North of Mudgee, Wollar village is littered with evidence of the progress and prosperity that original owner Excel promised would come to the community once the Wilpinjong mine was under way.

Peabody, ’The Big American’, bought it, the mine began in 2006, and Wollar soon felt the impact indeed…

Noise, both audible and low frequency, air pollution from blasting, ‘dust’ and spontaneous combustion.

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Stage Two made the village almost unliveable and better houses in the village were bought by the mine and rented to mine employees, who can’t complain. People left, the community was decimated, and the surrounding farms lost their focus.

The one-stop shop offered less and less. The mine owns this church, and only a handful of kids still attend the school — for how long?

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The Queensland town of Acland was emptied in advance of a stage 3 approval. In the Rich Land, Wasteland chapter about this area –Cumbo Valley, Wollar, Ulan and Bylong – in 2012 I wrote, ‘Wollar is Acland-in-progress’. That chapter is all-too-aptly called ‘Clearing out the country’ and the truth in 2016 is heart-wrenching. 

Now, as the remaining villagers and outliers await Stage 3 here, Wollar is looking more and more like Acland.

Some homes have been demolished but many are being left to fall down, with the security signs the only new things around. Echoes of Wybong.

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Eerily, as at Acland, the grass verges are still mowed.

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The large Wollar Hall is still as hale as ever, but the community that once filled it for dances is not. 

Residents told of feeling nauseous of a morning from the spontaneous combustion from the mine, of the coal dust on everything, of the vibrations from the heavy coal trains, of the ‘hum’ waking them in the early hours of the morning, of the sadness as neighbours left, of all the work that has been put into their places over decades, of those memories created, of their still strong desire to remain. 

Those outliers who will be impacted — and left stranded without a village — told of the lack of any offers to be compensated or bought out.

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I went back up the Wollar/Ulan road to see how far the mine had come since my last visit. It has crept a lot closer to the village but it’s a hard mine to see from the road, as it’s flat country, and the coal deposits are near the surface, so the overburden heaps are not as high as in the Hunter. 

It’s very poor quality coal so the overburden heaps have coal visibly mixed in them, which is not usual. This coal is contracted for Bayswater Power Station, where it has to be mixed with better coal to be burnt.

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On the evening of Monday 28th November the few locals hosted a few supporters like me, Steve from Lock the Gate, the O’Laughlins from Bulga and the four fabulous ladies from East Maitland to the sort of country hospitality Wollar was known for. A BBQ, fresh salads and cakes — and many sad stories and wishes for Peabody to stop, to leave them and their remnant village be.

Wollar Progress association has been revived, to fight on for real progress, not Peabody’s.

For this community is not dead yet; it could be revived if Peabody is denied their expansion and made to minimise the existing noise impacts regardless of the cost.

Another 11 years of Peabody’s disregard for the community’s health is more than enough; if Peabody is bankrupt, and can’t afford to operate even within inadequate conditions, why consider allowing them to continue the actual harm longer?

When did Profit get to hold such sway in our Planning Dept.? When did People and Planet get to count for nothing?

To ‘Save Wollar’ is the aim of the villagers and supporters.

It is clearly not that of the state government, who sent the project to a PAC hearing last Tuesday, removing any public right of appeal to a decision. ICAC recommended these merits appeal rights be restored for coal mine approvals.
Who is listening?

Sick of this farce of a process, it was decided to boycott the PAC; to make written submissions but not to attend or speak. After all, what use is just five minutes to plead for survival?

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Boycott rallies were held in Mudgee, outside the hearing, and in Sydney.

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Justifiably, passions were high. The indomitable Bev Smiles, a Wollar area local, told us straight how the government now admit — in print — that they got it wrong about the social impacts that Wollar would suffer, but they reckon it’s irreversible, so Peabody may as well wipe put the rest.

Local Seamus Duffy tugged at our heartstrings as he sang a rewritten John Pryne song, originally about mountaintop mining. We joined in the chorus as a son asks to be taken back to Wilpinjong Valley, and the father replies,’Sorry my son, you’re too late in asking, for Peabody’s coal trains have hauled it away’.

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We heard speeches about the impacts on water, indigenous heritage and climate change, and songs from Mick Fetch, whose roots lie deep in Wollar, whose family lie in Wollar cemetery. Mick had tried to buy that church above, but they refused and sold it to the mine.

I avoid the coal-Hunter as much as I can; my heartsickness is too great.

After I spoke at Tarwyn Park’s last day I came back to the Manning via Lithgow and Sydney to avoid it. Ridiculous, I know.

This time I took the Golden Highway. 

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Jerry’s Plains, horse country, under threat.

Another village to be pushed to the verge of extinction?

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And off to the west towards Bulga and east towards Muswellbrook, glimpses of the all-too-familiar clean country air and picturesque overburden mountains of the coal-trashed Hunter.

And still Planning pushes for more…

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As expected, when I returned from a few days away, the Willy Wagtails’ chicks were hatched and hungry. Silent though, unlike the demanding magpie baby in the tree near my bedroom.

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It was soon clear there were three little mouths to be stuffed, and given that they were constantly opening and shutting, I was amazed that the parents managed to get any food down those throats.

Both mother and father were finding food at frantic pace; sometimes the offerings seemed inappropriate, like a whole moth that the parent kept trying to fit in one after another of the tiny beaks. It failed, and flew off, I assume to eat the moth itself.

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The feeding worked rapidly, the babies fattened and fluffed and soon were jampacked in that tiny nest.

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A few days later, it was clear that one baby was top bird; there is always one. This one began stretching wings, standing on top of the others, almost falling out.

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Then came the morning when he stretched them so far that he did, landing on the timber and wondering where he was — and how far down he might fall.
At some stage he discovered he needn’t fall, as he could fly — and did.

It was a worrying time for the parents, trying to protect both the nest babies and the newly departed one. They were chattering warnings at me incessantly. And they were still feeding the whole three.

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Next morning I spotted him in a ti-tree at the other side of the house, looking cold — and probably wondering why he’d left that warm nest. He went back to visit the neighbourhood but didn’t fly up to the nest. I was impressed that he’d found his way.

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Then one more of his siblings made the break.

Mother tried to encourage the last one out of the nest, but no. So now the parents had three separate nursery sites.

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So at last the littlest of the litter had the nest to itself.

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As night fell, I saw that the two braver ones had returned briefly to be near their sibling, to encourage, embolden? 

‘Come on, you can do it; you just flap your wings and it works; you can’t stay there by yourself forever…’

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They were discovered next morning huddled together back on the same ti-tree branch. The night had been cool.

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As the day warmed them all up, the last baby decided to join them. Given they were not vocalising much I am surprised that it found them. The parents were still keeping watch, and still feeding.

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By mid-day the two bolder babies were flying and moving between ti-trees, especially as two honeyeaters were giving strong messages that this was their tree, causing much panicked chattering and swooping from the parents. 

But the last baby clung to that branch despite all, looking frail and frightened.

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It being Spring, the Willy Wagtail mum has been busily readying last year’s nest for the 2016 brood.
The nest had looked perfectly serviceable, as it was as neat and symmetrical as she had originally made it.

However she seemed driven to add another layer, which brings it alarmingly close to the verandah roof.
While this is insulated, I fear for the babies if we get more summer-like early heat. 

Mum is now on the nest more than off, so I assume she has laid eggs. Dad spends his time dive-bombing magpies to keep them away.

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The other new regular visitor is a King Parrot, solo and talkative.

He has been sitting on my vegie garden’s bamboo posts and — I swear — chattering to me.

I have taken to standing at my back door and chattering back.

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He does not fly off when I go to fetch the camera.

Next time I will dare to step closer than the verandah and get a sharper shot.

As at my old Mountain, the sky here is as important for my visual delectation as the land.

And I am as fanciful about what it offers.

Like this sunrise, where the billowing white foreground cloud looked so like bushfire smoke, unlikely as that was, that I had to go out and sniff the air to check.

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Or this moonrise, where the full moon looked for all the world like a celestial bowling ball rolling down the ridge…

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Or this early morning, where the upper grey cloud layer was moving quite fast to the north, while the lower dark one was pretending to be a further mountain range.

I have a lot of Kookaburras here — often called more fully Laughing Kookaburras, rarely called by their scientific name, Dacelo gigas.

As they do live in family groups, comprising several generations, that’s not surprising.

There are enough big trees left along the creek sides that they must have found enough nesting hollows to keep the family safe.

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My bird book notes that they ‘spend much time on conspicuous perches scanning ground for prey’. 

They are part of the Kingfisher family, but my sort ‘fish’ mainly for worms or whatever else meaty that dares to pop its head up in the short grass. Snakes, lizards, rodents insects — even small birds; that massive beak is very effective.

Here they have favourite perches — the shed roof, star posts, corner posts, several useful horizontal tree branches, but they are usually solo on these perches.

However, lately I’ve been seeing a pair, sitting as close as they can, swapping views from front to back, sharing the scanning?

Are they brothers, sisters, parent and grown child? The latter do stay around to help defend territory, feed new broods and care for fledglings. 

Kookaburras live for about 20 years and hang about in the same area; they also mate for life.

I can’t tell male from female but my book says the males often have a blue patch on the rump. As if I’m likely to get a glimpse of that…

When you move to a new area, life is busy setting up your own place and you only take time off for regional sightseeing when you have visitors.

Tapin Tops National Park near Wingham is one regional sight I’ve been meaning … and meaning…to see. Last week I did.

It’s high, with the access a well-maintained but steep and winding road up — and down — and up again.

As there are 20 dfferent forest types mapped for this Park, it’s a varied experience.

From the Dingo Tops Rest area there are several walks; the Red Cedar Walk was the standout for me.

It’s steep too, a plunge into a world of vibrant green and tall trees, soaring gums and rainforest trees festooned with ferns and orchids, moss and lichens.

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The spectacular patterns of really tall tree ferns rose above us, silhouetted against dense vine-clad slopes.

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You have to watch your step as it’s all steep, but stopping for the knees to take a break is also good to take in the closer views of the intense green life here, like this delicate ferny vine winding its way skywards.

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Or strange ferns that appeared to be growing from the bark of their host tree but turned out to be also vines.

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While the trees were stunning, the ground level life of the sinuous buttressed roots and their mossy decorations were my favourites.

This green intensity was even more evident on the creekside (and wet-feet-through-the-creek) walk from the Potoroo Picnic area. We didn’t make it to the actual Potoroo Falls as a tangle of fallen trees blocked the way.

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This was a walk for close contact and surprising details, like this huge fallen tree, totally covered in thick dew-beaded mosses.

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Or this vine, curving and curling above and around the path, with bright orange hopeful roots reaching for the ground.

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Little Run Creek itself is small and pretty and gurgly, inviting a prolonged sit and listen. While doing that I spotted this row of ball bearings, seemingly permanently fixed at the base of the rock; on closer inspection they turned into a chain of bubbles stuck in position for all the time I watched.

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I’d been hoping to see a lyrebird or hear a dingo while up there, but that lack was more than compensated for by meeting a koala ambling across the road on the way out.

Now that Spring is showing itself and the weeds amongst my ‘lawn’ are seeding, clouds of teeny grass finches are harvesting them.

The ones now visiting are gorgeous little birds — Red-browed Finches, native to Eastern Australia’s coastal edge, or at least east of the Dividing Range.

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They have a red rump, pink legs, a red brow and beak, with soft grey and olive green in between. They flutter up and resettle like consecutive musical keys, just a foot away from where they were when I startled them.

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Heads down feeding, with their olive backs as camouflage they are quite hard to spot from a distance. Only the frequent flurries give them away. I have a flock of about 10 delighting me at present.

For about a week I have had a constant hum in my ears. Given I was recently diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, nothing would surprise me.

But then a visitor heard it too, and sensibly wondered where the bees were. Not many plants are flowering right now, so I was at a loss.

Until I really listened to where the humming was coming from — the large Casuarina on the bank behind the house. Too high for me to see its flowers without the camera’s magnification; and they don’t look much like flowers anyway. The tree just looked a bit rusty from afar.

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But on going closer, this big She-oak is covered in golden flowers, its branches visibly vibrating with hundreds of busy bees. I would not have imagined these tiny flowers to be so bee-beloved.

I am always grateful that such a majestic tree survives within my watching area.

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Black Cockatoos love its nuts/seeds, all the bigger birds love to perch in its branches and sing, and now I know that bees love it too. Somewhere there is a hive full of Casuarina honey.

Last post at Tarwyn Park

August 10, 2016
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The coal train rumbled past behind Tarwyn Park, as it often does on its route to and from Newcastle’s coal port and the Western Coalfields, where the Ulan, Moolarben and Wilpinjong mines are busy trashing other valleys, other villages. But on this last day of July 2016, it seemed an unwarranted rubbing in of salt […]

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Birds and beasts

July 25, 2016
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On the creek flat paddock both birds and beasts feed together amicably. Clancy the horse is the boss and keeps the two dairy steers, Salt and Pepper, in line. As usual there is a pecking order, so the smaller steer, Pepper, comes last. Why do Cattle Egrets prefer cattle to horses? Clancy does often have […]

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Diamonds for breakfast

July 7, 2016
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As I’ve never been one for expensive jewellery, the ephemeral gems that nature offers now and then are quite enough to send me into raptures. They are only visible when the night dew has been caught by them, the sun’s light catches them in turn, and I awake in time to catch the sight of […]

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Sandstone surprises

June 14, 2016
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Visiting the Brisbane Water National Park on the NSW Central Coast, I was struck by the determination of trees to survive. The acrobatic and colourful trunks of Angophora Costata (Sydney Blue Gum) caught my eye most, forcing their way out between slabs of sandstone and twisting their way upwards as needed — or fancied. I […]

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