The launch of the first Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp was a massive success with over 30 campaigners from across Australia and Aotearoa / New Zealand participating in the one week event out at Yeelirrie to support Traditional Owners who oppose uranium mining in WA.
Image: Yeelirrie Cross Roads, Photo: K-A Garlick
Building the Base ~ Red Earth, Big Skies
The first ever Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp that replaced this year's Walking for Country was launched at the end of September 2019 as a one week camp out on Tjiwarl country, or better known as the Goldfields region of Western Australia near the site of the proposed uranium mine.
The camp was a massive success, with over thirty interested and passionate people listening, learning and showing their support to the people of both Kalgoorlie and Leonora in their fight to stop uranium mining on their country.
For a week we travelled part of the proposed “nuclear freeway” between the Mulga Rock uranium project, Kalgoorlie and the proposed Yeelirrie uranium project diving into deep conversations about this deadly industry and the impacts it has had on other countries.
We packed over 30 people from Perth and around the country into the campaigns mini bus ~ named, the Bardi Bus, the kitchen truck, the water trailer land cruiser and convoyed with several other cars out of Perth on Saturday 28 September. Similar to the Walking for Country atmosphere with a well experienced crew and logistics knowledge, we started with the traditional early morning packing session.
The first night we spent in Kalgoorlie with our good friends and local hosts at the awesome Wongathu Birni Aboriginal Centre and welcomed by Anangu women, Debbie Carmody and joined by her sister Libby Carmody from Tjulma Pulka Media Aboriginal Corporation. Both Debbie and Libby have joined many walks all over the world with Footprints for Peace and reconnected this night with many of the walkers. Debbie and Libby have been standing up strong against the proposed Mulga Rock uranium project sharing many concerns they have of this project including stories of their strong culture and connection to land.
Image: Wongutha Birni Aboiginal Centre , Photo: K-A Garlick
Also joining us at Kalgoorlie, staunch Kokatha woman, Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine from Ceduna SA and her sister Sue Thiselton who have been long time activists about the suffering from the Maralinga bomb tests and advocating for a future without nuclear weapons. They joined to stand with the Tjiwarl aunties to stop the uranium mining leaving their country.
Leaving the following day we travelled a further 430kms to Sir Samuel to stay with Vicki Abdullah and family at the Bellevue Gold Camp that has been negotiated with some of the Traditional Owners of the area. It was an interesting and insightful stay, raising many questions for the group.
Image: Tjiwarl Country, Yeelirrie, Photo: K-A Garlick
A short drive the following day along the red earth unsealed roads towards Yeelirrie had us arriving before lunch to set up camp for the four nights we would be staying. In routine, from years of experience from the walking for country walks, we set up pretty much the same camp after a quick orientation. After lunch, we had a beautiful welcome to country by Tjiwarl woman, Vicky Abdullah and that evening Vicky shared her beautiful story as we sat around the fire.
This country has become very familiar to many of us that have returned year after year, for nearly 10 years to show our opposition to uranium mining in WA. For many of us it is a welcomed familiar feeling in which we feel at ease amongst the beautiful mulga trees, spinifex, red earth and big blue skies.
The following day we arise early for some coolness to walk to the gates of the Yeelirrie station. We have our annual classic group photo at the crossroads and then continue to walk the 1.5 kilometers in a gentle way. It feels great to walk. To stretch. To see the land. There are many conversations as we walk behind the Aboriginal flag leading the walkers to the gates.
Image: Gates of Yeelirrie, Photo: K-A Garlick
A campaign update was given at the gates about the proposed Yeelirrie uranium project, and a short campaign history from the Walking for Country, to Perth actions and the most recent the legal battle where the three Tjiwarl aunties, Shirley, Lizzie Wonyabong and Vicki Abdullah fought hard for over 2 and half years to save their country in a battle against the company, Cameco and the State Government. They are the true warriors. A great discussion and questions answered followed by photo’s at the gate.
The afternoon was filled with an excellent nuclear free snapshot from Aunty Sue, Gem Romuld from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and Mara Bonacci from the SA No Dump Alliance. In a conversation panel style snapshot, Lavanya from the 3CR Community Radio Station, Radioactive Show, Melbourne asked questions to the three presenters allowing for all of us to understand the many strong campaigns happening around Australia that connects the whole toxic nuclear industry that begins with uranium mining. The session reinforced the relevance of the journey and the need to keep the fight alive for an end to the atomic age.
The brilliant workshop from local Perth crew, Sam and Steven on the Quest of the Night Parrot ended at sunset over the road to show the potential habitat one might find a night parrot.
That evening again around the camp fire, we listened to the incredible personal story of Aunty Sue. The story that many people have not heard, a story where today people are still suffering from Australia’s secret nuclear testing. It was heart breaking and moving, and a powerful reminder of this deadly and toxic industry that we are truing to stop. Aunty Sue was born just before her families desert lands to the north were bombed by the deadliest weapon we know, in an extensive, secretive and devastating manner by the Australian and British governments in the 1950’s. Maralinga brought the poison to Aunty Sue and her family and to many others. She told of us of the invisible killer that she had experienced through grand daughters thyroid removals and the still born jelly babies born in her family.
“Anything to do with uranium mining and nuclear there is no winners, everybody loses. You can never feel guilty about what happen in the past, you can’t turn back time but you can work together for a better future”.
We said goodbye to Aunty Sue, Susan and Steven who were making the 1800 km drive to return home to their families and to their campaigns. It was so awesome to have Aunty Sue join us and give strength to the aunties. They shared bush medicine and gave gifts. But the biggest gift was the connections and the love they had for each other and their country.
Aunty Sue brought with her, the reminder to us all of the STOP sign that sits out at Yeelirrie Station. The stop sign is saying to the world, stop us let the world know that they (the companies) are locking us out of our own country. The women here are locked out of their own country. Some miners and governments are putting these stop signs up here. These companies and governments have only come in lately these people have been here for ever and they don’t have the right to go behind this sign without some-one saying so.
Image: Aunty Sue, Vicki and Lizzie at gates of Yeelirrie
After our goodbyes, we headed out to good allies and local station holders, Colin and Marilyn from Youono Downs. Marilyn had invited all of us to come over and take showers and cool off in the oasis of their Station. After a delightfully refreshing sprinkler system cool off we settled in to listen to Marilyn and Colin’s concern of the uranium mine project. As they have been fighting for many many years, they also had many many stories to share! We cooled off in the heat of the day as we listened and asked many questions.
The drive of just under an hour from Youno Downs to the camp, gave all of us great detail to the landscape and the terrain in which to prepare our campaign strategy. Over the evening coolness and surrounding the fire we heard the great stories from Bilbo Taylor with his incredible experience of remote blockading. From stories to strategies we listened to the dangers, the rewards, the creative and fun ways of remote blockading. For many years, Uncle Kev, Bilbo and others kept a constant vigil on BHP Billiton – Olympic Dam uranium mine.
We had covered a lot of ground over the last few days, both in a physical sense but also with a ton of information sharing. Thursday was our last full day at Yeelirrie that pulled all of what we had heard and seen together. Again, starting early we revisited the core themes of the camp, held a short information campaign discussion, introduced the idea of the timeline, broke off into smaller working groups and did a report back on each group – all by 10.30am! During our 4 hour siesta a few of us worked on the working groups and each groups idea to the question on “what are effective ways to grow support when the threat is not imminent?”
Acknowledging the long fight ahead there is a fierce resistance and boundless hope amongst the group as we deepened relationships to each other and country and formed working groups with our passions and skills. We came away with six working groups, Communication, Outreach, Creatives, Fundraising, Resources and Spokes group. In the afternoon, we broke off into the working groups to talk about the ideas shared, and where they would fit into the timeline. A spokesperson was nominated and from here a national phone link up will be created to report back on each of the working groups. It was an exciting afternoon to see awesome ideas and people around the country able to support the aunties and the community to protect their country and stop uranium mining at Yeelirrie.
It was hot and the flies were tremendous. Each day we looked towards the sun setting, and the spectacular sunsets welcomed in the cool night for some few hours of relief. The harshness of the sun was felt and we wised up to the idea of siesta’s in the afternoon, for not just one hour but many hours on some days.
We had truck and car problems, we had limited water access and we had hospital emergencies. We had flies, we had the heat. We had challenges, but they were all part of the deeper experience to come away stronger and more resilient to fight on. We have a richness in this campaign that is from the connection to people and connection to this country. We have built a solid base and this will continue to slowly build should we need to fight by blockading. People are preparing themselves for the long fight. The slow burning campaign.
Our three core themes for the camp, considering a 10 year campaign strategy, Yeelirrie blockade and active campaigning now, were all addressed during the week and clear outcomes achieved. We have started to build the base of supporters from the massive success of the 8 year walking for country and actions around the State already, the camp clearly identified strong support and campaign strategies. Working groups formed and ideas formulated, we are active. The most important part of the whole camp is that the aunties were delighted to see everyone and to see the support is strong for the future.
Red earth deep in our pores, the landscape etched in our minds, relationships deepened, we leave feeling satisfied to stand with the Tjiwarl women and community that tirelessly fight to stop uranium mining on their country. We stand as one, we stand together to protect country, to look after country.
The camp was created to bring campaigners from around Australia to show solidarity with the Traditional Owners and provide a unique opportunity to learn more about the land, the people and the proposed uranium industry in WA. It was an education, of the land, of the struggles faced by Aboriginal people and a snapshot into what happens out in remote communities when the city isn’t watching. The Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp was a temporary community that learnt to get along, to work collectively and unravel patriarchal patterns in the way we function day to day. While travelling thousands of kilometers we shared information, ideas and conversation. The camp is one way we grow the movement, maintain connections across vast distances, spark wild ideas and fortify ourselves for the next steps. Build the base and bring it on!
See the video here!
K-A Garlick is a CCWA’s nuclear free campaigner and was one of the organisers for the 2019 Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp.