As you’re probably aware, the Roe 8 project is well underway. It will see the five kilometre extension of Roe Highway, the purpose of which is to efficiently transport freight to Fremantle Port and to, argues Premier Colin Barnett, reduce traffic congestion in the southern suburbs and improve safety on Leach Highway.
The project will decimate the heart of the Beeliar Wetlands, an area that comprises two chains of wetlands that extend from Blue Gum Lake in Melville to the Spectacles in the Town of Kwinana. At 384 hectares, its sprawl is greater than Kings Park’s. It’s a fertile home, a nursery, even, for roughly 220 plant species and roughly 123 bird species. It also holds historical significance for the Nyungars, as they were important ceremonial sites and sources of food.
If you’re unfamiliar with the particulars pertaining to geography and culture and the statistics don’t paint a grim enough picture of its impending destruction, no worries. It’s enough know that a lot of wildlife will be dead or without a home; it’s another (infinitesimal, sure, but also avoidable) step toward actualising humanity’s greatest existential threat; and people aren’t angry about it for no reason.
In fact if the headlines are to be taken at face value, there is only anger. A quick google search of Roe 8 reveals a deluge of articles concerning protestors chaining themselves to machinery, wreaking havoc, getting arrested, raising hell.
There was a brief story on Channel Nine news that covered the Roe 8 protestors. Of all the protestors, Channel Nine opted to interview a high person who was stubbornly refusing to leave her makeshift camp atop a tree. “Why don’t you come down from there?” inquired one reporter, assiduously fulfilling his journalistic duty of keeping the masses informed of this enormously controversial and complicated undertaking that is Roe 8. “Whyyy” she slurred in response. She, by virtue of Channel Nine omitting or not bothering to interview the other dissenters present, was therefore representative of all the protestors and folks who didn’t care for Roe 8. Ergo, the sum total of their grievance was just one druggy nihilistic whine – “Whyyy.” End of news item.
Having lived maybe only a kilometre away from the Beeliar Wetlands for most of my life, I felt compelled to join the protestors one sweltering Friday afternoon. Not to make myself heard, exactly, but to survey the deformation of the golden and sunshine-green bushland that I had always naively assumed would remain untouched. As someone who’s been fortunate enough to grow up close to such a picturesque and culturally significant environment, not averting my eyes from the sorry site of its ruination seemed the right thing to do.
This particular protest occurred on a Friday afternoon on Hope Road, parallel to Bibra Lake Reserve. There were maybe 20 people in attendance. Despite a sky so blue you could dive in it, the congregation of benign good-hearted folks, and it being a Friday afternoon, there was a sombre undertone to everything. Aside from some displeased muttering, it was pretty quiet. The only note of protest came from a skinny middle aged musician strumming and playing Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down – again and again and again. But the funereal atmosphere deflated the song’s buoyant spirit; it sounded like a lament more than anything. A few were carrying signs that read “Teachers are against Roe 8!”. The occasional passing car would joyfully honk in approval, which was adorable and sent a ripple of encouragement throughout the group of 20. But the overall energy was about as vague as the distorted waves dancing above the long dark road.
I’ll tell you the people who weren’t succumbing to lethargy though, the police. There were about ten of them surrounding us, each wearing a scowl that never softened. They were in a state of permanent readiness, as if each of them had once turned their back for a second one time and paid for it terribly and by god they weren’t going to allow that to happen again – no chance. They didn’t tell anyone to get the fuck outta here but it wasn’t difficult to imagine they were thinking it. Covered head to toe in uniform in the unforgiving 37 degree heat, not a single one of them let their guard down to so much as wipe the sweat accumulating on their forehead or surely pooling in more uncomfortable areas.
I guess for the sake of empathy in the face what is easy to perceive as a sort of brutish repulsiveness, you had to assume they were just doing what they were told and the animosity they were radiating was merely irritation induced by the scorching heat. Still, the posturing was unnerving.
There was one small lady, maybe 35 years old, who was fervently getting us all to huddle in. She seemed utterly undeterred by the heat or pangs of defeat. Naturally, our attention was focussed on her and we complied with her request for some silence. She disappeared into the small crowd as an old Aboriginal man began chanting melodiously. We all listened respectfully, none of us sure if it was appropriate to join in his chanting.
But then something happened that removed all inhibition: A great flock of birds filled the empty bright blue sky, their war-cry upstaging the relentless sound of machinery. We all whooped and cheered and hollered, suddenly energised. You’d think our home team, against overwhelming odds, had just won the finals. For a minute it truly felt like man and nature were standing together, railing together against apathy and greed. It was hopeful. I got goosebumps.
But, as with some moments that seem beautiful, hindsight revealed its delusion. The birds’ war-cry wasn’t that – it was a howl of agony and confusion at the mutilation of their sanctuary. As of this writing, their agonising and confused howl shatters the suburban quiet every night with a regularity you could set your watch to.
Image Credit: ABC News, Briana Shepherd