Abbeygroup bulldozers and police drive democracy from Westerfield
All photos in this story were by Rod Binnington. Some cropping and resizing was done by the editors.
People wanted to know who owned the Westerfield property. The government had said that it owned the property and the police had said last week that it was 99% likely that the government did, but that they could not be categorical. On Tuesday they would not even discuss the question. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to compulsory acquisition about who owns what. Two fantails came out of the trees and flew down towards the men and their machines in a dancing pattern, almost attacking the machines. The men standing by the machines ducked to avoid the tiny birds. Then the little birds returned to their trees and sat there, as if they had made their final statement. See also LMA (was SEITA) Bulldozers trash bushland from Westerfield to the Pines
Tuesday 28 September at Westerfield.
Protesters realised that this was going to be the big day because the Abbeygroup workers, who had previously talked and been friendly enough to the protesters, stopped looking at them, or glared and laughed at them. They lined up as if they were troops in a war and four big machines started rolling in.
Road blocks prevented access for protesters and observers initally
There were only about twenty protesters on site at 6.30 am, perhaps in part because the police had closed off Robinsons road at each end, before and after the entrance to Westerfield. This meant that people who wanted to come into the Westerfield driveway could not enter. The protesters managed to have the barricades moved so that people could still enter the Westerfield property driveway. More protesters arrived later.
Rumours of more and more police arriving
The protesters heard rumours from Robinsons Rd that more and more police were going to turn up. Eventually something around 100 police came through the bush in single file. There were enough of them to man the perimeters of the site. The main police coordinator gave the protesters ten minutes to get off the property. The police refused to answer questions and would only say that they were enforcing the trespassing law.
Compulsory aquisition - a mystery to most Australians
People wanted to know who owned the Westerfield property. The government had said that it owned the property and the police had said last week that it was 99% likely that the government did, but that they could not be categorical. On Tuesday they would not even discuss the question. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to compulsory acquisition about who owns what.
Police give protesters 10 minutes to get out
After the police gave the protesters ten minutes to get off the property or be prosecuted for trespassing, the protesters discussed what they could do. Gillian Collins, who had been the main organiser of the protests there, said that she was not going to stay to be arrested because she has relatives in the United States and that if a person has a criminal record, they are not allowed to enter the US. She then walked away.
Some people remained, however.
The police moved in and more people retreated.
Joyce and Simon, who owned the property now seized by the government to make a freeway, were among the last to leave. Some protesters withdrew sadly to watch events from behind the 2 meters high wire mesh security fence which had been made virtually impenetrable.
Carey Priest's heroic action and others arrested
Carey Priest, memorable for his politeness under pressure, led the next protest action by climbing a tree, where he remained for about two hours, despite the trees all around falling under Abbeygroup's bulldozers. People admired Carey's action very much, and he was arrested for his trouble. So was his girlfriend, Ellen. Five people were arrested in total: Carey, his girlfriend Ellen, then Neil and Mark Adams and another whose name is not available to candobetter.org.
They were released within half an hour with bits of paper containing something vague in writing about how they would be prosecuted and fined $2,500 and or jailed if they returned to the property. Of course there wasn't anything to return to by the time they were released.
David vs Goliath Machines
The presence of the machines was overpowering. It felt like David and Goliath, with Goliath - the machines - winning. To remain and protest demanded courage from the humans, but other species were to suffer far more.
Just after the police had rolled in and lectured the protesters, five of those giant machines lined up to flatten the forest, and two courageous fantails came out of the trees and flew down towards the men and their machines in a dancing pattern, almost attacking the machines. The men standing by the machines ducked to avoid the tiny birds. Then the little birds returned to their trees and sat there, as if they had made their final statement.
A number of people observed that the wildlife carers employed by Abbeygroup who were meant to be rescuing animals during the destruction did not seem to know what they were doing. People yelled out to the lead wildlife carer, "Do you know what you are doing?" because it seemed so obvious that they were only there for the look of things.
The process of destruction was just so rapid. The bulldozers were operating in two areas. On the north side of the dam and the south east side, where the protesters had had their camp for months on Robinsons road. The protesters just stood and watched helplessly, thinking all kinds of thoughts.
Rod Binnington took this photograph of Simon standing by himself watching the destruction of a third of the grounds of his home which his wife and he had spent much of their lives protecting for the flora and fauna now dead or dying and dispossessed. Joyce knew every tiny plant in that property and all the birds. How bleak politics must seem them now. Although the house has been spared, a third of the property has gone. Most of the community doesn't even realise what is happening, let alone the extent of it.
Government has put itself above the law
If it can happen to Westerfield, it can happen to any of us.
Westerfield had everything going for it to be spared from the bulldozers. All the 'boxes' had been ticked, so the protest should have worked.
In a Hansard presentation by Greens Sue Pennicuick, 5 or 6 pages long, one was devoted to Westerfield. In this she described a way of dealing with the traffic flow that would not involve freeways. There were so many logical alternatives. Many people came up with them but they were just ignored.
Despite the so-called ticked boxes, the gov does whatever it likes. Although there was a VCAT hearing in progress, according to an ABC report, the government has claimed that the clearing work has been approved by the relevant bodies and is not subject to the VCAT hearings.
People say that Justin Madden is just a rubber stamp for the government which wants more and more people.
An observer said that, although they respected the way Gillian Collins went about organising the protests in a quiet and respectable way, they could not understand why she seemed to keep believing that what she was being told was the truth.
"The 'authorities' are laughing at us as they lie to us," he said.
Inadequate Mainstream reporting protects government from just repercussions
Something like this should be on radio and tv day and night, but the report about Westerfield on channel 10 was only a minute long. 10secs on Channel 9. They don't place importance on what the public should see. Who knows where they draw their priorities from?
A young girl there yesterday was about 20 y.o. and you could just hear her despair about the fact that all the boxes are ticked and she could see that and here she was seeing what the government could do and she was virtually saying and thinking, "What's the use of protesting?"
How long will it take her to come back from this, because it takes a lot of energy to protest against the abuse of power. Other people were also in despair. That is what the government and the growth lobby want. Poor mainstream press reporting protects the government from democratic reactions to its abuses of power.
One protester encouraged people to ring the 1300 number of Abbeygroup to tell them that there were no wildlife rescuers present when many of the trees came down. She did this to emphasise that the rhetoric of rehoming and rescuing displaced fauna is only words.
After a lot of the trees had come down, it started to rain. One of the foremen said, "Quick, get under the trees!" but there were only about two trees left standing. The protesters called out, "You would have had more trees before!"
The police should be able to refuse to enforce bad laws. Some were obviously sympathetic to the protesters willing to engage and listen to the protesters' reasons through the fence.