RAYMOND McLaren is the last person you would expect to see chained to a car in the middle of a forest protesting the construction of a coalmine.
But for more than 12 hours in the scorching summer heat on Monday, that is exactly where the 75-year-old pro-mining advocate was to be found.
The Tamworth man is well aware he challenges the prevailing stereotype of an environmental campaigner.
For 50 years, his Moonbi-based business Andromeda Industries has supplied mining companies with equipment to extract the earth’s most precious resources.
He supports Australia reducing its reliance on coal, but is a proponent of power stations switching to coal seam gas and eventually going nuclear.
In fact, his appearance at the Leard State Forest – his first protest and one that saw him arrested, issued with two criminal infringement notices and fined $420 – forced him to confront some of his own misconceptions.
“When I went out I expected to see a lot of young Greenies with rings in their noses, but it’s not like that,” he said.
“There’s a lot of young people, but there’s also a lot of ordinary people like myself and a lot of older people – the whole community is aware of this now.”
Mr McLaren is vehemently opposed to Whitehaven Coal’s plans to build a $767 million coalmine at Maules Creek, near Boggabri.
But while the majority of his fellow protesters are determined to scuttle the entire project, he believes the solution lies in changing the mine from open cut to underground.
“We can’t stop the mining industry, even though it is messy, but we do have to try and stop them destroying the last of our precious ecosystems,” he said.
“The alternative is to negotiate with and convince Whitehaven and others to go underground. I know it is more expensive, but I believe they need to do this.”
The problem is the mine, which Whitehaven says will employ about 450 residents and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy over the course of its life, has received state and federal government approval.
Whitehaven’s contractors have already progressed with clearing the forest and building a rail line, which is why protesters are now ramping up their direct action.
Mr McLaren, who is yet to decide if he will contest the infringements of obstructing a vehicle entering a public place and failing to comply with a police order, said he was committed to the cause.
“When it comes to destroying a forest like this, I think we have to draw a line,” he said.
“This ecosystem is too valuable to destroy for a few million tonnes of coal.”