Retired union members, including unionists who were involved in Sydney’s Green Bans, visited the pagoda rock formations in Newnes on Wednesday to try to start a dialogue between unionists and environmentalists.
The Combined Retired Union Members Association has announced its support of the ‘Garden of Stones’ proposal, put forward by an alliance of environmental groups, which outlines the reservation of 39,000 hectares of unprotected forest as State Conservation Area on the Newnes Plateau.
The association supports underground mining and exploration but opposes open-cut mining in the area, including the re-opening and extension of Invincible Mine.
CRUMA member John Koch said the sandstone pagodas made Lithgow “one of the most special places on earth”.
“I first saw the Gardens of Stone in November and found it was so stunning, I was not bothered at all by threats of being tarred and feathered for galvanising my comrades to come and visit and see for themselves.”
At a meeting held at the Lithgow Workmen’s Club CRUMA members voted to invite Unions NSW, CFMEU (mining and energy division) and Garden of Stone Alliance representatives, as well as Mayor Stephen Lesslie for a site visit to begin “discussions of a State Conservation Area”.
Invincible Mine, which has received approval to be re-opened as an open-cut coal mine, falls within the proposed area.
Mr Koch, who supported the BLF’s green bans in Sydney as a labourer, said the split between unionists and environmentalists, as was seen in debates surrounding the re-opening of the Invincible Mine by Manildra Group, was one he had witnessed repeatedly.
“That was no different to the late 1960s and early 70s,” he said.
He said there was dissent to supporting the Gardens of Stone proposal in the retired CFMEU association, of which he is also a member.
“It’s very seductive for people to think this is jobs for our kids and only jobs matter, short-term jobs.
“Whereas the position of the green ban was rejecting money to preserve heritage,” he said.
Keith Muir, the director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness (one of three organisations in the Gardens of Stone Alliance) joined CRUMA members on the excursion to Dobbs Drift Lookouts.
Mr Muir has been a vocal opponent of Invincible’s re-opening.
“Today is all about building bridges,” he said.
“We can have our cake and eat it to, we just have to eat it carefully.”