Easter @ Lake Cowal - Resurrection of Resistance

A report of the Blockade and Walk-on at the Barrick Gold mine,
Lake Cowal, Easter Sunday, 12 April 2009

When the cops came, I was upside down in my undies, yoga-ing in the morning sun and the Dalai Lama was chanting on the CD player. A car drew up behind while i was in shoulder stand and the sound of its perfectly tuned engine told me it was not a protest vehicle.

"Good morning, Graeme," said a gentle and familiar voice and, when I rolled down, there was Sgt. Ken Dale, Team Leader of West Wyalong Police, a big man with an an oddly impaish face.

At ease, I sat on my mat. "Have you come to serve a warrant?" I asked lightly, thinking this would have to be the perfect state of body and mind to be receiving notice of state initiated hostilities.

"Not a warrant," he said making himself at ease on a near by log. "I wouldn't do that to you." It was mischievous irony - he had done just that a year before.

We both knew he had come about the events of the previous day, Easter Sunday, when my fellow defenders of Lake Cowal and i shut down the Barrick Gold mine there for a couple of hours.

In particular he had come about the Cyanide Watch, 6 am shift change blockade of the Mine gate. In his hand he held the charge papers. Beware of cops bearing papers.

The Facts of the Charge as he, Sgt. Dale, had recorded them, and as i was later to read, said that by parking across the entrance gate I had for the 50 minutes it took for the cops to arrive, obstructed 17 vehicles including a bus and 60 workers all up trying to get in, and 6 vehicles and 25 workers trying to get out.

But I wanted to stay off topic.

"Twenty eight arrests and just five officers. I'm impressed."

"Win-win," said he. "You did what you had to do. We did what we had to do. No body hurt, no aggro."

The arrests referred to occurred after some 50 young protesters assembled around Wiradjuri elder, Uncle Chappy Williams and his Wiradjuri comrades, Les and Carole Glass-Pattison, outside the rear gate of the mine. There they conducted a smoking ceremony and, followed by 28 protesters, they climbed over the gate, brushed past the Mine security and their rolling cameras and walked upon the vast, bruised and desolate landscape of the mine site.

Lock down for Barrick Gold!

In support of this action, the Cyanide Watch blockade at the front gate may be seen to have been a decoy. But in truth it had been impulse and confusion, the folly of a foolish and passionate old man who was now facing the consequences of his deeds.

Most of those who walked on with Chappy had stayed together and, when challenged by the cops had surrendered at once and as a group, been loaded onto a bus, charged and processed on site and returned to the protest camp by that same bus.

Action over and done by 9 am, everyone who walked on exulted, no-one hurt and the enormity of the environmental destruction of this sacred lake by Barrick Gold indelibly etched in their consciousness.

In previous years police tactics had been much different. Many more cops were involved, OSG (riot) cops had been on duty and at hand, arrestees were carried to West Wyalong 35 km away in paddy wagons for processing, bail conditions had been set to prevent the arrestees from returning to the protest camp or within 10 km of the Mine.

This is turn led to argy bargy on Easter Monday 2007 when cops invaded to camp to attempt further pointless arrests of those breaking bail conditions while they were packing up to leave. The camp rallied and blockaded the police vehicles and, after their prisoner was released, the cops had withdrawn. I was subsequently charged with resisting and fined $300.

"Will you be promoted for your good work?" I asked.

"I don't want promotion, Graeme," he replied. "I am happy serving where I am. I want to be out on the road."

By which I understood him to mean, out on the road like me, engaged in community interaction like me and, i guessed, meeting people like my comrades and I, being challenged and responding to challenges in a win-win, uplifting way.

We are all walking, talking skin bags of water, I reckon, and the cyanide crimes of the gold mining industry are as much a fundamental offense to cops and their families as they are to you and me and future generations too.

No question, Sgt. Ken Dale is a good man: always frank, respectful and intelligent and, even though we have been on different sides of the charge desk, I enjoy my conversations with him. Many others at the protest camp were likewise impressed by his respectful attitude.

On Saturday Sgt. Dale had addressed them as a group, and at their invitation, when they assembled for a reconnaissance outside that same rear gate which they were to climb the next day. Standing alone before 50 or so of us, he addressed them like a good sergeant does: clear voiced, courteous and assertive.

He had said then that he respected our right to protest but warned that we would be arrested if we entered the mine site. He wanted neither the protesters nor his officers to be put in danger and pleaded that the protesters neither to resist arrest and complicate things nor enter the mine site at night.

But enter the site they did next dawn at the invitation of Chappie Williams, Wiradjuri elder, native title claimant to the never ceded land on which the Toronto based Barrick Gold corporation, biggest gold producer in the world, digs and poisons water. For Chappie it was an assertion of the constitutionally right of all Australians to practice their religion.

Those who chose not to be arrested waited in support outside the gate.

The authority of the Wiradjuri leadership was challenged neither by the Barrick management nor the cops. Uncontested Chappie, Les and Caroline walked on and off the site bearing their coolum of fire. Those that had waited there welcomed them eager for stories.

But all the rest of the walkon-ers were arrested for being on enclosed lands without authority of the owner, Barrick Gold. An interesting challenge for the courts and, given past precedence, it is unlikely that the Miner's authority will be upheld. We got the idea that if this happened, the cops would not be fussed.

Back at base camp and around the fire when the protesters debriefed. Most commented on the mind boggling scale of the environmental destruction: "Seeing an aerial photo is one thing, walking the landscape another."

Chappie however commented on the respectful and measured police response and said: "I reckon were are winning."

He was echoing something that had been heard said by a security guard as he watched the protesters follow Chappie onto the site. The comment was significant because the man was from Coe Security, a local Aboriginal business contracted by the Mine as part of its commitment to indigenous employment; Coe being the name of one of the Wiradjuri families which signed on for the Mine and a multi million dollar compensation pay out.

Chappie rails against them. "Coe-conut Security", he calls them - brown on the outside, white on the inside. He reckons they are the modern day equivalents of the black police and black trackers employed by the NSW colonial government to hunt and massacre his people.

Maybe the police are showing signs of having the same prophetic intelligence. And maybe Peter Munk, Toronto based chairman of Barrick Gold, does too in some deep down place of doubt where denial cannot be sustained and the light of truth still shines.

Barrick and the corrupt NSW Labor government which approved this water abusing, Earth destroying enterprise had expected that, once started up, dissent and resistance would fade away, be trivialised and exhausted by the Mine's vast capital resources and relentless 24/7 excavating, rock crushing and cyanide leaching.

The opposite has provided to be the case. With every year of operation (it is now starting its fourth year), the more appallingly obvious its environmental destruction becomes, the more revulsion to it grows, the harder it is for its PR mills, its dupes and its promoters in government to deny or justify.

By contrast with each passing year, the resistance moving against the cyanide criminals gains moral strength, forms new alliances, diversifies and internationalises. And more and more so now with the scent of victory in our nostrils.

Easter @ Lake Cowal is set to become a growing and enduring annual gathering, a celebration of the sacred in the heartland of the Wiradjuri.

My prophecy is that one day the waters will return to the Lake and the frogs, yabbies, fish and birds will too and we will camp by its waters under the Easter moon and dance, sing and celebrate the resurrection of life there.

And amongst the many layers of the sacred implied in that, we will remember the resurrection of the spirit of resistance that rose up amongst us, revitalised us and caused Barrick Gold and its toxic practices to be banished from this land forever.

What a beautiful and uplifting camp it was. All praise to Neville "Chappy" Williams and his Wiradjuri fighting spirit.

For the Earth!

To the dust!

Graeme Dunstan
26 March 2009


Background on Cyanide Watch

Past campaigns of Peacebus.com

Peacebus.com homepage

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