When you first step into it, Roxby is a town where you know miners are ‘MEN’ and ‘greenie’ activists and filmmakers should be nervous. We’d come to the heartland of ‘the enemy’, the Belly of the Beast to show my anti uranium, anti nuclear latest doco – A Hard Rain. Roxby is the mining service town for BHP Billiton’s huge Olympic Dam in South Australia. Carved out of the middle of nowhere it’s home to the miners and their families. It boasts the largest deposit of uranium on the planet. As much as forty percent of the world’s known uranium lies deep beneath is ancient red soil. One deposit.
We were five environmental activists from Byron and Sydney, determined to give the miners an update on how uranium mining would impact on their health and give a serve to the largest resource company on Earth. BHP Billiton is putting all our lives at risk and encouraging nuclear weapons proliferation with the export of the most dangerous heavy metal known to humankind. Olympic Dam is set to see a triple expansion in mining approved whichever major party is returned after the federal election.
I was pleased to have the company of others. It’s one thing to slip silently into the town a lone figure as I did six months ago and parade as a harmless filmmaker making an innocent doco about BHP Billiton’s plans to turn Olympic Dam into a massive 3km wide by l.5km deep hole in the ground. It’s another thing to bring back that finished film to show the pro mining townsfolk and say that this mine is not only poisoning them and their kids but will do the same to those of us living further afield in the eastern states. Millions of tonnes of finely pulverised radioactive particles dumped on the mine surface each year, easily capable of blowing l000kms to Melbourne or l600kms as the wind blows to your doorstep in Balmain or Bondi.
By the time the week was over, none of us were sorry to pack our car and head out of Roxby for Adelaide and our flight home after five intense days campaigning on the streets, giving out free dvds of the film in the shopping plaza to circumspect locals, attending local church services to spread the anti uranium gospel, talking up the issue of radiation poisoning in the media and door to door leafleting inviting locals to come to one of two free screenings at their local council run cinema.
Most locals enthusiastically embrace the triple expansion because it means more money and more jobs and a guaranteed lifetime future provided you tow the company line. Many of these people have little chance of getting jobs elsewhere having walked off the land as farmers’ sons or come from
far away with a real chance of paying off $400,000 mortgages for their new homes in Roxby and plasma screens. We were challenging their lives at the most fundamental level.
As one woman who refused to take an invitation said to me, “Ignorance is bliss. I don’t want to know how bad it is.”
Noticing she had two kids in tow under the age of five, I asked her, “What about your kids and their future? Surely you have other options?” She shrugged her shoulders. “This is our life,” she said with contented resignation.
We did our best to get word out and publicise the two free screenings.
We placed 3,l00 coloured and eye catching inserts in the local Roxby Sun newspaper which fell out onto the carpets and kitchen tables of the miners days before the first screening. A local journo did a news story in the same issue heralding our arrival in town and the offer of free screenings. We paid for a decent sized ad in the opposition pro mining paper, the Roxby Monitor.
I was interviewed on Adelaide ABC’s Drive Time and ABC regional radio as well as community radio in Brisbane and Melbourne. Channel Seven flew a news cameraman and reporter up for the opening night hoping to get some hot action.
I ruffled more than a few feathers when I made strident accusations on the community radio station, Rox FM – funded in part by BHP Billiton and largely staffed by volunteers who worked or had a direct association with the mine.
I was interviewed on Adelaide ABC’s Drive time and regional radio. Channel Seven flew a news cameraman and reporter up for the opening night hoping to get some hot action.
This was like preaching fire and brimstone and eternal damnation in the local watering hole – the Roxby tavern where we went to place a bet and sip a cold one with the locals on Melbourne Cup day.
We didn’t know what to expect come the first night of our two screenings in town. Would a hostile crowd turn up? Would we be run out of town, stripped and tied down onto the red desert sands with honey poured over us to cook in the sun as the ants picked our bones?
The night commenced with a presentation by Helen Lewers, a single mum from Ballarat, Victoria who donated $20,000 to Frontline Films to bring the film to Roxby Downs, and to the clear outstanding debts from making the film. Helen had inherited a stack of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto shares (majority shareholders of Ranger uranium mine in the NT) but felt she could not keep or profit from them in all good conscience. So she sold them and gave half the proceeds to the Frontline Film Foundation and another $20,000 to the Australian Conservation Foundation.
As it turned out, 25 people turned out for the first screening of A Hard Rain at the Roxby Downs cinema last Monday night (Nov 5th). Most of those attending were employees of BHP Billiton including one of the miners who is interviewed in A Hard Rain.
The screening ended with a Question & Answer time but was initially met with stony silence. It was hard to know if they were stunned or angry! The audience was directly asked if there was anyone in attendance representing BHP Billiton. Despite more silence it was later confirmed by locals there were indeed two representatives present but they obviously chose to remain quiet. We were told the company had put word around the miners’ tearooms and workplace to boycott the screenings or else risk their jobs and any chance of promotion. All BHP Billiton employees must sign a contract which obliges them not to disclose anything or speak in public about their work at the mine. Otherwise they face legal prosecution. John Howard’s Workplace Australia.
A few questions were put forward about nuclear power and uranium mining as well as some disagreement about the information presented in the film. Free copies of the film and other materials were given out to people at the end of both nights. We left copies at the local library which was greatfully received and at the local highschool and hospital. We handed out dvd copies of the film to any mum we met who was open to taking it.
A more lively and heated discussion took place after the second screening. Despite a company inspired boycott, 35 people turned up and again, company reps who remained anonymous except to the company employees who later told us they dared not say anything while they were under observation.
We had made our mark on Roxby and it was time to hit the road.
Twenty five people attended the first screening of A Hard Rain at the Roxby Downs cinema last Monday night. Most of those attending were employees of BHP Billiton including one of the miners who is interviewed in A Hard Rain. The night commenced with a presentation by Helen Lewers who donated $20,000 to Frontline Films to bring the film to Roxby Downs, and to the outstanding debts from making the film (see press release). The screening ended with a Question & Answer but was initially met with stony silence (hard to know if they were stunned or angry!). The audience was directly asked if there was anyone representing BHP in attendance. Despite more silence(!) it was confirmed after the event that there were two representatives who were present but obviously chose to remain quiet. A few questions were put forward about nuclear power and uranium mining as well as some disagreement about the information presented in the film. Free copies of the film and other materials were given out to people at the end of the night. Channel 7 Adelaide who came up to film the event will be airing the news item tonight. A local journalist will cover it in the newspaper.
A Hard Rain will be screened on 5th & 7th November in Roxby Downs - home of the world’s largest uranium deposit. Part of the films was shot in Roxby earlier this year. Our hope is to meet with the local community and inform them of the dangers of uranium mining and how the expansion to Olympic Dam may impact on them and the country.
Photo by Angelo Kehagias: Julia Zemiro (host presenter of the night from SBS television) and Tania Chambers(right), Chief Executive of the NSW Film and Television Office (guest presenter for best documentary)
Raul the Terrible won best direction in a stand alone documentary at the Australian Directors Guild awards ceremony in Sydney this month. This is the first awards where directors are judged solely by their peers and was created to celebrate the hard work, achievements and contributions made by Australian directors to the film and television industry. Other documentaries short listed for this category were Temple of Dreams (Tom Zubrycki), In Our Name (Chris Tuckfield), Bomb Harvest (Kim Mordaunt) and The Winner’s Guide to the Nobel Peace Prize (Mark Gould).
Now in Canberra we have recently finished the NT tour of screening A Hard Rain. The film was shown in Darwin, Katherine & Alice Springs. In Alice following the recent nomination acceptance of Muckaty Station for the waste dump site, we also showed a (quickly edited on the road) 7 minute clip of interviews with Traditional Owners about their thoughts on their land being used as a waste dump.