On Friday, June 2 Magistrate Andrew Eckhold delivered an important judgment in Singleton Local Court on the criminal charges laid against siblings and Wonnarua Elders Kevin Taggart and Patricia Hansson.
Mr Eckhold had heard almost three days of evidence in the case relating to a protest meeting held on Monday, July 20, 2016 on Putty Road that ended in the arrest of Kevin and Patricia and subsequent laying of criminal charges against the pair.
On the day Kevin had been with a small group of Bulga and Broke residents sitting quietly beside the road to protest against plans by Rio Tinto to close Wallaby Scrub Road as part of its expansion of the Warkworth mine.
The group had the billy boiling and were enjoying the sunshine on a winters day. But that all changed when the police arrived and advised them the road was to be shut for a blast at Warkworth mine.
In a short period of time Kevin, who had been joined by his sister just before the arrest, found himself on the ground with a number of police officers on top of him and then Patricia became distraught at the police actions also found herself being arrested and carried from the site.
Mr Eckholsd acquitted Kevin and Patricia of all charges in particular the charge that Kevin assault police officer in execution of duty.
In his judgment he reminded those in the court that the country was about to celebrate the 25 anniversary of the Mabo judgement which recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait or native title in Australia for the first time.
He went onto say as Aboriginal Elders the siblings had a right to protest against what they saw as destruction of their country.
During the hearing questions had been raised about the legality of Rio Tinto’s decision to blast on the Monday as it had not been advertised.
Of note Mr Eckhold asked the question what would have been the police response if they had been notified that an illegal blast was about to take place.
That is a very interesting question indeed.
The other question that arose during the court case was the fact that of all the protesters in attendance that day only the two Aboriginal Elders were arrested.
As a society we must ask ourselves why do we continue to treat our first people in such a manner.