The Bat Attack: Where hundreds made history

Helen War

At 5am one morning in February, several hundred people stirred and rose from makeshift beds, piled into a convoy of cars and headed into the night to begin another chapter of the Leard Blockade. On this Sunday morning, whilst millions of stars still covered the sky, the protests of the Bat Attack began with a giant rally and people locking themselves to machinery. What followed was an epic week-long push to hamper Whitehaven Coal's bulldozing of the Leard State Forest for the new Maules Creek coal mine − a $767 million project that will emit approximately 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year.1

The climate movement in Australia has been making waves in the past few years, setting an international standard for peaceful direct action in the name of fighting unsustainable new projects that will fuel climate change. There is no better example than the Leard Blockade, a fluid community which has been taking on coal mine expansion in the Leard State Forest for more than two years. Among them are activists, farmers, Indigenous traditional owners and religious leaders − hundreds of people moved to take action to stop the destruction of this beautiful, critically endangered ecological community.2

The Leard Blockade was started in the Leard State Forest by Jonathan Moylan and Murray Drecshler in 2012, and moved around to multiple sites. And so, nestled in the hills of Maules Creek, a new satellite camp called "Kashmir" became host to the Bat Attack protestival from February 13−18, where skill-shares, poetry and music sang out alongside waves of protest and arrests.

Maules Creek is a community that has seen first-hand one of the most intense and enduring climate battles in Australia due to its proximity to Whitehaven Coal's new mine, with local farmer Cliff Wallace hosting the chaotic Frontline Action on Coal camp for over a year on his farm "Wando". It saw convergences of several hundred people at a time, with a steady flow of willing participants eager to intervene in the mine's construction. Despite weathering health issues and harassment from the local Narrabri Shire council, Wallace has become a beloved and stoic figure among the people of the blockade, who have witnessed first-hand his generosity, humour and unshakable character.

During the rally people had the chance to hear from Maules Creek local and Leard Forest Alliance spokeswoman Roslyn Druce, who spoke about the horror of living next door to a coal mine and the disastrous outcome of Whitehaven bulldozing endangered habitat. By the time the coal dust settled on February 15, the Bat Attack rally of hundreds had garnered extensive media coverage; the 12 people arrested3 had stopped clearing all day; and all of them had been processed, released, and rewarded with warm friendly smiles from the community back in camp Kashmir. By the evening, music was once again ringing out across the paddock, and once again, many heads were together to continue creative rolling resistance.

Over the following week, protests and music continued, with further road-blocks, protests, and peaceful arrests, with five people chaining themselves together with pipe locks to block access to the mine, alongside banners saying "Never Again".

And every night for six nights, when the activists trickled into camp after a long, hot day of direct action, the musicians kicked off and played through the night. It was a sight for inspiration, an experience unlike any other. Among the throngs of people, more than 60 acts and performers funded the journey to the blockade out of their own pocket from across the country.

At one point, drone guitar was the soundtrack whilst activists gathered together, discussing important details for the following day's protest. Skill-shares played out in one tent as people discussed the importance of Grassy White Box Woodland habitat in another. It was this magical combination that made Bat Attack special. In alignment with the Frontline Action on Coal creed of peaceful civil disobedience, creative resistance was seeded with generous and extensive support from a multitude of national artists, locals, poets, sound technicians, and enthusiasts. All working together to fight destructive coal mine expansion that has already destroyed a number of Indigenous heritage sites of great cultural significance.4

In the past 12 months, among the 350 people arrested are notable individuals including fifth-generation farmer Rick Laird, whose name was given to the Leard State Forest (with an eventual variation on spelling)5; former Wallabies captain David Pocock; Golden Guitar winner Luke O'Shea; and Maules Creek local Anne-Marie Rasmussen, who climbed into and occupied a tree-sit for over seven hours during Bat Attack. Every time another farmer, local, or scientist chains themselves to forest-clearing machinery, the cries come from mining bodies to jail "extremists" and "economic vandals".6

During the week there were also vigils in solidarity with Gomeroi traditional custodians, who have been refused entrance to their sacred and ceremonial sites for over 18 months. People gathered in support during Bat Attack when the Gomeroi people announced their intention to submit a stop-work order under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. It is a last-ditch attempt to save Lawlors Well, their last remaining sacred site within the mine lease that hasn't already been destroyed by Whitehaven Coal. It was a humbling experience that cemented the solidarity from the wider community with the Gomeroi people.

The Bat Attack was a celebration of defiance; a gathering of people committed to standing up and taking action for what is right, both at Maules Creek and around Australia. It was a remarkable slice of history, something to sing and dance about. From the engineers of Bat Attack radio to the citizens chained across the road, and the farmers of Maules Creek properties to the Indigenous sovereign owners, the Bat Attack was an incredible partnership of many communities.

Ten years ago it was considered folly to take on the coal industry, which was held up as one of the pillars of the wealthy Australian economy. For those who were there, Bat Attack was an empowering event demanding a smarter, sustainable future, showing the fortified resistance against destructive coal mining in Australia and the monumental change that is happening because of campaigns like the Leard Blockade.

Helen War is a Leard Forest Alliance spokesperson.

More information: www.frontlineaction.org

References:

1. Greenpeace, www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/climate/stop-the-maules-creek...

2. www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/box-gum.pdf

3. Rafferty, S. "Protesters lock on at Bat Attack", NBN News, 15 Feb 2015, www.nbnnews.com.au/index.php/2015/02/15/protestors-lock-on-at-bat-attack/

4. Talbott, D. "The Whitehaven Maules Creek sage: The Gomeroi People Respond", Mining Australia, 6 Feb 2014, www.miningaustralia.com.au/features/the-whitehaven-maules-creek-saga-the...

5. Coutts, S. "Things to do in the State Forest: Hiking, Camping, Coal Mining ..." The Gloval Mail, 23 Aug 2012, www.theglobalmail.org/feature/things-to-do-in-the-state-forest-hiking-ca...

6. Galilee, S. "Economic Vandals Must Be Jailed", 14 April 2014, www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/economic-vandals-must-be-jaile...

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/editions/123

</