Activists in the Leard Forest in north west NSW are today celebrating two years fighting against the Maules Creek Coal Mine.
It was six months ago when it finally dawned on me just how special FLaC (Frontline Action on Coal) Camp is. I was at the Leard in February when the original FLaC Camp was evicted from the forest. I was there for the pack up and relocation to Cliff’s place.
Over the previous 18 months this camp in the forest had changed the game in environmental activism in Australia.
It was from these tents and tepees that Jonathan Moylan had written the now infamous fake press release that alerted the world to what is happening at the Leard Forest.
It was here, in the forest, at the edge of two open cut coal mines marring the beautiful landscape like open wounds, that the first ‘Act Up’ was held, where hundreds of people, for the first time in history, blockaded and took large scale non violent direct action to stop a coal mega-mine.
It was here, in this uniquely beautiful place, that the face of environmental activism changed forever, where 90-year-old war veterans, religious leaders, doctors and lawyers, mothers and grandmothers, local farmers and students from the city, people from all walks of life said ‘enough is enough’ and took a stand.
It was here that the Gomeroi, the traditional owners of these lands, the local farming community and the diverse collection of “environmentalists” forged an unlikely alliance, an alliance that five years ago would have been unimaginable to any of us, but where he have found so much common ground we have become friends for life.
It was here that day after day the good people of Australia, people of conscience, put their very bodies on the line to stand up for the local farmers, the traditional owners, the forest and the animals.
It was here that week after week people who care stood to stop climate change; where they stood for the very future of our beautiful planet.
The Dedication of FLaC
In summer the air at Maules Creek is like a furnace, the sun like a hammer. The day the camp had to move out of the forest, the mercury hovered close to 40 degrees all day.
FLaC had stayed to the very end of the deadline to move, tenaciously doing all they could to remain in this bit of forest, to exercise their democratic rights to protest, to bear witness to the destruction of this very special place.
All those efforts had come to naught, time had run out and there was no choice but to relocate.
Over the previous 18 months thousands of people had visited camp, and many had donated gifts. There was infrastructure there to support hundreds.
Packing up was a hell of a job. From before sunrise until after midnight the volunteers at camp, self-funded retirees, students giving up their holidays to protect the Leard, people from all walks of life who made the time to come to take a stand, slogged away in the heat.
No one stopped for lunch or dinner. No one uttered a word of complaint.
When we finally got to Wando, the location of Flak Camp 2.0, Cliff Wallace, owner of the farm, came out with a couple of six packs. Even though it was XXXX Gold I don’t think any of us had wanted a cold one more in our lives. But not a single person cracked one open until the job was done.
The next morning I was one of the first people awake. The sight that greeted me blew my mind. The amazing activists of FLaC Camp had literally lay down and slept where they had been standing.
They had just been too tired to pitch their tents.
As I walked past a bunch of sleeping students, one of them cracked an eye open.
“Are we doing an action?”
Despite their incredible exhaustion they began dragging themselves to their feet to continue the fight at those words.
There is nothing I can say that can describe what FLaC is about more than the dedication those guys displayed that day. And they do that every single day.
A Heartbreaking Battle
This battle has been heartbreaking. Every day more of this beautiful forest is senselessly destroyed. Every day there are more blasts tearing the very earth apart, blowing toxic plumes over this very special place.
The summers burn and the winters freeze. There is constant harassment from the hired security companies and police road blocks.
Activists have been getting the harshest of bail conditions and sentences.
The authorities, who seemed to want to support the coal industry at any cost, have used every possible avenue to try to break FLaC.
They closed the forest. They evicted the first camp. They went after Cliff. They even had spies infiltrate camp.
Sometimes it is hard to see beyond the fight. It can be hard to see beyond the crimes against the local community, the traditional owners, the forest and future generations being committed every day.
It’s hard to see what FLaC has achieved.
Since Murray “Muzz” Dresher and Jonathan “Jono” Moylan first camped out two years ago, thousands of people have visited camp.
Hundreds have been arrested.
The Leard Forest has become ground zero in the battle to stop climate change. Those with power and who want to extract this coal at any cost have tried to break FLaC, but this campaign goes from strength to strength.
Every attempt to stop FLaC defending the Leard Forest makes FLaC stronger.
There are two possible future paths before humankind. Down one we continue to dig up coal and burn it for the short-term financial gain for a few.
Down that path is a bleak future.
Down the other path, people of conscience stand up and stop the powerful vested interests, the ones that care more for profits than protecting this beautiful planet, from digging up coal and burning it.
If this is the path we take, future generations will look back at this crisis and be thankful that people took a stand.
They will look back to where people first put their bodies on the line to keep the coal in the ground.
They will look back to where this movement started.
They will look back to FLaC Camp.
For decades the experts have been saying we need to keep most of the world’s coal in the ground if we have any chance of averting catastrophic climate change.
It was the aptly named Frontline Action on Coal camp where people first stood up and began to take non violent direct action to ensure we do, indeed, keep the coal in the ground. But it is a battle that extracts a price, and it is the activists of FLaC who pay the bill.