the first train load of coal to come out of a new coal mine, especially one that travels out along a specially constructed railway, is something that coal barons generally love to celebrate. they might even like to wheel out one of the corrupt politicians who spruiked their idiotic project in exchange for kick-backs. it’s a classic PR “golden shovel moment”, and the corporate media laps up these easy stories that also allow them to run their “jobs and growth” indoctrination narrative while covering up the environmental destruction, human exploitation and general social harm of cancer-growth capitalism. of course, for all who opposed the idiotic opening of new coal mines at the beginning of a climate crisis, this is the perfect parade to rain sense upon.
it was hard for us to know exactly when the first coal train was going to leave the carmichael mine, and for all the information we could gather, much doubt remained. we stopped the first train which came out on the 15th of november (attaching an activist while the train stood in it’s second breakdown location) only because an ally spotted it sitting in its first breakdown location, along a road outside collinsville. of course adani (rebranded as bravus) said this was not the “official first coal”, but a test train, and from how many times it broke down along the way that seemed somewhat believable.
we had better information about the timing of the train that adani/bravus would call the “official first coal”, so frontline action on coal called on anyone inside queensland (due to covid restrictions) to come to their base camp in bogie for an attempt to disrupt its journey as much as possible. plans were made, everyone was ready, but the train ended up coming the day after we were expecting it, at about 4am in the morning on the 30th of november. while the disruption didn’t involve as many activists and wasn’t as extended as planned, 6 activists were arrested for their role and the train was stopped in it’s tracks for 12 hours.
adani/bravus still insisted this was not the first coal, but another “test train”, so many of us who were able wanted to remain in place and stop the next train as well. a few days later we received a visit at the front gate of our base camp from a specialist police unit from townsville who had been tasked with trying to prevent any further disruption. the police chose to waste their resources on group of peaceful protestors, with a flawless safety record, wasting public money in service to a multinational corporation that profits from destroying our future. this is policing in a late capitalist “democracy”.
we did learn some useful things as we stopped the first two “test trains”: while it is quite easy for local bowen police to cut us out of lock-on devices attached to a train (something the local bowen police have been trained-up to do during years of resistance to this mine), if one was simply to climb on top of the coal train, the local bowen police couldn’t come up on the train to get us down.
i found this rather unbelievable, that police oh&s would stop police from arresting a “little greeny shit” while at the same time having the potential to cause them serious injury… but it was demonstrably true when the activist formally known as tom climbed on top of the second train (following the failure of his attachment device). he came down of his own free will after many hours only because he had next to no water and was pretty badly dehydrated after a full day of central queensland summer sun.
the only thing the police could do, in the first few hours, was to send these hilarious “negotiators”, but unless you agreed to come down of your own free will, the police had to wait for the specialist team from brisbane with their ultra-cool stackhats and wizz-bang gadgets to come and GI joe you off the train.
once i learned these things, i thought that stopping the train (with one activist attached to the rail line) and then having another climb up onto it was going to be the most disruptive thing we could do with the reduced number of activists available. i also thought the idea of manually unloading the train with shovels was quite funny (something i had heard activists in britain had done before), and the added element of painting the shovels gold (to give adani/bravus the “golden shovel moment” they so desperately wanted) pleased the smart-arse in me.
so we figured out the numbers we needed and basically had to all be ready and in position while we staked out and waited for the train. jeffrey cantor (a retired vietnam veteran from cairns) was going to be the one to attach to the railway line to stop the train (which is done methodically and safely of course), and we had much assistance from drivers, spotters, comms people and media gatherers (many of whom were locals we were able to call favours from).
originally, with the numbers we had, it was going to be that only two people put themselves in arrestable positions, jeffrey stopping the train by locking onto the rail line and myself climbing on top to shovel for as long as i was up there. but at the last minute another activist from brisbane, franz, arrived and was willing to join me on top of the train to help me shovel, which was much appreciated.
the worst thing that happened on this day was that a bunch of seemingly drunken railway workers (with nothing to do with adani or the railway line in question) took it upon themselves to pull over and assualt the people who were assisting the safety of jeffrey’s lock-on as well as documenting it. women were punched, phones were unlawfully taken, but ultimately the offenders were given an easy plea bargain (downgraded charges and a 6 month good behaviour bond) from police who were very reluctant to even charge the violent offenders in the first place.
anyway, nastiness aside, everything else went according to plan, we stopped the train for about 24 hours, and adani/bravus got their golden shovel moment rightfully stolen from them by the resistance, lol. adani/bravus never had an “officiial first coal” with any sort of fanfare, they only tried, ridiculously, to claim on their social media that a train on an unspecified date, prior to one of their “test trains” was the actual first coal and it got through no problems, lol.
when the super cops from brisbane (who can like climb things and everything) arrived, i tried running away from them by jumping carriage to carriage, but they just drove down well in front of me, climbed up and started jumping carriages back towards me. i surrendered (sat down with my hands up) when presented with the option of surrendering or being sprayed with capsicum spray and presumably being minorly assualted. i even quite obligingly used my own legs to assist my transport into the cherry picker after i was cuffed on top of the train, which i thought was rather generous on my behalf.
i was then taken to bowen watch house where i enjoyed a bit of a snooze (after shovelling all night), before being denied bail by magistrate james morton (who by this time hated my guts). i was sent to townsville police watch house, awaiting transport to townsville’s stuart prison before my next court date in february some time.
owing to a big fundraising effort by flac and the genorosity of supporters, enough money was raised to get me a supreme court bail application before christmas, only 6 days after i was locked up. i was confident i should be released, as i was, but my legal team from sydney were really quite defeatist, and also wankars, and also a bit shit, so i got some of the worst bail conditions i have ever gotten.
i had to report to a queensland police station once per week, which meant i couldn’t leave queensland while i was also excluded from going back to to flac’s camp which was my legal home, so they basically made me homeless in queensland and prevented me from going to other states where i actually had somewhere to live. the most hilarious condition was that i had to go see a GP about my mental health and abide by all their recommendations, otherwise i would be in breach of bail and would go back to jail, lol, sounds vaguely legally dodgy. apparently having been depressed about the destruction of our planet and deciding to do something about it is a medical issue, but as i got to pick my own GP i just got one who understood and wouldn’t require me to do anything.
when the matter got to court eventually, i had a different magistrate and a different police prosecutor, both less hatey than the others i had some history with. I had my lawyer from melbourne (who is now a barrister) come up to represent myself and franz and the result was as good as could be expected for both myself and franz. the 6 days i served in custody were not formally recorded as my punishment, instead they were “taken into consideration” when i was given a 3 month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, and a handful of fines. franz got no convictions recorded and some fines.
adani/bravus even produced this terrible image for their socials in honour of my work: