Timbarra and Making the Earth a Garden

Even as we were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Terania Creek, Planet Earth's first successful environmental action in defence of rainforest, the news came that Ross Mining, the arrogant South African based multinational, had thrown in the towel and announced the suspension its Timbarra gold mining operation.

Once again the protest culture of the Rainbow Region had demonstrated its people power, its courage, its tenacity, and its great love.  The garden of justice and compassion which was planted in these hills by the hippies, the veterans of the peace protests which had ended conscription and recalled our soldiers from the Vietnam War, had once again yielded up its sweet fruit and brought exultation to our spirits. I want to sing praise for the heroes of Timbarra.

The Battle of Timbarra

The Battle of Timbarra has to be understood in terms of the ascendancy of the Howard government, economic rationalism and corporate culture. The Timbarra approvals came in the same brown paper bag as Jabiluka, a pay off gift to the mining industry in return for election favours. Ross Mining was super confident when it began and its managing director was depicted in a Financial Review cartoon in distainful, mock horror at the threat of extinction his mining posed for the Stuttering Frog species.

The Timbarra gold mine, a huge open pit plus cyanide leach processing, was expected to release over two tonnes of cyanide and arsenic into the Clarence River and leave concentrations of buried cyanides, arsenic and heavy metals to leach into the headwaters forever.

The granite outcrops that Ross Mining demolished were also an ancient Aboriginal initiation ground of the Bunjalung people, the highest, it was said, though at the time Ross Mining took up its lease Timbarra was held sacred only by a few Bunjalung, so devastated had their culture become.

But if the power of Timbarra was less in the Bunjalung (how can a people burdened by poverty and 20 years of endemic alcoholism be expected to defend the Earth?), it was never any less in the Timbarra mountain itself. The power the ancestors knew was in the rocks and everyone who went to Timbarra came back transformed. It challenged everyone and drew out deep truth. It inspired art, opened hearts, brought forth courage and united people in faith and social action.

Ross Mining leapt into the environmental assessment process bristling with paid experts and "take no prisoners" lawyers. With smooth talk and the flourish of a chequebook, they negotiated a Native Title compensation deal of $1.4 million. Gold greed infected and divided the Bunjalung and, although the offer was accepted by one party, it was contested by another. The upshot was that while the Bunjalung argued, Ross Mining blasted and as yet only $50K of the compensation has been paid.

Ross Mining lawyers swept aside opposition in the EIS process and dumped a $400K court costs ruling on the volunteer based, Timbarra Protection Society. The corporate lawyers made it clear that they would publicly name, harass, bankrupt and strip assets of anyone who dared oppose them.

But there were fundamental flaws in their strategy. One was that it did not take into account the power of the mountain. The other was that they would be dealing with kooris and ferals who had little in the way of assets, nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting their life on the line to assert that "water was more precious than gold". It was a set piece: rich versus poor, foreign eco-pirates versus local eco-warriors, transient greed versus transcendent spirit.

There are many heroes in the Battle of Timbarra. All the stories of courage, transformation and exultation should be told and should be heard. The one I want to tell here is about the journey of Rusty Harris of Barkers Vale.


Living on the Edge of Prophecy

The most popular postcard sold in the HEMP Embassy is a colour photo shot of Rusty's beautiful, prophet's face smiling up to the heavens from amongst a bush of budding ganja. The caption reads "Earth is to be a Garden." In two years Rusty has sold 10,000 of these and international travellers bring us reports of having seen it in such diverse places like on the dashboard of a Budapest taxi cab.


The Postcard.

Rusty lives on the edge of prophecy. For over ten years now he has been getting UFO visits, inspired dreams and messages from God. The key message and the life mission that brought him to the Rainbow Region is: "Make the Earth a garden".  With Gitte his partner he created an organic garden at Barkers Vale, brought in WWOOFers, grew herbs and vegies and, with vast energy and commitment, sustained himself and his family off the land, proudly without the dole.

Rusty looks and acts like a prophet. Black piercing eyes, dark skin, huge mane and beard once black now streaked with grey, strong upright bearing (he is an advanced Tai Kwon Do exponent) and wild appearance, he is nothing if not arresting to the eye.


The darkest hours of the Battle of Timbarra were when Ross Mining first occupied the Timbarra mining lease in August 1998. Government agencies, police and the courts were aligned in favour of the mine, the media were silent and the defenders of Timbarra had to rally bodies to the top of a mountain at the beginning of winter in a forest some 200 km from Nimbin. It was a time of deep despair.

David Mundine, spokesperson for the Tenterfield Bunjalungs who contested the Native Title compensation, met Rusty at the September Channon market and asked him to help. Rusty was up and into it, the prophetic warrior was defending God's garden. He packed his video camera into his 4WD, rallied his friends in Nimbin, literally pulling them off Cullen Street, piling them in and charging off, a man with a mission.


Into the Breech.

At Timbarra Mountain they found the mine security were manning an illegal block on a public road leading to the mine. Rusty, a former professional personal security provider (Jimmy Barnes, Johnny Farnham, David Bowie etc), knew his law in this regard. With the video camera to one eye and in the face of the security, he demanded to know their names and licence numbers They ignored his demands, radioed for the police and, preparing for his arrest, attempted to confiscate his car keys. In the altercation that followed two security were laid out.

The mine was determined to play tough at the perimeter and we know now that Sandline-style mercenaries were hired. The identity of the security personnel and their licences never were revealed even though Rusty was subsequently charged with assault.

Rusty took another expedition to the mine to record the damage done clearing the site and came upon a newly set up, welded-steel gate across the public road, the concrete footings still wet. His crew of 12 threw themselves at the gate in a fury. They bashed it, hacked at it with saws, and tugged at it with the 4WD while the mine security looked on. To everyone's amazement, the gate gave way and Rusty dragged it away down the hill and dumped it.

Later that day Rusty trekked through the bush, entered the mine perimeter, videoed the destruction and drove the tape to Lismore. Prime TV and NBN broadcast the pictures and so the first TV news of the resistance hit the screens.

From that moment Rusty and his crew were marked men and women. The mine in complicity with the Glenn Innes Police Command and local redneck land owners planned an operation to teach them a lesson in terror.

Entrapment

The Police told Rusty and other protesters that they wanted a meeting on the Timbarra Mountain on the next Monday, 19 October, to negotiate the conduct of the protest. The meeting was a ruse. When Rusty returned to the mountain on the Monday carrying food, warm clothes and blankets (many had come poorly prepared for the conditions), he found the road to the mine blocked by felled trees.

He estimates that he and his crew cut through at least thirty felled trees with the chain saw he was carrying - all the time frantic with worry about the safety of his friends cut off on the mountain top. He had good cause to worry because, at the time, the police were attacking the protesters on the mountain with batons. When the chain saw had become blunt and useless, Rusty and crew noticed that trees were being felled across the road down behind them.

It was a trap. An ambush!

They went at once to confront the tree fellers, Rusty leading, young Hawk beside and Peter Pumpkin with a video camera to his eye. The six tree fellers attacked Rusty and Hawk with clubs, fists and boots and flogged them.

Rusty was hit over the head and beaten to a squatting position. He remembers thinking that if he didn't rise he would be dead. His hand grasped a small sapling at his side and he rose wrenching it, and his life, out of the Earth. This fierce eruption of spirit and the swing of the sapling surprised the attackers. Rusty watched, as if in slow motion, the arch of the living green in the sky, watched his hand let it go and, in a single motion, come down and bring out, and up, his bush knife. "Now your turn, bastards!", he exclaimed. The attackers fled.

Rusty was badly bruised, a big lump on his head. Young Hawk was seriously injured with ruptured guts and then complications in surgery. It has been a slow recovery for him.

Turning Point

This attack turned the tide on the miners. The TV news, the front page photos and the home videos with the raw facts from the front demonstrated that this was the place to be if one wanted to defend the Earth. From this point on resistance at the perimeter grew and grew. Green organisations in Sydney were soon taking bus loads to the action. The National Union of Students backed it and the lead national conservation organisations like the ACF, identified Timbarra as a green action of national significance, up there with Jabiluka.

The Glen Innes Command Police backed away from the fascist tactics. I heard a story of one officer, faced with video evidence and ombudsman's questions to answer, personally apologising to the protesters, tears in his eyes. Such is the power of non-violent witness.

After the bashing and the court cases (Rusty was charged with assault on the security guards but no charges have yet been laid against his assailants), he was prevented by bail conditions from returning to Timbarra. He had to watch the big Timbarra Festival Rally on video. He wept when he saw fellow eco-warrior, Lawrence, who was also on a bail restraining order, rescued from arrest by a determined tug-o-war by the crowd.

Soon after, Rusty got another divine message, from a host of "golden babies" this time, to go to Israel and tell his story.

Feted in Israel

He used the money from his postcards to pay for his fares to Israel and packed one small shoulder bag which included 2000 postcards to use as business cards and to sell on the journey.

In Israel, land of the prophets, land of rocks yearning to become a garden, he was feted, first at a UFO conference, then at the Shantipi Music Festival - a 4 day music festival outside of Tel Aviv. (Byron band, Kangaroo Moon, was there and blew the crowd away). He spoke from the main stage to 25,000 people and sang the Timbarra song; "We love our mother earth/For what she's really worth./The story should be told/That water is more precious than gold."

The crowd, a vast sea of youthful idealism, received his spirit. Rusty recalls that when he came down from that stage people from all over the planet came and embraced him as a brother. A trail to Nimbin is now being beaten by young Israelis who come seeking Rusty.

So he was passed from host to host, guru to guru, in Israel and taken to the Wailing Wall. He told me he felt it vibrate against his forehead as he invoked the fierce Hebrew God to save Timbarra.

Big magic was aligned against Ross Mining and it was stuck, caught by its arrogance and greed, between a rock and hard place. Haemorrhaging legal and security costs, dogged by start-up delays caused by the extended rains and all the while the price of gold plummeting. On the Sydney Stock Exchange, Ross Mining shares dropped from $2.80 to 43 cents over two years.

The defeat represents a great victory for people power in the Rainbow Region, for Native Title, for the Earth First-ers, for the trees and clean water. The victory is also a watershed in watershed politics and bioregionalism.

All praise to the courage and great love of the Timbarra warriors. All praise to those who stand by them for the strain on the family of heroes is huge.

Rusty's partner Gitte held the garden and the family together (two small boys with Rusty's energy!) while Rusty took off in the family car, risked his life, blew the family savings on saving the Earth, and followed his prophetic passions. Gitte grew more thin, stressed and neglected as Rusty grew inflated with spirit. Crash! in the desert went Rusty when he got the message esp.

He rushed home and, when the news of Ross Mining's capitulation arrived, he was busy cultivating the home garden. Neglect of the home garden is one of the strains and hazards of social action. The garden of the heart is the most important garden we ever have.

Graeme Dunstan
www.nrg.com.au/~graeme