Earthdreaming a Nuclear Free Future

The country got a big powerBig energySomebody got to go back and say sorry to that country(Kevin Buzzacott - Arabunna elder)

Intriguing alliances developed in northern South Australia in 2000. Intercultural and inter-subcultural in nature, they unfolded in an undercurrent of events that were all part of the Earthdreaming. An inaugural technomadic festival mobilised around concerns for Aboriginal sovereignty and ecology, Earthdream2000 mounted creative resistance to local operations of the nuclear industry. With participants made aware of government acquiescence to an ever more negligent industry, setting dangerous precedents with grave consequences for both the environment and Indigenous peoples, through circumstances of design and fortune, Earthdream erupted into 2000 as a nascent vehicle of opposition.

Traveling the last few thousand kilometers of the old millennium, from May to September, a pilgrimage convoy spiraled up the guts of the continent. It was to be an irregular outback odyssey which would attract hundreds of people from over 20 nations as a party/protest juggernaut rolled north through the Flinders Ranges, Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Darwin and even East Timor. Several years in the planning, the expedition arose in the context of a growing eco-radical youth milieu committed to the celebration and defence of natural and cultural heritage, a mushrooming 'sound system' culture consisting of electronic musicians, engineers and performance artists converging in pro-active and inspirited techno-tribes, and a world Rainbow Gathering in northern NSW held earlier in 2000 attracting many international 'Rainbows' keen to continue their journey to a global chakra point, indeed that which is reputed to be the Earth's solar plexus - Uluru.

While it might be imagined that a cornucopia of pilgrims possessing diverse motivations and interests would precipitate division, a unity of purpose was achieved. While common predisposition towards principles of voluntarism, consensuality, self-determination and ecological sustainability may have laid the foundations for a sense of community, the strongest unifying factor lay in a common abhorrence for uranium. Well, not a dislike for uranium itself so much as outrage over its extraction. Indeed, popular opinion had it that, far from being malign, objectionable or evil, the mineral processed to fuel the world's atomic weapons programs and nuclear reactors, begetting horrendous calamities and intractable toxic legacies, is sacred. This is true so far as the mineral remains untouched, 'pure'; its unearthing a transgression of natural law, the violation of an environmental taboo - desecration. Uranium should not be tampered with, it must 'stay in the ground' - its disturbance, removal and milling presaging disaster and ruin. Such sentiments parallel those held by Aboriginal communities opposed to the wholesale disruption caused by biodevelopers, such as has been the case for the Mirrar who, in a well known struggle, have opposed the Jabiluka uranium mine operated by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. The cohesion between such a diversity of alternative lifestylers thus derives in part from their shared empathy with mining development beleaguered indigenes. And the inter(sub)cultural solidarity of opinion and belief produces effective alliances.

A cause engenders unity, and so far as the heterogeneous caravanserie of Earthdream neotribes is concerned, there is little doubt that their cause consolidated under the cultural authority of Aboriginal elders - notably Arabunna leader Kevin Buzzacott. Known as uncle Kev to hundreds of his 'adopted family', Buzzacott holds court on the southern edge of Lake Eyre South, a principal destination for eco-pilgrims committed to the rights of Aboriginal peoples and the environment. In the lead up to 2000, Buzzacott traveled widely inviting activists from all over Australia to the Arabunna Going Home Camp along the Oodnadatta Track 80km west of Maree, to join his ongoing struggle with WMC (Western Mining Corporation) which operates the world's largest copper-uranium mine at Roxby Downs (Olympic Dam) 180 kilometers to the south. WMC's growing demands on underground water sources in one of the driest regions on the planet has had a devastating impact on Aboriginal peoples (especially Arabunna and Kokatha) since such sources feed the precious springs around the Lake Eyre region essential for their cultural survival.

With bi-partisan government support and subsidies, WMC began producing uranium from Olympic Dam in 1988. An Amendment to the Roxby Downs Indenture Act, passed by the SA Labour government in 1997, gave the company control of Aboriginal Heritage over 1.5 million hectares of the state. In their quest to become the world's largest uranium producer, WMC thus gained state and federal backing to possess control over Aboriginal sites of significance, with the power to decide whether sites should be protected or not, without any obligation to consult with Aboriginal communities. So far as Aboriginal people are concerned, the story of WMC's Olympic Dam operation is a sorry tale of discrimination, neglect and manipulation. Indigenous peoples of the region need no reminding of their sudden introduction to the nuclear era - the disastrous effects of which they have long suffered. The Kokatha, along with Pitjantjatjara and other populations, were dispersed from the region of the mine in the 1950s as the British tested atomic weapons at Maralinga and Emu Fields and missiles at Woomera. As Moody has pointed out in The Gulliver File - Mines, People and Land: a Global Battleground (1992: 821), in 1979 the dispersal enabled WMC, and its early partner BP, to begin developing the Roxby Downs site with little opposition from original inhabitants.

Buzzacott's Going Home camp was established on 26 March 1999, to coincide with the official opening of WMC's $2 billion Olympic Dam Expansion Project - a project licensed to draw up to 42 million litres of water per day from the Great Artesian Basin. From his arid lands enclave Buzzacott has served several notices upon WMC to quit Arabunna land, sought court orders to compel government ministers to apply for Lake Eyre's World Heritage Listing, and has charged federal senators (including Environment Minister Robert Hill) and the Commonwealth of Australia, along with WMC CEO Hugh Morgan, with genocide (on September 1 1999, the Federal Court ruled that the crime of genocide did not exist under Australian law). Inspired by his determination, courage and wit, hundreds of human rights and environmental activists, nominated as Keepers of Lake Eyre (KOLE) have gravitated to the camp. KOLE formed in Adelaide in early 1999. On their web site, it is stated that Keepers are 'very recent additions to a long line of Custodians and Protectors of Lake Eyre', and that their goal is to 'support and further the upkeep of Arabunna Law, [which] demands the protection of Arabunna Country, Culture, Spirituality and People'

For much of its existence, the camp has operated under siege-like conditions. WMC is a powerful adversary - its officials and their solicitors using pastoral management legislation in an effort to undermine opposition to the Olympic Dam operation. In 1998, WMC obtained the pastoral lease upon which the camp has been established. This is Crown Land, and in accordance with the Pastoral Land Management and Conservation Act, Arabunna are permitted to enter, travel across or stay on the lease in order to pursue 'traditional' practices. Choosing to disregard the camp's status as Arabunna - activities within it authorised by Buzzacott himself - WMC had it bulldozed without warning in December 1999. This action was apparently carried out in response to the sizable non-Arabunna population of the camp, classified as 'trespassers' by WMC. Arabunna argue that 'caring for the land' is a primary traditional pursuit, and that they are entitled to invite non-Arabunna people to their camp to assist them in such practices. For Arabunna, the non-Arabunna 'trespasser' is in fact WMC. Kevin Buzzacott re-established the camp in March 2000. Though Keepers have been subject to what they regard as company sponsored intimidation, a WMC court injunction to evict Non-Arabunna from the camp was successfully challenged in July. In late 2000, the camp was bulldozed again.

Buzzacott is not the only elder in this story to persuade non-Aboriginal youth into the outback. In September 1997, Robin Cooke traveled inland to participate in ROXSTOP, a desert action and music festival at Olympic Dam. There, Cooke met Buzzacott, they traded visions, they formed an alliance. Cooke could be described as a scrapper-shaman - a pyro-techno artist who operates via a scrap-metal mediated re-enchantment principle. He is a founding member of industrial-sculpture collective Mutoid Waste Co which originated in London in 1983 and became well known for its 'car-henges' at Glastonbury and its post-wall installations in Berlin in the early '90s. It was in London in 1988 that Cooke envisioned a 'mega tribal gathering' in central Australia. Dubbed Earthdream, it would be an annual pilgrimage a foundation goal of which was to achieve 'reconciliation with Aboriginal people'. In accordance with Mayan calendar prophecies, this annual nomadic festival of awareness was conceived to reach its fulcrum on December 12, 2012. And it would begin with Earthdream2000, word of which traveled widely throughout the nineties as several small Earthdream dance parties were held in Victoria, and as a preliminary tour to Lake Eyre transpired for winter solstice 1999. In the lead up to 2000, via subterranean communication channels and over the internet, people were rallying to Cooke's call, ready to integrate his vision with their own. Traveling from overseas, sound systems, performance artists and other parties mapping Earthdream into their 'Rainbow Caravan' itinerary, would join local 'sonic mobs' Labrats, whose vegetable oil powered truck bears a solar and wind powered sound/cinema system, and Sydney's Ohms Not Bombs, a techno-anarchist outfit which toured the continent in 1998 for the Stop Jabiluka campaign and in 1999, took part in the Earthdream venture to Lake Eyre South.

Responding to the not-independent calls of Buzzacott and Cooke, in early May 2000, around 200 neo-pilgrims gravitated in an odd caravan of vehicles to Wilpena Pound in South Australia's Flinders Ranges. Wilpena was to become the initial staging ground for Earthdream2000's peaceful actions against the nuclear industry. Their first port of call would be an operation which, now all approvals are in place, will be the first new uranium mine in Australia for twenty years - Beverley (it will be the first new commercial mine to start up under the Howard Government which, following its electoral victory in 1996, scrapped Labour's notorious Three Mine Policy). Operated by Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd - a wholly owned Australian subsidiary of the US-based General Atomics Corporation - Beverley is located on Adnyamathanha land. Upon the invitation of senior Adnyamathanha representatives opposing the Heathgate/General Atomics operation, Earthdreamers made their way out past the Gammon Ranges and Lake Frome to the Beverley site. Over several days, a non-violent protest camp blockaded the main entrance to an operation which proposes to produce 1000 tonnes of uranium oxide (or U3O8) a year over 15 years employing the notorious acid In Situ Leach (ISL) technique. With full scale mining having begun in late November 2000 (and with the official opening scheduled for 19/2/01), Beverley will be the western world's first commercial acid ISL uranium mine. In this relatively low cost procedure, sulphuric acid solutions are pumped into the Beverley aquifer dissolving the uranium mineral into a solution which is drawn back to the surface where it is extracted and processed into yellowcake for exporting. With government approval, the waste acid solutions are discharged back into the aquifer which Heathgate is under no obligation to rehabilitate.

Earthdreamers learned that despite receiving final government approval in April 1999, grave concerns about the purported safety of the operation remain. Under what hydrogeologist Gavin Mudd describes as a 'veil of secrecy', the EIS process, mining trials and assessments were conducted without public consultation - enabling Heathgate to conduct an operation which failed to address 'fundamental questions about environmental and operational safety' (from his 1998 research report: An Environmental Critique of In Situ Leach Mining: The Case Against Uranium Solution Mining). Indeed, according to Australian Conservation Foundation officer David Noonan, speaking at the Nuclear Free Australia Forum in Melbourne, December 1998, the Beverley project was fast tracked with the state government pre-empting due process by refusing to 'release any of the relevant documentation or correspondence, or to comply with any Freedom of Information requests until after they had given their approval for the operation of the trial mine'. Acquiescing to commercial interests, public access to information was apparently refused on the grounds of 'commercial confidentiality'. Heathgate and another acid ISL operation proposed at Honeymoon 200 kms to the south, have failed to demonstrate or release data demonstrating that the acidic, heavy metal and radioactive pollution caused by acid ISL mining can 'attenuate' over time. Based on his review of operations using acid ISL - especially in the former Soviet Union where such operations have resulted in horrendous ground water contamination - Mudd informed me that these corporations "can't demonstrate such miraculous restoration by nature and hence they won't release their trial data". Furthermore, Beverley poses a risk of contaminating the continent's precious Great Artesian Basin with radioactive and heavy metal solutions. According to Mudd, such a proposal would not be accepted by regulators in the United States.

Earthdreamers also learned that, despite the region's significance to the Adnyamathanha community, they have not been properly consulted about the mine. Sidestepping the requirements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act (1998), Heathgate gained approval for its EIS without affording their representatives (the Flinders Ranges Aboriginal Heritage Consultative Committee) adequate consultation. Furthermore, in order to legitimate their operations, there are widespread reports that Heathgate manipulated and exploited divisions in the Adnyamathanha community, pressuring Native Title Claimants to sign off on agreements. Such circumstances had already led to an intercultural protest at Beverley in October 1999 - an occasion marking the end of the 1000 km Humps not Dumps trek undertaken by eight female cameleers.

During the Beverley blockade, over 30 people were detained for 'trespassing' on the mine lease - though most would claim that, under the invitation of Adnyamathanha elders, they were 'witnessing'. Most, including a Seven Network camera operator, were subject to the brutality of SA police special operations group Star Force - and, while being detained in a tight shipping container, subject to noxious welding gases and diesel fumes (police involved in the operation are subject to an investigation by the Internal Investigations Branch for report to the Police Complaints Authority). Helen Johnson, an 11 year old Adnyamathanha, was also pepper sprayed in the incident. All of this ensured national media coverage - indeed all the major networks arrived several days later to film Earthdreamers return to the site to engage in silent witness in solidarity with a large contingent of Adnyamathanha including the last surviving Wilyaru (initiated man), Artie Wilton.

Most Earthdreamers were fresh to the sight of Kevin Buzzacott at this blockade. His confrontation with Star Force officers at Beverley - where, with fire stick in hand, he attempted to 'make a fire for peace' - made a remarkable impression on everybody (the scene has been immortalised in the film documentary Emu Spew - the title alluding to Adnyamathanha Kelvin Johnson's story of a strangely sick emu coughing up yellow bile). Following a post-Beverley debriefing at a camp near the Adnyamathanha community of Nepabunna, Earthdreamers loosened their wheel chocks, and the rolling juggernaut made its way northwest to Buzzacott's camp near Lake Eyre South. From there, the growing convoy headed to Roxby Downs and the site of the largest uranium deposit on the planet. Blockading Roxby's Olympic Dam mine, protestors were informed of the controversial legacy of the mine - that it irradiates workers, its tailings dam has experienced serious leaks and that it is drying up precious springs on Arabunna land to the north, causing irreparable damage to sacred sites around the Lake Eyre region.

From May 21-24 2000, Earthdream mounted a symbolic blockade at a T-intersection near the main entrance to the mine complex. As the Labrats truck backed up on the main entrance to the mine on day one of the camp, the solar powered beats animated the carnival of protest fanning out ahead. Buzzacott was at the helm to exhort Hugh Morgan, via Richard Yeeles (SA Operations Manager of WMC), to cease an operation which according to Buzzacott is 'an invasion, robbing us of our right to life'. That afternoon saw the inaugural performance of the Half Life theatre company's anti-uranium road show Consider it Dug in front of the mine's gates. The hit 'edutainment' performance was repeated a few nights later for miners and Roxby citizens who were invited inside the blockade for a BBQ and, with the principal's permission, two days later at the town's primary school. The Blockade was a Reclaim the Streets style action resembling something akin to Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. With the Ohms not Bombs Peace Bus and the Labrats truck parked at opposite ends of the blockade, it was technomadic activism - a contemporary battle in a long running campaign for a nuclear free future.

After weeks of protest, the Earthdream convoy rumbled to Alberrie Creek just east of the Arabunna Going Home Camp where, upon the invitation of Arabunna, Robin Cooke and helpers had been raising a desert dance floor, replete with the fire-artistry and scrap-metal wizardry for which the Mutoid Waste Co is renowned. For Cooke, it was time to celebrate: 'lets have a corroboree, lets have a meeting, lets get on the ground and have a dance - something that must be deeply rooted in the genetic and racial memories of all peoples on earth'. Several sound systems converged for a three day party - an extended outback 'doof', which culminated in the winching of two Beechworth Baron light aircraft strapped together on the wing to form a towering 'Pi' monolith. Earthdream's 'portal' was now aloft.

From this desert stomping ground, many traveled back to the camp at Lake Eyre South where uncle Kev invited Earthdreamers, now 'Keepers', to walk to Sydney with him. Buzzacott had been planning his Walking the Land - for Our Ancient Right trek for peace and reconciliation. Back at camp he spoke of how the Mound Springs are integral to Arabunna culture and country, and that 'for Arabunna people, the loss of this unique arid land habitat is worse than the bulldozing of the cultural icon the Sydney Opera House'. With this comparison unfurled, Kev and his entourage headed east on the 10th of June, walking 3000 kilometers to arrive in Sydney in early September (in time for the Olympic Games). Promoting an awareness of the continuing threat to the physical and cultural survival of Arabunna and other Aboriginal communities, and of an urgent necessity for 'real reconciliation', he carried his own 'torch' - a fire stick lit from the Sacred Fire for Peace burning at the Going Home Camp.

While some walked with Buzzacott to Sydney, other pilgrims continued north to Coober Pedy - connecting with members of the local population opposed to the federal government's proposal to store low and intermediate level radioactive wastes in the Billa Kalina region (stretching from Coober Pedy to Maree to Woomera). Earthdreamers met with Coober Pedy People Against the Dump and the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta Aboriginal Corporation. The latter, a group of Arabunna, Yankunytjatjara, Antikirinja and Kokatha women with whom the young Humps Not Dumps cameleers had communed a year earlier, claim the proposed national waste dump (potentially accommodating waste the toxicity of which will survive the engineering integrity of the proposed facility by thousands of years) will eventually poison land and water - thus constituting the latest in a sinister queue of radioactive threats to their land and future. And Kevin Buzzacott?:

"Billa Kalina is our country. We have never ceded our sovereignty. Our sovereignty cannot be extinguished. Under our ancient Laws and international laws, we are the owners of this land and we will always oppose the Roxby Downs mine and the Radioactive Waste Dump at Billa Kalina". Keepers of Lake Eyre

For Keeper, Chris Littlejohn, Earthdream2000 was a 'tribal carnival of learning which set out to tour the spiritual heart of Australia'. Along this proto-expedition's trajectory, participants generated strong alliances with Aboriginal peoples (especially in opposing the uranium industry, yet other intercultural events transpired in Alice Springs, near Uluru, with Walpiri at Yuendamu and, eventually in East Timor where some Earthdream volunteers remain). Lasting friendships have been formed and the potential for future intercultural actions and celebrations is real. 2000 saw the kind of inter(sub)cultural solidarity Robin Cooke had envisioned as an underlying purpose of the pilgrimage when Earthdream was seeded 12 years ago. The unfolding of Cooke's 'mega-tribal' vision and the growth of Kevin Buzzacott's 'extended family', evidence a strong and creative ecological and Indigenous rights movement occupying the edges of Australian (and international) youth culture. Eco, rainbow and techno tribes joined forces in the journey to the centre of the continent. Out there, non-Aboriginal convoyagers underwent untold mutations. Sharing a commitment to celebrate and defend natural and cultural heritage, identifying with native landscapes and peoples, they became closer to country.

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