A walk with Australian Traditional Owners to preserve the land from uranium mining
Over recent years many hundreds of people have visited the proposed Yeelirrie uranium mine site in Western Australia, walking with Traditional Owners to support the local opposition to the mine. The first Walkatjurra Walkabout was held in 2011 – a walk from Wiluna to Perth over three months. The walk was to demonstrate the opposition to uranium mining but had many other positive impacts in the local community. Smaller walks have been held every year since 2011 from Wiluna to Leonora via the proposed uranium mine at Yeelirrie. The walks are led by the Walkatjurra rangers from Leonora and include people from across Australia and around the world including participants from the US, Taiwan, Japan, France, Lapland, Greece and England. Marcus Atkinson of Footprints for Peace, describes the experience of the Walkabout currently in progress.
By Marcus Atkinson
The Walkatjurra Walkabout is a month-long 250 km walk through the Western Australia Goldfields, in support of Traditional Owners to protect country and stop uranium mining despite freezing overnight temperatures and long hot days.
During an early stop, a group of 55 people gathered at the gates of Yeelirrie to support Traditional Owners, Aunty Shirley and Lizzie Wonyabong and Vicky Abdhullah in the 40-year struggle to stop the proposed Yeelirrie uranium mine. The three women have shared stories of the area where they and their families grew up and the connection they have to this land. As we walk, they show us the bush tucker, the plants used for medicine, and the plants used for other purposes. We listen, we learn, and together we enjoy the beauty of this land.
The group was joined by Youno Downs Station, who shared stories of the history of uranium exploration and company intimidation over the years they have lived on the pastoralist station. “Water is what the company is after, they (Cameco) need up to 10 millions of litres of water and they want us to give it to them!”
The desert at first is so silent that you can hear the white noise in your ears, and after the pace of the city the desert feels slow and empty. But when you slow down and walk you start to see. The colours in the rocks, the way the acacia leaves fall and twist in patterns on the ground, the red white and green of a eucalyptus tree.
The stars stretch beyond the horizon, and the Milky Way is so long that you can’t see it all in one blink, and the whites are so stark they look like clouds. It takes a moment longer to find the Southern Cross amongst the bright jumble of stars.
When you’re out here, the white noise of the city fades away and you can hear the wind singing through the spinifex grass. The dead branches above your swag tinkle like a wind chime, and it’s the most beautiful music.
Walkatjurra Walkabout is grateful for the opportunity to slow down and connect to country, but also aware of the industry that threatens it. If uranium companies have their way, we would lose this untarnished beauty forever. That’s why we are walking for country, to raise awareness and to heal the land to protect this precious place.