Its been nearly two weeks since we head out from Fremantle after an awesome event at the Fremantle Town Hall on the Thursday August 3rd.
The crew this year consists of people from all over Australia, Aotearoa/NZ, USA, Canada, Taiwan, Germany, Denmark. We travelled up with some of the Traditional Owners who had joined us at the event in Fremantle and picked up Mr Glen Cooke in Kalgoorlie as we stayed at Wongatha Bini.
We had a few days camping on the Yeelirrie road and explained what the proposal is from Toro Energy to mine uranium at this sacred site before we began our first day walking.
(the below is taken from a report put together by Mia Pepper available on the CCWA website. Download full report here)
(At the gates of Toro)
Toro Energy – ASX: TOE
4 shallow open pits across two lake systems
Proposed consumption of 10.6 million litres of water per day
Proposed generation of 50 million tonnes of radioactive tailings
“It’s a very important place to the men, the men around the western desert. It’s a dog dreaming and we follow the songline through that country. That country is important for all men.”
Mr Glen Cooke Ngaanyatjarra elder.
The Wiluna uranium project is just 18km from the town of Wiluna and expands over two lake systems and over 100km. The project includes four uranium deposits – Lake Way, Centipede, Millipede and Lake Maitland. The project would involve carting uranium ore from the different mine areas to a central processing facility near the Centipede and Millipede sites. The project would produce up to 50 million tonnes of radioactive tailings that would be stored in mined out pits on the edge of Lake Way in a floodplain and in the drainage channel of a creek. The company’s studies of hydrogeology, hydrology and geochemistry were all heavily criticised in Peer Reviews submitted as part of the environmental assessment. The planned emplacement of 50 million tonnes of long-lived radioactive mine waste in a floodplain poses a major risk to the environment and public health.
The project is run by Toro Energy, a small and unproven company that has insufficient financing to develop the project. In its 2015-16 financial report Toro reported a loss of $52 million and a total debt/liability of $12 million ($10 million to the Cayman Islands based Sentient Group). Oz Minerals, a 21% shareholder in Toro has referred to Toro as ‘a tiny company’ and ‘a non-core asset.’ Canadian company and former owner of the Lake Maitland project, Mega Uranium, has a 20% stake in the company and the Sentient Group holds 18%. In 2016 Toro Director Vanessa Guthrie and other senior executives and board members resigned and departed from the company.
Wiluna is Toro’s flagship project. A key concern given the depressed commodity price and uncertainty over Toro’s capacity is that a mine that is not feasible is pushed through then fails, leading to the premature closure of the mine and the myriad of environmental and economic problems that a premature closure would cause the Government and tax-payers.
During the initial assessment of the proposal the then WA Minister for Mines Norman Moore, stated in Parliament that this mine would have to post 100% of mine closure costs in bonds. The company continues to not release estimated closure costs. Following the introduction of the Mining Rehabilitation Fund there has been no further commitment to assure 100% mine closure bonds despite the significant and unresolved economic and environmental risk and exposure associated with this company and project. Further, there are no bonds for the rehabilitation of the exploration site which, given the company’s finances and the current market, poses a liability to the Government and tax payers.
Four days later we arrived at Yeelirrie and were joined by Aunty Lizzy and Aunty Shirley who are the local Traditional Owners and part of the Supreme court action launched together with the CCWA and the EDO.
(the below is taken from a report put together by Mia Pepper available on the CCWA website. Download full report here)
(At Yeelirrie station)
Open Pit – 9km long, 1km wide, 10 m deep
Proposed consumption of 8.7 million litres of water per day
Proposed generation of 36 million tonnes of radioactive tailings
“Yeelirrie in my language means place of death. My old people told us we’re not allowed to mess with it… don’t even go into that area. I am happy that while that uranium is in the ground it is safe, I’m concerned what’s it’s going to do when it comes out of the ground. Now if it’s going to start affecting people in another country, destroying their lives like at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Maralinga, I’m concerned about that, because that’s my country that could be doing that.”
Richard Evans – Koara Elder
Yeelirrie is part of the Seven Sisters dreaming and has many important cultural sites, all are under threat from the proposed uranium operations. Yeelirrie is 100% owned by the Canadian company Cameco, who bought the project from BHP in 2013. BHP acquired Yeelirrie from WMC who operated a trial mine at the site in the 1970’s and subsequently left behind unfenced radioactive mine tailings for over two decades.
Many Wongutha families have fought against mining at Yeelirrie for more than forty years and have presented a consistent and strong position against uranium mining plans. In December 2016 the Tjupan and Tjiwarl people of the Wongutha nation had Native Title recognised over Yeelirre. See Narrier v State of Western Australia  FCA 1519 .
Neighbouring pastoralists from Youno Downs stations who run a cattle station to the North West of Yeelirrie have been vocal opponents of the mine since the ban on uranium mining was lifted. They are most concerned about the impacts on drawing down water from their bores and the impact of wind and dust storms that could impact on cattle and on their health.
Yeelirrie is home to a unique population of subterranean fauna. There are eleven species that have only ever been identified in the impact area of the proposed mine. The WA EPA recommended the project be rejected as the project could cause the extinction of these species and therefore was inconsistent with objectives under the EP Act – including the Precautionary Principle, the Principle of the Conservation of Biological Diversity and Ecological Integrity and the Principle of Intergenerational Equity.
Despite the EPA recommendation to reject the project the WA Environment Minister gave the project a rushed approval just weeks before the State election. The Minister cited economic and job opportunities as a reason for not accepting the clear EPA recommendation against mining. However, the current market conditions are prohibitive to new mines and Cameco has recently and dramatically reduced its uranium expectations and capacity in WA, including through writing down the full value of the Kintyre project and recalling its head of Australian operations.
An update from one of the Walkers (Nick our local stand up comedian)
It’s been 7 or 8 or 6 days so far. i can’t really tell. Time is measured in the various meals that have been cooked. Yesterday was Mexican bean dish day. It was a good day. Perhaps the best day so far. Maybe in our tribes personal history books- which will be nothing more than a few words inscribed in ash on some overcooked tortillas – it will be crowned as ‘Mexican Bean dish day’. Perhaps we will have a commemoration parade, waving flags bearing an emblem of a single bean wearing a sombrero with a single tear – which will be actually be just a smaller bean – sliding down it’s sweaty, red-dust streaked bean cheek.
Out here there is no mobile phone reception, no ipads, no technology, no trappings of modern civilisation, nothing. It’s great. I can finally hear the voice of silence in my head. It tells me to go check my Facebook page. Then i realise that i don’t have any wifi out here so i tell the voice of silence in my head to shut the hell up. Sometimes it gives me the silent treatment. Sometimes it doesn’t listen and starts yapping away again and i have to tie a message written in ash on an overcooked tortilla, telling it to shut the hell up, to the foot of an adolescent goanna caught in my bean bait trap and pray that a wedge tailed eagle will pick it up and drop it in the next urban area, several hundred miles away into the hands of someone who hopefully knows me and my Facebook password so they can log into my page just to make sure that no one actually really honestly gives a shit about what i am exactly doing at that present moment, whenever the hell that is anyway. Fingers crossed they get the message, but i won’t hedge my bets. After all, it is illegal to gamble on Mexican Bean Dish day. Punishment is death by fly-based irritation.
At night we sit in circles, underneath the spectacularly luminous milky way. I can actually see the outer arm of the larger cosmic superstructure which our solar system is a part of. All sorts of cliched feelings of how small and insignificant we really are swarm my brain like tiny little crying beans raining from the heavens on Mexican Bean dish day. Okay, okay i get it, enough about Mexican Bean dish day already I hear you whisper into my jalapeno salsa. But one can’t help but feel like we are doing exactly what the indigenous mob and their ancestors used to for so many millennia previously. Walking, eating, sharing our stories, with only the land, the fire and the star as our witnesses. Exactly like how the ancestors used to do it. I mean obviously, we have like cars, cameras, a support truck and mad cans of Mexican beans, but other than that, pretty much like them. By day we walk down red dirt paths, across endless, uninhabited vistas stretching from horizon to horizon, sporadically dotted with mulga and spinifex, tracing the countryside the ancestors used to live on and live off, the same territories that the mining companies now want to turn into uranium mines. Uranium mines that will create shit tons of nuclear waste that will shit up the world even further than it already is, uranium mines that will perhaps even help build nuclear weapons that will kill us all one day. Good work humanity, real smart move you assholes.
Meanwhile we watch flocks of emerald green budgerigars careening overhead, swiftly propelled by high velocity winds, unaware of the precariousness of the land they call home in whatever weird high frequency bird language they use. There is a bird and technology based pun i could put in at this point involving twitter but i was told to keep this blog brief and to the point so i won’t bother. This is the first time i ever seen budgerigars in the wild. They look a lot better than the ones you usually see in the cages. Were the people who decided it was a good idea to jail these wild and free beings in tiny cages and then sell them for money, the very same people who decided it was a good idea to dig up nuclear chemicals from the land? Will you heartless bastards stop at nothing? How much suffering is enough for you, Christ you make me sick. Sorry. I got carried away a bit there, but then again i have been walking face first into the endless, blinding hot sun for the past eight days. I had a bucket shower yesterday. Never realised how little water one can have a wash in. Keep having dreams of swimming in the ocean, of having long showers that go on forever. I have so much dirt on me at times, that even the dirt on my skin has dirt on it. I predict soon it will gain some form of sentience and begin controlling me, the country seeping into my pores and sinking into the core of my being, finally, fully connected to the land. Soon i will be more red dirt than man, like some kind of desert golum, and then i will find these mining CEO’s and seek revenge, taking them down one by one, choking them to death in my red dirt fist chokehold, laughing clouds of oxidised dust into their faces as they beg for mercy. I will show them no mercy. Oops, sorry got carried away again.
Did i mention that i have been taking in a lot of sun the past few days? How do we stop this scourge of human greed tearing up the planet for short term gain? I don’t know, but i got a lot of time to think about it for the next three weeks, walking and being on country, but i guess we are all doing it right now, building community from the ground up. Linking with each another, sometimes to eat Mexican beans in the dirt together as one. I’m an immigrant that’s been living on this land for 35 years now and never bothered connecting to the original caretakess of this land.
Now I’m sweating like a pig in a sauna with them and a whole bunch of people from all walks of life, stinking up the whole joint, like some kind of post apocalyptic mad max survivor tribe, wandering the desert, learning firsthand from the elders about the stories behind the land, about the mining and land rights situation that often do not get much media attention. With our faithful leader Moses, i mean Marcus, i can now really say how much I relate to how the jews felt wandering around the desert for forty years. But unlike the jews, we already have our promised land, it’s the ground right under our feet that the mining corporations are trying take from us, it’s every square inch of virgin earth that has yet to be exploited by the demons that run amok within our species. But there is some kind of furtive hope in the air. Why just the other day, Moses, i mean Marcus told us he had even seen a burning bush, but i worked out what he was really talking about what was the eponymous cigarette dangling from the edge of his lips. It’s not much of a sign but still, it’s a sign nonetheless, a sign that perhaps one day what we are doing will turn into something bigger than all of us, something that perhaps one day will be even bigger than the 100th annual Mexican Bean Dish Commemoration parade day. The march continues.
More updates coming soon…