Why is Leard State Forest important to protect?
Leard State Forest – located between Narrabri and Boggabri in north-west NSW – includes thousands of hectares of rare woodland and is considered a biodiversity hotspot. The nearest township is the farming community of Maules Creek, which sits on the edge of the Liverpool Plains – one of the richest food bowls in Australia.
Leard State Forest includes the most extensive and intact stands of critically endangered Box-Gum Woodland remaining on the Australian continent. The forest is home to 396 species of plants and animals and includes habitat for 34 threatened species such as the regent honeyeater, the spotted quolls and the koala.
What is the threat?
Two open-cut coal mines are already operating and have approval to expand further into Leard State Forest. A third open-cut coal mine at Maules Creek is approved and expected to begin production in 2015.
Together these mines will destroy approximately 5000 hectares – that’s more than half – of Leard State Forest, and produce 30 million tonnes of carbon pollution per year.
Protecting the forest
On Monday, 16 December 2013, farmers, local community, traditional owners and concerned citizens from towns and cities across the country converged at the Maules Creek mine site.. They successfully stopped construction work and prevented bulldozers from clearing the forest.
75 year old local man, Ray McLaren – who has never been involved in a protest before – felt he had no choice but to take strong action joined within the blockade. After 14 hours locked onto an old car, he was removed by police. Up to fifty other people were locked onto machinery and the entrance gates, vowing to stay in place as long as they could.
Many people from the Maules Creek community, as well as farmers from the surrounding districts, a huge tractor and a couple of horses joined the blockade.
Traditional owners of the land
The traditional owners of the area, the Gomeroi elders, also spoke about their anger and distress at the poor treatment by Whitehaven, and the loss of the important spiritual and cultural sites in the forest.
The struggle continues
Three concerned citizens were cut free from their blockading positions and arrested at about midday. The other three blockades held all day – an inspiring feat in 38 degree heat.. By 5pm the police decided to leave the remaining activists. It was a victory for the day.
Incredibly, the action continued on Tuesday, 17 December 2013, as two more people locked themselves to a gravel truck, stopping its work on the common rail spur being constructed for Maules Creek mine and the nearby Boggabri mine expansion.
The two men were able to remain in place until around 3pm when they were removed and arrested by police.
Many protesters continued to sustain the blockade on Wednesday, 18 December 2013, to coincide with ANZ’s AGM in Brisbane. The Gomeroi elders and fifth generation farmer, Phil Laird will ask ANZ to stop funding the Maules Creek mine.
Each day the Leard State Forest remains intact is another day that the precious plants and animals living within it can survive.