and figures were behind a cyclone mesh fence and I laboured to highlight the wire mesh in the foreground. The best of four days work it took, two days in Nimbin, two at Lake Cowal. A meditation on incarceration.

By the fire Charisse and Danielle sat on a piece of carpet hand sewing a piece of scarlet velvet into new items of finery. Visions of beauty. Maidens in loving and intimate conversation sewing together. Smoke of fire, sheep chewing cud, dog asleep in the dust of a thicket. Contentment, peace on Earth on a piece of earth, condemned to become a void, a huge open pit 1 km by 800 m by 325 m deep.

On Easter Sunday, Jack took the companions to explore Mount Wamboyne, the Lakeside mountain to the north, while I persevered with my meditation on incarceration. We had been told there were rock pools and aboriginal rock carvings up there.

While they away I had a visit from a local landowner, Howard Mangleston.

Howard had grown up in the area, loved the Lake, and wanted to keep it pristine. But for the sake of jobs and services to townspeople he was willing to sacrifice one relatively small corner of it. "You have to get the scale in proportion", he told me. I protested that it was the tonnage of lethal poisons that was out of proportion, and the enduring soluble toxins that would be left behind on the site when the miners were finished. But Howard had faith in the miner’s claim that no poisons would leave the site and pollute the Lake or the ground water.

Howard told me a story about Premier Bob Carr I had also heard from my friends in the NSW Greens. On his deathbed, Milo Dunphy, the driving force behind the successful national parks movement in NSW (may his name be always remembered with honour) and a bushwalking mate of Bob Carr, had asked the Premier not to let Lake Cowal be mined. Carr had agreed and subsequently, on national television, had personally rejected the first Commission of Inquiry development recommendations.

Howard was troubled by the native title claim and the successful injunction by Wiradjuri elder, Neville Williams. Where had it come from? He had never heard of the Lake being sacred before and nor had never seen any Aboriginal people at the Lake.

I told them what my koori friend Ron Gardiner had told me when I met him and his family in Condobolin. That for six generations now, no Wiradjuri people had been to Lake since they been warned off landowners. The Wiradjuri had every reason to fear and respect the injunctions of the landowners because martial law had been declared against them in 1823. At the time of land grabs by the squatters, they had been hunted and massacred.

Howard conceded that Australia had a black history and that was common ground enough.

Howard told me the longest recorded dry spell for the Lake had been 27 years. He explained the process of regeneration when it fills from the flooding Lachlan River in the north. First yabbies and frogs, which have buried themselves under the silt, surface and breed. Then native fish regenerate. Then the birds arrive to feed and breed. Some flying in from the China, Japan and Siberia.

The NSW Nature Conservation Council has estimated as many as 470,000 birds on the Lake and 170 different species breeding there. "Like something out of Africa", was how Lorna had described it.

I could imagine countless generations who had sat upon the shores of Lake Cowal filled with the same wonder and respect at this regeneration. Lake Cowal then as a living symbol of the Resurrection.

Jack Wayward and companions returned from Mount Wamboyne in rapture at the landscape they had seen there. The grand view of the Lake bed stretching 25 kilometres. But more particularly Jack was thrilled by the forest remanent he had found up there. Old low trees, mosses and lichens. Enchanted glades. Finding these, Jack said, was his Easter highlight.

My highlight was the Elm Dance that Shiri taught us on Easter Sunday. She had learned it from engaged Buddhist and long time anti-nuke campaigner, Joanna Macey. Shiri introduced it with two stories: a Yiddish one about the power of stories and then the story of the dance itself, which is a memory fragment of an ancient Siberian forest culture whose people had been forced to quit their beloved forest because of nuclear contamination.

But first we prepared ourselves for the ritual by making a shrine of sacred objects at the foot of pole bearing a koori banner. Standing there hand in hand, Jack, the elder present, smoked us with a branch of burning gum leaves.

Shiri taught us the steps and the tune, and soon we were circling and humming, swaying in the shade of the ancient red gum, in full view of the mine security and its stranded drilling rigs, entranced, lost in time, bound in grace.

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If our search for the sacred at Lake Cowal was a curiosity to local people, it was the source of consternation amongst some of my colleagues in the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal who had declared that Lake Cowal was so sacred that no-one must enter there.

The source of this taboo was said to be Neville 'Chappie' Williams, the native titleholder who, speaking on behalf of the Mooka Traditional owners had won the injunction that had stopped the test drilling. Chappie, formerly a resident of Cowra, 120 km to the east of Lake Cowal, now a resident in Canberra, had stood up in the NSW Land and Environment court and with simple sincerity declared the Lake as sacred, that it must not be mined and that the miner did not have consent to destroy Aboriginal artefacts.

I had rung Chappie while preparing Peacebus for the Lake Cowal mission, explained my intention and asked his blessing. Direct and to the point he only had one question: "Do you want to stop the mine?" Yes. "Then you have my blessing. May the Spirit guide you."

But Ellie Gilbert, the white widow of Wiradjuri playwright, Kevin Gilbert, one of the main movers in the campaign to protect the Lake and Neville Williams’ minder, contested this blessing saying in effect that I had deceived the old man and lied.

The taboo was not only news to farmers who had grown up upon the Lake's shores. I soon found that it was news to the Wiradjuri who lived at Condobolin 80 km to the north. Frank Gardiner, the Canberra based koori activist who was organising the native title claim amongst the kooris there, and a sometime ally of Ellie, introduced me around when I went there in February. I was happily given approval to camp at the Lake. "Pray to the ancestors before entering. Pray when departing. Be respectful. Be in the Spirit", Ron advised.

So in the Spirit, Peacebus had camped at the Lake in February and again at Easter.

The taboo seemed to me to be more about the mystification of Aboriginality for control purposes than fact or good strategy for the defence of the Lake.

To suggest there is substance to the taboo is to deny the evidence of one’s eyes. The aboriginal artefacts found about the Lake suggest a long time pattern of hunting and camping on its shores. The Game Reserve upon which we were camped had been used by duck shooters and fishermen for over 150 years. Piles of stubbies, white men’s middens, and the remains of their camps were plain to see. Further more it was grazed by cattle, overgrazed. Farmers and miners drove about the Lakebed daily.

The only impact promoting the idea of such a taboo could have was to discourage anyone who had sympathy for the sacred Lake and respect for Neville Williams and his defence of it, from putting their feet on the Earth there. For them the Lake would have to remain a name, a place on a map, pictures in book. An idea of the sacred but not the experience of it.

Meanwhile those who went daily to the Lake to desecrate would heed no such restraint.

But we humans are hard wired as herd animals and we love to group and make distinctions about insiders and outsiders. Green campaigns are no exception. Ellie Gilbert and Ron Gardiner had been the early starters of the Lake Cowal defence. It had been them who had brought Ruth Rosenhek into the campaign and founded the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal of which Peacebus.com was a member.

Many and mixed agendas as always, and naturally enough Ellie wanted to assert the group around her, Neville Williams and Al Oshlack's court actions as campaign central.

I wished no disrespect for Neville Williams and his courage standing up in the NSW Land and Environment Court defending the Lake as sacred heartland of the Wiradjuri people, but I was determined not to be entangled in koori politics. In an exchange of emails with Ellie I made my priorities clear. Earth first, koori second.

I recalled that Bundjulung elder, Uncle Eric, was know to weep when telling how sacred Timbarra mountain, highest initiation ground, was to his people. But the miners blandished dollars and duchessed him and his family, taking them on a gold mine inspection, and into the pouring room where they put gold ingots in their hands and took photos.

The miner's lackeys in government told Uncle Eric there was no hope, that the mine would go head regardless of his consent and that it would be wise to take what he could get for his people, his clan, his family. The pressure from his long time poverty stricken family had been too much and the old man signed the 1996 Tabulam Agreement, which effectively sold his cultural birthright to the miners for $1.4 million.

I remembered talking about this with Jack Wayward at the time. His response was why be surprised or disappointed? What deification and mystification is happening here that suggested that Timbarra defenders could expect the Bundjulung whose culture has been crushed by years of genocide, child stealing, racist oppression, poverty and endemic alcohol abuse to be strong in the defence of the Earth?

Ellie's issues about control of course mirrored mine at 180 degrees. I am a long time practising anarchist and too old and too world wary to be dictated to by any reinvented Politburo however black, however green.

Centralism, it seems to me, sooner or later dis-empowers the grass roots movement and the controllers, in their self importance, arrogance, delusion, are soon enough stuck in isolation and alienation, soon enough flounder or become corrupt.

The success of the Timbarra campaign was due to its chaos and anarchy. For eight years people came and went through the different phases of the campaign from the early warnings, to the resistance before the mine opening, the monitoring of the development, the lock on blockades of roads, the native title challenges in the court, the lobbying, the close down endgame and clean up negotiations.

Many people made many different kinds of contributions. Independent actions, some big, some small, arising from a network of associations always tenuous, always in flux.

Some put their body on the line with tripods and lock-ons. Some researched and wrote reports. Some monitored the mine by stealth getting photos and video footage for the media. Some made music, wrote and sang songs of inspiration. Some made video. Some ran court actions. Some organised fund raising. Some wrote letters, lobbied and played the parliamentary game. I took to the road with Peacebus and, heaving to outside the offices of the politicians, bureaucrats and miners who had approved the mine, publicly accusing them of cyanide crimes against future generations.

Committees came and went. People came and went. Some made huge sacrifices, burned out and went mad for Timbarra was a mountain of power, and one of its powers was the power to obsess. But always the campaign was renewing and the struggle alive. Four years since the shut down, I am still hearing stories from people who undertook actions of resistance of which I had no awareness at the time.

There was no central organising group. Instead lots of small groups and independent efforts, attacking the miner like a swarm of wasps, a constant torment of many stings but no easy knock out targets for either their mercenaries or their litigious lawyers.

This is the way of people’s power. Everywhere but nowhere in particular. The movement arising from the people as from a spring that never runs dry, and when its goal has been achieved, dissolving back into the people, leaving no standing army.

And when I say the people, I mean in particular the poor and the lowly. Those with passion and courage to stand up for truth, to name the prevailing corruption, to see a different way, needs be, are the outsiders, the outcastes, the underclass, the dispossessed and the oppressed. Those with neither status nor property to lose by confronting the lawyers of the corporate rich or the police of the corrupt state. Their resources are usually meagre but their spirit and determination come from a truth grounded in the conditions of the poor, a witness intimate with the suffering in the world, close to the earth, raw with experience and power.

When the rotten tree falls, it is outside agencies, wind or axe that bring it down. When the centre is corrupt and rotten, change can only come from the outside, from the margins. Not from the parliament or the chambers of commerce or service clubs. Certainly not from the rich. Thus it has always been.

This era of global piracy by the super rich, of the US tyranny, is not the first time in the history of human affairs that the rich have hijacked the state and spread war and poverty. Nor will it be the last. Many lessons to be learned from the courage and struggle of the ancestors.

We must always remember that the new order does not spring into being full-grown. It begins small and tentative, a search rather than a definite goal. Moving from darkness into light and only the path under our feet as the guide. The path of friendliness. The path of peace. The path of goodwill. The new way, not a promise, not a destination, but here and now, lived and alive amongst us.

Democracy was invented as a form of government in response to the tyranny of the jail building rich of the 150 years ago. It was invented to protect the liberties of the people and to assure equality. An experiment really. Now we see it has become the best government money can buy. Time to reinvent the state. Time to be building a people’s movement amongst the poor and the marginal.

And that was my other issue about the questionable taboo. In terms of building a people’s movement capable of sustaining on-site resistance to the Lake Cowal mine, it was counter productive and plain stupid. Lake Cowal is a long way from the centres of green activism. Hard enough to raise enthusiasm amongst eco-warriors to make the commitment of time and petrol to drive there. The talk of taboo could only serve to create division and weaken resolve.

Past experience in environmental campaigns told me that the key to getting campaign commitment is to get people to the site, standing on the ground, soaking up the vibe. To stand in a forest is to want to defend the forest because the forest soon enough communicates it wants to be defended.

Finding voice for the defence of the Earth, is the work of deep ecology, the core teaching of John Seed and Ruth Rosenhek’s eco-workshops called the Council of all Beings. At the heart of the Peacebus Lake Cowal mission was the intention to sit by its shores, soak up the sacred there and its find its voice, the voice of the ancestors and future generations. And then take it to the streets of West Wyalong and on to the Australian Cold Conference in Melbourne.

Ellie had also reacted to my efforts to organise some kind of ecumenical Christian celebration of the sacred at the Lake at Easter. ‘Lake Cowal resurrection’ was my theme. Ellie told me that both she personally and the Wiradjuri culturally had had bad experiences with Christianity and that it would be divisive and inappropriate to invite in Christians at this time when cultural regeneration was happening around the courageous stand of Neville Williams as an elder.

May Neville Williams’ name be spoken with respect and honour forever.

For myself, I am not so black and white about Christianity myself, nor so reactive. Many paths to the sacred. Many different kinds of Christians. Good people within and without Churches. I am aware of earnest moves within some Christian churches for reconciliation. Divisive to exclude.

More particularly I was aware of the impact that the Anglican Bishop of Grafton, +Philip Huggins, had when he publicly questioned the safety and wisdom on the Timbarra Mine and the threat it represented to the health of the mighty Clarence River upon whose banks his Grafton Cathedral and his bishop's residence, Bishopholme, is built.

In the end we need all the help we can get and I’m for reaching out for allies. As a fisher of priests and pastors, I had cast the net wide. But the only catch was Fr Peter Edwards, an orthodox father at the Melbourne Anglican Mission to Seaman, and last minute roster problems had caused him to bale out.

In the end the Lake decided our pathway to the sacred and it was fusion of many traditions, Earth Mother, Pagan, Jewish, Buddhist, Sufi, Taoist and Christian. Sun in the east, sun in the west, same sun.

The upshot of all this was that Ellie put out that I was working for ASIO (deja vu Coolum CHOGM) and not to be trusted. Even an email from my old Aquarian mate, Al Oshlack, disassociating his court actions from Peacebus. Bad mouthed and ostracised. Out of the email loop. The Peacebus mission to Lake Cowal declared something other and marginalised. School ground kiddie stuff this.

In this context the reader will understand why I felt particularly affirmed and gratified when Ron Gardiner and a koori family from Condobolin, arrived at our Lake Cowal on the evening of Easter Monday and broke bread with us. Ron suffers for overweight and other the debilitations associated with diabetes and poverty and had made major effort to come meet me at Lake Cowal. Our hands shook in mutual respect. Comrades in the campaign to prevent the mining of Lake Cowal.

Good man, Ron. He told me he had been working with a Canberra based Quaker group who were interested in reconciliation and that he had organised a tour for them of mission settlements in western NSW so they might understand from direct experience the social conditions for kooris in these towns and the challenges to the practice of reconciliation.

Like jails, Ron said, the 19th century missions were organised in a hierarchy of better and worse conditions for their inmates. Compliance led to movement to better, more ³goodie-two-shoes² missions, non co-operation and resistance led to placement in missions with more punitive conditions. The pits in this system were concentration camps where the mad, the bad and the ugly of mixed clans and tribes were incarcerated and left to fight it out.

The social dysfunctions of such calculated racist cruelty have been long enduring. Ron had taken his Quaker pilgrims to stay overnight in one the communities created by one such pit missions, and some had been frightened for their lives.

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From West Wyalong Peacebus meandered towards Melbourne and the Australian Gold Conference, which took place in the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre 14-16 April. Bearing witness for justice. Bearing the voice of Lake Cowal. Beating a drum.

On the back of Peacebus is painted, white on light blue sky over the ascending dove of epiphany, the words: "Honk for Peace!" Along the highways of southern NSW Peacebus was eliciting honks from an estimated one passing car in every 50. That's a lot of honks. Kept me alert at the wheel and my right arm exercising returning all those smiles and waves with peace signs.

Peacebus as pop icon. I wondered how much of this notoriety was contributed by ABC Radio Riverina.

Along the way, we unfurled Peacebus’ butterfly colours in two of regional media gigs to let Mr Randall Oliphant, the CEO and President of Barrick Gold and keynote speaker at the gold conference, know we were coming. Beating a drum I called it.

In Albury Charisse, who does volunteer work for the Environment Centre there, set up an action for Peacebus in QEII Square in the very heart of the City of Albury on Monday 8 April. The action attracted only a small audience, about 12, including Charisse, Danielle and Danielle’s mum, Rebecca and her 5-year-old sister, Abbie, who clapped and cheered enthusiastically at the close of my Dean Street Lake Cowal oratory.

But the PA had people pausing and listening 100 metres away. And afterwards we attracted lots of smiles and waves as we rolled around town. Fan mail left under the wipers when parked: "Thanks. Keep going! Where next?"

A Peacebus got a story on the local TV news and in the local daily with a colour photo on page 19. Grizzled grey head with five lovely women and girls on the roof

But more enduring was the networking and affirmation stimulated by the presence of Peacebus for local environmental activists. The journalist who rang me from the Albury daily newspaper, the Northern Advocate, asked me about the development of a cyanide gold mine near Bellata about 30 km north of Albury and in the catchment of the Hume weir.

I had never associated Albury with gold mining, and certainly knew nothing of this mine development proposal. But now a bunch of local people does and they are early on the case to prevent it. The next day Rebecca, rang the General Manager of the local council and he was quick to say the developer had backed off. Now the GM knows there are local watchdogs on the scent of cyanide criminals he will certainly be less encouraging in any future dealings with mine developers.

In terms of getting noticed, Molly and Jolly on the grass of the City plaza were the big winners grazing. Smile evokers and conversation starters these.

After the action I remained parked in the plaza but back from the main street a little. At ease, at peace, urban shepherd with laptop. The cops had been courteous and helpful and although a council ordinance officer came on heavy he soon retreated and stayed away. The general goodwill was such that when the Park security officer came on duty at 3 pm, first thing he did was to assure me my presence was okay and he was looking out for me.

My keyboard tapping was constantly interrupted by strangers wanting to make conversations and me making cups of tea. Talk about sheep. About Peacebus. About the issues represented by its signage. I was happy to listen. In fact I have in mind to make a banner to fly over Peacebus for such occasions: "Cafe Lake Cowal: Bewildered and Willing to Listen".

And Peacebus recruited on the way. A young man named Jason who had spent some time in Nimbin wanted to show me his street performance tricks. An excellent didgeridoo player, he could also crack a stock whip.

He demonstrated in the plaza. Crack! Poor dear gun shy Jennifer took fright and took off. Asking pedestrians as I went looking: "Have you seen a big shaggy dog running by?" I learned that three blocks away from the Park she had been still running. I gave up looking and surrendered to waiting. Jennifer came back within the hour, panting and smiling, pleased to see me still alive.

 

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Here is a story of the power of prayer, a weather vane to the fair and benevolent winds the ancestors and future generations had sent to carry Peacebus along on its mission.

Heading towards Bendigo, south of Benalla, Peacebus overheated, and green coolant splashed out from under the engine cover. Oh dear, I thought. Another Peacebus breakdown saga. They had been many and costly in the past.

Not to be fussed we rolled to a stop by side of the dual carriage highway and put on the kettle, and put out the table and chairs. After a cup of tea, a pipe, and some readings from Rumi, the mood was sweet but it was soon time for action. Time to lift the engine cover. Time to get out tools. Time to get hands dirty. Time for left-brain linear logical problem solving.

We had been reading Rumi’s injunction to "Cry out your helplessness".

So but before leaving my chair I called out loud: "Bring me a mechanic. This is the prayer of all those who have gone before on this highway and broken down in buses. Hear my helplessness and bring me a mechanic!"

I turned to Charisse and saw that she was looking up the highway to the oncoming traffic. Following her gaze, I saw a big man on a small bike wobbling towards us.

“What’s your trouble, mate?” he asked coming to a halt at our table. Overheating. “I can fix that”, he exclaimed.

Charisse and I laughed rejoicing in the Great Spirit that carries us along.. "You are the answer to our prayers", I said. "But first you must have a cup of tea."

Pulling the bike from under his bulk, he groaned as he tried to straighten his legs. "I shouldna have stopped", he gasped. "I will never be able to start again."

His name was Steve and he was a big smile, dark haired Turk who had recently moved from Melbourne to Benalla. His story was that he was broke and ashamed. The night before his Land Cruiser had broken down 58 km south near Seymour. His recently estranged wife and their child had spent a cold night in a highway truckie park. She had gone back to Melbourne with family who had come to pick her up. Steve had got his son’s BMX bike out of the back and cycled to Benalla to get parts.

The spare parts were in a bag tied to the handlebars. They were not even the right spare parts. They were the nearest best fit and Steve intended to make them fit by modifying them with an hack saw in the truckie park.

I could imagine Steve must have been doing his share of praying too as he pushed the undersize bike along, punishing himself for having an unreliable car and exposing his family to cold and the perils of a highway truckie park.

"Get Peacebus rolling and we will take both you and your bike to your car", I told Steve. His gratitude gushed like floodwater over a dam wall. "Tyres", he said. "Tyres all around for Peacebus! My mate has a tyre shop in Diamond Valley. I work there. Tyres all around."

Getting low on cannabis, I had been praying for more of it too. On a roll, I asked. "Cannabis! Cannabis! How much you want? I grow it. Inside I have a cupboard. Outside in the garden too. My mates, they run the scene in Diamond Valley. Anytime you there I get you some."

Pity we weren’t in Diamond Valley at that very moment. Peacebus would have been loaded down like a truck of cabbages going to market. Steve loved Peacebus. We showed him photos of Lake Cowal and other actions and took a photo of him standing before it for his family.

Steve wouldn’t let me touch a bolt or a spanner. He trimmed and replaced a broken hose and soon we were rolling again. We overheated one more time before I phoned and consulted Lance the Mechanic in Nimbin. Lance suggested I check to see if the auxiliary radiator fan was working. It wasn’t because in my clumsiness I had knocked off its power lead. Problem solved.

In the truckie park, Steve set to with the hack saw. Charisse put out the table and put on the kettle. I put Molly and Jolly out to graze and soon we had company. First up it was 25 curious children taking a piss stop on their way back to Benalla from a school excursion, all wanting to pet Jolly. Then it was truckies and travellers.

What was the more powerful attractor here? The beautiful and elegant Charisse at table beneath the words:"Turn towards kindness" or Molly and Jolly at hand chewing cud and Jennifer relaxed at our feet? Both and.

Sharing tea and a joint I told these new friends the story of Steve’s troubles. One wandered over and offered to tow Steve back to Benalla. Within ten minutes Steve was underway, but not before he had hacked a piece of hose of his Land Cruiser and given to me as a spare, just in case.

 

Beneath my feet this path of friendliness becomes a river carrying me along.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&


The delay getting to Bendigo required that we postpone for 24 hours the Peacebus action proposed for Wednesday 10 April. Using my sister in law’s phone, I made good use of the extra time to work the local media and make contact with the local anti pit mine network.

Bendigo is major provincial city, which was founded and grew to prosperity in the 19th century gold mining boom. The twentieth century cyanide era had also brought a mini boom in gold mining investment in the area and in the past twenty five years, in the vicinity of Bendigo some 19 pits have been dug of which only three have been, or ever will be, back filled by the miners.

This ongoing savaging of the rural landscape fuelled a growing anger amongst rural dwellers and that anger came to focus in a resident action group, which formed to oppose an open pit mine gold development by Perseverance Mining Company at Axedale. Perseverance at one time had expressed interest in buying the Timbarra gold mine from Ross, providing the restoration bond money was reduced. Ruth Rosenhek of the Rainforest Information Centre and the central organiser of the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal, had made her contribution to the Timbarra campaign by being instrumental in squashing that option.

The group were pleased to support Peacebus and its Lake Cowal campaign, for they were celebrating a victory. The Perseverance Mining Company had announced liquidation and the Axedale open pit gold mine development proposal was dead in the water. Everything was to be sold right down to office furniture. I was told that members of the resident action group were planning to celebrate the defeat of the last pit miner in their region with toasts of champagne at the upcoming auction of Perseverance’s assets.

But their persevering citizen action had other impacts, for they had also been a major contributing factor to the dumping of the super enthusiastically economically rational Kennett government by stirring up local dissent and fuelling a huge and unpredicted rural swing against the government in 1999.

The action that they were most chuffed about had been an ambush of potential gold mine investors that the management of Perseverance had coached to Axedale from the Australian Gold Conference of 1998. The investors’ coach had been tailed from Melbourne and its reception at Axedale coordinated by mobile phones.

Approaching the mine site along a country lane, the miner’s coach was slowed to a crawl by slow moving obstructions like sheep, farmer’s trucks and tractors, spruikers and banner bearing locals. The mine management was furious, the resident action group triumphant. They had produced an event, which made its point to both the investors and the media that the mine development had serious obstructions. The organising had also given the participants a proud and strong sense of community.

At the suggestion of anti-pit activist Julie Howard, a former union organiser and wife of the local member, a Labor man, who was elected in the swing from Kennett, the Peacebus action took place at the Cornish statue, a bronze sculpture commemorating the labour of the gold pioneers. Central to the Bendigo CBD it is in front of the Library, at the rear of the grand 19th century civic hall and across the road from the Bendigo City Council officers.

Good liaison was established with police but Molly and Jolly’s grazing as we set up in this central park soon had a ranger on us. He was friendly enough and as a compromise to reduce obstruction to the footpath he suggested we pull Peacebus off the small plaza by the sculpture and angle park it near by while we set up. Angle parked Peacebus’ rear protruded into a traffic lane in Lyttleton Terrace, "TURN TOWARDS KINDNESS" facing the oncoming traffic.

Such words attract some, but evoke road rage in others, we soon discovered. When we were all set up a ready to roll, I slipped away for a piss and while away, Charisse was witness to a the arrival of a semi trailer which instead of moving a little to the right to pass Peacebus, pulled up behind it, with its driver fuming with rage. "Move this vehicle or I will move it for you", he demanded. Before Charisse could respond, CRUNCH! the semi had pushed Peacebus off the road, bending a parking sign pole in front and denting the corner panels of the mural on Peacebus' rear.

Two foot patrol police officers were on the scene within seconds, for they were arriving for our action. Witnesses rushed to tell the story of the wanton assault on Peacebus. Very, very unkind.

Once the adrenalin had settled, Peacebus took off with banners rigged to its side like a sailing ship and cruised around the CBD of Bendigo, me on PA. "Citizens of Bendigo, this is Peacebus.com!" Around the block we returned and hove to at the Cornish miner statue, now decorated with Peacebus flags and banners and the placards from the Coalition of Communities against Pit Mines.

Standing in front of Peacebus I told the Lake Cowal story and handed the mike over to Julie Howard. What a firebrand, she was!

Again it was a small gathering in terms of turn up. Maybe 12 people gathered including a grand cousin of mine who had recognised my voice on the PA. But it made a big impact in Bendigo that day, made the local TV news that evening and gave both Peacebus and the local activists some excellent media.

The locals loved Peacebus’ colourful style. Heartening and inspirational, they told us. And we loved their courage and perseverance. Excellent networking.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

In Melbourne we sought refuge in the Anglican Mission to Seaman, a quaint and curious cultural artefact, adjacent to the Yarra side complex of buildings, which includes the Melbourne World Trade Centre, the Victorian Police HQ and the Melbourne Exhibition and Conference Centre (MECC).

Established in the 19th century as a welfare mission for sailors when that part of the Yarra was the busy port of Melbourne, the Mission has been marooned both by the shift of port facilities to elsewhere and the changes of technology that meant smaller crews and shorter dockings. Although it provided a pick bus service to docking ships, few seaman were using its beautiful recreation room, sprung dance floor, proscenium arched stage and sacred chapel.

Our host was Fr Peter Edwards the orthodox priest who had failed to show for the promised Easter Sunday service at Lake Cowal. He introduced us to the other two ordained Ministers in residence there and they were happy for Charisse and I to use the Mission as a refuge, and for Molly and Jolly to graze in the walled garden at the rear.

Fr Peter showed us about and told the story of the architecture and the beautiful icons in the Chapel. A seafarers Chapel and me a Peacebus pilgrim, I prayed there for guidance and protection like so many others before had done.

Our publicity had worked well and the MECC security had been told by the miners to expect our protest. A week earlier I had rung the MECC to negotiate the action and was put through to the Director of Operations, Frank Moran, and his Chief of Security, Peter Saunders, who had just sat down to discuss the problem of Peacebus. They were delighted to hear from me.

I emailed Peter Saunders explaining our mission, our peaceful and colourful ways, our desire to be noticed and yet not to obstruct the Australian Gold Conference in anyway. To the contrary we wanted the gold investors to enjoy their confab with us as contributors for I reckoned that the news we came bearing could save gold investors a lot of grief.

I also faxed a letter giving notice of the action to the Victorian Police via the chief of Staff, Chief Superintendent Kevin Scott, whom I had met during the aborted Peacebus mission to Police HQ to collect the Big Joint during the Aston by election campaign of the previous July.

Advice was what I sought. Where best to set up? A couple of days later, after meeting with police, Peter Saunders rang and recommended Batman Park, a reserve between the Yarra River and the railway viaduct, adjacent to Spencer Street, directly across the road from the MECC. This park and the River beside was the view from the Conference Centre.

"Beside the Yellow Peril", he said referring to an infamous piece of sculpture, a pile of yellow painted steel slabs, which the City of Melbourne had commissioned and paid a small fortune for 30 years prior. Originally sited in the uptown City Square, the sculpture had been so disliked that it had been dubbed the 'Yellow Peril' in reference to the anti-Asian sentiments been promoted by the Vietnam War proponents at the time, and moved three times before being placed in Batman Park.

"Perfect!" I exclaimed and thanked Peter, who I realised had checked our website and had taken up a cyber seat on Peacebus. Helpful now to us pilgrims as if he were a Peacebus pilgrim himself.

Gold as the Yellow Peril. Once associated with prosperity, gold is now more appropriately associated with poisons. The stacked slabs I saw as representing the gold held in reserves, the stacked ingots in vaults keeping the price high. And the instability of the stack symbolised the instability of the gold mining industry, which is a house of cards, held together by PR lies.

Police and MECC security then were okay about our action. But asking the Melbourne City Council for permission to use the park was, I knew, doomed to failure. For starters, Peacebus carries no public liability insurance, and this is a nightmare for local government. Then there was the matter of the grazing livestock. And steel posts in the lawn. Better to ask forgiveness than permission in such circumstances. So I made a token effort or ringing the Parks Booking office on the Friday afternoon before. They were out to lunch.

The Australian Gold Conference began with some sort gold investors expo on Sunday 14 May and Charisse and I drove Peacebus into Batman Park confident that, being Sunday, we would not have much trouble with ordinance officers.

We set up six koori banners in two lines to direct focus on Peacebus and its "Water more precious than gold" side panel and rigged the "Viva Timbarra! Forever ban cyanide gold mining" banner above it. Then we worked to complete the painting of a set of cardboard letters, which we had cut out in the cloisters of the Mission to Seamen the previous day. The letters were 600 mm high, white with black trim. I had had a vision of spelling out slogans when Peter Saunders described the location to me.

On the first day we spelled out: END CYANIDE TERRORISM. On the second day, the day of Randall Oliphant's keynote address, it was: INDICT THE CYANIDE CRIMINALS. On the third day it was: THE CYANIDE ERA IS OVER!

The set up was colourful, ordered and eye pleasing. Add a couple of grazing sheep, and the elegant Charisse sitting at table taking coffee, and you will understand why we were the object of much curiosity and many stares.

Visibility is essential to social change. We herd animals look for leadership, and we change by modelling the social behaviour of others. Anonymity is not an option if the goal is to create cultural movement and change. Deluded are all those folks hiding away, in cherished privacy convinced by their television sets that they are well informed and active citizens because they have opinions. But the opinions are TV generated and the believers are dupes of the most sophisticated propaganda machine ever created.

To consolidate the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks invented the modern propaganda methods of the Big Lie. The Nazis brought German thoroughness and refinement to it, but the Americans learning the skills from the Nazis, added TV, Hollywood and Disneyland to the task and they have now lock stepped the minds of billions.

When a Jennifer barks, Molly and Jolly instantly become alert, their eyes staring in the direction of the danger, their sheepish brain processing for an appropriate response. We humans are herd animals too and hardwired to become alert when danger is suggested, real or simulated. Infotainment of TV news fits around this hardwiring like a glove. Like an opiate around a synapse of a pain receptor. When we see and hear about a human disaster on the other side of the world, we want to watch, and keep watching.

Disaster upon disaster, wars, bushfires, floods, nuclear accidents, rapes, kidnappings and murders without end every night from 6 pm and the most shocking images repeated and repeated.

So are consciousnesses fed by a TV diet of fear and the fruit is not only a sense of powerlessness but also of isolation and disorientation. Our sheepish brains assume that what is happening on the TV screen is also happening outside our windows, in the very streets of our neighbourhoods. Isolated in a fear generating virtual community, we are disconnected from the humanity, nurture and grounding of actual community.

It's a bigger problem for social change than this bunny can comprehend. My personal response has been to avoid watching TV and instead to become visible in public place, occupying it in the name of peace and validating the essential and prevailing peacefulness and kindness of the communities that I visit. And I am into the old fashion art of speaking up and speaking out.

Thus I walk in the footsteps of the ancestors who went before, who opposed the tyranny of the rich, the greed driven, and struggled for liberty and freedom. And I don’t miss the news at all. In the emptiness left when I don’t have TV images and worries rattling around my mind, is filled with birdsong and friendship. Closer to my heart, closer to God.

But visibility is not for everyone. Leo fire horse me, loves it. Charisse told me she found the exposure daunting but grew used to it. Jennifer sheep guard dog, up against passing pedestrians, trams, and trains, plus helicopters landing nearby, found it all too much and took refuge inside Peacebus for the three days of our witness.

But the belly demands steady grazing from a sheep so Molly and Jolly accepted the circumstances and their calm presence astonished and amused passers by. Incredible to me who had spent so much effort bringing colour to the park, were the people who would notice the sheep first, come over to talk about them, and then notice the glory of Peacebus, its banners and its message.

By agreement with MECC security I used the PA sparingly. Only three times a day for 5 to 10 minutes, timed to coincide with the tea and lunch breaks of the Conference. Talking from on top of Peacebus, the PA boomed and the sound bounced around the concrete canyons.

Through the tinted glass of the MECC I could see shadowy figures watching me. Spectres of the corporate machine, they seemed to be, the poisoners and the polluters who take profit but not responsibility for their actions.

To whatever ears might be listening, I told the story of Lake Cowal, warned the investors Barrick Gold's Lake Cowal mine development was dead in the water and ended with the curse: "May the Lake Cowal gold mine bleed money until it dies. May crows pick the dead flesh from its bones. May its bones bleach and turn to dust on the dry Lakebed. Let the rich eat the gold they have. Water more precious than gold!"

As with other actions the Peacebus presence attracted a stream of curious visitors, tourists, parkies, and passing greenies. The security staff of MECC came over and introduced themselves and when our police liaison officer arrived, Senior Constable Peter Masters of the Special Events Unit, the corners of his grin were almost reaching his ears. I guessed he had checked our website and read the stories of other actions. Peacebus.com gets lots of clicks from police and other government departments.

At about 2 pm Monday two Melbourne City Council ordinance officers appeared and looking about in wonder began by saying: “I understand your position. If you had have asked for permission for this, it would never have been granted.”

Then they looked more carefully at our signage. "What are you on about anyway?" I explained about the Australian Gold Conference in session across the road and our mission to bear witness for Lake Cowal.

They told be they had recently seen and been talking about a ABC TV documentary about clean water becoming a scarce resource in some parts of the world. They were aware that gold miners were major polluters.

"Facts of life", I said giving them practiced lines from my Lake Cowal oratory. "Miners lie; politicians are corrupt; whistle blowers are punished".

"Hey", they laughed. "You could be talking about Melbourne City Council."

"Tell you what", said the senior of the two ordinance officers. "It"s our duty to tell you to move on. But we will not be back till 4 pm."

Quick on the uptake I replied. "And maybe you won't be back tomorrow morning either, because we want to be here for the last day of the Conference." They shrugged their shoulders and walked away.

At 4 pm we will still packing when one of the ordinance officers arrived back. While I finished tying down the load, he leaned on the bonnet of his Council vehicle writing what appeared to be tickets. Before driving Peacebus out of the park, I hailed him "Are you okay? Apologies for any trouble we may have caused you." "Not a worry", he said with a grin and drove away, the ticket writing a subterfuge.

On Monday we had visits from three Conference journalists who crossed the road to learn more about our protest. These were Sinead Mangan from Mining News, Eric Johnson from AAP and Ian Howarth from the Financial Review. Good meetings these and now our media releases are carried on the mining news networks.

But not by Melbourne print, radio and TV media, for although media releases had been sent and I had spent an afternoon ringing resource and finance journalists of none covered our protest. "How many are coming to your protest?" I would be asked. "Two adults, a dog and two sheep", I would reply and then plead: "But we are colourful." Not interested.

Meanwhile Randall Oliphant, the King Midas of the moment, was being feted.

I guessed the PR mills of the mining industry were churning. But in this business of bearing witness to be ignored is to be noticed, especially if the miner is paying.

 

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When planning the Mission to Melbourne I was aware that it was more than just a meeting of Australian gold miners and investors. A major gold summit of some sort was to take place.

For the gold mining industry globally is in change. Compared to other metals the price of gold is decreasing so making other metals better assets and better reserves. The theme of the Australian Gold Conference was consolidation. Big mining companies are devouring lesser mining companies and forming huge conglomerations, which own huge concentrations of cash and gold reserves, huge pits around the globe and handle huge quantities of cyanide.

Australian owned gold mines have ceased to exist. Ownership of global gold production is now concentrated in North American corporations and Australian gold miners have all been gobbled up in mergers engineered by liars, sharks and merchant bankers.

This was news I learned talking to the journalists and the conference participants who would talk to me. Noting that nametags distinguished gold conference participants from other passing suits, it was my habit was to walk along side them and respectfully elicit their views and news of the conference.

From one journalist I heard that the biggest pit in Australia was the Kalgoorlie Super Pit, which is 5 km by 3 km and final depth of 700 metres. The excavation uses more diesel per month than the entire state of Victoria. I also heard that Premier “Cyanide” Bob Carr in the week following the Gold Conference was to open the Newcrest Mining Company's Arcadia mine near Orange, a copper/gold mine that will dig an even bigger pit.

I learned from a hedge fund operator, that the wealth of gold mines is illusory. The only investor profits to be made in gold were in hedge funds and currency wind falls, he said.

I wondered if all the gold, even that still in the ground, had been already been sold many times on the futures market and for centuries ahead. I wondered if the truth beneath the spin was that actual production profit margins were slight at a time when production costs were increasing due to the working of lower grade ores, the digging of bigger pits and the contending with more and more environmental constraints.

Thus the gold miners are in a squeeze. But they are committed by their presales to produce the gold otherwise the gold investment bubble will burst and the paper money of the stock market will evaporate as it has in times past. The rich have a big stake in staying rich. Many funds managers have a stake in not questioning, not doubting the security of gold as an investment.

Consolidation is what businesses do in bad times. It is word that signals a phase in an industry's life, like marshes describe a new way of being for a river which once leapt from cliffs and cascaded down gorges. Now things aren't so adventurous. The time of the entrepreneur is over. And so too the time of canny mining and smart managers.

Now is the time of the confidence booster. The PR man is now more valued than the engineer.

The spin that Randall Oliphant was putting out at his keynote address was that consolidation would bring new efficiencies, new economies of scale and a new gold boom era for investors.

One funds manager I met suggested, and I presume he got the line from Mr Oliphant as part of the sell, that consolidation would mean more environmental responsibility because these new gold mining giants would have more to lose from spills. I reckoned size would mean bigger corporate clout in buying governments and bigger fees for PR companies to hide bigger lies. He reckoned I was cynical but did have the grace to acknowledge that such environmental restraints on gold miners as there were, were there because of people like me.

As Midas of the moment Randall Oliphant, ought to be acclaimed and saluted for his achievements by every snake oil salesman past and present. In a time mighty illusion and disappearing profits, he has talked and worked up Barrick into a mighty empire of gold. Surely he deserves recognition as a folk hero of sorts. What mighty greed must drive him. And behind the what fundamentally fear and insecurity.

The conference participants spoke of his suave and genuinely liked him. Oliphant exudes the glamour of gold. The photo on the Barrick Gold website shows a sleek face with a sensual mouth and the weary eyes of a hard working executive. Storyteller, spinner of dreams, I wondered what fantasies he enacted in his sex life, and how and when did he touch the earth and get real.

It was from the journalists that I confirmed the rumoured gold summit, which was in fact a meeting of the World Gold Council, the global peak industry body for gold producers, and was to take place in Crown Casino on Wednesday 17 April. The journalists wanted to know if I was taking Peacebus.

Apparently the business before the Council was a proposal for an advertising campaign to promote the mystique of gold. The aim was to increase global gold consumption by promoting gold ownership and adornment as a wealth creating charm. More PR props for the house of cards.

Bearing witness for Lake Cowal outside the World Gold Conference was an opportunity not to be missed. No Australian owned gold producers means it will be the last time that the WGC meets in Melbourne. Besides it was at Crown Casino and last time Peacebus had been there was for the s11 blockade of the World Economic Forum. I felt duty bound to pay the Jeff Kennett Memorial Cultural Centre another visit.

But both the police and Crown security were in denial of the event. Just a dinner for the Australian Gold Conference participants, my police liaison told me.

"Not happening. Besides why would I tell you, a protester, if it was?" said Carlos, the shaved head, dark eyed security man in the foyer of Crown Casino. Carlos was distinguishable as security from the other suits by his martial arts bearing and the wire in his ear. I had wandered over the River on the afternoon before to check the Casino out.

I explained my mission was to negotiate and he called his boss, a suit distinguished by the haughty face of arrogance that the servants of the rich such as butlers like to show to the poor. I was a parkie lounging on a planter box in the outside plaza and when the boss came towards me, his face pained with distain. He affirmed the denial and I politely bid him a good day. Coming, ready or not.

That night at Charisse’s brother’s house in North Carlton, in between joints, good wine, excellent food and convivial company, I prepared and put out the following media release.

Media Release 17 April 2002: Cyanide Busters protest outside World Gold Council

When the peak industry body of the world’s gold producers meets at Crown Casino today, the colourful and crusading Peacebus.com will be outside accusing its members of cyanide crimes against future generations.

11 am Wednesday 17 April 2002

outside Crown Casino entrance,

Queensbridge Street, Melbourne.

"A casino is an appropriate place for the World Gold Council to be meeting", said Peacebus captain, Graeme Dunstan. “With rising production costs and the excessive reserves of gold in the world, the only profits to be made in gold production are by hedge fund managers and currency speculators."

"The world needs more clean water, before it needs more gold", he said. "These promoters of cyanide gold mining are water poisoners on a huge scale.

"They are cyanide criminals", said Mr Dunstan. "May their children not despise them."

"These days gold miners are working ores at less than one part per million gold", he said. "This means they dig huge pits, use thousand of tonnes of cyanide, burn mega litres of diesel, and, after they have taken the gold for the pleasure of the world’s rich, they leave their poisons in tailings dams to contaminate the surface and ground waters of the local people."

Peacebus has come on a journey of justice for future generations from to Melbourne from northern NSW where it was a contributor to an eight year sustained campaign which stopped the Timbarra cyanide heap leach mine at the head waters of the Clarence River. Now campaigning to prevent a cyanide gold mine opening at Lake Cowal, a major wetland near West Wyalong, Peacebus is warning gold investors that the days of the cyanide gold mining era are numbered.

"Environmental activists have now stopped development of gold mine pits in Bendigo and Stawell in Victoria," said Mr Dunstan. "In NSW sustained action by north coast Earth defenders brought the Timbarra gold mine, the last cyanide gold mine to open in NSW, to a close after a mere six months of operation."

The Lake Cowal mine is now stalled by an injunction won in the NSW Land and Environment Court last month by Wiradjuri elder, Neville Williams, who said the Lake was sacred, that it must not be mined and that the miner had no consent to damage or remove artefacts.

Mr Randall Oliphant, president and CEO of Barrick Gold, the Toronto based multinational cyanide miner and developer of the Lake Cowal will be at the World Gold Council.

Peacebus will be telling Mr Oliphant that the Lake Cowal mine, which has cost an estimated $65 million so far and is yet to turn a sod, is now dead in the water and that it would be wise to disinvest.

Water more precious than gold! Viva Timbarra! Ban cyanide gold mining everywhere and forever!

But the truth was for me was that I was exhausted. Too much exposure, and for too long. My lungs were weak and I needed a warm place to rest a while. So it had to be a minimalist action. Just me, Charisse and Peacebus in a zap.

Brave and patient Charisse, companion, sister, helper, her company a blessing. One moment hefting poles and up on the roof of Peacebus tying down the load like wharfie, the next sitting at ease at our table elegant, and beautiful to behold.

The plan was we would cruise from the Seamen's Mission to the Casino, pull off the road and into the Casino plaza timing our arrival for 11 am, which was when I understood the media conference was to take place. I would climb on the roof, Charisse would hand be the microphone then lock up, sit aside and deny all responsibility for Peacebus.

And so it happened, me in my Eureka T shirt and green fatigue pants on the roof, a wild man, mad intensity in my eyes, microphone in one hand, the other a fist shaking, or a finger of accusation and condemnation pointing at the rich men’s tower of glass and steel. On a plaza bench beside in witness sat the elegant Charisse, dressed in black tights under green Chinese silk split skirt, sleeveless vest and elbow length gloves.

At the boom of the PA Carlos came running out of the foyer. He sprinted over to Peacebus. "You can't do this. It's private property", he said. "Won't be long", I shrugged.

Carlos quickly assessed the locked bus and his powerlessness and ran off. Soon Carlos's boss was in the plaza with a whole gargle of suits with wires in their ears doing an odd dance of distraction as they paced about talking to each other and their wires.

And what was the cause of the consternation of these wired suits? A grey bearded old man on a hippy bus thundering doom like a biblical prophet. What madness, I thought. One can't get more marginal, more eccentric than this.

As I spoke I could see room service staff standing at three different windows on the high floors looking down and listening. I guessed there was an opulent conference room up there where the super rich were plotting gold futures and I guessed that they would be hearing me too either directly or indirectly.

It was not the best speech ever to leave my mouth, but the rawness of my fatigue gave it a crazy edge and I aimed it at Randall Oliphant personally. I cursed him as a water poisoner in the name of all the future generations of beings. "For your cyanide crimes may you name be remembered with contempt by a thousand generations to come. Repent before your children despise you."

A three minute special. Enough was enough. Finished on the PA I hailed Carlos who, 15 meters away, was in the midst of a security staff meeting marked by much agitated arm waving. "Hey Carlos! We're out of here." He replied with a gesture of acknowledgement, a kind of a salute, as one warrior to another. Charisse opened Peacebus and took the mike. I climbed off the roof into the driver seat and off we drove.

Back at the Seaman's Mission Charisse and I were taking a farewell coffee with our hosts in the beautifully appointed upstairs dining room, admiring the collection of icons Fr Peter had assembled at a shrine there, when 45 minutes later, I got a call from Snr Cons Peter Masters, our police liaison.

"Where are you?", he asked.

"Very close. We have taken refuge in the Seaman’s Mission, just behind Police HQ", I said.

"In that case I will tell the D24 patrol car not to go to the Casino and pick you up", he said.

I thanked Peter Masters for his cooperation and good humour.

Then I turned to thanking Fr Peter and his fellow ordained brothers for the refuge they had given us and for their kind hospitality.

When I had arrived at the Seaman's Mission I was dismayed to see how infirm Peter had become as he struggled down the stairs with walking stick in answered to our bell call. A wasting disease, he said with a shrug. Peter a scholar, a former schoolteacher, a lover of young men and a man of discriminating tastes and sharp and a trickster Irish temperament. It had been a delight to have him as a guide to the heritage of the mission, the story of its architecture and the meaning of the beautiful icons he had arrayed in the Chapel.

For Peter, orthodox Christianity combined authenticity, beauty and soul. He had come into it, via Solshenyskin, the author of the Nobel Prize winning, "Gulag Archipelago". Thence to Tolstoy and other Russian novelists who were in touch with the soul of that people.

Now ordained, Peter was in a spiritual limbo for to celebrate the mass in his beloved chapel, he needed at least one other communicant and despite all his efforts of advertising and creating events he had none. When he came to our witness in Batman Park, he came in mufti, tracksuit pants, sneakers, beanie and dark glasses. I noticed as we sat at table taking our farewell coffee, when Peter spoke authoratively the jaw of the senior Anglican minister at the Mission would sometimes tighten in barely concealed fury.

Outside I looked into Peter's eyes, "Difficult for you at this time", I commented. He fell into my embrace and sobbed. Dark night of the soul, we agreed. Both of us companions on the holy path, knocking on a door and being broken open.

Peter gave Peacebus a gift, an icon painted on gold leaf depicting the three angels, the welcomed guests of Abraham’s dream. A popular icon, he explained, by which the sacred relationship between host and guest is remembered.

And leaving Charisse at her brother's house in North Carlton, I thanked her for her companionship. She had been grace and sweetness itself. I had learned lots about Charisse, artist and eco-warrior, more confident with textiles than words. And I had learned nothing at all. Much of our time together had been spent in noble silence. It had been like walking beside an angel.

She kissed and hugged me one last time. Sigh! It was the parting of the ways once more. Peacebus’ first Lake Cowal mission was ended.

 

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&


When a boat slows down, bilge water sloshes forward. It's like that for me when a mission is complete and I go to rest. Not just fatigue lays me low, but also all the voices set aside and ignored by demands of the action at hand, come rushing forward into consciousness and I find myself swimming in sorrows, weighed down by self doubt. Many inner voices questioning, and many doubting.

Had all that effort been worth it? What is that drives me to take on such huge and crazy tasks? What is beneath this obsession to get noticed?

Including the fit out for Peacebus, the mission had cost me about $2,500, of which $1,000 was fuel for the round journey a total of 3,600 km. From fundraising and donations I had raised about $800 of which t $600, came from the generosity of the Rainforest Information Centre.

The last of the small inheritance from my father’s estate was spent. What profligacy! What about old age, sickness and the frailty ahead?

In the days that followed many friends gave me refuge and grazing for Molly and Jolly, shared their hearths, fed and honoured me. But the fatigue stayed with me, and my lungs became so weak I was obliged to stop smoking cannabis and take a course of antibiotics. For all my spiritual practice I noticed I was depressed, irritable and filled with futility.

Brother Jack Wayward reckoned it an appropriate time to press me to go deeper about my driven-ness to be noticed. Psychotherapy by email.

Without cannabis smoking I began recalling dreams again. In the course of this email exchange, an urgency dream awoke me just before dawn.

I was rushing to dress and depart for a black tie function but can't find my dinner jacket. Substitute a white sports coat. Look in the mirror. Feels wrong. Then I can't recall where or why I am going. Woken by the mewing of a baby nearby, my 2 month old god son whose name is Journey. Notice panic rising. Back to breath.

That morning I was an irascible old man and Jolly copped it when he jumped into Peacebus (first time) for a forage. I hauled him out by his ears, kicked his bum, and tethered him. Felt good!

At Jack's prompting I recalled how my over achieving ways (dux of school, Duntroon, honours engineering graduate, and so on) had arisen from wanting to please and be noticed by Mum, a shy country girl and somewhat split off.

I recalled the first time I topped a class in primary school rushing home to tell her. She in the midst of hand washing clothes, put her head out from the smoke and the steam of the old wash house, me on the back steps looking down, excited, still puffing from the run, pulling at the backside of my too tight pants. "That's nice", she said and gave a sixpence found in the wash and went back to work. Disappointment. Is that all?

Dr James Hillman, a men's movement mentor, suggests the destiny view is more empowering than the trivialisation ("it is nothing but...") of developmental psychology. That I needed that barely affirming Mum (her closest friend told me she was always talking proudly of my achievements) to prepare me for dealing with the tall poppy syndrome in later life, the strength to be visible, audacious and way, way out.

Maybe but I noticed myself honouring my mother again. Grieving for her still and grateful. Just acknowledging that grief, everyone’s grief really, opened my heart to the world again and gave me strength.

It was just as my Buddhist text advised: “Evermore bear in your heart the pain and sorrow of the world. Faith there by regains vigour. Trim your lamp.” My lamp was being trimmed.

But I’m a majestic Leo too, and I love to be stroked. Always yearning for the pat on the head. So to finish this saga here are two stories of affirmations that had me purring.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

I was happy to rest and cruise in Victoria but my HEMP Embassy comrades wanted Peacebus back in Nimbin for the Mardi Grass 3 - 5 May. They reckoned Peacebus has a deterrent effect on police roadblocks. In the past when Peacebus and a load of Ganga Faeries have rolled up at a drug search road block, the coppers have packed up and retreated to their stations.

And in the past police have been doing show operations in the week before and the week after the Mardi Grass to convince TV land that the NSW Police are tough on drugs generally and on Nimbin particular. Media illusions these to hide the fact that the Police know better than to take on people power and attempt to bust the Nimbin hemp harvest festival, the biggest cannabis law reform rally in world. But by busting a few of the hapless poor, they would flex the muscles of their media image.

Peacebus then as the heavy cavalry of Nimbin town.

By agreement I got Peacebus back to the Rainbow Region in time for a meeting of the NSW Premier and Cabinet, which took place at the K12 Evans River School at Evans Head on 30 April and met the hempsters there. A bunch of other protesters were there too, including some gum tree worried farmers and two bus loads of Alstonville folk showing strength in numbers for a by pass.

These regional meetings of Premier and Cabinet are a meet the people exercise for the government and as such it was an excellent opportunity for Peacebus to bear witness for Lake Cowal. All the Ministers would be within PA range with the added bonus that of a school in session as audience too.

I set Peacebus up on a public reserve, opposite and overlooking the school gymnasium where the civic reception was to take place. A half size model of a Wirraway aeroplane on a pole, a reminder that Evans Heads had been a major WWII training base for the RAAF, flew behind the Peacebus banner reading “No racism! No war!”

Although the local police were happy with the set up, the entourage security, unfamiliar and distrusting of Peacebus’ peaceful and colourful ways, had other ideas. They wanted to corral all protesters near one gate. Their plan I guessed was to bring the Premier in by an alternative gate, which was opposite, the Peacebus set up.

I refused to cooperate and there was a bit of bother until local area commander, Inspector Barry Audsley interceded on behalf of Peacebus. He came over to tell me so. A big smile and warm handshake. "I told them you were a professional and travel about doing this all over the place." This was the same Barry who approved the busting of the Nimbin Cannabis Cafes after the last Mardi Grass, the same police commander whom I lambasted in the press. How things change.

That was affirmation enough I suppose but better yet was that given by the students themselves.

For the school kids the presence of Peacebus and the hempsters was far more electrifying than the presence of the pollies. The students were confined to classrooms and when I spoke on the PA and told the story of Lake Cowal and the moral turpitude of the NSW Premier and Cabinet, there was the deep quiet of listening through out the school.

Peacebus got noticed. How do I know? By the light in the eyes of the students who came across the road and talked with me. Three crews of Media Studies students taped interviews with me. Two lads even donated pocket money! Lovely kids. Evans Head parents ought be proud.

In a letter published in the Northern Star 9 May, I gave thanks.

"Better than any prime time news coverage this kind of youthful notice. Exultation for the spirit of this old man to receive it. My gratitude for that kind of affirmation could fill oceans with kindness.

But what even more impressed me was the courtesy and good grace of the event itself.

Everywhere friendliness. No harsh words. No bombs scares or bomb checks. No tall men with hard eyes and wires in their ears. Police cooperative and smiling. Politicians totally accessible.

Democracy at work.

We all ought be proud. As Australians, as NSWelshpersons, as citizens of Evans Heads, as peace loving people of the Rainbow Region, as folks who believe in freedom and the basic goodness of all humans, all creatures.

In particular I want to thank Superintendent Barry Audsley for his policing. He interceded on my behalf when the entourage security police had doubts about the peaceful and artful ways of Peacebus.com. The aesthetics of the site was at stake for me, security control for them. Barry’s goodwill made everything easy.

Under my feet this path of friendliness becomes a river carrying me, and many others, along."

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The other post mission affirmation that gave me delight was the report the admirable Ruth Rosenhek had given me of her mission to Toronto to bear witness for Lake Cowal at the annual general meeting of Barrick Gold.

Her mission was accompanied by a paid advertisement that was playing on Canadian TV with Australian actor Jack Thompson calling for a fair go for Lake Cowal. A gathering of protestors outside had also been organised.

The AGM of the second biggest gold producer in the world, biggest by capitalisation and reserves, took place in a splendid auditorium, the best that money could buy so to reflect the wealth and confidence of Barrick to the assembled shareholders and funds managers.

Randall Oliphant was boosting confidence at the podium in front of huge, wall-to-wall projection screens. The audiovisuals were lavish.

In response to a question from Ruth about the necessity and the morality of mining a major and sensitive wetland, Oliphant went off on an irrational tangent. He spoke first of his recent meetings with NSW State and Bland Shire government officials and the support they had expressed for the Lake Cowal mine development. Nothing new or relevant there.

Then by way of deriding the opposition to the Lake Cowal mine, which he was describing as a key plank in Barrick's expansion into Australia, he produced a news clip, apparently from the West Wyalong Advocate. In the scheme of his presentation it was tiny, but he waved it around to make his point.

“Peacebus breaks the peace in West Wyalong”; he chortled triumphantly.

Until that moment none of the assembled shareholders would have heard of Peacebus. And now they had.

In that moment Peacebus was mightily upon Randall's mind. The mask had slipped. He was scratching a fleabite. He had been spooked. Ha!

May there be many more flea bites. Death by a thousand fleabites to the Lake Cowal mine!

For the Earth! Viva Timbarra!

Graeme Dunstan

6 June 2002

 

For the lead up media releases, letters and images of the Peacebus Mission to Lake Cowal at Easter 2002,
CLICK HERE
.

 

 

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