At 92, I Was Arrested for My Democratic Right to Protest

Yesterday, I joined about 150 others in a demonstration to occupy parts of the area being developed by Whitehaven Coal, who have set up amazing machinery to destroy the Leard State Forest.

We left early in the morning in a convoy with the intention of getting into the site so we could stop work for the day. It was a rough ride to the worksite, but we survived it, and eventually were able to get in. They had a very strong contingent of security people, but we managed to occupy the site for hours. Eventually the police arrived, and starting arresting people, including me. I was taken into police custody and charged with trespassing.

I was treated fairly well by the police, no doubt in consideration of my age and health. But the others didn’t have the same experience. They were put in the back of the paddy wagon, and if the car isn’t driven gently, you get knocked about in the back. It’s like a washing machine.

I expected to be arrested. That’s what is happening out here these days. But people have a right to protest injustice, and in this particular case, we were trying to save the Box Gum forest, and the large number of endangered flora and fauna in it.

Out here, the farmers have been protesting for years about the threat of the destruction of the Leard Forest to give way to a mega-mine, which will produce about 13.5m tonnes of coal each year.

Maules Creek
 A protester at Maules Creek. Photograph: Greenpeace

What concerns me is that this coal will eventually be burnt and produce carbon dioxide, and add to the global warming we’re experiencing, which scientists say will only get worse. They also say we need to keep 80% of the coal in the ground, otherwise it will be a catastrophe for global warming. The use of fossil fuels must give way to renewable energy.

I’m now 92 years of age and I was a veteran of the second world war. I served in the Kokoda campaign in New Britain. I thought what we were fighting for there was proper democracy. But I’ve learned that was not the situation. The government doesn’t listen to the people, and this mine is a good example. There were over 300 submissions against the mine, and one submission for it. But it was approved.

This is the first time in the last few years that I’ve been involved in any direct action. I’ve been reading the international scientific reports on the climate, which say there is no future for my grandchildren and great grandchild unless there is a reversal in our use of fossil fuels, and a replacement by renewables.

The coal industry gets enormous subsidies from the government. We need to take them away from the mining industry, with their lobbyists galore in Canberra, and use that money to assist in the development of our renewable energies. We’re in a unique position in this country to use wind power, solar power, and other renewables.

Otherwise, what is the future for my children? I’ve only got a few years left, but I feel in my conscience that I have to take this stand. I’m happy to say that I’ve been here on four occasions, and each time, the numbers are increasing. This sort of direct action is the way of the future.

The people have got to take action because the governments have been completely ignoring them and listening only to the big end of town. So I’ll continue to protest. The next oldest person in this camp is 84 years old. And when I talk to him, he too says he’s concerned about the future for his children.

Something is wrong. We’re faced with a catastrophe. I owe it to my grandchildren, and I owe it to all children. I was willing to put my life on the line in the second world war, so putting my body on the line here is a small inconvenience.

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