Arabunna Elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott passed away in Alice Springs on November 29, 2023. A fierce advocate for his people and for a nuclear-free Australia, Kevin will be sorely missed.
Kevin Buzzacott on Arabunna country in front of a water pumping station for the Olympic Dam mine.
Kevin was born in 1946 at Finniss Springs, on Arabunna country in South Australia. As a youngster, he learnt culture, language, how to live off the land, and he learnt to work with cattle and horses. Over the years, Kevin and his family lived in many places including Alice Springs, Tarcoola and Gawler. He worked on the railways for many years.
In 1984, Kevin moved to Port Augusta, where he worked as alcohol and drug worker. In 1985 he moved to Alice Springs where he worked on the successful campaign to stop the damming of the Todd River. He helped establish the Arrernte Council in Alice Springs and served as an ATSIC regional Councillor.
In the mid-1990s Kevin returned to South Australia to protect Arabunna country. One of his major campaigns was to try to stop the rapacious water take from the Great Artesian Basin by mining company WMC (and later BHP) to supply the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine at Roxby Downs. The daily extraction of around 40 million litres of water has adversely affected the precious Mound Springs on Arabunna country ‒ desert oases supported by the underlying Great Artesian Basin. Kevin’s campaign might eventually succeed: there are plans to build a desalination plant on Spencer Gulf which could lead to a reduction and possible cessation of the water take from the Great Artesian Basin.
“I’ve been at this game of calling for justice and peace for 30, maybe 40 years, but what really got me going was when Western Mining Corporation (WMC) set up the Olympic Dam mine. They started doing deals with the government on pastoral leases. So they did deals with S. Kidman & Co. and took up one of their cattle stations, Stuart’s Creek Station, which is on Arabunna land. Because of our native title and ongoing land rights campaigning, we’ve been fighting for these places for a long time. Stuart’s Creek is a very special, sacred place for us, and we’ve been trying to get it back for a long time.
“I thought that just before they bought that place I’d go and protest and camp on it. Also, it is on that station, on the shores of the Lake Eyre, where WMC started taking the sacred water out of the Lake Eyre Basin. That was where they started sucking the life blood out of us. That is where they put their big bore down, right on the shores of the lake. That was a real kick in the guts for me and really got me going.”
Kevin set up a protest camp on Arabunna country:
“I weighed it all up and I said to the mob, ‘I need some help out here. We’ll set up camp and contest WMC.’ There were a lot of levels involved with fighting the mine, but making the camp was like reclaiming the land or making a statement.
“We had a lot of tourists that came to visit, and were interested in finding out what was going on. Thousands of people came through the camp. We had flyers at an information tent, and free tea and coffee; we set up a lot of things. People who came across us on a trip to the desert and Lake Eyre learnt about the issues and were concerned about what was going on. When they talked with us they were upset about what was going on. Nobody knew about it, and that was one of the reasons in my mind why that was happening out in the desert.”
The protest camp was established in March 1999. WMC was among the most viciously racist mining companies in Australia and true to form, the company tried to have Arabunna Elder Kevin Buzzacott evicted from Arabunna country. The protest camp lasted until it was busted up by WMC goons and local police in December 1999.
Kevin initiated court actions against WMC and the federal government. These actions weren’t successful in the courts but helped draw attention to the issues Kevin was fighting for:
“I did a court action against Hugh Morgan, who was the head of WMC. I charged Hugh Morgan with genocide, trying to flush him out and some of the shareholders. Hugh Morgan is based in Victoria. People in Melbourne deserve to live in a good place, they don’t need to live with these criminals and warmongers. Another court action I did was one I brought against Alexander Downer and Senator Robert Hill for stopping Lake Eyre from becoming a World Heritage site.”
After the protest camp on Arabunna country was busted up, Kevin set up a protest camp at Genocide Corner ‒ outside the SA Governor’s residence in the centre of Adelaide:
“I had to go to Adelaide for the court case against Hugh Morgan, and when I was there the charges against Hugh Morgan were dismissed. The judge was a pastor in the Lutheran Church, and I asked him to stand down because I believed he had a conflict of interest as his church was a shareholder in the WMC. When he refused to do so I told him to get stuffed, walked out and went straight down to Government House to start a protest. I took banners, and whatever things I had.
“While I was talking to the media I was confronted by the cops. I looked over the road and saw a patch of grass and thought, “Bugger it, I’ll make camp and a fire here.” I ended up calling it genocide Corner, and renamed Adelaide the City of Genocide. It was on the intersection of King William Street and North Terrace [one of the main intersections in the city] so loads of people were passing by. Four ceremonial fires for peace were lit, and after 21 days the Adelaide City Council and 50 police came down and arrested me for failing to cease to loiter. It was one of those laws they hadn’t used in a long time, but they used it to clear away all my stuff and my supporters. One of the court conditions was that I was not able to walk within the vicinity of Genocide Corner. I was of a mind just to walk straight back there, but I had the Peace Walk from Lake Eyre to Sydney coming up so I had to let that one go.”
The Peace Walk was timed to reach Sydney for the Olympics in September 2000:
“We walked for months, for 3,000 kilometres, and all sorts of people from all walks of life joined us. We were carrying the fire for peace and justice. I made sure that we went through lots of different Aboriginal communities. I got a lot of support, but the government also pressured a lot of people not to support me by threatening their jobs and funding. Each place we went to, people took us through their land and we respected each mob.
“There were all types of pressure put on people along the way. The cops were nasty and threatened some of the walkers with guns and everything. I visited all the jails along the way from Broken Hill to Dubbo and Bathurst. It was sad to see so many young brothers confined and locked up.
“We went to Canberra and met up with the Tent Embassy mob. A couple of politicians came to meet us and then we all went to Government House to present the Governor-General with a document of peace and justice.
“When we arrived in Sydney for the Olympic Games the Tent Embassy mob had already set up a camp [in Victoria Park], so we joined up with them. We did all sorts of things. We did a re-enactment at the beach where Captain Cook came in. We re-enacted the bad way in which he came with guns and all that and then the next day we did how they should have come.”
In 2002, Kevin reclaimed the Emu and Kangaroo totems from the Australian Coat of Arms hanging outside Parliament House, Canberra:
“I had watched the Federal Police arresting our people at the Tent Embassy and other places. They all wore these caps with the Emu and Kangaroo emblem on them. I knew how sacred these animals were to us and I had talked with old people about how the government was misusing them while they locked us up and treated us like dirt. On the 30th anniversary of the embassy I told everyone that I had a plan and that they should join me with their cameras. We went up to Parliament and I climbed up one of the pillars and grabbed the Coat Of Arms and walked off with it. It was in broad daylight and I said: “I’m not stealing this, I’m reclaiming it and taking back the use of our sacred animals.”
“Years later [in 2005] when I was visiting Canberra the cops came down to the Tent Embassy with a summons for theft and defacing government property and so on. During the court case I questioned their authority and jurisdiction over me and over this land. I talked to the jury about the imposition of foreign laws upon our people and the theft of our lands and got a 12-month suspended sentence with good behaviour.”
Peace Pilgrimage to Japan
In 2004, Kevin participated in the Peace Pilgrimage from the Olympic Dam uranium mine to Hiroshima, Japan:
“During the first walk and then in Sydney we met people from all over and that got everything going. Aboriginal nations from Queensland were saying there should be a walk up the coast to show the world the things they were suffering. Then some people made contact with people in Hiroshima to have a walk from the uranium mine in Roxby to where the bomb was dropped in order to show how all these things are linked. Aboriginal people, Japanese monks, all sorts of people were involved. It started at Roxby and then went to Canberra and then an aeroplane took us to Japan where we walked all over the country. We visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima and met a lot of people who were kids when the bombs were falling. We did talks and took part in a huge ceremony on the anniversary of the bomb being dropped. There were people everywhere and lanterns lit and people crying, it was full on.”
In 2006, Kevin went to Melbourne for the Stolenwealth Games:
“After the court case I came down to Melbourne where Robbie Thorpe and others were setting up a camp in Kings Domain during the Commonwealth, or Stolenwealth, Games. We had hundreds of people camping and visiting. We also had all sorts of hassles from the cops and council and everyone else, but we stayed put and proved our point.
“When the games came we had rallies and big marches and ceremonies and I talked about the need for justice and the need for white Australia to respect our cultural values and to stop the destruction of our sacred sites and our country.”
And Kevin was back in Melbourne in 2008 for BHP’s Annual General Meeting:
“BHP have taken over WMC. They now own Olympic Dam and want to make it bigger. Myself and others who want to stop the mine got to be proxies for shareholders, they gave us tickets and we got to go inside on their behalf. I got to speak and I told the people there about the damage they are doing and that they need to stop it immediately.
“Aboriginal people have lived here for more than 40,000 years and cared for this country, but now its being turned into a sick and evil place. Myself, and others around this country, were born to be peacemakers.
“We mustn’t be frightened to educate others and fight, but not in a warlike way, to protect the earth and let everything run free. I don’t want to shoot or bomb the people from BHP and the others who are destroying this country because two wrongs don’t make a right. I think if I can help them to wake up to what they are doing then that will be punishment enough.”
Kevin was at the first meeting of the Alliance Against Uranium (later renamed the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance) in 1997, and for many years he served as the Alliance’s President. He actively supported countless campaigns against uranium mining and plans to dump nuclear waste on Aboriginal land. He was at the Beverley uranium mine supporting Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners in May 2000 when SA police viciously and illegally attacked protesters, children and journalists. Kevin was at the Lizard’s Revenge protest at Olympic Dam in 2012.
In 2001, Kevin was awarded Nuclear-Free Future Resistance Award by the Nuclear-Free Future Foundation and travelled to Ireland to accept the award.
In 2006, Kevin was awarded the SA Conservation Council’s Jill Hudson Award.
In 2007, Kevin was awarded the Australian Conservation Foundation’s 2007 Peter Rawlinson Award for two decades of work highlighting the impacts of uranium mining and promoting a nuclear free Australia. ACF Executive Director Don Henry said:
“Kevin is a cultural practitioner, an activist, an advocate and an educator. He has travelled tirelessly, talking to groups large and small about the impacts of uranium mining and the threats posed by the nuclear industry. Kevin has had a profound impact on the lives of many people – especially young people – with his many tours and ‘on-country’ events. For many young activists ‘Uncle Kev’ is truly an unsung hero and, against the current pro-nuclear tide, his is a very important struggle and story.”
Kevin participated in many of the Radioactive Exposure Tours run by Friends of the Earth. We camped at the ‘Old Lake’ (Lake Eyre) and generations of young activists learnt first-hand about the impacts of the Olympic Dam mine on country and culture.
Kevin’s partner Margret Gilchrist passed on Kevin’s final message when he returned to Alice Springs with his health failing: “Keep that old fire burning, don’t stop til we’ve won, Lake Eyre for World Heritage.”
[Written by Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.]