Australian Screen

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Walking Through a Minefield (1999)

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clip Uranium blockade education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Anti-uranium mining protestors block the road access to Jabiluka in the Northern Territory. The mining company issues trespass notices and the NT police clear the road, making several arrests.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows anti-mining protesters planning to block the road to the Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory, Australia. The police arrive and hold discussions with the protesters. The sun rises, the protesters chant, trespass notices are issued and a worker tries to open a gate to get through the blockade. The Territory Response Group (TRG) arrives with bolt cutters to open the gate. They remove the protesters, who are led away by the police.

Educational value points

  • Jabiluka 2 is the world’s richest undeveloped uranium deposit and has been dogged by controversy since the inception of the Jabiluka mine project. In 1997, the Australian Government approved the project to develop the rich ore body found in the area, but the Senate passed a motion against it. The World Heritage Unit of the Federal Environmental Department and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee became involved, as did conservationists and Indigenous groups, all expressing concerns about environmental regulations, disposal of waste, radiation and the threat to the natural and cultural heritage of Kakadu National Park. In 2006, the Howard government again put pressure on Indigenous owners to allow mining.
  • The clip illustrates the resistance to uranium mining in Jabiluka and shows the protesters and the kinds of activity they organised. Throughout most of 1988, environmental and Indigenous groups organised blockades to restrict access to Jabiluka. Some of their tactics and methods included organising activities at night, erecting barriers and makeshift manned towers, using human shields, resisting police, chanting and making speeches. Being filmed, whether for news or documentary purposes, is an important goal for protesters, as media coverage allows them to spread their message to a broader audience.
  • The conflict between the mining company’s interests and those of environmental and Indigenous groups is highlighted in the clip. With the potential value of the Jabiluka uranium reserve estimated at $10 billion in 2006, it is clear that mining would result in significant wealth. However, mining might also damage the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, and would restrict the rights and access of Jabiluka’s traditional owners.
  • Documentary makers sometimes juggle the desire to give a balanced view with the need to create tension within the narrative. Audience sympathies can easily be manipulated by selective shooting and editing. In this clip, director Cathy Henkel provides balance by showing the police treating protesters firmly but also engaging in nonviolent negotiations.
  • Cathy Henkel has been a writer, director and producer of documentaries since 1988, also working in the industry as a cinematographer, and this clip showcases her early work as a director. In 1992, Henkel formed Hatchling Productions to create documentaries, educational videos and short films. Her 2003 documentary The Man Who Stole My Mother’s Face won a number of accolades and awards.

A protest against uranium mining is in progress at Ranger Mine, Northern Territory.

Narrator It’s 4am and the protesters plan to block the road between Jabiru and Ranger Mine.
Isabelle It wouldn’t be bad if you could work out some way to keep this gate shut other than me leaning on it.
Narrator Isabelle’s role is to support one of the protestors whose arm is locked into a barrel filled with cement.
Isabelle Everyone’s been saying that they haven’t really done this in the Northern Territory before, so we don’t know if they know what to expect, so we can’t expect how they’re going to react or whether they’re gonna ignore us, 'cause they know it’s only for one day, or they might cut us out. I don’t know. Don’t know!

Beating of drums sounds in background. The police arrive.

Policeman You’re stopping people going to work here, mate. Therefore, you’re committing an offence. So we require you to unblock the road.
Man Well, I’m not leader. I’m just police liaison.
Policeman Emma?
Emma We’ve had to discuss it with the rest of the mob.
Policeman Well, do you want to have a discussion, because there’ll be a lot of people coming this way shortly.
Emma We’ve had a request to unblock the road. Are we gonna do it?
Protesters No!
Woman We can’t!
Emma Not until the uranium mining stops in Kakadu.
Policeman You’re gonna be sitting there a long time, then, aren’t you?
Man Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?
Phil Devine No, thank you. We’ll see you later. Have a nice day.
Man You too!
Narrator Phil Devine is unable to get to work and returns to town to get instructions on how to deal with the situation.
Protesters chant Hey, hey, ERA! Whose land d’you steal today? Hey, hey, ERA! Whose land d’you steal today? Close down, ERA! Mr Howard, hear our say!
Spokesman 67 per cent of Australians are opposed to this mine going ahead. Uranium mining produces radioactive waste at every single stage of the nuclear cycle, and no-one knows how to store that waste properly or safely. And, on top of that, the civilian or military uses can’t be separated.

Protest song sung softly in the background.

Narrator Phil has been instructed to issue the protesters with trespass notices.
Woman Jabiluka blockade.
Emma Does that mean we have to leave here?
Phil No, you don’t have to leave. If you’re issued with a trespass notice, it means you can’t go on the lease. Whilst you’re on the lease already … all I need is access for people to go about their lawful business.
Narrator One of the ERA workers has decided to take matters into his own hands and force open the gate. The complication is that there is a protester perched on the wooden tripod above.

Hubbub as the ERA worker asks for help.

Woman Guys, listen to me – this is unsafe! Where’s the police officer here? Excuse me!
Man Stupid – if you kill this guy, you’ll all be bloody sorry for it.

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