A ranking of William Hill's artistic NRL mascots, in order of how much I hate them

The NRL grand final is here, and weird, invasive betting agency marketing campaigns are here with it. Because I'm a young male who likes rugby league and Googles "Josh Mansour beard pics" at least four times a week, betting firms have been flooding my social media feeds with ads urging me to spice up my Saturday afternoon footy with the possibility of economic ruin.

In the run-up to the 2017 season, bookie giant William Hill wheeled out an ad campaign that was especially eye-catching, though probably not for the reasons they'd like: a commissioned series of drawings of anthropomorphised NRL team mascots from Melbourne-based artist Grange Wallis Made. In the days before a game, William Hill would pair the mascots up in ads urging you to place a bet, and stick them in your Facebook feed if the targeting was right. 

Here are those mascots. They scare the absolute shit out of me.

LOOK AT THEM. Really look at these things. I see these buff torments whenever I close my eyes. They're like monsters out of Greek mythology, if monsters out of Greek mythology had access to steroids and a VIP room at the Ivy. 

Because I won't ever be able to sleep again until I do, I've decided to rank these mascots (which I refer to as "the Sixteen Miseries") in ascending order based on how much they make me want to call an exorcist. I've collected screenshots of them over the last six months, and now I can share my awful findings with the world. Ignore that 'March 12' publication date up the top; that's when I started this extremely bad quest. It has been a long six months.

I should emphasise that I'm not having a go at Grange Wallis Made. He had a brief and he filled it, and making money as an artist in Australia is a tough gig. He's got some ripper art on his site, which you can check out here.

But if William Hill's going to force me to constantly look at fucked nightmare creatures just because I like football, I reserve the right to point out that these abominations should be locked in a vault filled with grave dirt and buried under a burned-out church. Let's do this.

#16: The Warrior

This is the only mascot that doesn't fill me with deep, pelvic floor-weakening fear. It's a guy holding a football! Nothing scary about that. His arms and head are in proportion to his body, which I like, and there's very little about his vibe that shrieks "Eldritch horror". Once he's done playing flashy but inconsistent footy, you could probably go for a beer with The Warrior.

Wallis Made has also done his homework and made sure the traditional tā moko markings on The Warrior's face and arms, topknot, pūkana facial expression and greenstone necklace are culturally appropriate, which is nice, right? It would've been easy to copy the "tribal" tatt patterns you see down Bondi Beach on a sunny day, but putting in a bit of effort not to be a racist jerk is a thing that not-garbage people do. If it had been left to the NRL, The Warrior would've been Paul Vautin in blackface.  Enjoy this moment, because things only get worse from here. 

#15: The Raider

I have mixed feelings about The Raider. I get the impression The Raider acts really tough and talks a lot of awful shit around his peers, but is secretly a bit of a goof who gets slightly uncomfortable when everyone else gets rowdy. I appreciate the effort he puts into his braided green moustache, and I feel like he would be really hurt if you made fun of it. The Raider is a wayward kid who's hanging out with the wrong crowd, and hopefully he realises he's on the wrong path and works out what's really important in life before too long. None of that excuses his behaviour, but I'm rooting for him.

#14: The Titan

At first glance there's nothing that fearsome about The Titan. He looks like Jeff Goldblum's character in the new Thor movie, which is dope as hell, and his cape and golden bracelet things are off the chain. His facial expression is meant to be "I am a great and angry god," but given what's going on with the rest of his outfit it reads more like "I am on some good drugs".

That said, there is one very good reason to be afraid of The Titan, and that reason is his awful dick. I put it to you that the bulbous white orb The Titan is clutching at crotch height is not a football, but rather his terrifyingly smooth, misshapen dick. I know this in my bones with a certainty that chills me.

#13: The Dragon

See, now we're getting into some real shit. We can all agree that, despite the weird fiery halo, The Dragon is obviously Satan come upon us. When you trade your soul for pinpoint kicking accuracy, as Cooper Cronk did, The Dragon is who you have to play football against in Hell for all eternity. He will fly over you with his big disgusting wings whenever you try to tackle him, which is technically not against the rules, and you can't tackle him anyway because his neck spikes will impale your fucking arms like toothpicks in rockmelon.

#12: The Knight

The Knight definitely wants to kill you, but that's not why he's scary. The Knight is scary because you assume he's all-human, but that assumption falls apart when you think about it for, like, two seconds. We have zero evidence so far that the William Hill creatures obey any natural laws, and I feel like the helmet is a double-bluff designed to put you at ease before something really bad happens.

On closer inspection, the 'helmet' appears to be perfectly moulded to The Knight's skull, and continues down his neck and beneath his jersey. I put it to you that The Knight's helmet is actually just a really jacked-up metal face, which at least gives him a motive for being so angry. Lastly, I don't know what the weird raw patch on his forearm is meant to be, but I do not trust it at all.

#11: The Cowboy

The Cowboy gets a higher ranking than the rest of the human-only mascots because he's the one most likely to be real, and that terrifies me. The Cowboy absolutely lives in far North Queensland, and he absolutely votes One Nation. He is not a charming, folksy cowboy who would save you from a rogue water buffalo, like Mick Dundee. He is the sort of cowboy who would offer you a cup of Bushells tea with Rohypnol in it and hogtie you to a tree for the buzzards to eat, like Mick Taylor. I hate The Cowboy.

#10: The Bulldog

The Bulldog weirds me out in a slightly different way to most of William Hill's other abominations, because The Bulldog has an oddly curvy bod? Look at them hips! Bulldogs do not have hips like that. They're stocky little mailboxes with feet, whereas this guy has a kind of Shakira thing going. This is the first mascot that doesn't have legs so muscly they look like Brutalist architecture. There's a joke in there somewhere about not skipping leg day, but in truth every other William Hill beast should skip leg day every day for forever, lest they get swallowed up by their own mutant gams.

There is also a huge vein popping out of The Bulldog's bicep, which means my dude is absolutely on the 'roids and probably has self-image issues. Get off that stuff, Bulldog! I know your face looks like a soggy tennis ball that's been stuck in a rain gutter for fifteen years, but drugs are not the answer. You gotta love you for you.

#9: The Storm

I'm guessing The Storm was the most difficult mascot to conceptualise, but I'm pretty disappointed the artist didn't go for a big black cloud with a frowny face on it. This guy is just a wizard with a skin disease that makes him look like a ripped blueberry.

Still plenty of reasons to hate him, though! He obviously has god powers, and is in the final stages of an incantation that will burn you down to a subatomic level. He's also levitating, which makes me think he maybe fell into our plane from the Dragon Ball Z universe and is in the middle of one of those power-up phases that took up twenty minutes of each episode.

Come to think of it, that glowing golden egg in his right hand: actual Dragon Ball? It's sure as hell not a football meant for human hands. Maybe rugby league games in The Storm's reality end when the egg-ball hatches and Shenron devours the world. One for the CSIRO to puzzle out.

#8: The Panther

The Panther isn't the biggest or the most powerful Nasty Football Boy, but he is absolutely the most angry. Look at that scowly cat face. The Panther is every cat that has ever been mad at you shoved into one flesh-prison and sprayed with a hose. His fur is glossy and well kept, and his fancy golden boots are very fresh, which he gets points for, but you would not notice those things when you have to hide in a pool forever to stop The Panther from mauling you.

#7: The Tiger

The Tiger.jpg

The Tiger gets a higher ranking than The Panther because of how frighteningly jacked it is. If you don't look properly, the orange part of The Tiger's uniform just looks like fur poking out of a needlessly low-cut jersey, and that feels like a personal slight. The Tiger also has the most well-defined tongue of any of these awful creatures, and that cannot bode well given what we've been through so far.

#6: The Sea Eagle

The Sea Eagle.png

I hate the Sea Eagle because he's obviously the preppy frat boy of the bunch. The Sea Eagle is the one most likely to pop his collar, or always have a possessive arm around his girlfriend at parties, or take a gym selfie that has a really obvious outline of his dick in it. The Sea Eagle will absolutely peck out your eyes, but then he'll probably make it even worse by saying something really homophobic about people with no eyes. The Sea Eagle votes Liberal, and probably has The Red Pill saved on a hard drive.

#5: The Rooster

Oh boy, ah geez, oh MAN. The Rooster. Okay. We're really getting into some rats-in-the-walls territory now.

The scariest part of The Rooster is none of the obvious things, like the huge red cheek-scrotums or the corn-chip hands. The Rooster's scariest quality is the eyes. Really stare into those dark-matter peepers. To use descriptors like "cold" or "dead" for The Rooster's eyes is to tacitly grant them a place in this Earthly realm that they do not deserve. The Abyss spat those little hell-nuggets out because they made The Abyss jittery. The Rooster's eyes are God's grave.

Also, turns out your typical rooster crest blown up to a human scale looks like a set of flesh bagpipes, so have fun knowing that for the rest of your life.

#4: The Shark

Firstly, why does a sharkman need little elbow-knives and claws on his awful webbed hands? He's mostly shark already, he doesn't need any more encouragement. Stop it.

The Shark looks scarily like Alan Jones, which is way too fitting to be an accident. He has an extremely wrinkly mouth, and looks like he's been photographed in the act of yelling at a brown person on a train station platform. The Shark is possibly the chunkiest of all the William Hill beasts, which makes me think he must be quite short and is really belligerent to compensate.

My main beef with The Shark, though, is that his tail is poking out the back of his little football shorts. How does he put those little shorts on with such a big tail? The Shark does not know. No one knows.

#3: The Bronco

I hate The Bronco with my whole body. I hate it extra hard because people have already spent thousands of years workshopping what human-horse hybrids are supposed to look like, and it's never been this bad. Centaurs have their problems, but they don't have quad muscles that are so big they form actual squares. I resent how the artist almost abandoned the hoofs-for-hands idea but not entirely, and compensated for that indecision by making The Broncos' hands needlessly shiny, like they've been bronzed.

Also, this feels like nitpicking at this point, but The Bronco has better hair than I do despite how obviously filthy he is over every single inch of the rest of his body. The Bronco clearly spends so much time snorting and huffing gunk all over himself with his giant gross horse nose, and somehow both his head- and butt-hair still stays shiny and silky smooth. I think about that and it makes me really upset.

#2: The Eel

Oh no. Oh NO.

The Eel actually makes me physically nauseous to look at, a bit. So much is deeply, karmically wrong here. The wrinkles over every available surface; the glassy, White Walker-esque eyes; the little wisps of what can only be hair around the chin and nostrils. 

The worst part of The Eel, though, is what goes unseen. It upsets me deeply to inform you that The Eel has to have the weirdest, grossest dick of all these monsters. Going off the rest of his body, The Eel's dick is sickly yellow with blue mottled stripes, has been pickled in seawater for twenty years, and has a fin on it. I'm so sorry your grand final has been ruined by knowledge of The Eel's dick-fin. I really am.

#1: The Rabbit

I loathe The Rabbit. I hate everything about it. I hate how, if you cover up The Rabbit's head, it could be just a very buff man with extremely hairy arms. I hate its on-brand headband and mouthguard. I hate how, if The Rabbit could make a noise, the only noise it could make would be "REEEE! REEEEEEEEEE!". Most of all I hate the tiny, exquisitely detailed bottom row of teeth in its open, scowling mouth.

I hate The Rabbit. I hate him so much.

Thank you for coming with me on this journey through the sixteen circles of my own private hell. I am very sorry.

Selective silence: Cory Bernardi, the "threat" of Islam and the Royal Commission

Senator Cory Bernardi’s announcement that he’s finally quitting the Liberal Party and starting his own conservative political movement has dominated news headlines and social media this week. The far-right Senator’s new Australian Conservatives party will attempt to capitalise on the rise in populist anti-immigration sentiment epitomised by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the domestic resurgence of One Nation.

Besides combating the prospect of same-sex marriage and campaigning to water down the Racial Discrimination Act, it’s likely the Australian Conservatives will have plenty to say on another of Bernardi’s favourite topics: Islam, or the supposed threat it poses to Australian society.

Bernardi has asserted that Islam is a “totalitarian, political and religious ideology”, called for the burqa to be banned as a “shroud of oppression”, and waged a long crusade against the halal certification of food. On Friday he’ll appear as a ‘special guest’ at a function thrown by the anti-Islamic Q Society, which has been at the forefront of efforts to stop the construction of a mosque in the Victorian town of Bendigo. In 2015 Bernardi alleged that terrorists could be among Australia’s planned intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees, despite all evidence suggesting such a scenario is extremely unlikely.

But even as Bernardi commanded the spotlight, far more concerning and devastating news has been coming out of Sydney, where the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was beginning its 50th public hearing.

In her opening statement to the hearing on Monday, counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness, SC, revealed some of the Commission’s horrifying findings on the scope and severity of child sexual abuse within religious institutions, especially the Catholic Church. According to the Commission, 4,444 people alleged instances of child sex abuse against members of 93 Catholic Church authorities between 1980 and 2015.

Even more astonishing than the number of victims is the number of abusers, particularly in Catholic orders. Around 20% of the membership of two Catholic orders that run schools, the Christian Brothers and the Marist Brothers, were accused of crimes against children. In one order, the St John of God Brothers, more than 40% of religious brothers were alleged to have abused kids.

But one figure especially stands out, arguably the most horrific of all. 7% of all Australian Catholic priests since 1950 have been accused of child sexual abuse. That’s about one in every 14 priests.

It’s worth looking at how those numbers compare to Bernardi’s pet obsession, Islam and domestic terrorism. 476,291 Australians self-identified as Muslim at the 2011 Census. The exact number of Australian Muslims charged with terror offences isn’t publicly available for security reasons, but a widely-cited Monash University study from 2011 puts the number at between 20 and 33. That means around 0.0069% of Muslims in Australia have been charged with terror-related offences, at least as of 2011. One in every 14,000 or so Muslims, in other words.

Putting those two sets of numbers side by side raises some interesting questions about who we’re told poses a threat to Australian society, and who actually does. If 7% of Australian Muslims were alleged terror suspects, that would mean a massive 33,340 would-be Islamist terrorists were currently residing in Australia. To put that in perspective, imagine if everyone in the NSW town of Orange woke up one day and decided that, rather than throw an Elvis festival this year, they’ll all join ISIS instead. Bernardi would certainly have his work cut out for him.

Despite what Bernardi, Pauline Hanson and many others say, though, you could fit all the Australian Muslims charged with terror offences pretty comfortably in the back half of a tram. So which is the greater threat? One in every 14,000 Muslims? Or one in every 14 priests? And which will Bernardi’s new Australian Majority focus most of its attention on?

Given the timing, it will be extremely interesting to see if newly-independent Senator Bernardi says a word about the Royal Commission’s findings, or if he continues to talk up a comparatively miniscule threat for the sake of headlines and political capital. Given the Vatican has refused to hand over documents involving Australian priests accused of abuse to the Royal Commission, it will also be instructive to see if Bernardi feels compelled to demand greater accountability from the Church of which he is a devout member.

For the rest of us, it might be worth wondering why we obsess over threats that we rarely see and almost never directly encounter, rather than the ones right in front of us. If we’d spent the last sixty years paying even a fraction of the attention to child abusers in the Catholic Church that we devote to Islamist terrorism today, that 7% wouldn’t have been able to wreak the horrendous damage that they did.

What It Really Means For Men To "Say No" To Violence Against Women

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the national conversation around domestic violence, and what it means for men who want to be part of the solution, while not necessarily recognising ways in which they may be part of the problem. At the moment, individual 'action' for men consists of broadly positive, impersonal statements or sentiments -- it might involve signing a petition, taking a White Ribbon pledge, posting a selfie or going to an anti-domestic violence round of the cricket or footy.

These actions, while well-intentioned, miss an extremely important point that many men don't consider. The biggest and most immediate priority for men who say they're against domestic and sexual violence is to recognise that men they know and care about are entirely capable of being harassers and abusers, and that they have an obligation to proactively and vigorously confront those men -- friends, family members, coworkers -- on their behaviour.

That sounds easy, but it's not. "Saying no to violence against women" is easy when the guy doing it is some vague, hypothetical Other in your head, or a drunken yob who fits your preconceptions of what a violent man looks like.

But when you hear on the grapevine that a friend of yours creeps on women at parties, or that the girlfriend he's always fighting with has bruises, and you ignore it or make excuses like "but he's a really good guy," you are not being neutral or "staying out of it".

Because other men in your circle are doing it too -- defending him, saying "it's complicated", grimacing slightly before shrugging it off. It's the textbook example of how decent, regular people come to be supporters and protectors of abuse. Individual silences that coalesce into a larger unspoken understanding -- a conspiracy of collective inaction that acts as a protective buffer around a man's violent, criminal behaviour. That is not neutral. That is aiding and abetting.

As recounted late last year by Brydie-Lee Kennedy for SBS Comedy and Kara Schlegl for The Saturday Paper, a real-life example of this phenomenon recently played out in Sydney's comedy community. A successful young comedian, who is not named in either article, was known to his friends and colleagues as being a serial abuser of women, especially of Kennedy, his one-time partner. Those friends and colleagues -- all fellow up-and-coming comedians, self-styled 'aware' and 'progressive' young men who said all the right things -- ignored what was clearly going on in front of them, choosing instead to isolate, belittle and ignore the women their friend abused. Even when the situation came to light in Kennedy's piece, many refused to countenance the possibility that their friend was an abuser. Read those two articles for a better picture than I can provide here.

Clearly this phenomenon of men talking a big game about opposing domestic violence while simultaneously wearing blinkers to instances of it in their own lives is much more entrenched and pervasive than many men would like to think. The flipside, and the opportunity, is that collective silence relies on the continuing participation of everyone involved. Once someone decides to actively and forcefully confront that silence, and the people at the heart of it, the buffer is cracked. The first domino falls. Conspiracies of silence are much weaker than they appear.

Being that person will not feel good. It'll mean you lose friendships. It'll mean conflict and pain with, and among, people you care about. Worse, it'll mean admitting that for a while, you let your love and friendship with someone blind you to the fact of their abuse.

But if we're genuinely serious about calling out violence against women, we need to recognise that we are signing up for something difficult. Something that involves unpleasantness, inconvenience, discomfort. Sacrifice.

That's the choice men have to make, fully aware of what it entails. Consciously discarding the luxury of ignoring what does not affect you is much harder than it sounds, and carries consequences that will have serious reverberations in your own life.

That is the price of entry. You don't get to claim the kudos of being "one of the good ones" while shirking the burdens that come with it -- burdens that women who speak out against abusers bear unaided and alone, with none of the self-congratulatory back-slapping men are so eager to give themselves for doing substantially less than the bare minimum.

Talking about it doesn't involve saying "domestic violence is bad!" and basking in the applause. It involves confronting the people, policies and institutions that perpetuate it, and dealing with the backlash.

This has all been said by countless women countless times, and is usually met with indifference, dismissal or hostility. That makes the business of being an active male opponent of violence against women both more powerful and more complex. The brutal and sad reality is that, as a man, people - especially other men - are more likely to pay attention when you talk about this stuff than when women do, especially at an interpersonal level.

At the same time, that dynamic is part of the problem, and speaking over women relating their own experiences or those of their peers can hinder more than it helps. Instead, lend your strength to them. If you're not sure how you can help someone, ask them, and listen to their response. Defend and support women who speak out - in conversations, in comments sections, and in private. You can't erase or cancel out your privilege, but you can use it in positive ways.

Most men have good intentions when they say "I oppose violence against women". But on their own, good intentions are vastly overrated. When they're not accompanied by defined and ongoing efforts to turn that sentiment into concrete action, good intentions have a nasty habit of going quiet when the rubber hits the road.

There's much more that could be written on this, like the various governments that jump on the "domestic violence is bad" bandwagon when it's in the news while actively perpetuating violence against women through their policies (hi Peter Dutton, thanks for reading), but that's enough for now. I'd love to hear people's thoughts, especially on anything I've overlooked or mischaracterised.

Beyond David Pocock: Why The Leard State Forest Deserves Saving

David Pocock locking himself to a bulldozer is great for all sorts of reasons, but a very minor one is that it's finally given me the push I needed to get my arse into gear and write something on the Leard Blockade. I went up there in June with plans to knock up a full-blown longform piece -- interviews with farmers and protesters, schmick footage of people getting arrested, occasional interjections of Feelings, the works -- and flog it off to any takers.

On the drive up I found out I'd gotten a job with Junkee, and I only managed to write an intro before I started steady work and it fell by the wayside. I tried to get back to it once or twice, but procrastination took over and now it's out of date. It'd be a shame to let what I managed to put together go to waste, so I figured I'd stick it here. Skip to the end if it's too long; I've added some stuff that's a lot more relevant to the here and now. Enjoy.

***

A Weekend In The Country

“Cold tonight, eh?”

The officer asking to see my licence seems nice enough; cops aren’t usually ones for smalltalk. Most likely he’s bored - stamping his feet by the road for hours in the dark, waiting for someone to come along and give him something to do. The car’s owner, James, is dog-tired, so when we reach the police roadblock where the cop’s waiting I’m the one driving. We’ve been on the road for ten hours, come from Sydney to camp at the foothills of the Nandewar Ranges north of Gunnedah. To go easy on James’ battler of a Mitsubishi, we opted to drive through the Hunter Valley instead of the harder route over the Blue Mountains.

Along the way we passed immense towers of dug-up waste, stacked piles of black dirt wedged rudely between acres of rain-brightened farmland, and for a while an immense coal train kept pace with us alongside, coming back from another delivery to the coast. When we pulled up in Kurri Kurri for a bite to eat freshly-printed issues of Coalface, the local miners-sponsored rag, sat in little bundles on street corners, carrying messages from luminaries like state Energy Minister Anthony Roberts and Joel Fitzgibbon that sang the praises of the Hunter’s immense coal industry.

We’re far west of the Hunter now, but Big Coal’s reach doesn’t seem to have diminished with the distance. For four years, Whitehaven Coal has been pushing to develop an immense coalmine near Maules Creek, a tiny village about forty minutes from Narrabri. The proposed area of the mine includes around 2000 square kilometres of the Leard State Forest, a protected area containing the last known stands of White Box gum, along with 31 endangered species.

In 2012, three locals decided they weren’t keen on the prospect of a coalmine for a neighbour, and set up camp in the forest where clearing was due to start. They stayed there for nine months by themselves, blocking the bulldozers and playing host to like-minded souls who would drift in and out, before the camp slowly started growing. In February the state government ordered the protesters to clear out, and banned all but employees of Whitehaven Coal from venturing into the proposed clearing area.

Since then, the protesters have been camped in a paddock belonging to one of the original three locals, a farmer named Cliff. They divide their time between maintaining the camp - sourcing and cooking food, digging toilet pits, helping Cliff out with odd jobs - and venturing illegally into the clearing site to lock themselves to machinery, block roads and generally make Whitehaven’s task a lot harder than it otherwise would be.

For years it’s been a long-running, slow-burning battle, but in recent weeks the stakes have gotten much higher. In May the state government waived the long-standing requirement for logging to cease during winter months, when many animals hibernate and are unable to escape disruption, and the bulldozers finally moved in. In the frantic days and weeks since, the miners have gone hell for leather cutting down as much forest as possible while the going’s good, the camp’s numbers have swelled with out-of-town supporters and locals intent on stopping them, and a growing contingent of police and private security officers have moved in to stand in the middle.

Things have come to a head on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Urged on by environmentalist organisations like 350 and GetUp!, a loose assortment of people styling themselves the Convoy Against Coalruption are heading up from Sydney and Canberra to lend their strength to the camp. Together the die-hards and the blow-ins will do their utmost to halt logging until a local group of farmers can file a class action suit against Whitehaven to cease activities at the local magistrate’s office on Tuesday. Dozens will be arrested, but that is kind of the point. The main body of the convoy will arrive on the Saturday afternoon, but some keen beans are making their way up the day before.

Hence why James, his friends Eliza and Ben, and myself, are being stopped at a police roadblock about three kilometres from the campsite, and are politely but firmly being asked to step out of the car.

After conferring with his chattier subordinate, the officer in charge takes over the running of things. He brusquely informs us that we will be subject to a search, car and bodies both, and sticks strictly to the script, answering our questions in legalese in a tone that very much suggests he’d rather not. James is patted down, and Eliza rolls up her baggy fisherman’s trousers at a female officer’s request as three more police go steadily through the car and everything in it, front to back. We watch as they shine torches into empty paper bags, poke around under the seats, go through our clothes and underwear with black-gloved hands.

As we wait by the side of the road we trade smalltalk with one of the more approachable cops, a friendly middle-aged bloke with a beer gut. He’s not local police; he’s been sent here from Wagga Wagga, around 700 kilometres away. He seems blissfully ignorant as to why any of us are here. “No idea mate, I’m just some gumby. They say ‘go here, do this,’ I go.” He shrugs cheerfully. Another cruiser comes down the road, and by the time it reaches us a carload of weary officers from the roadblock is tearing past us on the way back into town. The newcomers switch the cabin light on and sit, less than eager to begin the night shift.

As we stand shivering by the side of the road Eliza films the police on her phone, occasionally dropping narky comments. “Bit cold to be out on a night like this with no reason, hey?” She’s met with a wall of stolid silence from the cops, although.

Eventually there’s nothing left to search, and we pile back into the car. As we inch our way past the police one of the newcomers gives us a half-hearted wave. He’ll be spending a lot of nights like this.

***

That's all I had time to write. Very soon after we left the roadblock we reached the campsite, and I discovered that I'd only packed half a tent. In between crashing in the tent -- complete with tent poles -- that my new best m8 James had brought and stretching his charity well past acceptable levels for someone I'd met that weekend in various ways, it became apparent that I hadn't really prepared for this exercise enough.

That lesson was reinforced on the Sunday, when a call from my sister reminded me that I was supposed to be flying from Sydney to Alice Springs the next morning and James had to lend me his car so I could catch the last flight out of Tamworth. Sometimes I am very clever, but this was not one of those times.

Poor bloody James. He slept the whole two-hour drive to Tamworth, having been up since 4am to block off a mining road. In retrospect it's probably a good thing I slept through the 2am wake-up call for anyone willing to hike ten kilometres through the bush in the middle of the night to sneak into the logging site. If I'd woken up on time I would've been arrested the next morning, like the few dozen people who did manage it, and I would've spent the afternoon in the Boggabri police station instead of hooning through central NSW in someone's borrowed car.

As we neared the turnoff to the airport I was tempted to take a left into the cemetery that sits on the outskirts of town, but we didn't have time -- my flight was almost leaving the tarmac. If we'd had the chance, though, I would've liked to visit my grandmother. She died a long time before I was born, but I think she would've liked my being out at the Leard.

Not many people from the city make it out to that part of the world, but I spent a lot of time there growing up. It's where my mother and father come from; my mum's parents still have a house outside Coonabarabran, and when I was a teenager my dad would take me out camping around Mount Kaputar, or in the Warrumbungles. Sometimes on the return leg of some huge driving trip we would stop in Tamworth cemetery, and say hi to his mum.

I didn't go out to the Leard because I believe in the rightness of what those protesters are doing from a political standpoint, although I do. I went out there because I am a part of that country, and it's a part of me. It shaped my parents, the people to whom I owe everything. My Nana and Pa made their lives on it. My grandmother is buried in it. To see it desecrated, to see its beauty and strangeness blasted and ruined to make money for people who will never understand what they're destroying, is not something I can easily accept.

I don't even live there -- I can't imagine how farmers like Rick Laird and Cliff Wallace, who've worked the land their whole lives, or the Gamilaroi people, who have called it home for millennia, must be coping with the impending loss of their country. That kind of pain explains how a farmer could willingly host a semi-permanent campsite of up to a hundred hippies on his property free of charge, or how a couple of people could live out in the bush for years on end with nothing but possums and court orders for company to stop bulldozers clearing the forest.

It explains why people would lock themselves to mining equipment for hours on end, willingly subjecting themselves to arrest and the death-by-bureaucracy of the courts that eats away at a person's motivation and finances. It explains how people can lie down in front of bulldozers, face off against balaclava'd thugs imported as private security and get up on freezing winter's mornings to cook breakfast for a group of strangers. It's because no matter what indignities and setbacks they're subjected to, the alternative -- the loss of the land that raised them -- is so bad it demands great sacrifices to avoid it.

People are capable of great things when the cause is good enough, and in this case it is. That land -- forest, farmland, wildlife, water table -- is worth fighting for. With a lot of work and support and luck, we just might be able save it.

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Find out more about the Leard Blockade here.