WestConnex Protest Camp
WestCONnex Action Group protest camp in Sydney Park. Photo: Alec Smart

Posted by & filed under City News, Featured Inner West Independent, Inner West Independent.

BY WENDY BACON

Save Sydney Park WestCONnex protest camp is holding its first birthday celebration this Sunday, September 24.

The camp began as an early morning protest on September 19th 2016, the day WestConnex moved in to take sections of the park and knock down hundreds of trees. That protest ended in a decision to establish an overnight makeshift camp on the proposed worksite.
Since then, the camp has been constantly maintained 24 hours a day, although it has moved three times. Today it’s a well-established wooden-framed structure less than 100 metres from the original occupation, near the North East corner of the park.

On the first morning, Greens MPs Jenny Leong and Mehreen Faruqi, and City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, attended the rally and gave the community their backing for continuing non violent action.
Ms Moore told the rally, “We don’t want a 6 lane highways taking 60,000 cars into our congested city… We do not want Sydney Park impacted and destroyed.”

Later in the day, tents were erected. City Hub‘s reporter was present when a senior officer assured campaigners that the camp was lawful and they had a ‘right to protest’. Five protesters agreed to stay the night.

One of those protesters was Colin Hesse who was elected as a Inner West Council Greens Councillor with the highest vote in the Marrickville Ward two weeks ago. Acting as a spokesperson for the WestCONnex Action Group at the time, he told City Hub, “The police assured us numerous times that we were camping lawfully on public land, therefore they wouldn’t be taking any action to remove us from the site.”

Mr Hesse said that he and other campers were shocked when “around seven heavily armed police moved in at 3am to drag us from our campsite. When we refused to leave the camp, citing the clear agreement we’d made with the police earlier that day, we were ignored.

“Then police moved in to physically drag us from our campsite in what appeared to be a planned and well-coordinated action,” said Mr Hesse.

Another camp was established next to the original site, which was now a cage with two security guards sitting in it.

A tree report needed to be approved by NSW Planning before destruction could occur. The Westconnex Action Group realised that there was no report and wrote to the NSW Planning Department. The NSW Planning Department responded that it had not approved a tree report, so work was stopped until a tree report was prepared. Protesters agreed to monitor the site at all times.

This was a small but significant victory for the campaign. The camp was named Frogmouth Camp after a frogmouth owl that was nesting in one of the trees.

Eventually the tree report was done and, like all other WestCONnex tree assessments, recommended that the trees needed to be destroyed to make way for WestConnex. When removal crews arrived, scores of protesters sat down with linked arms on the road but were dragged away by riot police.

When it became clear that major work would begin demolishing buildings and trees at the South end of the park, the camp moved. There were ‘adopt a tree’ festivals and Christmas parties.

In early January, the NSW government overrode City of Sydney appeals against the removal of their land. This time scores of local and riot police patrolled the area while more fences were erected, facilities were removed and hundreds of beautiful trees destroyed. Early morning protests were regularly called but riot police dragged protesters from the site and 6 protesters were arrested. It took months to get heritage buildings and the trees down but the job was completed.

Through all these events, the camp remained, maintained by hundreds of volunteers from across Sydney. Many were deeply upset as they watched their lush green park campsite turn into a devastated zone of stumps and rubble. Disgusting odours and dust from the St Peters Interchange began to waft across the camp.

So another move was made back to the north end of the park. This time the campers sheltered in a remarkable wooden dome covered by tarpaulins, designed by artist and campaigner John Bartholomew. Solar energy is supplied by a community member.

Mr Hesse, who has continued to be an active anti WestConnex campaigner told City Hub that he sees the camp as having “important symbolic value expressing the ongoing anger against a project that has been foisted on the community.”

Chris Nash, one of the camp organisers says, “We couldn’t save the trees or most of the homes targeted for demolition, but we have succeeded in making WestCONnex an absolutely toxic project that seriously threatens the re-election of the Berejiklian government in 2019. The camp has played a key role in that fight, and to have kept it going for a year deserves a birthday party!
“All are welcome on Sunday 24 September for a picnic at the Sydney Park Camp (next to the Davidson Oval) from 12 – 4 pm.”

Wendy Bacon is a supporter of WestCONnex Action Group