TAMWORTH senior citizen Russ Watts has a lengthy medical history but never had a criminal charge laid against him until taking part in a protest at the Boggabri coalmine this week.
Mr Watts, an 84-year-old birdwatcher with not even a speeding fine to his name, will appear in Narrabri Local Court at the end of the month for chaining himself to the gate of the Boggabri coalmine’s coal haul road on Tuesday, preventing access by its staff.
Mr Watts, a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), has apparently undergone four bypass surgeries and is on heart medication but didn’t let that stop him taking part in the protest he felt “was the right thing to do.”
Police arrived at the end of the protest that had seen about 20 Maules Creek community members meet for the second day in a row to campaign against the development of three open cut coalmines in the area.
Protesters said Mr Watts had just unchained himself and was about to leave when police, acting on a call from the company that operates the mine, arrested him.
They then took him to the Narrabri Police Station where he was charged with hindering working of mine equipment.
The former Barraba landholder has never been charged with an offence and has never been in court and says his first protest at the coalmine could now be his last.
He received national attention with his AM status in 2008 after helping devise birdwatching routes near Barraba and being an all-round eco-tourism advocate.
Mr Watts said his part in the protest was all about bringing notice to the Leard State Forest and its 21 species of birds – all under threat from the mining expansion.
“It seems as though nothing really matters any more. Mines shouldn’t go ahead at the expense of forest,” he said.
Mr Watts is due to appear at court on September 25.
His fellow protesters are seeking to get his case moved to the Tamworth court so he won’t have to travel to face the charge in Narrabri.
Fellow protester Phil Sparks of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment, a local environmental activist group whose members have taken part in similar protests in the past and also been arrested, says they were concerned about the seemingly new obstruction charge against Mr Watts.
He says the group is consulting with an Environmental Defender’s Office solicitor who could help defend him.
It is believed the company operating the mine, Idemitsu Australia Resources, could also be seeking damages for lost production as a result of the coal haulage road blockade by the group on Monday and Tuesday.