DISMISSED as tree-hugging hippies, derided as economic vandals and even disparaged for their so-called questionable hygiene.
The members of the Front Line Action on Coal (FLAC) protest camp, a fluid little community – some stay for a day or two, while others have chalked up more than a year of occupation – are comfortable in their surroundings and confident in their mission.
That mission is to stop the powerful Whitehaven Coal, headed by former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile, from constructing a $767 million open-cut coalmine in the Leard State Forest.
It’s a tall order given the controversial mine received both state and federal government approval, an appeal
to the federal court failed and the bulldozers have already moved in.
But this committed bunch of environmentalists – from backgrounds so diverse as to not be easily categorised any other way – will not entertain surrendering in their David-and- Goliath battle.
“We actually have to stop this thing going ahead,” Canberra woman Rebecca Horridge said.
“We have to try to draw attention to this rort.”
The “rort” frequently spoken of around the unglamourous camp – comprising a collection of tents, tarps and tepees – is the penance the company must pay for the plants, animals and habitat the mine destroys.
Whitehaven Coal concedes the project will disrupt more than 21 million square metres of land at the Maules Creek site, but says the purchase of land five times that size to offset the impacts more than fulfils its environmental responsibilities.
“It’s like punching your sister and apologising to your brother,”22-year-old Sydneysider Helen War said.
Life at the camp, which was founded by activist Murray Dreschler in July last year, is relaxed and convivial.
Chores, such as tending plants in the greenhouse or cleaning the solar panels that supply electricity, are shared.
They rely on donations of food, water, firewood and other supplies from supporters in the surrounding communities.
In fact, it is this assistance that has them believing it is possible to generate such a groundswell of opposition to the mine that Whitehaven Coal could walk away.
“I have never felt so much support from a community,” Miss Horridge said.