Unionists and environmentalists came together to celebrate Vern Moffitt (1924-2001) and Joyce Moffitt (1930-1999) renowned unionists, environmentalists and social justice advocates. - A piece by Janine Kitson
The celebration took place when the Moffitt family ‘unveiled’ a copy of the newly installed ‘Moffitts Pagodas’ sign, installed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the Gardens of Stone National Park. Unionists and environmentalists came together to pave a way forward for a new environmental justice future that protects both jobs and environmental values of Lithgow's Gardens of Stone region. The day of celebration and speeches on Wednesday 5th December, 2018 was held at three places in Lithgow – the Tin Shed Café (69 Bridge Street), Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Place (off Wolgan Road) and the Vale of Clwydd Hall (corner Hartley Valley Road and Mort Street).
Moffitts Pagodas, Gardens of Stone National Park. Photo by Peter Drinkall
Union flags and banners waved in Lithgow in late December, 2018 as retired unionists caught the 8.48am fast train across the Blue Mountains arriving at Lithgow at 11.17am. Members of the CRUMA – the Combined Retired Union Members Association – organised this celebration in collaboration with Jim Angel, former Mayor of Blue Mountains and the Gardens of Stone Alliance (Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Blue Mountains Conservation Society and Lithgow Environment Group).
CRUMA has a long and proud union history that dates back to the 1970s when, as young unionists and activists, they worked alongside Jack Mundey the then Secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation’s (BLF) and went on strike in support of the world’s first Green Bans that saved so much of Sydney’s environmental and built heritage from demolition. CRUMA continues this tradition of building bridges between the union and environment movement and has strongly supported the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 Reserve Proposal by three visits to Lithgow in 2018 (13 June, 208; 7 August, 2018 and 5 December, 2018). Legendary Jack Mundey and his wife Judy joined the visit, along with veteran unionist, barrister and author Mick Tubbs.
Mark Morey, Unions NSW Secretary was unable to attend but sent the message of support - “Congratulations CRUMA for this celebration of unionists Vern and Joyce Moffitt. It is great to see their contribution to the union and environment movement finally recognised.”
Likewise Sally McManus, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary sent a message of support - “Lithgow unionists Vern and Joyce Moffitt can only inspire today's generation to work in solidarity and demand that we change the rules to ensure dignity and respect for workers and the environment. Best wishes for this important union celebration!”
Other unions joined the celebration including Unions NSW’s Retired Unionists, CFMEU’s Retired Members, the Blue Mountains Unions Community Alliance, and representatives from the NSW Teachers Federation.
On arrival at Lithgow Railway Station unions and environmentalists marched down the main street of Lithgow carrying their signs and chanting in the answer “Gardens of Stone” to the question “What do we want?” Then in answer to “When do we want it?” came the strong and affirmative “Now”. Legendary Jack Mundey, despite his age, was determined to walk in solidarity with his union colleagues down the main street. There they stopped outside National Party’s Paul Toole’s office with their placards. Paul Toole, as Member of Parliament for Bathurst had been invited to the Moffitt celebration. Despite being unable to attend he sent the following message of support, “I would like to acknowledge Vern & Joyce Moffitt for their significant contribution made to the community of Lithgow through their environmental initiatives over the years.” Vern Moffitt at one time was the President of the Bathurst Branch of the Farmers’ Federation.
After the long train trip and march through Lithgow’s main street, it was time for the retired unionists to have bite to eat and coffee at Lithgow's up-and coming-trendy Tin Shed Café. There they were welcomed by up to 70 other environmentalists, community members, and even the odd coal miner. Speeches began with Aunty Helen Riley, who welcomed all to Wiradjuri land, followed by Greens MLC David Shoebridge who coincidentally happened to be in town before heading off to oppose the destruction of Wahluu Aboriginal Place from being decimated by a go-kart track on Mt Panorama. Before leaving for Bathurst he tweeted “Great to be with retired unionists in Lithgow, who are still fighting. Stone Gardens is a World Heritage area under threat from mining. I couldn’t think of anyone better to make sure it stays protected.
Lithgow Deputy Mayor Wayne McAndrew welcomed the unionists and environmentalists to Lithgow and saluted the much revered unionists Vern and Joyce Moffitt.
“I want to acknowledge Vern and Joyce Moffitt and their family. Vern was a legend of coal mining in my time and cared about the health and safety of everyone,” said Clr McAndrew.
Clr Andrew recounted the outstanding oratory skills that Vern Moffitt possessed that could convincingly persuade a gathering of up to 1000 unionists to take action.
Clr McAndrew concluded by saying “Please don’t demonise the industry and the men and women who make a living from working in the mines” whilst graciously admitting that “things had to change”.
Lithgow City Council Deputy Mayor Wayne McAndrew welcoming unionist and environmentalists to Lithgow. Photo courtesy of Lithgow Mercury.
Mick Tubbs, veteran trade unionist Elder, along with CRUMA’s John Koch, acknowledged the deeply personal tragedies that unemployment could bring to a community when mining jobs were lost. However John Koch continued by saying that “CRUMA hadn’t given up on trying to preserve the Gardens of Stone. We may have one foot in the grave but we aren’t giving up, CRUMA will return to Lithgow. We aren’t frightened to deal with difficulty issues to go up against highly sensitive issues”. Terry Relph, retired Maritime unionist reminded the audience how jobs for Australian seafaring sailors had all but disappeared.
Kathryn Newton read a message of support from the Lithgow Branch of the National Trust (NSW) that reminded the gathering that the Gardens of Stone campaign had won a National Trust Heritage Award for Best Advocacy Campaign in 2017.
Former Blue Mountains Mayor Jim Angel remarked how Vern and Joyce Moffitt celebrated the history of unionism protecting the environment. Not only were the Moffitts champions for Lithgow workers but they played a pivotal role in the gazettal of the Gardens of Stone National Park.
Jim Angel said the Moffitt celebration was “long overdue”.
Jim Angel had first brought to CRUMA’s attention the enormous achievements of Vern Moffitt on CRUMA’s first visit to Lithgow in June 2018. There at the Lithgow Workies Club he recounted how the Moffitts were pivotal in protecting the Gardens of Stone. They even had an outcrop of pagodas named after them by the then Minister for Environment Bob Debus in 2007. However the commissioned National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) ‘Moffitts Pagoda’ sign never materialised and somehow was forgotten.
With the encouragement of CRUMA’s support to build bridges between unionists and environmentalists, Jim Angel then agitated the NPWS to finalise the ‘Moffitts Pagodas’ sign. This was completed and installed in early December 2018 for CRUMA to ‘unveil’. However, the road leading to the installed sign in the Gardens of Stone National Park – World Heritage listed was only accessible by four wheel drive. An alternative location was needed and thanks to the Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Corporation who gave permission for the Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Place to be the location of the unveiling of a replica of the ‘Moffitts Pagoda’ sign.
Then when local tourist operator Thomas Ebersoll heard about the call for cars to help transport the retired unionists from the Tin Shed Café to Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Place, he recognised it as ‘impossible’ and generously donated the funds to hire a Lithgow Buslines coach to transport the assembled guests to Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Place, off Wolgan Road. Thanks to the support of Aunty Helen and the Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Corporation, the venue for the unveiling of the ‘Moffitts Pagodas’ sign was to take in the spiritual heartland of Wiradjuri people.
Unionists & environmentalists gather to walk down to coach donated by local tourist hotelier Thomas Ebersoll, to travel to Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Place. Photos courtesy Lithgow Mercury.
Not only was a copy of the Moffitts Pagoda sign to be unveiled at Maiyingu Marragu - but also the two massive 30 metre banners written in Wiradjuri - Nganga-dha walawalag Malang - meaning “Respect for Country and People”. These banners had been part of a Gardens of Stone celebration in November 2017 and one of them had been promised as a gift to the Wiradjuri people. To get the 30 metres banners to the site, Stephen Allen, Treasurer of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, had to cancel his camping holiday to New Zealand and get up at 5am to drive from Wollongong to bring them to Lithgow.
So at Maiyingu Marragu Aboriginal Place – again with Aunty Helen Riley welcoming the many guests, the ‘Moffitts Pagodas’ scelebration began in earnest. Speeches were given by Jim Angel, Bob Debus and Keith Muir – all of them acknowledging the Moffitts' desire for the Gardens of Stone region to be protected. Keith Muir argued how vital the Gardens of Stone was to Lithgow’s tourism and that “Nothing about the Gardens of Stone reserve proposal is threatening to Lithgow’s economy” predicting that in time Lithgow would become the new Katoomba.
The replica ‘Moffitts Pagoda sign was unveiled by the Moffitt family that included his three children – Michael, Robert and Joanne and their children. It was a proud moment to finally acknowledge the sign that the Moffitts Pagodas were remembered. .
Peter Drinkall, Lithgow poet opened the ceremony playing his guitar and singing the song he had written – ‘Gardens of Stone’. At the conclusion of the ceremony he finished with his song ‘Maiyingu Marragu’. Then Aunty Helen invited all to walk between the sacred gum trees, along the path to view the Wiradjuri people’s treasured, sacred and spectacularly beautiful rock art but to make sure, before they climbed the steps, to leave their negativity behind.
After viewing this natural heritage, the unionists then boarded the ‘Ebersoll bus’ and headed to the Clwyd of Vale Club where the Vale Ladies Club served a delicious, old fashioned afternoon tea with homemade sandwiches, cakes, slices and plenty of cups of tea. Speeches were made again beginning with the Moffitts’ sons – Michael and Robert – who shared stories of their parents. Michael eloquently described the danger of disunity between workers and environmentalists. Corporations that destroy workers’ rights also destroy environmental rights.
Lee Rhiannon, former Greens Senator, then shared her memories of how her parents knew and worked with Moffitts on social justice issues – and how the Moffitts were great family friends.
Trish Doyle, MP, Member for Blue Mountains, unable to attend the morning session, made sure she joined for the final show of solidarity. In a letter to CRUMA, dated 6 November, 2018, she wrote of her looking forward to joining the members of CRUMA in the afternoon at the Clywdd of Vale Hall and that:
I wish to acknowledge the important work of unionists past, present and future, and in particular the contribution of Vern and Joyce Moffitt. As unionists, they worked tirelessly to further the rights and conditions of their fellow workers.
They obviously had great vision and recognised the importance of the environment in the lives of workers and their families. Their passion for workers’ rights, the environment, social justice and human rights has left a very significant legacy in the Bathurst and Lithgow areas.
It is wonderful that at this very special gathering CRUMA is bringing together a bunch of people who share their passion and enthusiasm for the environment. During these difficult political times, dominated by neo-liberal conservatism, occasions such as this which build on this legacy and passion, can act as a positive and constructive bridge between unionists and other environment activists.
I look forward to having the chance to meet with CRUMA members, hear their stories and exchange ideas about the way to protect the environment so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.
Trish Doyle then graciously announced the winners of the first ever ‘Gingerbread-Pagoda-Houses’ that Retired CFMEU Clelia Koch had spent weeks in the kitchen preparing. Further raffle prizes were donations of a NSW Parliamentary Pack of Wine, overnight accommodation at the Newnes Hotel Cabins and the Fat Wombat Farm Bed & Breakfast.
Returning to the Lithgow railway station, the Lithgow Community Choir surprised the unionists with melodic songs of solidarity before the train whistle blew telling everyone to board the train.
A great day. The end. No. CRUMA move a motion that they would return, after seeking the support of the union movement and Lithgow community to install an interpretative sign. Stay tuned. This will happen in 2019. This time, Mark Morey, Unions NSW Secretary has promised to set aside a day to make sure he is part of the unionists and environmentalists celebration.
The Moffitts are too important to forget. CRUMA plans to hold a future event in 2019 to celebrate NPA’s Moffitts with the installation of a plaque that highlights their commitment to both Lithgow’s workers and Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone. Look out for this date to be held possibly in Spring 2019.
Clelia Koch, Retired CFMEU, spent weeks cooking ‘Gingerbread-Pagoda-Houses’ to help finance CRUMA’s next visit to Lithgow where they will unveil a plaque commemorating the Moffitts
CRUMA Resolution of 5th December, 2018:
That CRUMA recognise the union and environmental achievements of Joyce and Vern Moffitt by calling on the Union movement and Community to contribute to the funding of a plaque to acknowledge their enormous contribution to the Australian Union movement, the Lithgow Community and Lithgow’s spectacular ‘Gardens of Stone’ region.
Moved: Norm Short, Electrical Trades Union/ CRUMA; Seconded: Andrew Reekie, Rail, Train & Bus Union/CRUMA
Lithgow’s spectacular ‘Gardens of Stone’ has outstanding union and environmental heritage – thanks to Vern & Joyce Moffitt.
Joyce Moffitt (1930-1999) & Vernon Moffitt (1924-2001) – unionists, environmentalists, social justice advocates and political activists.
As founding members of the Bathurst Branch of the National Parks Association, the Bathurst Conservation Group and Central West Environment Council, Joyce and Vern played a significant role in founding the Lithgow-Bathurst environment movement. At one time Joyce was the Vice President of the Bathurst Conservation Group. In this capacity she wrote submissions opposing underground coal mining and sand mining on the Newnes Plateau. Joyce was also a committee member of the Central West Branch of the National Parks Association and highlighted the protection of the rare and endangered Bathurst copper butterfly Paralucia spinifera and the Gardens of Stone’s upland swamps. Joyce highlighted the environmental importance of the Newnes plateau and why this unique area should be protected.
The Moffitts played a valued role in the creation of the Gardens of Stone National Park — today World Heritage listed. They recognised the unique ecological values of the Gardens of Stone region and the necessity to preserve it for the future. They were outstanding Lithgow and Bathurst environmentalists who did everything to preserve the Gardens of Stone.
With a long and distinguished history working with the coal mining union movement, Joyce and Vern Moffitt were keenly aware of the destructive nature of corporate profiteering and the ways in which workers and communities could be divided if facts were not communicated carefully and fully.
Vern Moffitt was a union official who always put safety and the rights of workers first. He was the Western District Miners’ Federation Check Inspector, a union elected position. Vern’s talent was being able to articulate complex issues in a way which was relevant to the lives of every day working people. In many ways Joyce was also the face of the Miners’ Federation, as she worked on its front desk in the Miners’ Federation office for many years.
Joyce Moffitt was a tireless champion of the environment writing countless letters and submissions that were both detailed and evidence based. Her submissions clearly explained the dangers that could arise from inappropriate developments. She took hundreds of photographs in order to attach the right one for her many submissions that called for the protection of the environment.
Together this formidable and courageous environmental and political activist team strove to emphasise the links between social justice, environmental values, the rights of workers and the need to preserve the natural environment for future generations. They were exemplary networkers with local groups, union members and politicians.
When Vern Moffitt died in 2001, members of the Lithgow community, politicians, unionists and environmentalists, including Tom Uren, Jack Mundey, Jim Angel and Mick Tubbs, gathered to farewell him at the Vale of Clwydd Hall. Then in 2007 the then NSW Environment Minister, Bob Debus named two spectacular Gardens of Stone pagodas after Vern and Joyce. However, the sign directing visitors to this memorial somehow never materialised.
This long overdue celebration pays respect to the Moffitts’ enormous union and environmental achievements and their passion for protecting Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone region.
The Combined Retired Union Members Association (CRUMA) is supporting the ‘Gardens of Stone’ Stage 2 Reserve proposal (39,000 hectares) as a State Conservation Area. The bulk is in public ownership and includes the Newnes, Ben Bullen and Wolgan State Forests.
A Gardens of Stone Stage 2 State Conservation Area would be a win-win for Lithgow workers as it permits the continuation of underground mining.
A State Conservation Area would be a win-win for the Lithgow community as it would create a new vibrant tourist economy.
A State Conservation Area would be a win-win for the environment as it would protect Lithgow’s internationally significant pagodas and threatened upland swamps.
Messages of Support
Mark Morey, Unions NSW Secretary: Congratulations CRUMA for this celebration of unionists Vern and Joyce Moffitt. It is great to see their contribution to the union and environment movement finally recognised.
Sally McManus, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary: Lithgow unionists Vern and Joyce Moffitt can only inspire today's generation to work in solidarity and demand that we change the rules to ensure dignity and respect for workers and the environment. Best wishes for this important union celebration!
Clr Ray Thompson, Lithgow Mayor: I worked with Vern and knew Joyce well.
Hoping you have a great day.
Clr Wayne McAndrew, Lithgow Deputy Mayor: I worked with Vern and knew Joyce very well. They were both wonderful citizens of our community.
Celia Ravesi, Secretary, Lithgow Regional Branch of National Trust (NSW): Congratulations for CRUMA’s celebration of Vern & Joyce Moffitt. The magnificent Gardens of Stone that they loved won, one of two National Trust Heritage Awards for Best Advocacy Campaign in 2017. Well done and enjoy the heritage of our Lithgow region.
Julie Favell, President, Lithgow Environment Group: Fabulous. Well done CRUMA and helpers and what a great program, at a special places, that is dear to me and many others. Most of all our gracious tanks to the Moffitt family who worked tirelessly to lay the historic path and commemorate this special occasion.
Paul Toole MP, Member for Bathurst: I would like to acknowledge Vern & Joyce Moffitt for their significant contribution made to the community of Lithgow through their environmental initiatives over the years.
Trish Doyle MP, Member for Blue Mountains: The Moffitts obviously had great vision and recognised the importance of the environment in the lives of workers and their families. Their passion for workers’ rights, the environment, social justice and human rights, has left a very significant legacy in the Bathurst and Lithgow areas.
Hon Adam Searle MLC, Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council: I wish to congratulate CRUMA on this important initiative to recognise the significant contributions of both Vern & Joyce Moffitt to the Central Tablelands Region of NSW especially in the Bathurst & Lithgow areas. From their life time work in the union movement to their significant achievements in the conservation movement, from small matters such as the push for the gazettal of the endangered conservation status for the Purple Copper Butterfly, to the serious spade work they made over many years to help create the Gardens of Stone National Park – your celebration today marks our appreciation of their life time efforts.
Hon Cate Faehrmann MLC: Well done to CRUMA for an excellent event to celebrate the Moffitts and their contribution to environmentalism, progressive politics and the union movement. I wish you all the best for the day, and for the CRUMA campaign to protect our precious Gardens of Stones.
Senator Kristina Keneally: The tireless efforts of Vern and Joyce – both as dedicated environmentalists and proud unionists – is worthy of recognition and sincere appreciation. I wish all at CRUMA the very best today as you celebrate the work of the Moffitt’s, and congratulate Vern and Joyce for all that they’ve done for their community.
Greg Combet AM: I met Vern when I worked at Wallerawang Colliery as a trainee miner in the late 1970s and Vern was active in the Miners Federation in the western district. He influenced my political development and I’m sure that of many others. I wish everyone all the best as you recognise Vern and Joyce contributions.
Directions to Moffitts Pagodas, Gardens of Stone National Park – Four-wheel drive vehicle required. From the intersection of the Great Western Hwy & Main Street, Lithgow (traffic lights at ‘MacDonalds’). Head west on the Great Western Hwy for 7km to left turn onto Castlereagh Hwy; Follow Castlereagh Hwy thru Lidsdale and Cullen Bullen to Ben Bullen for approx. 26 km where, as you are advised to slow down (before reaching a S-bend crossing of the railway line) a section of widened road allows you to keep to the right and turn onto an unsealed road (Hutchinson Road); Drive Hutchinson Road approx. one km to sign indicating Moffitt Trail. The uphill section immediately near the sign is rutted and has raised rock bars requiring your attention, but if dry is quite negotiable in low-range 4WD; From the Moffitt Trail sign it is (by my odometer) 4.4 km (passing Murdocks Creek Trail on your left) to a spacious turning area/lookout where the ‘MOFFITTS PAGODAS’ sign is on your left, facing NE to the actual pagodas visible through the tree tops and across a gully; [The view eastward: Directly below the ‘lookout’ is a cleared area on Coco Creek flowing toward Rowans Hole – further across the valley is a long line of ‘pagoda-ish’ cliffs.] RETURN: Retrace your route back to the Castlereagh Hwy. Although the Moffitt Trail continues eastward there are sections that would require vehicle retrieval equipment (winches, etc). Bushwalkers seeking to visit the actual pagodas should refer to Ben Bullen 8931-4S 1:25000 Topographic Map and start from the intersection where Murdocks Creek Trail meets the Moffitt Trail, and walk SW via ridge top for approx. one km.