*This is my first post in my ‘Real Life Ideas’ area and I wanted to share this as an idea because what I experienced on over the last month really made me think about different types of activism, what the word really means and how we can connect to the planet in a spiritual way while involving ourselves in activism and campaigning. I also truly hope that the idea of a nuclear free world is one that will spread throughout the world before more beautiful beings are harmed by its dangers.
We sit, encircling a big, warm camp fire, enthralled by the entertaining Uncle Geoffrey Stokes, Wongatha elder as he tells us story after story from his vast deposit of life experiences. We gaze up to the starriest sky we’d ever seen as he and Hannah and Zakquisha, Tjiwarl children from this land point out where the giant dark emu lies within the milky river above our heads and tell us the tragic dream time story of the seven sisters. “There are two different worlds in Australia” explains Uncle Geoffrey, “West and East (because really Australia is in the East)… and this walk, this is where they collide.”
I look over to Aunty Shirley a Tjiwarl Native Title holder, whose kind gentle smile gives away her quiet hope for the future. Thinking back to earlier in the day when Aunty Jeanette who is a Wongatha Pinjin women and Aunty Vicky, a Tjiwarl Native Title holder spoke about their fight against uranium mining on their land. I knew that these strong, passionate traditional custodians wouldn’t stop their fight until it was won.
There are many types of activism. I find a lot of importance in engaging in the various campaigns which occur in Melbourne and get a lot of strength and motivation from the many passionate people I meet.
What I experienced on the Walkatjurra Walkabout was all of this and more. The walkabout is an annual one month long walk against uranium which starts at the proposed Wiluna uranium mine site near the Wiluna township (approx. 5hrs north of Kalgoorlie) and ends in Leonora. This year marked the 7th year that the walk has taken place but that’s 7 years of a 40 year ongoing battle that the traditional custodians have been fighting against mining and exploration companies.
The organisers of the walk; Marcus, K.A, Lucy and Bilbo have been like a big family with the Tjiwarl and Wongatha people over the last 7 years and are dedicated to making sure that the uranium is left in the ground.
During an intense month such as this, there are certain patterns which start occurring that you can’t help but notice. The first obvious one was the increased growth in the size that the fire pit was dug at every new site- easily doubling in size within the first week. The size of which the gunna (Wongai word for poo) pit was dug every day however seemed to morph in the opposite direction; getting slowly shallower as we moved away from the desert sands into more rocky ground. But of course there were greater patterns taking play such as the gradual improvement of what had already begun as an outstanding standard of cooking and the ever closer, tighter circle of people around the fire- what begun as many individuals sitting in a circle turned into a tighter knit bunch as we all got more comfortable with one another.
We had all become great friends in a short amount of time and it was easy to recognise what we miss out on in today’s individualistic society; where in true communities, every problem belongs to all and is therefore easier to fix and every blessing is a blessing on the entire group. What a shame it is that we don’t have a bunch of people to sit around a fire and tell stories with every night and what a shame it is that it no longer takes a village to raise a child but instead one or two over-worked parents. This sense of community that we all enjoyed was an aspect of the last month which made the experience that much richer.
Toro Energy and Cameco are the two companies threatening the sacred land of the tranditional owners and the previous Barnett government has been a staunch ally of the mining and exploration stakeholders in Western Australia. The Labour Government has had weak bans on uranium mining but has never been strong enough in its will to outlaw it all together. Although there are no operating mines in the state, there are several proposed sites which have been closed off and are threatening to be operated in the near future if we don’t stake a stand against them. If these mines were to go ahead it would have catastrophic impacts on the ecosystems and be extremely invasive on areas sacred to the Traditional Owners. Not to mention, the land would be permanently scarred as Australia has never been able to successfully rehabilitate a uranium mine.
There is a lot to these proposed mine sites. In fact too much to explain it all here but I’ve added just a few quick facts about the two proposed mine sites which we walked past. The information that I have put here I sourced from the magazine Ensuring a nuclear free future for WA:
The proposed Wiluna mine site (Toro Energy), would consist of four open pits expanding over two lake systems. It would use 10.6 million litres of water per day and produce 50 million tonnes of radioactive tailings which they propose to store in a flood plain and creek drainage tunnel risking environmental and public health. Mr Cooke, a Ngaanyatjarra Elder explains the importance of this area to the men, “It’s a dog dreaming and we follow the songlines though that country”.
Yeelirrie (Cameco) would be a 9km long, 1km wide and 10m deep open pit mine using 8.7 million litres of water per day and generating 36 million tonnes of radioactive tailings. This mine site is unique as it holds endemic species of subterranean fauna. If this mine goes ahead it could mean the extinction of these species and therefore the WA EPA rejected the proposed mine as it goes against many objectives of the Environmental Protection Act. Never the less the state government gave its approval in a rushed decision soon before the state election. Shirley Wonyabong, Lizzy Wonyabong and Vicky Abdullah, Tjiwarl Native Title holders are strong and passionate Elders and are challenging the decision made by former Minister for the Environment, Albert Jacobs and the unlawful approval process in the Supreme Court of Western Australia. You can support these empowering women by donating to their case here: http://www.ccwa.org.au/yeelirriecourt
Mulga Rock (Vimy Resources) would consist of four open pits, consume 15 million litres of water per day and generate 32 million tonnes of radioactive tailings. This area is a part of the Seven Sisters song-line and a very important place for the Spinifex people of South Australia who were moved to that area as refugees during the British Atomic Weapons testing program in the 1950s.
What’s more is the undeniable decline in the entire industry. Ensuring a nuclear free future for WA gives statistics showing the uranium spot price to be at around US$20/lb (the price dropping around 40%). None of these mines would financially be able to produce uranium to be sold at that price- the break-even price for uranium at Mulga Rock is estimated at US$50/lb.
It’s no wonder the traditional owners don’t want these mines to go ahead, and given the terrifying history that Australia has of genocide and land-grabbing it’s utter madness that these people are still “charged with trespass by mining companies for walking onto [their] own land”. Factor this in with the extraordinarily destructive atomic history from accidents such Fukushima to the deliberate dropping of atomic bombs such as those on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the suffering still experienced by those effected by the testing of atomic bombs in rural parts of Australia by the British between 1952 and 1957. Not to mention the major issues which nuclear weapons are posing in our world today. It really is hard to believe that there are some greedy people who want to risk so many lives and natural beauty to allow this to go ahead.
During the walk many elders came and told to us their own personal stories. They shared their lives with us and shared their land with us. I felt so honoured to be walking on this land with these amazing people whose ancestors arrived over 60 000 years ago. It was obvious that this land is part of their soul, it is who they are and they feel that connection to ancestors, to country, to the dreaming when they come out and walk on that red sand.
As I mentioned, there are many different types of activism… to me this walk was more than just your normal lobbying and protesting. It was active on a whole other level. As we walked across the desert of Western Australia, we heard stories of the ancestors, of dreaming but also of massacres, rape and the trauma experienced by Indigenous Australians over the last 200 plus years and which is still continuing today. Their culture had been broken and in many ways so has the land but both are being fixed. As we lay each foot down we bring our spirit along and mend the land; its memories and history along with it. The Aunties, Shirley, Lizzy and Vicky are helping mend their culture, they are passing it down to a younger generation of wonderful children who already understand and love so much in their land.
As the global nuclear free movement grows, so too will the attention given to this land. It is in for a turbulent next few years, but no matter what any corporations, or selfish politicians say, there is no denying the dangers and outright absurdities of uranium. Too many people have been and will be hurt by nuclear weapons and nuclear power failures and many more in the future will be effected by radioactive waste that we are accumulating.
Here’s an idea to say no to uranium, leave it in the ground. Here’s an idea to say no to colonialism and exploitative western powers. This always has been, always will be Aboriginal land.