Whitehaven’s Folly: Devastating the Leard Forest
The edge of the forest has changed immensely. Picking through the trees in the night, a blaze of light illuminates the valley and the sky above, dimming the stars in the once brilliantly clear night sky. Ominous clanks and rumbles echo up from the valley floor where once all was silent.
Approaching the familiar bush valley I once meandered through in the sunshine, I am gripped by a sense of unease at a line of bunting and some bare earth. Moments later, the shadows reveal a series of massive loose dirt shelves leading down into the darkness. As we cautiously slide down, a graded road appears at the bottom before another enormous dirt slope on the far side. Following the road along between high dirt cliffs, the landscape is alien and surreal. I had hoped to recognise some familiar point of reference, but all has been obliterated for the railway cutting that will ship Whitehaven’s coal to port.
We follow the cutting in the dark, looking for a place to cross over, but the sheer dirt embankments loom in the darkness. It is some five hundred metres before it is possible to escape the cutting and regain the forest. To the creatures of the forest it must be a long and dangerous crossing, fully exposed to predators and lacking familiar tracks and signs.
Away in the bush on the hill we stop for a rest. A small bat-shaped shadow swooshes by my face, drawn by the gathering insects. There is plenty of life left in the Leard.
As the sun rises we set out to try to find some familiar ground. A series of hills rise from the forest and offer glimpses of the surrounding landscape. It was on one of these hills that I captured imagery of the surrounding forest in late 2013 before the Maules Creek project began:
Picking our way through the bush, small glimpses of the project were visible through the trees. As we approached the hill it became apparent that finding the exact spot I had stood upon previously would be an impossible task. Where previously a grassy bush track had wound through light vegetation, there was now a rocky platform, devoid of life.
Edging my way forwards until I could see beyond the ridge, I was stunned by the extent of the damage to the forest. Below the hill huge earthworks and roads had been gouged from the slope, and a distant excavator sat squat and heavy in the middle of what had until recently been forest. Vehicles raced about and a field of explosive charges could be seen where the mine was ready to annihilate the delicate structure of the soil and turn it into a heap of blasted overburden. It was nearly impossible to reconcile what lay before me with what I had previously known.
We retreated from the bare hilltop and into the forest, skirting around the edge of a vast new pit. A few indigenous heritage sites were identifiable by the bunting around them, along with the habitat trees with sprayed on ‘H’s.
Racing vehicles and massive excavators raised huge plumes of dust as they set about tearing the raw coal from beneath the Earth, shaking the ground beneath us. Though I had walked this forest before, the erasure of previous landmarks and forest edges made it seem a new and strange place.
The never ending rumble of machinery, the blaze of lights in the night sky, and the complete destruction of soil and vegetation spell ecological disaster. This mine has only just started operation. If it is allowed to continue it and the neighbouring Boggabri mine will destroy over half of the forest, along with the creatures that reside there.
There is still plenty of life left in the Leard though, with over 85% of the forest remaining. This February people from all over Australia will converge on the Leard for a week of creative non-violent direct action at the Bat Attack. Will you be one of them?