Anti-uranium Walk for Country in WA

Chain Reaction #115, August 2012, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/editions/115

Western Australia's anti-uranium mining campaign stepped up a notch in May when we heard news of EPA approval of Toro Energy's proposed uranium mine at Wiluna. It's not a time to sit around and commiserate however; it's a long way from a dodgy approval to a dangerous mine.

Time to think about using our strengths − inspiration, solidarity, commitment and community – to turn things around. 'Walkatjurra Walkabout – Walking for Country' is an example of peaceful action that will support indigenous voices speaking out against the mines and strengthens the WA anti-uranium mining campaign.

Walkatjurra Walkabout is a celebration of Wangkatja country, a testament to the strength of the community who have fought to stop uranium mining at Yeelirrie for over 40 years, and a chance to come together to share our commitment to a sustainable nuclear-free future.

Kado Muir, a Traditional Owner from Yeelirrie elaborates: "Walking for country is to reconnect people with land and culture. The Walkatjurra Walkabout is a pilgrimage across Wangkatja country in the spirit of our ancestors so together, we as present custodians, can protect our land and our culture for future generations.

"My people have resisted destructive mining on our land and our sacred sites for generations. For over 40 years we have fought to stop uranium mining at Yeelirrie, we stopped the removal of sacred stones from Weebo and for the last 20 years we have stopped destruction of 200 sites at Yakabindie. We are not opposed to responsible development, but cannot stand wanton destruction of our land, our culture, and our environment."

The walk will be led by the Walkatjurra Rangers, in partnership with Footprints for Peace, Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia and the Conservation Council of Western Australia.

The Walkatjurra Ranger group provides opportunities for indigenous community members to undertake cultural maintenance activities, for youth to learn and for elders to promote their culture to others, and to develop opportunities for training and livelihoods based on cultural enterprises. Ranger group activities also provide inspiration in the community for cultural expressions through art projects by allowing access to country and traditional lands.

The seed of this walk was sown in 2011 when Footprints for Peace organised a 10 week, 1250 km walk from Wiluna to Perth. It was a "Walk away from Uranium Mining" in solidarity with Aboriginal people to push for a ban on uranium mining in Western Australia.

Since the Barnett government of WA lifted the ban on uranium mining in 2008, a number of mines have been proposed, and there are now approximately 140 companies with uranium interests in WA. Lake Way, near Wiluna, is the only proposal with EPA approval, two more proposed mines are engaged in state EPA approvals, followed closely by another two proposals that are advancing their exploration programs. Yeelirrie is the site of a proposed BHP mine, and within 100 km are both Toro energy's project at Lake Way, just out of Wiluna, and Mega Uranium's project at Lake Maitland. No mines have full state government approval yet.

The Lake Way proposal would comprise of an open pit 30 kms from the town of Wiluna. Under Toro Energy's proposal, tonnes of radioactive mine waste would be left in an open-air dump, while radioactive ore would be transported nearly 2,700 kms through Leonora, Kalgoorlie, Norseman and other communities. Toro claims the mine will create 350 jobs over its 14 year life (though the fine print in the company's documentation suggests a far smaller workforce). There will also be plenty of work for the next 100,000 years dealing with the tailings and contaminated water created by the mine. It's not clear who will pay for this work, but let's assume that Toro Energy does not plan to cover those costs. Otherwise uranium mining would be frightfully uneconomical for them.

The push to keep WA uranium mine free is heightened as we witness what is happening in South Australia. BHP Billiton is planning to expand the Roxby Downs uranium mine to become the world's largest, creating mountains of unsecured radioactive and toxic tailings and consuming millions of litres of precious water every day, stolen from surrounding Arabunna and Kokatha land. The company's activities at the mine have destroyed Aboriginal scared sites, including drying up or reducing flow to precious Mound Springs fed by the Great Artesian Basin. It's time BHP Billiton listened to the Aboriginal people whose land they are digging up, and respect their opposition in WA and South Australia.

It will be a lot easier to stop the mines before they begin and we invite your support. Kado Muir says: "We invite all people, from all places, to come together to walk with us, to send a clear message that we want the environment here, and our sacred places left alone."

You can join the walk from Yeelirrie to Leonora for a few hours, a day, a week or the whole month from August 20 to September 14. It's a community affair, drug and alcohol free and kid friendly. We'll be walking 10-15 km a day with a support vehicle carrying our gear and a kitchen truck with food and water on board. Everyone contributes what they can to cooking, cleaning and camp set-up.

If you cannot join us in person, you can help out with financial donations and in kind support – visit the website for details on how to donate or have a look at our wish-list at www.walkingforcountry.com. Contact us at walking4country@gmail.com

And talk to people about the threat of uranium mining in WA and elsewhere − better active today than radioactive tomorrow!