POLICE have arrested two Aboriginal elders at a protest to stop Rio Tinto blasting at Warkworth mine.
Wonnarua elders Kevin Taggart and his sister Pat Hansson were arrested after telling police they would not move from the side of Putty Road.
The arrests occurred after police warned they would take action, and about 10 other protesters indicated they would leave. This followed legal advice.
Bulga residents are protesting the expansion of Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine, the closure of Wallaby Scrub Road and the destruction of Aboriginal and European cultural heritage.
Police moved on the protest after more than three hours of a stand-off, to allow Rio Tinto to carry out blasting operations at the mine.
Bulga resident Stewart Mitchell, 72, said he was shocked by police actions after Mr Taggart and Mrs Hansson indicated they would not be leaving.
“I am rattled. I’m shocked about the manner in which they carried it out,” Mr Mitchell said.
“It’s the wrong way to go about things.”
Mr Mitchell said Bulga residents had fought for more than six years to stop the mine expansion.
“Justice was cruelly snatched away from us by the NSW Government, which re-approved the mine project, and stripped us of our right to challenge the new approval in court,” he said.
“The rules are rigged against us.
“We have been left with no option but to protest.
“We set up our peaceful vigil in frustration with a system that values coal above all us, and we are used to the state government siding with Rio Tinto against us. But even we are shocked that the government would send in the police to break up a peaceful vigil.”
Locals say they are undeterred, and will continue to hold protest vigils.
“We are taking a stand for justice,” said Mr Mitchell. “Community and culture is more important than coal. We know we have a lot of public support in NSW, and we expect that many people come to our vigil to support us.”
A Rio Tinto spokesman said the NSW Planning Assessment Commission found the benefits of the mine expansion outweighed the costs.