Looking back I don't think any of us knew what we were getting ourselves into when we met on June 5th at the Jabiru caravan park. Its one thing to cycle 5,700 kilometres or to live as a community, or to run a public awareness campaign against uranium, but to combine all three makes for a highly charged adventure.
It has taken us three months to cycle from Kakadu to Perth as the Cycle Against the Nuclear Cycle 2. We've had from 13 to 32 people of different ages and backgrounds travelling with us - although always a majority of women. We have visited local communities and the traditional owners of areas where mine sites are proposed where we held information stalls and listened to local concerns. We have been overwhelmed by the support and hospitality of local people and by the resistance they share to any involvement in the nuclear cycle.
Thirty six of the forty three uranium mines proposed for Australia are in Western Australia, not in remote localities as we are led to believe, but in the backyards of active indigenous and white communities. Of major concern to these communities is the potential contamination of their ground water should mining proceed in their region. They also worry about the future health and safety risks of disturbing what has traditionally been treated as "sickness country". It was inspiring to carry messages of solidarity between these small communities who face the common menace of the nuclear threat.
The most empowering, as well as perhaps the hardest aspect of our journey, was this direct contact with the land and people who are threatened by mine sites. While some communities seem well informed and determined to fight a mine proposal, others were shocked to learn of nearby mineral leases. They remain confused about their power to decide the fate of their own land.
Jigalong community is located 200km North East of Newman and is the potential site of the Pangea waste dump as well as being in close vicinity to the proposed mine at Kintyre. The residents feel excluded from the process of deciding whether a mine and/or waste dump should proceed in their area. Their views are consistently and conveniently misrepresented in parliament and by the mainstream media. They asked us to carry a strong message to the wider Australian community that there is no such thing as a 'remote' Australia which 'wants' a nuclear industry.
We consistently asked of ourselves: who exactly is it that wants these mines? Certainly not those people that will be forced to live the environmental and social consequences of uranium mining.
As always we discovered a maze of inter-related political issues lurking beneath the proposals for uranium mining in WA, the health and social problems of some indigenous communities as well as disputes within our own community.
It has been incredible to closely experience the richness of the landscape and people in these remote areas. Travelling by bicycle made us more approachable and interesting to both locals and travellers, breaking down some of the barriers that might have hampered contact with us. It also helped us to appreciate the realities of life in the region - water was not always available and there was sometimes long distances on average roads between roadhouses. Part of our commitment to cycle came from a desire to actively promote an alternative energy source - cycle power! - as well as to give us a closer look at the land we were passing through. However travelling by cycle had its problems; headwinds, road train dodging, broken spokes and flat tyres all contributed to long hard days on the road. Our tight schedule meant that we were unable to make the most of all the opportunities that come our way.
Taking on such a physically and emotionally demanding journey took its toll as we tried to juggle the many demands on ourselves both as individuals and as part of a group. In many ways the skills we learned in trying to live and work well together were as valuable as anything we might have learned about uranium issues. After all, we all must live together on this planet, and just imagine what great things humans could achieve if we worked well together.
In the wake of difficult and draining situations it was sometimes best to just get on our bikes and pedal furiously through the countryside - soaking up the delicious landscape and trying to remain open and positive.
We at least had the option to pedal away - the communities we visited must stay and confront the nuclear threat. Their strength in doing so and the memory of my tyres whirring through wildflowers in the shadow of the Pilbara escarpment will fuel my future work to stop uranium mining anywhere in Australia.
P.S. Look out for CANC3's next mission: Perth to Sydney - start your training now!