Pilliga Tree-sit

by Clarity Greenwood (pka Jen Hunt)
I sat on a single bed base suspended from a tree 12 metres above the ground in the Pilliga State Forest and watched the dawn break on 25 January 2016 while Climate Angels leant their presence below. There were birds, trees and insects, but not the biodiversity expected in a healthy environment. Tree sits, a form of peaceful direct action developed in Tasmania, stop loggers from cutting down trees, but I was trying to save the Great Artesian Basin from Santos’ coal seam gas project. Ropes suspending the platform were tied off across Old Mill Road, preventing vehicle access to their Leewood water treatment facility or water wasting and poisoning facility as I refers to it.

Be like Jen cartoon

When the police came they closed the road to peaceful activists but not to Santos workers and subcontractors. The person in charge was Sergeant Grant Bell from Narrabri Police. He was told by my police liaison that if he touched the ropes across the road she would fall and was reminded of his duty of care as a police officer. He accepted that duty.
This is the story …………

I want it to be clear that the reason I am reporting this assault in public is because Australian environmentalists and activists from this island continent have been experiencing brutality for 228 years and bravely continuing to protect country despite this. So while this is my story, it is only an example of what almost always happens to humans peacefully protecting air, water, ground, creatures, plants or biodiversity.

Also I repeat our calling to the Federal Government:

  • Stop the Narrabri Gas Field
  • Renewables Now
  • Repair the planet using Natural Farming & River Repair
  • Reform legislation, regulation & organisation to Put People before Polluters

The reason I repeat this call is that my trusted researchers show that if Santos’ wells become operational, they will “disappear” more water every year from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) than actually goes into the GAB through this recharge zone. That’s right! Astounding isn’t it. Let’s make this simple: if I have a tumbler and I put some water into it and then I take out more water than I put in, how much water is left in the glass? “Less than nothing” you say? That’s right. That is what our governing bodies and police are supporting Santos to do! “Can’t be true!” I hear you say. Well: maybe, maybe not.

Jen Hunt-treesit2-25-01-2016

Then let’s take the story a little further. The GAB is the ancient natural water storage system (aquifer) which feeds almost all of the springs, bores, streams, creeks and rivers of Australia. So if we have an empty water storage system feeding our rivers, that would make a desert I imagine: just like “Mad Max” the movie, but here and now. That can’t be good! So that’s why I was sitting. To emphasize this message to my first cousin Greg Hunt. I do like to climb and I love trees and being up high so this was a spectacular opportunity which I am so very grateful for. But honestly I have better things to do with my time than sit for 12 hours while being abused, threatened & assaulted.

Anyways I am grateful to the brutal police man who has made it very easy for me to understand the commitment, courage and perseverance of environmentalists who have gone before. I am grateful as he showed me clearly, the triad of corporations, thugs & government and how this maintains the mining industry. I am grateful as this experience gives me the opportunity to tell a true story to my privileged and loving friends. This is a story which has happened again and again and again.

When the police came they removed all my friends from the area but Grant allowed a Santos contractor to stay with him. I believe this person’s name is Michael Cooke, but when asked his name, he said “It does not matter,” and “Jamie”. So I will call him Jamie for this report.’
Jamie had been threatening me and other peaceful activists on and off for weeks. He had used bolt cutters to cut D locks off the necks of knitting nannas. In contravention of WHS regulations, he directed three massive construction vehicles to start work while two quite vulnerable people were locked on inside the facility.

After the other environmentalists, including my police liaison, were sent away, I was isolated. I became frightened and hid beneath the tarp (peeking out as I was emotionally able). I was afraid I might respond in an unhelpful manner. I suffered trauma in childhood and in stressful situations sometimes I dissociate and have trouble seeing and hearing. Due to long term personal work and the support of some very good people, I have become able to access clear memories of traumatic situations.

Shortly after my friends were removed, Grant said to me, ‘We don’t give a f*k*n sh*t about you, we are going to cut that rope and we are going to leave you hanging there’. He threatened me in a bunch of different ways. He told me it was going to cost $6,000 if the police rescue had to come. He also said, ‘It’s personal for me. I’m going to enjoy getting you down and locking you up.’ I said, ‘What do you mean it’s personal?’ He said, ‘Its personal now, I’m going to enjoy it, we’re going to spend the night together. You are going to be in the lockup. You are a criminal now. Come on down you’ve had your fun.’ And ‘You’re playing with your life now.’ All this was said in a lurid, disgusting way.

Around mid-morning I watched Grant and Jamie look very intently at the ropes. They were close to one but I couldn’t see what they were actually doing because of the way they had positioned themselves. Shortly after that the tree sit fell. It felt like it fell about two or three metres but later I found out it was only one. It bounced on the mistletoe on the tree and it was pointing down at an angle of about 70 degrees. There was 15 litres of water and a green shopping bag full of food on the downhill side of the bed base and me on the other end. There was a very long moment of perhaps half a second to assess the situation. The water and food would slide further towards the end, the sit base would become nearly vertical, I’d hang on dangling and banging into the tree, the food and water would slip off and then the sit base would bounce back up with more banging and possibly injury. With my climbing & balancing experience (bless the Women’s Circus), I decided it was better to do a controlled move and give the food and water a tiny nudge off the sit base. This gave me the opportunity to stay longer on the tree sit, bringing more attention to Santos’ and the Government’s destruction of the GAB and Australia’s river systems.

I asked Grant, ‘What happened to the thing I was sitting on?’ and he replied that he didn’t know. He seemed a little shocked. I verbalised what they had learned: “It’s for real this tree sit!”. It was getting close to the middle of the day and I now had only one litre of water to last all day in The Pilliga summer heat.

I’d made it very clear that I wasn’t going to resist arrest and that I would not assist them in any way. When the Police Rescue came they used a cherry picker, which was hired by Santos and driven by a Santos worker who would not show me his ticket (he was a young, softly spoken family man). Grant Bell stated repeatedly that he had seen the ticket and that he would not charge me when I came down. When the cherry picker was alongside the sit base I noticed it had a load limit of 200kg and I asked the Santos worker and the police rescue man how much they weighed and between them they weighed 160kg. I wasn’t sure how much I weighed but I knew it was either 51kg on a good day, or 62kg on a bad day. I was able to negotiate for the Police Rescue man to wait on the ground and under duress went down with only the Santos worker in the cherry picker.

I was arrested around 5pm. I was given iced water from the Santos water container that Grant and Jamie had been drinking from during the day. Even though I had said I would cooperate, pain compliance was applied when I was put in metal handcuffs then into the wagon. I was told the air conditioning would start soon but no cold air came into the back of the wagon for the 22km trip to Narrabri.

I repeatedly asked for food and was denied it. Despite pointing out in the literature that I had been given, that reasonable refreshments were part of the deal in police custody. “You’re in our house now” I was told quite threateningly, by another police person.

The severe pain in my head, neck and back may have been caused by the fall as well as dehydration: on a scale of 1-10, I would put this at an 11. Also I had a bruise about 15cm by 8cm on my leg and another under my right shoulder. There was significant bruising on my right arm from when the police grabbed me and put the metal handcuffs on me. The police called the ambulance which attended me after we had arrived at the police station. They gave me a Nurofen and Panadol but that didn’t work. The ambulance attendants said I was only mildly dehydrated. Later, an experienced local bushie tested my skin flexibility and suggested I was severely dehydrated.

Grant Bell wrote up the paperwork and around this time he told me about the death of his 22 year old son, three months earlier. A successful jockey on the ‘Singapore Scene’, he was believed to have locked himself out of his 12th floor apartment in Singapore and fell when he was trying to get in. I expressed my condolences, remembering how it had felt when we lost my brother at about the same age. It’s not the kind of thing a father recovers from quickly, if ever.

After four hours and police poking pieces of paper in front of me to sign, I signed the bail application. By that stage I was in so much pain and couldn’t see, hear or think properly. I was so disassociated it was really hard to know what was hurting.

I was back at the camp by ten o’clock, supported by my dear friends who had waited in solidarity the full day. The pain in my head, neck and on either side of the back bone continued for at least two days. My kidneys were very sore. My eye balls felt like they were burning. I have been dehydrated before and there was definitely dehydration. I was blessed with four massages over that time from respected colleagues and the pain abated as we treated the dehydration.

The level of trauma I experienced meant that it was very difficult for my friends to assist me afterward. Back at camp I found out that one of my friends had gone back to check on me and had seen that the tree sit and ropes were not in the right position. My police liaison then asked Grant if he had done anything to the rope and he said that he hadn’t touched the rope and that I had kicked the water and food off in protest. My friends told me the rope was definitely cut. So the Police had lied.

I tried to lodge a complaint about Grant Bell’s behaviour and more importantly, report a crime but Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Moree Police Stations were unable to assist as was the 131 444 number. I put an online complaint into the NSW police force and I don’t expect anything will come of that, but it would be nice if it did. I put an online request to the police ombudsman and police commissioner and at the time of writing this have not heard back yet. I also called the police minister’s office, Troy Grant, at Dubbo, and they said “It’s a police matter, we only take Dubbo matters here” so they gave me another phone number. I’ve had the run around from everybody (just one of the methods of corruption I have encountered). I’m waiting for a message from Troy about when I can meet with him. I also expect nothing to come from this. I would like an apology from the police minister to environmentalists and amends for the years of brutality. But that’s probably just pie in the sky. Perhaps I will try Mark Coulton MP, the minister for Parkes, after all that is where I live. I expect no respect their either, but maybe he will call me.

As a victim of childhood sexual abuse in a ritualistic manner at an early age at Woodleigh School Junior Campus (this is a matter of public record), the impacts of any further trauma are different from somebody who has not had trauma. Since the brutality I have had flashbacks to the other figures of authority who abused me, and have found it difficult to continue with everyday activities. I have not been able to sleep very well. I was completely disassociated (out of my body) for about five days and not able to interact normally with other people during that period of time and for some time afterward. I have very little memory of that time. Now I am able to see what happened to me psychologically and also to see the gentle efforts my friends made to assist. For that I am grateful.

From oral and written history, I know that there are many peaceful activists who are traumatised by the police brutality we experience. I have now seen the impact just one such event can have on one person and their friends. I guess this is just one of the ways that “the system” disempowers agents of change.

From my discussions with Narrabri police people, I know they see clearly that enforcing matters concerning corporations is not their job. I wonder who or what has the job of enforcing corporate matters? And don’t say ICAC, or you will make me laugh. Santos has not completed all the required procedures to give appropriate permissions for building their Leewood facility and yet no governmental body or subsidiary is enforcing this (it seems a bit like emissions targets). It is up to environmental activists. There seems to be a hole in our governmental organisation where policing corporations should be.

I know that my brothers and sisters who have stood up repeatedly over many years for the planet and her mob have experienced far greater discomfort than I have. I am in awe of these peaceful activists. I know that fear of reprisal keeps others away who might otherwise wish to stand in integrity and take part in history. I hope this small story can assist change as Peaceful Direct Action continues to move in the hearts, minds, corporations and governments of this island continent and we learn to Put People before Polluters.

Jen Hunt, (aka Clarity Greenwood)

For further information see
Pilliga Push Facebook page
Download the Research Report here

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