I am fortunate to have Jacaranda trees outside my house, splashing my skies and carpeting my road with purple. I call it purple, but is it really somewhere in between lilac and purple?

In fact, my Spring garden has many variations on a theme of purple, like the ubiquitous but still lovely Agapanthus plants, which were here.

I grew to dislike them due to municipal overuse, but that is similar to disliking Greensleeves because of Mr Whippy’s appropriation of it…

The nearby large and beautifully drooping branches of what I think is Duranta repens, commonly called Geisha Girl or Golden Dewdrop, was here, and its flowers are dark enough to be called purple.

The Plumbago I planted is much paler, not even aiming for purple and having trouble making lilac.

The Buddleia or Butterfly Bush is only slightly darker lilac, but deepens in the buds along its arching spires.

A pretty sight, although I am still waiting for the butterflies to find it!

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Coming home after what had clearly been a wet week here, I was pleased to see my wildlife mates, including the plentiful kookaburras.

This one on the deck railing looked around at my intrusion as if he’d become used to having it to himself.

But what was he so keenly watching down below in the yard?

A turtle! I tiptoed down to see. It appeared to be scrabbling in a circle on the slight slope; was it injured?

Up closer, I decided it had use of all four legs. Noting the dried green weed on its shell, I wondered if it was the same Eastern Long-necked Turtle that had visited me very early on in my residency here. This turtle (Chelodina longicollis) is one of the snake-necked types, for obvious reasons, and a species of side-necked turtle, as it bends its head sideways into its shell rather than pulling it directly back.

However, from the look it gave me, this one was not about to say ‘Hello, nice to see you again’ or any such. Bearing in mind that their other common name is ‘Stinker’, from the offensive-smelling fluid it emits from its musk glands if it feels threatened, I backed off.

I stayed well away, watching from a distance, with my camera zoom at the ready.

When the turtle deemed I had been gone long enough and it was safe to move, it did, unerringly turning downhill towards the wetlands’ swamps and ponds.

At a fair pace it skirted the old timber fence. There being plenty of broken bits, I knew it would find a way out. After all, it must have come in from the wetlands.

But why?

And was it revisiting? I hoped so, since an annual turtle treat would be most welcome!

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Almost a day’s drive each way to spend a day ‘being there for Bylong’ at the IPC sessions in Mudgee on Wednesday 7th November re the Kepco Bylong Coal project. Many other folk made efforts too – and definitely not the ‘rentacrowd’ that some pro-mine speakers scoffed at. I don’t even like café lattes, but he told us all to go back to the city for them.

Whichever way you enter the stunning Bylong valley, from the Muswellbrook or the Rylstone ends, it is guarded by the most impressive cliffs. You feel as if you have been allowed into somewhere special, like Shangri-La. Which is why I chose it and the Andrews family at Tarwyn Park (now owned by Kepco) as the Rich Land for the cover of my book, Rich Land, Wasteland.

With subsidences predicted of up to 3.3 metres from the proposed mines’ longwalls, I fear for the cliffs that edge Bylong. The dozens of major cliff collapses south of Lithgow, from far less subsidence, is sickening.

Photo from the Battle for Bylong Facebook page

At the rally outside, prior to the day’s official speakers to the panel, locals and people from all over gathered to voice their support for Bylong. For me, it was like being at a funeral, where you are sad, but glad to see familiar faces; here too many were from past rallies or PAC hearings, from battles long-fought but lost, such as Wollar and Bulga.

Photo Tina Phillips

Inside, with 61 registered to speak, it was full until lunchtime at least. I noted the difference here, with no operating mine involved, as the room was not dominated by the high-vis shirts of mine employees.

Nevertheless there plenty of Mudgee business owners – motel, car sales, estate developers etc – crying doom if the Bylong mine did not go ahead; some speakers from Kandos pleaded for the jobs.

One farmer from Bylong commented tellingly on these calls, saying something like ‘so with three large mines you are not managing; will one small extra one save your businesses– and for how long?’

He and other Bylong farmers, and water experts, also set the record straight re the over-allocation of water there; the reality of water available is not what is on paper, and water sharing is needed, of when to pump and how much. And that is without a water-hungry mine.

It was often pointed out that the Ulan, Moolarben and Wilpinjong promises, predictions and modelling bore no relation to what actually happened/ is happening re water, noise, air pollution, traffic and social impacts. All are far, far more.

Is there no lesson to be learnt here?

Another mine so close to create cumulative impacts, yet this is not being taken into account.

The general inadequacy of Kepco’s research, modelling and plan, in water and economics, was made clear.

I was spitting chips at many aspects being treated with so little respect, but as always, it is the heartbreak for the people of Bylong that is the great injustice. As I only had 5 minutes, I concentrated on the social impacts.
And now we bide our time for Bylong.

Note that until 14th November you can still put in a written submission and be part of being there for Bylong through the Lock the Gate website.

This is what I said to the IPC panel:

In 2012 my book, Rich Land, Wasteland, on the impacts nationally of the rapid expansion of the coal and gas industries was released. I’d undertaken the two-year project because I’d watched modern mining being allowed to overwhelm and pollute the Hunter around Singleton and Muswellbrook.

The adverse air, water and health impacts were and are serious, with the most unfair impacts on rural lives. I saw the strain of the assessment years as began the fracturing, decimation and eventually obliteration of communities and the farming regions they’d served.

Once operations began, there was the immediate removal of quiet dark nights by a noisy industrial invader, and/or an insidious and heartstopping Low Frequency one, there was the sense of frustration at complaints being ignored, at monitoring manipulated to advantage, not truth, all the cards being held by the company, sales made in fear and desperation, confidentiality gags applied… and a pervasive sense of the Planning Dept being on the side of the company, and of the EPA being toothless.

‘Clearing out the country’ was my chapter on what happened to the Ulan, Cumbo and Wollar communities, and it’s mirrored in many places, like Bulga, Wybong, Camberwell…

I wanted my Rich Land cover image to convey family and farming traditions, good agricultural land, natural beauty, community, sustainability for generations. These were the resources to be valued above the mineral resources that seemed to have taken over the very meaning of the word ‘resources’ and whose short-term extraction, for private profit, was being allowed to destroy those environmental, agricultural and social riches.

I chose the Andrews family at Tarwyn Park in Bylong, for where else is the idea of sustainability so embodied in the land than in this living Natural Sequence Farming demonstration, even more important with climate change?

Yet here we are, facing the prospect of my iconic Rich Land losing many of those values, perhaps finally becoming more a museum surrounded by a Wasteland, as this project has been allowed to keep advancing despite acknowledged risks and inadequacies and deceptive practices. They have been coached to this point, when areas mapped as BSAL and CIC … and Tarwyn Park!… ought to have been off limits to exploration at the start.

Bylong Valley Protection Alliance fought hard to stop Bylong becoming a bygone place, its name signifying only a mine, like Warkworth. Nevertheless Kepco now own most of the properties, including the shop — the hub of the village — and a dozen or so families have left the Valley. People break, sell, and leave, yet the confidentiality clauses deny them the comfort of sharing experiences, or of helping those remaining.
And I’ve seen too many places where ‘stringent conditions’ as in your report are ignored or modifed, with too-few compliance officers to check often and at random. Too much ‘residual uncertainty’ remains here. How can you leave it to Kepco to use ‘adaptive management’ in so many areas, or to act on the better side in taking ‘all reasonable and feasible steps’ in others?

‘Residual uncertainty’ ought to be like reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Elsewhere, despite all the conditions, cliffs have cracked and fallen away; water sources have drained and cannot be mended; make good promises are impractical and time-limited; the fight for recognition of LF impacts from Wilpinjong was hell for supposedly unimpactable residents; you do not mention blasts going wrong, sending orange nitrous oxide clouds over the valley, as happens too often in the Hunter or Maules Creek.
Our system has allowed Bylong’s social fabric to be broken; no matter how much you mandate Kepco’s community handouts they can’t replace things like the camaraderie of organising the Mouse Races to fund local needs.

The oral history you propose is no substitute for the ongoing life of a community. A village is more than its buildings; it is people and their connections, it holds the history of the surrounding rural region, of gatherings, of families with generations, of pasts remembered… and futures hoped for.

Economic benefit for the wider region is no excuse for sacrificing Bylong; there are other ways for the state to gather revenue, and other ways to create jobs in non-harmful industries with a future.

It is NOT Ok for Planning to just note it inevitable that large mining projects have significant social impacts. Rather they should consider such a project inappropriate in that area and say no early. What was the Gateway for?

What is the point of a SIMP now? To survey the damage, to tart up the corpse? Or as at Wollar will this IPC say the damage is so great Kepco may as well finish off the job? Is the MidWest to be even further littered with tales of pain and heartache?
Whatever happened to a fair go?

Our rural communities are an essential part of the fabric of Australia. Please don’t be responsible for Bylong becoming imore callous collateral damage from an industry that belongs to the past, before we knew how toxic it is to our world.

Communities are not just nuisances in the way of a coal project. Consider the moral rights, not only the mining rights, and say NO to this mine in an area that ought to have been off limits — and still should be.

Rainforests are often majestic and always green worlds of their own. Dorrigo National Park has a two-hour walk that takes you through such a world.

While focal points like the Falls are spectacular, it’s the details along the way that fascinate me.

Conical hanging birds’ nests? Or accidentally arranged lichen?

Vines reach for the light way above, and lichen hitches a ride on most things, decorating bark to green furriness.

Different lichens decorate in different ways, here trailing like delicate green feather boas.

This walk is on a steep hillside, where the very large trees need all the earth hold they can get, so buttresses are common, but not often as narrow as these.

The bark of the tree varieties is interesting enough, but some bore strange markings like moon craters or excrescences like foetal creatures.

Fascinating details that I wanted a guide to quiz.

I saw many more varieties but could not photograph them as halfway round the walk I was caught in a thunderstorm, with heavy rain and stinging hail. I had to stow the camera in my bag and don the emergency plastic poncho. The camera survived the long wet trip back, my boots and trousers and the poncho didn’t.

When this was built at the Mountain, I never imagined it would have to be moved. But it has, twice.

There was no way I was leaving it behind anywhere, but the last time was too much for it.

The beach pebble chimney survived its cracking, staying vertical and attached.

But I had to patch the ferro-cement roof– and pretty rough it is.

I am waiting for it to weather grey and gather lichen, to fit in.

But on the south side the roof has fitted in here beautifully, with the moss as thick and velvety green as ever.

Here the little cabin is placed right opposite my side steps, so I can sit and look at it, say hello as I pass…

This extract from The Woman on the Mountain, of the original construction and site, will show you why:

Dad’s place
It’s a pretty good place, with a view across the dam to the bush, terrific sunsets, and a couple of wattles just in front.

Now how does that song go?… ‘It’s Ju-ly and the winter sun is shining, and the Cootamundra wattle is my friend… All at once my childhood never left me, ‘cause wattle blossom brings it back again.’

Yeah. And I got plenty of time for memories now.

My daughter often drops by for a chat, and my granddaughter brings my great-granddaughter to see me every few weeks. A right little card, she is, picks me fresh flowers every time she visits!

Much better than bein’ cooped up in one of them boxes, side-by-side with all the others, even if they do have landscapin’ and rose gardens. Give me this horse-cropped pasture any day.

We’d decided to build a cabin on my block for Dad. No reason why we three women couldn’t do it, if I kept the plan and method simple. My sisters had no building experience, but Dad wouldn’t care about rough edges and wonky lines.

As he’d been a carpenter by trade, I thought it best not to use timber; might make the mistakes too obvious, be an irritant, even for an easy-going bloke like Dad. Considering bushfires, and what was handy, a stone cabin seemed best.

I’d chosen a spot by the wattles, near some big rocks that would make perfect beer-o’clock sitting spots. My sisters arrived, and approved the site. We set to work. Citybased Sister One looked so funny in my spare gum boots and old felt hat that I wished Dad was here to see. She was to pass materials to me, while Sister Three was assigned to mixing cement.

We levelled the site, and boxed in for the slab. Our arms were aching by the time we’d mixed and trowelled and smoothed, but satisfyingly so. Sister Three went to make tea for smoko while Sister One and I watered and covered the setting concrete.

Next day we started the walls, leaving enough of the slab exposed for an all-round verandah. He’d want that to enjoy the view. It was a small cabin, but we fitted in a window on the eastern wall, for morning sun, and another on the northern wall, beside the door.

Dad loved an open fire, but Mum had put her foot down and insisted it be replaced by a less messy closed-in one, of a nasty shiny brown with a mean little mica window behind which the fire struggled for identity. It did warm the room, but not our hearts; it wasn’t even worth looking at, couldn’t conjure up a single flickering image or inspire a dreamy thought train…

So we made a big chimney on the west, where we could imagine him in front of a fine blaze, cooking his snags on it if he wanted. And making forbidden messes! Narrowing to a freestanding column, that chimney was a challenge, but ended up only slightly askew.

On the last evening of my sisters’ visit we drank to Dad as we admired our work, joking about what he’d think of it. He’d surely laugh at us girls as builders, especially Sister One who never went anywhere without makeup, and for whom a broken nail was a disaster. But for him she’d worked au natural and got dirty without complaint.

They had to return home, leaving the roof to me. Cutting tin was too hard, so I was using ferro-cement over chickenwire and hessian. Dad would shake his head at this unconventional method, but it would make a good watertight roof.

Now came the hard part. All the roofing materials ready, I went to get Dad. He had to move in now, because neither the door nor the windows of this cabin would open; my roof would close it forever.

As I carried the grey plastic sealed box I could hear small shifting gritty sounds that made me tremble; these were more than ashes.
He fitted snugly in his cabin.

I draped the hessian over the wire. He’s gone.

I hate doing this.

‘Sorry!’ I sobbed, as I worked the cement in.

Interment is… so… final.

It’s done.

Relief films over the hole in my heart.

Rest in peace, Dad.

I’ll be down for a beer tomorrow at 5.00. OK?

You can buy The Woman on the Mountain and my other books here.

Where I had lived for the past 4 years it had rained a lot — and very often only there, in that exact part of this spectacular valley, while adjacent areas missed out.

Where I live now has been hanging out for some of that rain, with the ponds almost dry and even this sole duck wandering the roads looking for wetter pastures.

But after a week of wet days, some deluges and much drizzle, the wetlands flood mitigation works below my place is roaring with white water, the channels are overflowing and smoothing pathways through the Wandering Jew ground cover that dominates.

This makes beautiful patterns with the water — and can be forgiven for the moment for its invasiveness.

Not to be forgiven are the tides of plastic rubbish waiting to swell and overflow their pools.

Waiting to catch them is this steel rubbish trap, through which the water pours, into the stormwater drain that runs under the road to the next creek. These traps are why my house will hopefully not be flooded ever again, as it was in the 70s, long before these water works were undertaken and the forest planted around them.

The solitary road-running Black Duck has found the freshened and filled ponds, but so far no other water birds can be seen.

Having just watched some of ‘Drowning in Plastic’, a BBC series on our appalling plastic waste and what it is doing to our waterways and water creatures, I am aware how lucky we are to have those traps to stop even this amount of plastic heading down to the Manning River and out to sea

Having now been in this new home for a year, I am seeing the first Spring of my plantings, a promise of what my envisaged garden will be like.

Planting citrus trees was a priority, given that I grew up on an orange orchard and I still find the scent of orange blossom the most heavenly of all. I have eight little trees in; nine if you count the Kaffir Lime.

For any fruiting plant to survive the winter and burst forth with the buds that herald the fruit to come is great; the perfume of citrus is a bonus.

The most exciting for me is the spiny Native Fingerlime, absolutely covered in buds. I am sure they won’t all become those bliss bombs of limes, but surely many will?

Other flowers, like this shallot, are the first of my vegie crops to begin their next cycle of flowering, seeding and new plants appearing where they fall.

Having carried cuttings with me of favourite plants from the Mountain, like my Glory Vine, I love seeing those tiny sticks reshoot here in their first spring. By next year my verandah railings will hopefully be as bedecked in green through to Autumn pinks and reds.

The Glory Vine and the Mandevilla Laxa will mingle with my old Mountain favourite, a Crepuscule Rose.

My town Crepuscule Rose is not from a cutting, but newly bought here — because I miss it! — and looking happy. It is flanked by baby Mandevilla seedlings.

When Crepuscule gets going, as here at my Mountain cabin, it’s a wonder of recurrent ragged apricot blooms. I can’t wait.

Other newbies here having their first flowering is this ‘blue’ Solanum, in planters, growing up a trellis erected to urgently mask a most unaesthetic garage at the end of my verandah. It grew and climbed very swiftly, but it really wants to keep heading skywards, so it was perhaps not the best choice. Nevertheless, its delicate flowers, albeit unscented, are a welcome sight.

In fact, anything shooting after dormancy is welcome! Nature is so clever — and generous.

Last weekend I attended the 4th conference of the Knitting Nannas Against Gas (and Greed), held at the picturesque Glenrock Scout Camp near Newcastle. Hosted by the Hunter, Central Coast and Mid Coast Loop, it was a talk and food fest as well as a knit-in.

I was privileged to be one of the speakers, as I had been at the inaugural conference in Lismore.

As it was on Awakabal land, we were welcomed to country and treated to a smoking ceremony and unusually interactive story dances, where Nannas turned into quite coy brolgas.

My camera decided to go on strike during this so all photos are by Dom Jacobs — thanks, Dom! — unless otherwise noted.

Nanna ’loops’ from all over the state came to talk and listen, network and knit, plot and plan more innovative ways to gain a better future ‘for the kiddies’.

While the KNAGs have been known for their creative yellow and black ‘uniforms’ and knitted items, since the Narrabri conference in 2017 they add red to show support for the Indigenous cause. Sunflowers remain a central theme since the successful Gloucester anti-CSG campaign.

Some Nannas’ outfits, like Tina’s tights, do more than catch attention; they demand it.

The Sydney Loop (above) used to support Gloucester by sitting and knitting outside AGL head office in North Sydney each week. Now they annoy Santos by doing the same in Martin Place. Honorary male Nannas like Bill, Colin and Peter join them.

The stalwart Santos watchers from the north-west came: Pat and Tania and ‘Nanna Wranglers’ Dan and ‘Pirate’, and Dan gave us an update on the situation in the Pilliga.

And quite a few of the Nannas from the Northern Rivers, where this elder disobedience all started, made the long train trip down. Louise of Chooks Against Gas, of course, came with chook attached.

The young FLAC activists who’d been bodily attaching themselves to coal trains and such the previous week gave us an update — and some even doubled as wait staff the following night at the grand Nanna dinner.

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Puddles/ponds/pools

August 27, 2018

My adjoining wetland has had no wet flowing into it for ages, and the larger pool was pinkish and abandoned by the ducks because it was too dry. Rubbish was the main occupant of the various dips where swamps or pools used to be. Then last night we had a little rain — and a […]

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Native exotica

August 10, 2018
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I was sitting on my deck in the winter sun, having morning tea with my son-in-law Joe, when a flash of colour moved in the corner of my vision. I turned my head to see my first Rainbow Lorikeet in this place, right there on my railing. Stunningly exotic, as if escaped from a South […]

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Return of the Frogmouth kids?

July 26, 2018
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Poking about under the small clump of trees on my block, I was pointing up into the skinniest Casuarina to show a visiting weed controller where the Frogmouth nest was. ‘Well, there’s two up there now’, he said. At first all I could see were two odd shapes against the light. When I moved around […]

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Northern Nature

July 17, 2018
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On the far North Queensland coast, evidence of Cyclone Yasi damage abounds, seven years later. On Dunk Island, the once-famous resort is still closed, unrepaired. But even here natural survivors struggle on, like this coconut palm. Years ago I had read Banfield’s Confessions of a Beachcomber about his time there. But Dunk Island is not […]

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