Lizard's Revenge (Part 2): Roxby Downs and the call to the desert

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The Lizard's Revenge Festival had the primary aim of shutting down BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium mine through awareness raising and education, while also showcasing the use of renewable clean energy technology, writes Ruth Forsythe.

[Read Part One: 'Mining doom heralds clean energy boom for Australia']

Many people asked me, when I arrived home, what had been the point of attending the Lizard's Revenge Festival on 14th and 15th of July 2012 at Roxby Downsin South Australia.

They weren’t alone in their incredulity, Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch spoke out angrily to the rural press during the event, calling it ‘ridiculous revenge’ — arguably upset that her city was short staffed, as hundreds of police resources were deployed from across the state to Roxby Downs.

She basically said that the protest against the expansion was equally as stupid as the use of police resources and
“…that nothing that they have done or will continue to do can alter the situation."

The comments by Joy Baluch are unsurprising, given the power and the history of the Goliath company known as BHP Billiton[1] and the full support it is given by both the Federal and South Australian Governments, operating as it does under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act of 1982 which grants BHP exemptions from the native sovereignty, public disclosure, environmental impact and water preservation laws that govern, and apply to, all other companies.

Conversely, Festival participant and freelance writer Brett Stokes said that he attended because he wanted to help in sending a message to a lot of people and get some change in the directions that we are heading as a civilisation. He sums up the reasons very well in his article entitled “Why I am going to Lizard’s Revenge”.

Brett explains:
'We live on a small planet so anything that happens anywhere to do with nuclear proliferation or the expansion of the nuclear power industry affects all of us. It increases the level of poisonous nuclear pollution we all have to deal with when we breathe and when we eat and when we drink water.

'I see Roxby Downs and the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine as being very symbolic, and a battlefront, a place where we can make a statement and say “this has got to stop - it just makes no sense.'
The Festival follows decades of peaceful non-violent campaigns led by Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, an Aboriginal elder from nearby Arabunna countryalong with senior Kokatha custodians to protect their traditional lands from the continuing destruction, environmental contamination and exploitation of the water from the Great Artesian Basin for the BHP Billiton owned Olympic Dam uranium mine.

Since the Festival, major decisions by BHP Billiton include the statement in August to the SA government that the expansion to create the largest open pit[2] uranium mine on the planet would be indefinitely delayed and then followed by a September 26 request by BHP to the SA government for an extension to complete revised plans which would involve extracting the minerals by leaching them out of crushed ore until October 2016.

As mentioned in part one, 'Mining doom heralds clean energy boom for Australia', BHP's decision-making processes appear to be solely underpinned by mere profit considerations and the Australian Aboriginal custodians perspective is glaringly absent from corporate, government and media reportage of the issues.

Kokatha elder Eileen Wingfield said that:
Many of our food sources, traditional plants and trees are gone because of this mine. We worry for our water: it’s our main source of life. BHP never consulted me or my families; they select who they consult with. Many of our people have not had a voice. We want the mine stopped now, because it’s not good for anything."

The decision for me to drive the 5,500 kilometre round trip was a heartfelt one made in response to an invitation to come to the desert from enigmatic and charismatic Arabunna elder Uncle ‘Kev’ Buzzacott:
Sleeping underneath the ground there is an old lizard, Kalta the sleepy lizard.
The lizard ain’t so sleepy any more,
BHP is mining right into that lizard’s body.
Kalta is angry and wants revenge.
Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzcott is calling the
people of the world to help the lizard shut down the mine.
He is calling for the people to come and heal the land in the name of peace and
Justice for the next 10,000 generations to come.
The land, the lizard and the creatures of the earth are summoning everyone who cares to the gates of Roxby Downs.
Come and be involved in the creation of this autonomous zone
for the peace and healing of this land.
Uncle Kev, like many notable Australians, has a higher profile on the world stage than among the general Australian populace. For instance, in 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Nuclear Free Award in Ireland where he was subsequently invited to travel and speak with concerned citizens across Europe.  He is also a custodian of the largest body of water in the driest state in the driest continent in the world; this body of water is 144 km long and 77 km wide, and is commonly known as Lake Eyre ― its original name is Kati Thanda.

Although Kati Thanda only totally fills up on an average of  4 times per century, the surrounding waterways and mound springs enabled the Arabunna to thrive in the desert and has provided a breeding ground for dormant marine creatures (that multiply in the wet) and hundreds of thousands of migratory waterbirds over many millennia.  The lake is also why European settlement occurred in the 1860s. The Olympic Dam mine is located on what was formerly pastoral land in the middle of South Australia.

BHP Billiton requires an obscene 40 million litres of free water a day to run their mine; this precious water is piped across from bore fields extracting from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) and located on Arabunna land. Although the Arabunna people have received Native Title recognition, they receive no compensation and have no right to contest either the location of the bore fields or the subsequent loss of water from the GAB. It should be remembered that the GAB feeds and replenishes the mound springs scattered through the Lake Eyre region.

The Festival

I arrived at the Lizard Revenge Festival site Roxby Downs on Friday 13 July 2012, along with over 350 other concerned Australian and international citizens. Arrivals gathered like members of a giant flock of noisy birds, colourful and chattering, and were greeted at our destination by a police roadblock. Then, like VIPs, each vehicle was individually checked and given a police escort into the Lizard Revenge Festival site.  We touched down, gathering on the only small piece of crown land not controlled by the powerful Billiton Corporation, where Aboriginal and colourful Global flags were raised, desert breezes waving friendly greetings.

As we readied ourselves to participate in the following day’s peaceful march in solidarity with Aboriginal custodians to the Gates of “Hell" − the entrance to the Olympic Dam mine − a palpable spirit of joy and mutual respect emerged that intermingled with the smoke rising from cooking fires. An instant community formed and its members set about organising campsites, meeting neighbours, setting up kitchens, a media space, solar powered sound systems and a wind powered cinema, creating art installations and painting placards.

Australia has an extensive history of anti nuclear distaste and the strength and volume of countless concerned Australian citizens have, over the last 30 years, made the same concerned pilgrimage to Roxby Downs to protect the land, the water, the life upon it and ultimately us all.

Aboriginal artist Nudge Blacklock explains it simply and succinctly in his work The Metal Elements:
'Since white settlers have discovered these elements we have had greed & murder, A raping & pillaging of Mother Earth which has gone on for over two hundred years. They have continued to drill, dig & excavate & pollute our land, air & water in order to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for profit. Our land was never sold just taken. If we want our children & the Generations to follow to enjoy these Metal Elements then we need to speak out & safe guard & protect our Mother Earth & take responsibility as we cannot ignore these threats to their very existence any longer. Let’s stop them before the Earthquakes start to happen.'

But the Roxby dam Uranium mine is still expanding at an ever increasing rate. This time the expansion area for exploitation has increased from 2,000 square kilometres to over 22,000 square kilometres[3] with plans to dig the largest toxic hole on the planet.

I spoke to Edward Cranswick,a geophysicist who investigated earthquakes for the US Geological Survey for 22 years and who conducted one of the workshops, where he expressed extreme concern about BHP Billiton’s proposal to dig the largest open pit mine on the Earth at Olympic Dam ― 4.1 km long, 3.5 km wide, and 1 km deep. Potentially, the pit is as big as the South Australian CBD in terms of Adelaide). He explained that open pit mines have already caused earthquakes in other countries[4]. Mr Cranswick cited 11 historical earthquakes that have ruptured the ground surface in stable continental regions (SCR) world-wide, and 5 of these events have occurred in Australia since 1968.

On Monday 16 July, good news was shared throughout the festival that the international association of groundwater scientists had named the Great Artesian Basin – one of the largest groundwater basins in the world and covering 22 per cent of the Australiancontinent, including the north-eastern part of South Australia – as "the most outstanding on the planet".

Will this world recognition of the wonder of the GAB stop uranium mining? It was becoming increasingly apparent to me that the massive corporation BHP Billiton was not answerable to anyone ― apart from their shareholders whose main concern, as Dick Smith would say, is “unsustainable perpetual profit”.

We live in confusing backward times when greed, harm and destruction are being increasingly glorified and concerned citizens who make the effort to conserve our heritage and peacefully express their concerns and educate without profit or personal gain are vilified and persecuted both in the media and by our own tax paid police officers!

Outside Port Augusta I was directed to pull over by police officers and stand on the road next to the car answering questions about my identity and destination while a Labrador with a police handler went through my car and belongings in a search for drugs.

“Please be careful,” I cautioned, “as I am carrying a gift in the boot wrapped in paperbark from a Bunjulung elder to an Arabunna elder and I am not sure what it contains, there may be relics for all I know and I don’t want the dog pulling the package apart.

“This is a well trained animal madam, he knows what he is doing” the officer said as at the same time as the dog ‘officer’ suddenly scrambled forward, straining on the handler’s lead ready to leap across my esky toward the precious gift.  As the officer repeatedly gave cheery waves to the drivers of shiny expensive looking four wheel drives leaving Port Augusta, I asked: given that it was a Friday afternoon, why they were not also pulling over drivers and testing  for alcohol? He looked surprised and asked me: “Why? have you been drinking?"

At the festival, I found myself in excellent company, surrounded by the very best of the best from every State in Australia, and representatives from each corner of the globe. The young and the slightly older all heard the call and each person played a unique part in what I have come to feel was one of the greatest educational shows to ever to be beamed live and direct around the earth.

I must admit, there were times when I felt like we were on all on the set of a low budget reality show. It was extremely tense, with the constant whirr of helicopters flying overhead, as local and national media were represented, including all Australia’s television stations. There were also two independent film crews that were with the festival and most participants were filming with their own mobile devices ― even the police had an officer constantly filming.
inadvertently blocking the road and, subsequently, the uranium trucks.

The day before, police refused to allow Mr Zable to place his well-known world travelled painted fuel drum installation piece at the gates ― however, a three headed emu creation managed to be allowed through (after being pulled apart by police) while television stations recorded the comment that South Australia does not allow art to be used at peaceful citizen protests.

However it appears that in SA some Art can be used near primary schools to promote and glorify weapons of mass destruction.

[caption id="attachment_26277" align="alignnone" width="567"] Nearby Roxby Downs is Woomera’s rocket park, that spills onto the front yard of the school, and which used to include children from the detention centre in its classes. (Image courtesy Barry Skipsey.)

The Kokotha people have not only had Olympic Dam to contend with, but also the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), which is situated on pastoral country that is now used for weapons tests, rocket launches and other experimental programs and occupies 127,000 sq. km, that is one-eighth of SA is a no-go zone ― that’s twice as big as Tasmania.[5]

And to the west of the WPA is the infamous 1956 Maralinga nuclear test site. Hughie Windlass, community elder and chairperson of the Oak Valley Council, remembers after the blasts they caught kangaroos they couldn’t eat because they were yellow inside. His people then avoided the Maralinga area. “We don’t live around it ― we go through it,”

The Maralinga area is Tjarutja land, or was ― before it was snatched from them and poisoned.

Spirit of Healing — the process

Speaking as a former TAFE community development teacher, I would like to commend the enlightened healing process that was facilitated by Uncle Kevin and the co organisers Izzy Brown and Nectaria Calan[6].

During the course of the 300 – 400 strong marches each day to the “gates of Hell”, the anger and pain and hurt that had been inflicted on the land and her peoples and animals by this monstrous corporate energy sucker were acknowledged by blaring renditions − from an ingenious iPod in a wheelie bin − of such traditional Aussie favourites as AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, accompanied by dancing and chanting ― and, of course, the highly publicised, symbolic, breaking down of the lock on the gates.

Although these actions were relatively harmless (at the time of the gate incident a collection was contributed to by participants to enable Billiton to buy a new lock for the gate, or helicopter parts) opening the gates served a symbolic purpose to enable the hurt built up over decades to be respectfully acknowledged on behalf of those not present. For true dialogue and healing − to move forward or forgive − we need to collectively acknowledge the hurt.

At times, I felt that I was a member of a cast of thousands. I knew of many who couldn’t come due to distance and other commitments, and I particularly felt the strength and presence of the original peoples ― many whom had died in sorrow and shame, unacknowledged casualties in the ongoing battles to protect their sacred lands.

For me, the underlying message was respect for the land and for each other under the guidance of the ongoing 60,000 plus years of custodianship of the land by the original peoples. As a nation, we are yet to truly name and acknowledge the devastation and blatant disregard for human rights that we, as a nation, have caused and continue to heap onto on the local desert-dwelling Kokatha and Arabunna peoples.

This is a pattern of 200 years of land and water exploitation across the desert. Some 30 years ago, Bunitj clan and senior elder of Kakadu National Park, Bill Neidjie, also spoke out strongly against the Ranger Uranium Mine [7].
Well e can make money
E get m from underneath, riches in the ground.
E makes million, million might be.
But trouble is... dying quick!
People ... big mob they might die because of a lot of money 
That’s why you want to hang onto country, stand for it.
E come ask.... stand, fight!
E can make money alright, somebody make money
But money no good, not worth it.
But country e stay can’t move, e can’t shift around.
Plenty money alright but you got plenty money...
this world now enough.
You worry country.
Used to be beautiful, nice green.
But now I just look tree
Where that bulldozer pull it out.
Man want road.
“We got big truck coming!”
If we fight for country...country stay way it is.
No-matter they can kill us, run us over, but still fight!
We say...
You can’t run over. You can’t kill us
Because you can’t do it!
No too many behind so you can’t do it.
We stop you. You can’t go through. You won’t.
E can’t because big mob.
Because you love it this world.
Yes, this country, your country, my country. I love im.
Because feeling... this country where you brought up
Is just like you ‘n’ me mother
Somebody else doing it wrong... you ‘n’ me feel im.
Anybody, anyone... you ‘n’ me feel

As part of “a big mob who love this world, and feel this country”,  standing in solidarity with the original custodians, allowed much healing to take place on many levels for many people. One such heart opening incident occurred between a surly police officer and a custodian, with the policewoman’s  mask completely dissolved on day three. Over a cuppa and an onion, avocado and cheese fire-toasted sandwich, Kokatha elder Aunty Sue shared with me her experience of walking along the road with her arm supporting the female officer, who openly wept after being disarmed by a swift shift of perspective ― her awareness and sorrow consoled by the custodian and her grandchild who walked beside her listening and forgiving.

As one, we stood; dedicating ten minutes of silence in memory and respect to the victims of nuclear power reactors, nuclear bombs in war and bomb testing on this land in times of peace ― millions maimed, killed and homeless due to uranium. Concerned citizens gathered together, eyes aligned and mirrored by the numerous silent police officers surrounding them, at the largest uranium mine on the planet.

Then there was the spectre of men women and children of all ages and nationalities fighting for air as they slowly and theatrically collapsed.
"Peacemakers, as we'd rather be seen as, rather than 'protestors do a 'Die-in' at the gates of Olympic Dam 16 July.” (Image and quote courtesy David Bradbury.)

The police were witnesses and, in some cases, part of an amazing array of performances each day of the festival, as protestors performed road theatre, songs, comedy and of course “frocks on the frontline”.

So what will success look like? What did Lizard’s Revenge want to achieve?

The stated aims were to peacefully shut Roxby Downs down, to heal the land and the people of the land, and to promote the use of renewable energy sources. The use of renewable energy was clearly demonstrated throughout the entire festival − including food preparation for up to 400 people per meal by Food not Bombs, film screenings, a media caravan, independent film crews lighting and all stage music − powered entirely by solar and other innovative technologies.

A young man named Ben Speirs explained to me how he charged up Benny Zable’s iPod by use of adaptive technology ― using of a fire to recharge the device. I highly recommend his website http://absorberroof.com/ where he has compiled a marvellous list of innovative energy technology websites.

I will leave the final words about the aim of Lizard’s Revenge to Uncle Kevin Buzzcott:


My highest respect for the co-organisers Izzy Brown and Nectaria Calan, both the Kokatha and Arabunna elders, the Coober Pedy Kunga Juta, and Uncle Kevin Buzzacott. My admiration and praise go to the groups that worked together in response to the government’s approval of the Olympic Dam Expansion in order to support this powerful voluntary event:  The Desert Liberation Front, Friends of the Earth, C.I.A. (concerned individual activists) and Food Not Bombs ― as well as people who love life everywhere.

Uranium Boom Nuclear Doom!

Thank you to the organisers of Uranium Boom Nuclear Doom, who organised a fundraiser in Mullumbimby to send Dr Helen Caldicott, the international radiation and health expert, to Roxby Downs.

Harsha Prabhu writes:
'Several hundred rainbow region punters showed up at the Mullumbimby RSL on Friday night to express their opposition to uranium mining in Australia. Bundjalung songman Lewis Walker set the tone for the night in his welcome, saying: "It's time for all us mob to come together to protect land and country." David Bradbury's film 'Wake Up' addressed the crisis of nuclear radiation; a live hook-up (albeit with the usual tech problems) with Taeko Henmi, Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, provided an update; and activists spoke on Lizard's Revenge, the protest action at Olympic Dam announced by Aboriginal elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott for July 14 to 17.'

On Wednesday 18 July, Dr Helen Caldicott one of the world's leading anti-nuclear campaigners spoke to a group of 17 local women at the Oasis Motor Inn in Roxby Downs. Dr Helen Caldicott is a physician, author, speaker and an expert on radiation and its effects on children. She has toured the world talking about the impact uranium mines and nuclear power plants have on workers and families living within their shadow.

Finally, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the people of goodwill who travelled to the desert to participate in this event. You have inspired me and many others around the world.


Great photo from South Australian Action Group — BHP releases a new strategy:

[1] It really is an information battle for the hearts and minds of the Australian public – it appears that Billiton is so influential that all dissenting viewpoints can be eliminated. In a search for links to the article “Ridiculous Revenge’ by Amy Moran journo.trans@ruralpress.com that was published on July 18 and appeared in over 10 news outlets, I discovered they have all since been removed from the internet. Fortunately, I had a hard copy of the article from the 19 July Roxby Downs Sun.
[2] Billiton’s proposed open pit uranium mine was projected to be 4 kilometres long by 3.5 kilometres wide and 1 kilometre deep.
[3] Some of the best coverage of the Lizard’s Revenge Festival was reported locally  in The Monitor Newspaper 18 July 2012 (Roxby Downs, Andamooka, Woomera, Prominent Hill, Oodnadatta, Coober Pedy, Innamincka, all northern mining communities.) In particular Vanessa Switala’s article “BHP Biliton’s Extensive Exploration Rights”: http://issuu.com/themonitornewspaper/docs/jul_18_2012_the_monitor_newspaper

The Roxby Down’s Sun also had some great coverage from the 13 July until the 19 July: http://www.roxbydownssun.com.au/news/archive/2012/7/
[4] Removing 1 km of rock at Olympic Dam would reduce the vertical stress by ~25 MPa, increase the deviatoric stress and facilitate thrust-type faulting in the vicinity of the open pit, and possibly stimulate strike-slip failure on the Mashers Fault, triggered by the extensive pumping and disposal of ground water. Relatively small (magnitude <6), local earthquakes might damage the Tailings Storage Facilities and release their radioactive tailings to contaminate ground and surface waters and be transported throughout Australia by dust storms. Ref: http://cranswick.net/MashersSeismicityAnticipatedOlympicDam/
[5] Ken Eastwood notes in his Australian Geographic article June 4 2010 “With water scarce (an average of just 175 mm rain a year and evaporation rates 20 times greater) the Kokotha tended to move around in small family groups, coming together for big events at large soaks, rock holes or sacred sites. Andrew Starkey, Kokatha Indigenous Liaison Officer says that “Ooldea soak was the main soak in the area and the Kokatha boundary – they had a lot of interaction with other peoples” it has long since been pumped dry.

When areas in the west of the WPA – now known as part of the Maralinga Tjarutja lands – were identified in the 1950s as a top spot for the British to do their next round of nuclear bomb testing, nobody checked if that was all right with the locals. In fact, many Aboriginals were fortunate to be found and moved out of the area before the nine full-scale blasts – some of which were as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. “There was one person in charge of moving people out of an area the size of some European countries,” Andrew says.
[6] For more info and pictures of the festival http://lizardsrevenge.net/category/images/
[7] Excerpts from Story about Feeling by Bill Neidjie, & Keith Taylor 1989 Magabala Books, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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