Woman off the Mountain

Just before I left my mountain, this beautifully fat and glossy Red-bellied Black snake  came to say goodbye and bon voyage. By the time I get back from these Tassie talks, he could well be asleep in one of his many hidey holes.

When I first got here it was warmer than my wardrobe planning had anticipated, but it soon regained that freshness and call for cardigans that I’d expected. The grassy hills around Hobart are brown, a visual surprise after the eye-aching greens of Bellingen, where I’d just been.

The first Bimblebox documentary screening was held the very night I flew in (Wednesday 27th) at the State Cinema in Hobart, hosted by the Tasmanian Greens. About 60 people came to this most civilised theatre complex (you can take your drinks in!) to see the film and hear from Greens Candidate Helen Burnet, myself and Scott Jordan from the Tarkine National Coalition.

These locals could both see the relevance to Tasmania’s issues of the coal and gas avalanche in Queensland and NSW covered by Bimblebox. I was very impressed with the articulate and well-informed Scott, and I am now hoping to get to the Tarkine when I go up to speak at Burnie (April 5th). I need to have an overview of the area in my mind, not just the rainforest images, as I am well aware it is not homogenous.


Meredith Range, the Tarkine. Photo by Rob Blakers

We have now seen the effectiveness of the direct action campaigns in NSW, of people power, with four gas companies suspending operations and share prices dropping; the industry is saying that only companies also with gas projects in Queensland, where CSG is more advanced and Lock the Gate less so, are likely to survive.

Tasmania is not yet overwhelmed by these extractive industries. Every battle tactic needs to be used, from legal challenges to corporate embarrassment, but I think that the Tarkine, before the first major projects start revving up, is the perfect time and place to mount similar delaying campaigns. If it’s worth conserving, as the Heritage Commission recommended, it’s worth fighting for. Echoes of the Franklin?

Speaking to folk afterwards, they also see the correlation between what they saw in the film and clearfelling. I had sensed this solastalgia potential in my Tassie research visit in 2010: ‘the equivalent large-scale corporate threat to people’s lives and lifestyles was not the coal rush coming over the hill but the tree-clearing rush’. (Rich Land, Wasteland, Chapter 14)

Even to the point of suicide, one doctor told me.

But coal and gas have not forgotten Tasmania. For example, near quaint FIngal, adjacent to historic miners of the Duncan seam, Cornwall Coal, there are newcomers, Hardrock Coal Mining proposing new underground mines with new techniques, and it is also where the BG Group holds CSG exploration leases, bought from Pure Energy, pioneers of this here.

Meanwhile I have more talks and Bimblebox events ahead, so the issues are getting a good airing down here:


Wednesday 3rd April: 7pm
The Supper Room, Cygnet Town Hall
?Bimblebox screening and talk by me.

Thursday 4th April: 5:30pm 
Hobart Bookshop, 
22 Salamanca Square, Hobart
?Book talk by me
?Phone (03) 6223 1804

Friday 5th April: 6pm
University of Tasmania, Burnie?.
Introduction by Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, talk by me, Bimblebox screening?
Admission $5 (donations welcome)?Phone (03) 6331 0033

5th—27th April: 
Sawtooth Gallery,
160 Cimitiere Street, Launceston.
?Exhibition ‘Document://Bimblebox’ of artwork influenced by the Bimblebox Nature Refuge.?
Gallery hours 12-5pm Wednesday—Friday, 12—4pm Saturday.

Sunday 7th April 11am:
Sawtooth Gallery, Launceston
?Introduction by Kim Booth MP, talk by me, Bimblebox screening?
Admission $5 (donations welcome)?Phone (03) 6336 2294

Tassie tour

Mount Lindsay in the Tarkine — threatened by mining. Photo: Rob Blakers. Mount Lindsay in the Tarkine — threatened by mining. Photo: Rob Blakers.

On 27th March I’m flying to Hobart to begin a series of talks on the runaway resources boom, whatever that moneymaker might be: coal, gas, iron ore or…?

Let’s dig it all up and see what we can get for it.

Damage? What damage? Most unlikely! Anyway, we’ll fix it all up afterwards, good as new.

I’m taking the Bimblebox documentary to Tassie on behalf of Paola and the Bimblebox team, since neither they nor I believe these industries can ‘fix’ it and we don’t think they ought to be allowed to begin the damage, to the regions or the planet.

I’ll be talking about the film and the whole issue, especially as is beginning to be played out in Tasmania. The Tarkine isn’t all they have to be worrried about.

The Huskisson River in a current mining lease. Photo: Rob Blakers. The Huskisson River in a current mining lease. Photo: Rob Blakers.

Where and when:

Wednesday 27th March 8:30pm: State Cinema, Hobart
Introduction by Senate Greens Candidate Helen Burnet, Bimblebox screening, talk by Sharyn, and by Scott Jordan of the Tarkine National Coalition
Tickets $10.
Book online
Phone (03) 6238 2936

Wednesday 3rd April: 7pm the Supper Room, Cygnet Town Hall
Bimblebox screening and talk.

Thursday 4th April: 5:30pm Hobart Bookshop, 22 Salamanca Square, Hobart
Talk by Sharyn
Phone (03) 6223 1804

Friday 5th April: 6pm University of Tasmania, Burnie
Introduction by Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, talk by Sharyn, Bimblebox screening
Admission $5 (donations welcome)
Book online
Phone (03) 6331 0033

5th—27th April: Sawtooth Gallery, 160 Cimitiere Stree, Launceston.
Exhibition ‘Document://Bimblebox’ of artwork influenced by the Bimblebox Nature Refuge.
Gallery hours 12-5pm Wednesday—Friday, 12—4pm Saturday.

Sunday 7th April 11am: Sawtooth Gallery, Launceston
Introduction by Kim Booth MP, talk by Sharyn, Bimblebox screening
Admission $5 (donations welcome)
Phone (03) 6336 2294

When no means NO!

Last Saturday, 16th March, 1000-1500 people (depending on which media you follow) walked the main streets of Newcastle, already the world’s largest coal port, to tell the government what they think of the idea of a fourth coal terminal there.


With the evil King Coal puppet looming over all, people from the Gunnedah, Mudgee, Gloucester and Hunter coalfields joined residents of suburbs along the coal rail line and near the coal terminals.


In the 1960s when I first came to Newcastle for university, it was a foul industrial city. BHP closed and the air cleared over those grimy, gritty suburbs like Mayfield, Wickham and Carrington. Young families moved in and began renovating the cheap and often charming older houses.

Nobody expected Newcastle to begin regressing, but as the coal stockpiles grew and the coal trains increased — neither being covered — so did the pollution and the health risks. This is especially so for children and there were many parents and young children at the rally.


But there was a wide spectrum of age, sex and even species!


The Riff Raff brass band kept the mood lively in between the chants. The consistent message, during the march and in the rally and speeches afterwards, was a resounding ‘NO to T4’ — and all the new coal mines that would rise to service it and all the global warming the increased coal exports would fuel.


In the end, the message is simple, on so many fronts, and it’s one I have on my car: COAL COSTS THE EARTH.

North to south

I’ll be hitting the road again soon, still talking… writing Rich Land, Wasteland has made this a full time follow-on occupation!

If the rains don’t intervene again, first I’ll be in beautiful—and wet—Dorrigo, so high up as to often be a cloudland. Then down to trendy and only slightly less wet Bellingen, at the feet of these spectacular mountains.

No, I’m not on holiday; I’m there as part of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival.

No, they don’t have a coal or gas rush there—but they do have a gold and antimony rush (and whatever else they find in the process) and there’s plenty of reasons to be concerned about this. Unless you fancy a little arsenic in your waterways?

My Festival events are:

  • Thursday 21st March, 7 pm
    Dorrigo Community Hall, 
    Hickory Street.
    Chaired by Jacqueline Williams, with myself and Paul Cleary (Minefield) speaking on Mining of course—but with the theme of ‘Just keep digging? – our resources rush, local and beyond.’
  • Saturday 23rd March, 2.30-3.45 pm
    Bellingen Memorial Hall
    Discussion chaired by George Negus on ‘Dangerous Activities: Mining and Nuclear Energy,’ with myself, Paul Cleary and Richard Broinowski.

Then I’m off to Melbourne again, just overnight, to Sandringham on Port Phillip Bay, to speak at a public event organised by the Bayside Climate Change Action Group.

  • Tuesday, 26th March, 7.30 pm
    Sandringham Uniting Church Hall,
    21 Trentham Street

Next day I’m in Tasmania—details of that to follow.

North West awakening

I’m back home after a week in North-West NSW. I was there for the NorthWest Alliance of community groups across the Walgett, Moree, Narrabri, Coonamble, Gunnedah, Coonabarabran, Quirindi and Tamworth shires — all very concerned about the expansion of extractive industries there, especially coal and coal seam gas.

We were a trio at information forums in Tamworth, Gunnedah, Narrabri and Moree.

Mark Ogge from The Australia Institute spoke on the economic impacts, on agriculture especially, launching a new report, ‘Still beating about the bush’, I spoke on the social impacts, and Dr Steve Robinson from Gloucester and Doctors for the Environment, spoke on health impacts.

While issues were different in each place, interest was clearly high everywhere as good attendances (80-160) and keen questions showed. Eight times the current coal production is predicted for the Gunnedah Coal Field, as it is called overall, and CSG companies like Santos are well entrenched and keen to get going.

This is a major agricultural cropping region, proud of its water-retaining black soils, and most people want to keep it that way.

Tamworth may not be immediately threatened but I feel it could well become a Drive-in, Drive-out (DIDO) centre, where workers base their families, near amenities and away from the inevitable pollution if projects like those recently ticked off by Mr Burke go ahead — the Maules Creek mine and the Boggabri expansion. People also expressed concern about the role of coal in fuelling global warming.


Gunnedah worries about both coal and CSG, being near the BHP Billiton Caroona EL, the Shenhua Watermark EL and the Santos leases, given what we have seen in the Pilliga Forest gas fields, where spills like the above give good reason to be worried. (See Stop Pilliga Coal Seam Gas.) It also has the Whitehaven coal stockpiles and processing plant nearby.

Santos opened their ‘shop’ in Gunnedah’s main street last week, matched by a far more informative shopfront almost next door, of the N-W Alliance.

The main current coal expansion is around Boggabri, roughly halfway on the Newell Highway north from Gunnedah to Narrabri.  Boggabri is soon to get a single persons worker accommodation camp, as Narrabri already has. Gunnedah wants residential housing instead.

I fear for Boggabri’s future, for health and social reasons.

Narrabri Council has been and still is gung-ho in favour of these industries, with the Pilliga CSG fields between here and Coonabarabran, and the Whitehaven coal stockpiles not far away. Clearly not all the community agree.

To the north, Moree Council has stood up for their region to remain agricultural, not industrial. They also have the shining example of the Bellata/Gurley group who have stood united against allowing CSG exploration on their top cotton and wheat land, ‘locking their gates’ well in advance.


At the last three talks, I was greatly encouraged by the number of Gomaroi people who came, and who spoke up for the need for a united front to save our land and the water. The eloquent Alf Priestley at Moree moved many by his words about one human race.

At Moree I was also privileged to meet Auntie Shirley (front, above), the last person born at Terry Hie Hie, a mission, but also a very special place for the Gomaroi, who would be devastated to lose others like Leard Forest. As I showed her to a front row seat I felt like I was escorting royalty.

At chairperson Penny Blatchford’s enquiry, hands were raised in an overwhelming majority indication of wishes for a CSG-free community (Aunty Shirl certainly agrees, but is a little hard of hearing).

Further action meetings were planned in all four towns: the North-west will be an area to watch.

Next event in the region is the Leard Forest Listen Up on March 9-10, at the Frontline Action camp. See this good update from the camp and links about the event here.

Fighting for the Forest

Last week Tony Burke let us all down by rushing in and approving Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine and Idemitsu’s Boggabri expansion. 

And this despite the report exposing the Whitehaven ‘offsets ‘ for what they are: so ‘off’ as to be useless, if not fraudulent, and likely to be investigated because of it. 

He says they are ‘conditional’ approvals; this just means political fence-sitting in an election year.

If not stopped, they will clear 4000ha (over half!) of the scrap of forest that is Leards, on the mainly cleared Liverpool Plains, and threaten the lives and livelihoods of the Maules Creek farming community and their beautiful valley.
And of course the lives of all the creatures that live in the Forest, from koalas to bats.


In fact, Leard Forest is home to 26 threatened plant and animal species, and includes two endangered ecological communities. But what’s it matter if we lose a few more?

leard-fight-3The most important thing for Mr Burke seems to be not to be seen to be too ‘green’  — which I guess is why he has thrown the Tarkine open to mining in Tasmania — and to talk about jobs and investment more than soppy stuff like koalas.

I thought he was Minister for the Environment?

But the Maules Creek Community and the friends of Leard Forest, including the Frontline Action on Coal camp, are not giving up without a fight, using a variety of weapons.  

Frontline has already had an intrepid treesitter stopping clearing of the forest at the Boggabri mine.

Burke’s decision can be challenged on legal grounds. Can you please help them raise the funds needed?

A fighting fund has been setup to accept funds, details below. I’ve already given what I can; it does all add up!

  • Account Name: Hunter Community Environment Centre
  • BSB: 650-300
  • Account number: 980886600

If required, please email upthecreek2382@gmail.com to obtain a receipt.

Please note that Maules Creek website is now a permanent link from my site.

Photo credits: Top Frontline Action on Coal; 2 and 3 by Tania Marshall in Leard Forest

On the move in February

Here’s my schedule of talks for the rest of this month.

Health, Environment and Economy:
What will coal seam gas and mining mean for our town?
I am speaking on ‘Community impacts’, Mark Ogge from The Australia Institute will address ‘Mining risks to our economy’ and
Dr Steve Robinson of Doctors for the Environment will talk on ‘Health impacts of coal and gas mining’.

Monday 25th February, 6:30-8:00pm
Tamworth Community Centre
Darling Street, Tamworth

Tuesday 26th February, 6:30-8:00pm
Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club
313 Conadilly St, Gunnedah

Wednesday 27th February, 6:30-8:00pm
Narrabri High School

Thursday 28th February, 6:30-8:00pm
Moree Town Hall
Balo St, Moree

Storm ahead for Whitehaven?

Last Friday, 1st February, we raced ahead of an impressive storm front that was curving in a pincer shape towards the Maules Creek area. 

It was the first time I’d been past the edges of Leard Forest, and I was bowled over by the beauty of this long-established farming valley, with the Nandewar Ranges’ woolly convolutions as backdrop.

The top photo was taken after the storm and its wild winds and heavy rain had passed, and we were driving to the Maules Creek Hall for my talk that night. That’s a PM2.5 monitor in the paddock, wrung from Whitehaven by the Maules Creek Community Council earlier on, as baseline data.

Despite the storm, and the fact that they only had a few days notice of my talk, a surprising number of locals turned up. Some did have to be ferried across the rising creeks and some had to leave soon after the talk or they’d not have made it home.

Of the 50-odd folk who came, I was very pleased to see many with young families. The kids ran about and played outside in true country hall tradition.

I met quite a few local people, including Bruce and Wilma Laird, Phil Laird’s parents, whose ancestors setted here and for whom the forest is named. (They did originally spell it like the forest, said Bruce.)


Although the storm had been hot on our tails on the way over earlier, I just had to stop and take photos! This one is looking back to the Forest, with a fabulous dense rolled cloud, called an ‘arcus’, found ahead of a storm, ‘riding on the front of the outflow of cool air’ (The Cloudspotters Guide).


Looking in the opposite direction, towards the Nandewar Range, you get an idea of why Whitehaven must not be allowed to turn Maules Creek into an open cut coalmine! I hope that if Tony Burke doesn’t do the right thing and reject this mine, the locals decide to say NO in the way Caroona did and cause stormy days ahead for Whitehaven.

I’ll go back to join them.

The Nature Conservation Council suggests you call and tell Minister Burke to protect this important natural area from the destructive impacts of coal mining. He’s deciding by Thursday, so please call today! Of course you won’t get him but the message will get through.
Environment Minister Burke’s Canberra Office: (02) 6277 7640
NCC’s suggested phone call talking points:

  • I am calling because I am extremely concerned with the proposal to put open-cut coal mines through the heart of Leard State Forest in NSW.

  • The Whitehaven coal mine (Maules Creek) will clear hundreds of hectares of critically endangered woodland, home to federally listed endangered species.  This area should be protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

  • An independent ecologist report has shown Whitehaven’s plan to offset the loss of this endangered ecosystem is inaccurate and does not meet federal standards.

  • Under no conditions should this project be built. I urge Minister Burke to reject the Whitehaven coal project and protect this unique natural area.

Looking into Leard

Being on the edge of the Leard Forest here at camp, apart from maps I didn’t have much of an idea of its scope and what it might lose if Mr Burke doesn’t do the right thing by it.

This morning Murray drove us around this state forest under threat from creeping coalmining.

It’s varied in height and vegetation, with trees that I’m not familiar with, like White Box, Pilliga Box and Poplar Box (Bimblebox) as well as those I know, like Ironbark, Callitris, Casuarina and Kurrajong.

It won’t matter much what’s here if Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine is allowed to proceed, with the travesty of offsets they propose to replace what they clear here.


This is where they will start; it was a test drill site and this is their idea of rehabilitation.


From a higher point we could look back and see both forest and farmland that are in Whitehaven’s sights. Of course many other farms (and farming families) will go if their proposal isn’t thrown out as it ought to be, because it won’t be bearable to live here then.

The noise from the Boggabri mine resumed its usual loud rumble and clank yesterday, presumably after pumping water out of the pit of several days, and after a blast that clearly still had water in the hole.


The result was this toxic orange cloud of nitrous oxides plus… (snapped by S.K. after we heard the blast.)

You’re supposed to seek immediate medical help if you’re exposed to this, as it can ‘result in delayed health effects that may be potentially life-threatening.

Low levels can lead to effects from irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs, coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness and nausea … which can cause fluid build-up in the lungs and further complications. 

One local here told me that he and several others who were caught in such a windblown orange plume had each thought they had some sort of weird flu until they compared notes. 

High levels of exposure, even in short bursts as in post-mine blasts, have impacts from headaches to coma — to death.


But today, I was on the lookout for ground-based wonders, and there were plenty, from weathered wood sculptures to lichened rocks.


Murray’s affectionate dingo cross, Dubi, did her best to keep an eye out from the seat beside me.


In the forest that is not slated for mining (or not yet) I saw some big old trees with lots of hollows, and I wondered how all the creatures will manage to fight over these and find a home if two-thirds of the forest is destroyed?

But that is not a fait accompli, which is partly my message when I speak here at Maules Creek Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 1st February.

Watching over Leard Forest

I swished in over watery roads across the Liverpool Plains yesterday, flying the Eco-Warriors’ flag that I was given in Brisbane last year. This symbol for worldwide cultural change has the the yellow tripod for unity, the red, yellow and black of the Australian Aboriginal flag, representing indigenous cultures worldwide and the beginnings of all humanity, and the green background stands for nature and the environment movement.

As the flag flapped and snapped on my unused UHF aerial, I did feel like a warrior going into battle.

Gunnedah, Boggabri, and headed towards Maules Creek. The directions on the Frontline Action on Coal website are clear and the camp is unmistakable, right where the Forest starts.


A tepee (Murray Drechsler’s home) and tarps and tents large and small, solar panels for the communications, a fireplace (when fire bans aren’t in force) and even a makeshift ‘greenhouse.’ “Community not Coal,” say the signs, and of course Lock the Gate yellow triangles abound.

I made a good impression at once by getting bogged in my first choice of a level spot for the camper, despite having been warned it was soft there. Mea culpa — 4WD false sense of security!

Murray towed me out backwards, I found a firmer spot and set up in the drizzling rain. Lots of conversations about the issues here and beyond around the campfire. Two more supporters arrived.

I am hoping more people come in the next few days before Mr Burke gives his decision on the fate of this Forest from at least one of the mines threatening it. 

We need to show that this Forest and this Maules Creek Community matter more than coal.


One of the inhabitants has already moved in with me and my camper, just in case his home is earmarked for destruction.

On a drive with Murray today, on one of his unofficial ‘Mystery Dingo Tours’ (0418 754 869). I saw the all-too-familar ugliness of the overburden mountains dominating the landscape.

The Tarrawonga mine wants to expand and so does the Boggabri mine right next to it. 

Add to these Whitehaven’s new Maules Creek mine and this area will be well down the path of the Hunter, all balance lost in both land use and culture. Rural will have become industrial, with the human and environmental damage that this brings, despite all the sham ‘conditions’ and the extraordinarily inadequate and seemingly ‘misleading’ offsets proposed.


As we drove back, having been baulked by the last too-deep flooded creek crossing, I saw again the poignant juxtaposition of human lives against the oversized presence of the new neighbours.


The history of this farm gateway, and what might have been assumed to be its future — now all for naught. The new ‘hills’ are hardly an aesthetic addition to the view, and I’d imagine the noise and dust don’t add to the amenity of life here either.

RED ALERT: Koalas or Coal?

You may have heard of Jonathan Moylan’s now infamous hoax against Whitehaven Coal and ANZ. 

He carried it out from the protest camp in the Leard Forest near Narrabri, set up 167 days ago by he and fellow campaigner Murray Drechsler and others.

They’ve been stationed on watch ever since, being joined or relieved by a fluctuating range of locals from the Boggabri district and visitors from all over the state, including Bill Ryan, a 90-year-old veteran of the Kokoda Track in World War II, and Mr Ryan’s 63-year-old son, Colin.


Three massive open-cut coalmines are planned and two approved, despite the damage they will do, clearing 5000 hectares of forest and farmland, including more than 1000 hectares of critically endangered box gum woodland.  This is not supposed to be happening in what is theoretically OUR forest.


This forest is the last remnant on the predominantly cleared Liverpool Plains. It is home to Koalas, South-eastern Long-eared Bats, Feathertail Gliders, Spotted Quolls, Swift Parrots and Masked Owls, to name but a few.

The surrounding Maules Creek district is home to many long-term farming families, like fifth-generation farmer Phil Laird and his family; it’s a thinly populated area, so these local battlers need wider support if they are to save their water, their health and their futures. See the Maules Creek website.

front-line-logoJonathan and Murray have set up the Frontline Action on Coal website and a Facebook page.

Jonathan is preparing for his imminent court case. Murray is still out there; he needs support to resist, if Jonathan’s effort is to mean anything.

Habitat trees have already been earmarked and security has been stepped up by the Idemitsu Boggabri mine.


On 31st January Minister Burke will announce his decision on the state-approved Boggabri expansion and Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine.

The Lock the Gate Alliance has labelled the area “the next big battleground in the fight against uncontrolled open-cut coal mining”.

Well, the battle is fast approaching. 

Murray has today issued a RED ALERT calling for bodies to get out there and help make this resistance, this battle, a clear reality to Idemitsu and the government(s).

Directions and contact numbers are on the Frontline blog site contact page and there are heaps of pictures on their Facebook page. For more background information see their links page.

Please heed this call if you can spare even a day in the Narrabri region. 

Don’t let this be the next Wasteland; the Hunter is enough.

Saving the Reef

Photo: Australian Conservation Foundation

Last July I attended the Beyond Coal Conference at Louisa Creek near Mackay — see my post on it from that time. Louisa Creek has been, is being devastated by the nearby coal ports of Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay and now they want to put a third coal port there on the other side at Dudgeon Point.

Abbot Point in flood time

At that conference Greenpeace interviewed local Louisa Creek fighter Betty Hobbs and me. Betty’s also in my book.

Hay Point

Greenpeace has taken on the huge task of campaigning to save our Great Barrier Reef from the devastation being wrought — and much more being planned — by the coal and gas rush: new coal and LNG ports, dredging, industrial shipping traffic, contamination from coal mine water releases and from seaside coal stockpiling and uncovered coal rail wagons…

Did you know we’ve already lost half the Reef in the last 27 years?!

I urge you to sign the petition on the Save the Reef website and watch the four short videos: Betty; Richard Deniss, an economist; June Norman, activist and walker for peace and the Reef (and friend and fellow grandma); and me, the ‘author’.