All in a days work
Its only just after lunch here right now, everyone is settling in for the day at Yeerlirrie, and we have already achieved so much. We got up at 6am for an early morning media photo opportunity outside the entrance to Lake Way, site of toxic Toro’s proposed uranium mine, just a few kilometres up the road from Wiluna. We made a bit of spectacle of ourselves, chanting, waving flags, holding our banners and putting a big CLOSED sign across the gate. Hopefully it’ll make for some good TV. Then back in the bus and on to Yeelirrie, to start our walk from the entrance to BHP’s stalled project there. Here we met the two camels who are joining us for the walk. They are beautiful looking creatures, with long lashes, and as we discovered enjoyed finishing off our apple cores. More filming, more photos, flag waving and banners as we took our first steps, led by Traditional owner Kado Muir and his father, Peter Muir. Kado has been the driving force behind Walkatjurra Walkabout, and it was a great blessing and privilege to walk with him and his father on our first day. At our first camp, an easy 3 kiilometres down the road (breaking the new walkers in gently). Kado told us a bit about Yeelirrie, and its significance to his family. We learnt too about his parents battle to stop a nickel mine on the ranges close by in the 90s, which one of the more well known walkers, Jo Vallentine, had been involved in. Together they had been successful, an inspiration and valuable lesson for us walkers.
A Puppy called Wiluna Rec Centre
The day before everyone was getting to know each other, and their way around the camp – kitchen truck, cooking fire, and of course, the infamous toilet pits. We were camped at North Pool, 10 kilometres up the Canning Stock Route from Wiluna, and another 11 kilometres down a very bumpy dirt road. This road was roaming ground for both cattle and kangaroos and Laura did an amazing job driving everyone in and out of the camp site (twice!) in a bus borrowed from the Great Walk Network, while Bilbo had the truck keys at the ready to get the kitchen truck out at the first sign of rain. He wasn’t going to let it get bogged in the mud, with such a important task ahead of it – carrying out food and water for three and a half weeks in the desert.
After an epic 2 hour circle for introductions and camp info, we made lunch and sat down to eat. We packed down almost all the camp in the afternoon, in preparation for the early start in the morning and headed into Wiluna for a community meeting with Gavin Mudd, water specialist and Senior lecturer of Civil Egineering at Monash University, Melbourne. Gavin shared his expert knowledge in an interesting and understandable presentation about the lack of success of water rehabilitation at old uranium mine sites. Sadly, it seems ‘world class practice’ doesn’t mean much in Australia. If any of the past efforts (or lack of) of mining companies to clean up sites, there is not much hope for the fulfilment of the legal requirement that radioactive tailings are secure for at least 10,000 years, let alone the 4.5 million years these tailings are likely to stay radioactive.
After Gavin’s talk we had a BBQ with some of the locals, before heading off on the bumpy trip home for an early night. But not before we were joined by our 35th walker, a puppy called ‘Luna, who won the hearts of us and volunteered to escort us on a walk the next day.
Two days on the road
The night before (Tuesday) the group from Perth had rolled into camp after two days on the road. We were very ready to get out and stretch our legs by the end of the journey, and thankful to those who went ahead with the Kitchen truck and had started setting up camp for us.
On Monday night, we had the comfort of Wongutha Birni to rest our weary bones, hosted by Geoffrey Stokes and Christine Jeffery-Stokes. They gave us a warm welcome and told us about the Wongutha Birni centre and Geoffrey’s country. They also explained a little of the situation at Coonana community, where an aboriginal community, who owns their own land, are having services cut – denied accessible food and health care – in an attempt to force them to give up their land, which includes a uranium deposit known as Mulga Rocks. It was a disturbing story and clearly a community in need of support to resist the push for profit over people, forcing a radioactive legacy on an unwilling community and denying their right to maintain a life on the land.
As I write this, it seems a long long time ago since we were standing at the East Perth Station, meeting new walkers and reconnecting with old ones. Here amongst the Spinifex, red earth and quiet (aside from the sound of the wind, carrying laughter and children singing from the other side of camp), the big city and noise is a distant memory. Lets hope our actions will help can keep this quiet…