We walk into the valley
Before we ever walk into the valley, we use bike locks to lock our necks to Solid Energy’s HQ. We organise public meetings, protest the Department of Conservation for their complicity in species extinction, and lock ourselves to train tracks in Heathcote.
Before we ever walk into the valley, other people have organised submissions and appeals.
Before we ever walk into the valley, we co-ordinate this guided tour and memorise things like ‘Happy Valley is home to thirty great spotted kiwi and the rare Powelliphanta patrickensis snail. Many other endemic species also live here: NZ robin, ngiru-ngiru, red tussock, pygmy pine (the world’s smallest conifer), pink pine, southern rata, and numerous rare mosses and lichens.’ ‘A mine in Happy Valley will extract five million tonnes of coal, exported primarily for use in the steel industry. This would lead to the emission of twelve million tonnes of carbon dioxide.’
Before we ever walk into the valley, some of us have joined Save Happy Valley, flatted together, met together, slept together, and some have not. We come from political families or we do not. We come from occupations as labourers, arborists, mechanics, or we do not. We attend the university or we do not.
Before we walk into the valley we meet on the early-summer-veranda of a villa in St Albans, pile into cars, buy fish ‘n’ chips, pile back into cars, stop in Amberley and Springs Junction on our drive across the Southern Alps, and camp at midnight in Les Warren Park in Westport
We walk into the valley past the corrie miners’ shed, across the three-rope bridge over the Waimangaroa River, through the colourful mosaic of red tussock wetlands, low forests of lush mountain beech and pygmy pine, dense mats of herbfield plants scattered over striking sandstone rocks and bluffs. Just like in the leaflet.
We walk into the valley and sit around a campfire on tarpaulins, so close we feel we are in each other’s laps, and we learn how to make Official Information Act requests.
We walk into the valley with 33 of us on 20 November 2005 in sunshine.
We walk into the valley again and find we cannot separate the stories of Save Happy Valley from Happy Valley. We debate whether we should be here, cutting tracks and stepping more than seven times in one spot of wetland, or not.
We walk into the valley again with 75 of us and set up an occupation, high summer, January 2006. We build a kitchen out of tarpaulins, trunks from the Dead Forest, and pipe from St Pat’s dam. We name places – Cellphone Ridge, Drinking Water River, the World’s Best Swimming Hole. We crawl through wetland for four hours to find a live carnivorous snail for the TV. We check for weka poisoned by Solid Energy’s ‘pest control.’
We walk into the valley again with seventeen of us and a yurt in pieces on our backs. A potbelly fire made of an old gas canister. We wake to the always-washed-out light, the expanse of valley that opens up from our camp. We explore the four-hundred-year-old forest, Blackburn-OrikÄkÄ pakihi over the ridge, the edges of Stockton mine (‘2308ha of opencast desecration’).
We practice walking in unsurveilled. This means dawn or dusk, with blue-filtered lights. But there is no other road to Denniston, only two main roads across the Southern Alps.
We walk into the valley again and stumble across thirty metres of cable, a camera, six car batteries. We make up sayings like, ‘It’s not paranoia if it’s real.’
After we walk in, we will walk out, talking anarchism and Native Forest Action. We will be road-blocked at Burnett’s Face and have our nameaddressoccupation taken by police.
We will meet at the barn in Waimangaroa and write a press release and eat pizza-oven pizza into the evening. We will meet people who campaign for the environment fourteen hours a day and we will go home inspired.
After we walk in, many more of us will join Save Happy Valley, flat together, meet together, sleep together. Some of us will hold hands, looking up at the stars and the lunar eclipse in August 2007, and some will not. Some of us will buy socks for 50c a pair at St Vinnie’s in Westport, and wear them flapping half off, and some will not. Two of us will occupy the train tracks again, and thirty of us will swarm the train. We will dream of the day when thirty people sit down on the tracks.
After we walk in, we will all move to Addington and some will not. The editor of The Press will write we are well-organised but misguided. We will still come from a generation and a decade with little overlap between organisers of the 1970s / 80s / 90s and now.
We will sit in a round meeting and tell our spy what he has done to us. We will wake up on October 15th 2007 to find that activists up north have been arrested, facing possible terrorism charges.
Solid Energy and the police will helicopter out our kitchen and our yurt and our visitor’s shed and our firewood shed; our occupation unattended after three years of rosters.
After this, only one Westport environmentalist will visit regularly. We will read his emails and the changing story of coal prices and river pollution. We will download his ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of nearby Mt Augustus.
A few of us will walk into the valley and there will be no camp to greet us. It will be wet again, and cold. The irony of the name, given by miners in bleak, bleaker conditions in the 1880s, clear to us again. We will lose these frequent trips to Westport with its high clear blue skies or persistent rain, and we will scatter – to Canada, the Rainbow Warrior, parenthood, Waiapu Road.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frances Mountier wrote ‘We walk into the valley’ while completing the Writing the Landscape paper at the IIML in 2010. She holds an MA in Creative Writing. Frances was in the Save Happy Valley Coalition from 2004-2008. She continues to work for a shift away from new coal mines through the Coal Action Network.