Cats – the enemy, not the musical

My Mountain wildlife refuge was 90 minutes from a town, so too far for lazy folk to drive up into the forest and dump their unwanted pets… like cats.

In my decades there I never saw a feral cat, and only once did I see a wild dog. No danger of confusing the latter with a dingo, as sadly, after the government’s bounty on dingoes, and ‘the dogger’ visiting the area, I no longer saw our regular big ginger one or heard the distinctive howling from up the far valleys.

I did have Spotted-tailed Quolls, even nesting in my shed, so maybe they kept the cats away. Small mammal and reptiles and birds abounded, so the thought of my fascinating fellow wildlife being creatures being devoured by an invasion of cats is appalling.

My most plentiful parrot was the Crimson Rosella, beautiful and musical.

Cat eating a crimson rosella. Copyright C Potter

The Bimblebox Nature Refuge seems a long way from towns in our coastal hinterland NSW terms but it is surrounded by ‘farms’: large scale cleared grazing properties where it mostly seems neither trees nor Nature, distances nor environmental responsibilities matter much.

A farmer like my late father would say of Bimblebox, ‘It’s just bush.’ It was the accepted rural attitude. When Dad visited my mountain forest block in the 70s he said, ‘It’d look all right if it was cleared a bit; especially with a few fat Herefords on it…’

And the price of cattle is high right now, so what price a small and rare Squirrel Glider possum which needs old tree hollows for its nest?

I want to share these thoughts from Ian Hoch, at the ‘coalface’ caring for Nature at Bimblebox. Those who have read the Bimblebox book will know that Ian is a philosopher and poet as well as deeply committed to caring for the Refuge… to doing that hard work it daily involves. Last time I shared was mostly about efforts to halt the exotic flora invasion.

Below he talks about the feral fauna, on seeing this Frogs Friday infographic featuring the Squirrel Glider. The ending will resonate with me forever…

The Cat Wars

Enigmatic this little fella; don’t think he’s supposed to be here. I found one dead up on the netting and pretty sure it was Sonya (Duus) who sent it away to be identified as a Squirrel. Didn’t have the white tip which distinguishes him from the Sugar Glider.

From what I read and understand, these more delicate and vulnerable mammals were doomed from the day Cook claimed possession and liberated his pigs on Cape York and explains why Conservancy and Heritage go to all the trouble with exclusion fencing.

I’m as sick of finding bird feathers around water troughs as I am tired of shooting and trapping cats. All my efforts only create a temporary void for another tabby. After 150 years, predator and prey must have established an equilibrium of sorts with the native species either cat- savvy or exterminated, and populations of both being sustained by availability of food and refuge. 

I don’t know what to do about it but do know (as child of a cat lover mum) that top of menu for moggies is small birds and gliders. The rarer the tastier. A fluffy tail usually the only reminder of the delicacy that was. 

I have to fence roos and rabbits from this native plant nursery to tackle the same problem in the floral realm. The sweetest species don’t get a chance to reproduce. Especially those already on the edge of their range and resilience.

You might say hardly makes any difference, we’ve never really noticed their presence nor lament their loss and that’s true until you’re holding a Sugar baby or watching them glide in the moonlight between tall ghost gums, and it’s then you know what you’re missing.

I’ve seen 3 or 4 other elusive marsupials that I don’t think are listed on those sham EIS. And whether they’re listed or not is hardly the point. As the designation implies — we’re a nature refuge. The idea is to maintain habitat for wildlife for its own sake, not just for the things we happen to notice.

At the same time we wouldn’t kid ourselves these ephemeral or vulnerable species will be here for much longer. Or not without our concerted efforts to cater for them. 

Huge counter influences are at play out there now (at sister property Kerand) in the wake of the regional scale, near complete transition to full-on production. We’re in that shakedown period  and in 20 years we’ll know what’s been able to cope, and so far it doesn’t look too promising. At Kerand, it’s likely to have been 90% reduction in 50 years. I think that’s called decimation.

Can’t see how we can avoid the same from happening here. Or not at this rate. Not without ridding the place (or select parts) of pigs and cats and rabbits, buffel and secca. Ironically and cruelly those highly adaptive foreign species, unburdened by co-evolutionary checks and balances, are just way too strong for the unique niche and specialist natives.

It’s been that way the world over for centuries. Just so happens the tail end of the colonial frontier has swept through the central west in our lifetime. The ecodynamics are in continuous flux, goes on by the minute – and much we never know. Foxes and deer and goats and hares and cane toads have all come and gone from here but pigs and cats and rabbits found a perfect home and pick the eyes out of the local smorgasbord. 

As I understand, cats are at their most populous and gargantuan right across the arid zone. They’ve evolved into pumas and devastate what’s left of all those wee dainty bopping bundles of fluff that live out there in the spinifex.

We might yet get to appreciate the bunny and the tabby, and not torment ourselves with reminders of squirrel gliders.

Pumas indeed! A feral cat carrying a sand goanna in its mouth. Picture: Emma Spencer

Caring for Nature takes work!

Bimblebox Nature Refuge occupies 8,000 hectares. Not huge by western Queensland measures, but by NSW coastal standards it’s almost inconceivably vast.

 My Mountain wildlife refuge and conservation property was only 64 hectares, and I know how much work was involved in trying to keep an eye out for new invading plants and then to try to keep them in check, year after year. Weeding, weeding, weeding…

My place was remote from agriculture… and people… so there were relatively few feral plants or animals. But even now, when I see paddocks full of fireweed and Crofton weed in vast amounts in national parks and state forests… I sigh, and groan inwardly.

What I did on my little patch may not have made much difference overall, but it meant that one forest ecosystem had the chance to regenerate as it should and not be choked by a feral understorey. And indeed to be as ‘natural’ and in balance as it could be.

As Archie Roach sang, ‘The Australian bush is losing its identity…’

For the 22 years since the gazettal of Bimblebox Nature Refuge, it’s been mainly Ian Hoch doing that neverending work on those 8000ha. Paola is often needed on their sister property, and since 2007, greatly occupied with the fight to save the place from the coal threat. Occasional volunteers have helped, but there have never been enough.

Many who visit have offered advice on how to run or improve Bimblebox, often with grand plans, especially since that coal threat reared its head higher in late 2019.

 The other day I read the following  words of Ian’s; they struck me as expressing so well the many and varied needs of caring for the Refuge there… and why at least one other person helping would make a big difference. So I asked his permission to share extracts from them.

As Ian says, we need these visiting people to see:  ‘the Bimblebox paradox  – it’s everything and it’s nothing’.

‘Change comes one step at a time.’ If people can ‘…see this situation from the resident’s perspective, or at least some of it, or at least to think more about the reasons for historical failure rather than the prospects of future success. I could then say to each as they departed – rather than all the fanfare, the best way you can help is look out for that one person. Now you know how it is here and what’s missing. It’s not at all the postcard depicted by the artists and for the media or government or EDO. 

‘The missing bit is out there somewhere in the suburbs and you might be in a position to fill the gap. One person who can handle this domestic situation, and has a similar interest and has nothing better to do – that’s all we need right now, so starting today we go systematically around the property and catch the coffee senna and parkinsonia and this latest ghastly interloper with thorns to puncture a bullock hide, before they shed their 20 years worth of seed, and of course the horrid harrisia can’t be far away and with the advantage of bird dispersal in this jungle we’ll have a veritable nightmare when it arrives. 

‘After that we might even get some fencing in, secure the hotspot boundaries to avoid more strife with the neighbours, and run electric wires along roads so we can graze to reduce fire, or control burn without having the stock flog the pasture in that critical recovery phase. We might manage to rabbit proof this nursery, and make a start of thinning the century of thickening and ultimately show results to make developers everywhere wish like hell they’d never cleared their land. That’s when we arrive at the irrefutable conclusion – conservation pays, i.e., we’re far better off working in conjunction with nature than fighting with it. It’s an obvious and oft recited axiom but almost meaningless. We don’t see it around us. 

Guess which side of the fence is cared for?

‘You have either production land or recreation land. One stripped, one struggling. Already the health and vitality from retaining diversity is becoming apparent driving around the boundary, but that’s due to the neighbours’ actions, or you might say overaction, rather than our deliberate or constrained inaction.

‘We haven’t done anything yet, and that’s a big part of the aversion and resistance. Whereas with a few years of interaction, or what we now call regeneration, where we check the spread of exotics and enhance floral diversity (with controlled grazing) and redress the pasture/woody imbalance (with herbicide, because we’ve learnt that fire can’t and bulldozers make it worse) would turn everything around. In that regard one able bodied person with nothing but work clothes and willingness is worth more than a thousand novel proposals, as clever and well intended as they are. We could start our on the boundary where the contrast is most telling.

‘We’ve been here 22 years now, longer than anyone since the first people were turfed out, or at least I have, and in that time have actually come up with a few worthwhile undertakings myself and it’s amazing how many think you’re short of  ideas and direction. Art camp’s a case in point.’

It was built from ‘recovered and repaired materials’, mainly by Ian and son Karly. As TBA said in their Chuffed campaign, it needs an upgrade, and the funds are there, thanks to supporters’ generosity; COVID stopped one capable and keen helper from coming over the border when the weather was cool enough to start the work last year, and now it’s that time again.

Despite funds and advice, ‘nobody bends over and picks up the pieces.’ Ian is about to start the camp work, although he has so much to do already. He now urgently needs that helper. Weeds don’t wait while he is busy elsewhere! Then he could keep up the daily work of caring for Bimblebox and make the camp fully functional again for September, when the rains have come and the heath is a mass of colour. Then artists or visitors who want to come and camp and be energised and inspired by Nature at Bimblebox can do so again.

So I am pleading with you all to think hard whether you know someone who might be able to fill that volunteer role very soon and help Ian with this camp and other work. Caring for Nature takes work!

If you do, or may be able to volunteer yourself, please email Paola on bimblebox@gmail.com or call her on (07) 4985 3474

Saving Bimblebox

I’m writing this post wearing my hat as a longtime member of The Bimblebox Alliance Inc., whose mission is to save the Bimblebox Nature Refuge in Central Queensland from coal. As you all know, I lived in a remote dedicated Wildlife Refuge for decades, so I am especially appalled at the idea of Coal instead of Nature.

The threat to Bimblebox is now imminent, as Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal Company has applied for two of the last QLD government requirements for its huge Galilee Coal Project.

The Bimblebox Alliance Inc. will fight these applications in the QLD Land Court, alongside Youth Verdict, standing up for their human rights. The Environmental Defenders Office will provide legal services.

We have now had our first day in Court, at the Directions Hearing on 19th June. The battle begins in earnest.

But we need your help to carry it through. Please visit our Chuffed campaign, watch my video, read our story, find out what we need these funds for right now, give what you can – and share!

As well as the global warming impact of its approved 40mtpa of coal, this mine would destroy the almost 8000ha of Bimblebox, a living green woodland ark in a largely cleared region.

Paola Cassoni, Bimblebox Alliance President, and co-owner of Bimblebox, has been in lockdown in northern Italy, caught while visiting her elderly parents in February. So Bimblebox Alliance members like me have had to act here. Having seen too many places destroyed for coal, I cannot contemplate the rich natural treasures of Bimblebox becoming another wasteland.

Our wildlife need all the habitat they have left. Our grandchildren need all the help we can give to stop warming their planet!

Please help us do this: visit and share our Chuffed campaign.

Many thanks,

Sharyn

Backing kids on climate action

Taree is not a big town, nor particularly environmentally alert. At the last school strike for climate day there I think there’d have been less than a dozen kids, and mostly from elsewhere, like Gloucester; more adults without kids.

But on Friday 20th September the impact of the rising tides (pun intended) were clear.

Hundreds flocked to the riverside park to hear impassioned speeches, show support and share concerns — parents with babies, very small children and primary schoolchildren, secondary students on their own or in groups, adults on their own.

Many groups like 350.org and Nature Conservation Council have been urging people to attend one, but locally I think the growing Midcoast Extinction Rebellion (XR) group has been highly influential. 

One of the most impressive young speakers, 11-year-old Evie Wood McGuire from Cundletown Primary, was inspired after an XR family day at Nabiac. She then started her own blog to encourage specific personal action — in an innovative way!

All the kids who spoke were articulate, strongly behind Greta Thunberg, and clear on what they wanted: ‘Climate Action NOW.’

I gathered, from speaking to a large group from St Clare’s, that such protest seems to have become the ‘in’ thing, which is just what needs to happen!

Some went really public and stood up on the roadside with their signs, attracting many supportive honks from passing cars.

While I have never understood why Taree’s war memorial is guarded by two child-size soldier statues (did they run out of money, choose two minis for the price of one full size?).

 I know that the real soldiers would be horrified to think that the land and clean water and air they fought for are no longer our governments’ priorities.

And that the right to protest, such as this, was what they fought to keep for Australians.

While NO new coal is critical, as evidenced by the many Stop Adani signs, I was especially taken with the variety of very positive pro-active approaches, such as looking after bees, and trees, regenerative farming and local produce, as in the Young Farmers Connect group.

One of the Young Farmers’ children carried this very pointed sign. What are you doing?

Prioritising the future of all children was the primary message from the older generation. I bridled a bit when one young speaker said, ‘We’ll stick it to the Boomers’, given I am one; the grey-haired lady next to me had the same reaction and said, ’So should I leave now?’

Others pointed out the truth; some acknowledged that we oldies aren’t all bad…

And of course the Knitting Nannas were there to support ‘the kiddies’, for whose future they work, as always.

But it is the politicians we need to impress; if our Taree turnup wasn’t enough to convert our state Nationals from climate denial, how about the 10,000 people in Newcastle or the 50,000 in Sydney? Or, Trumpian sidekick Morrison, how about the 300,000 nationwide??!!  A few votes there…

Climate Change: The Facts


I urge you to watch this film with your family, to recommend it, to share it and/or show it to groups.

Al Gore’s film woke many of us up. David Attenborough sums it up and shakes us hard, in this excellent and comprehensive documentary.

It covers the varied causes, the current status, the possible tipping points, like the release of ice-trapped methane, and the likely solutions. 

Not all solutions are yet to be invented, like TREES! And yet deforestation, clearing and burning, is the cause of one-third of carbon emissions.

Many different experts in their fields tell us why we are at this point, and the voices of now, like Greta Thunberg, tell us why that point is so urgently in need of action.

This film reminds us with an electric jolt why we need to make this election a climate change one.

Our own actions matter. but we – and our world –  are running out of time. We need leaders to see that it is in their hands NOW to take us forward to a future that is not catastrophic.

How many election terms until 2050 when we must be at zero carbon emissions??

Mr Shorten, methane will warm the atmosphere 21 times faster than carbon dioxide; still think subsidising fracking for gas is a good plan?!I

This is no short clip; but it is no simple matter.

Again, I urge you to watch it all, with your family, to recommend it, to share it and/or show it to groups

Being there for Bylong

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.

Plotting the Nannalution!

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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Village on the verge

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.

wollar-2

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?

wollar-3

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.

wollar-6

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…

Last post at Tarwyn Park

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 to the wound that has been inflicted here in the Bylong Valley. 

Kepco is the Korean coal company that has imposed its ambition for a coal mine onto a lush farming valley, in a natural setting as stunning as Gloucester’s. The Bylong Way is a renowned scenic drive or bike ride.

And, like Gloucester, it ought to have been unthinkable to propose a coalmine here.

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Kepco’s plans have harmed the hopes and histories of many Bylong families, but today we are here to celebrate, honour and mourn in particular Tarwyn Park, birthplace and home of Natural Sequence Farming — and of the Andrews family.

Peter Andrews developed his internationally respected system here, slowing the natural flows of water through this landscape so it became water retentive, as it would have been before Europeans cleared and interfered.

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Photo of Peter Andrews by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

His son Stuart, wife Megan, and their sons Hamish and Lachlan were living here when I chose it as the Rich Land of the cover of my book, Rich Land, Wasteland.

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Photo by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

After today they no longer will be in residence; Kepco will. The fact that Kepco had set up their headquarters right next door (once a farm) always struck me as intimidating, a constant red rag, a reminder to this stressed family that ’we are bigger; we will win in the end’.

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Many came to this Open Day, to see the place and hear how the system works, to sign the petitions to have Tarwyn Park heritage listed — visit the website here — to meet Peter Andrews, to show support, express sympathy…

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The old sheds and stables, where champions like Rainmaker were housed, reeked of history, as did the homestead. People came in from the paddocks to the homestead steps to hear Peter, Joanne McCarthy and myself speak.

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The extraordinarily persevering Craig Shaw, driver of BVPA, Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, a person for whom I have great affection, admiration (and concern), brought us up to speed on the heritage listing campaign.

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Photo of Sharyn Munro (left) by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

I saw many familar faces there, fellow fighters for a fair go, as these industries especially impact on rural areas like Bulga, and nearby Wollar. For example, perennial battler Bev Smiles from Wollar and some really dangerous extremists like Di O’Mara.

Di is holding a green ribbon; as we left we tied these to the row of olive trees outside the gate, to flutter in the breeze for the weeks to come and remind Kepco that we care, that we do not forget. How many rich lands must we lose to wastelands — for the dying industry of coal?

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It was an emotional day for many, as we felt for the Andrews family and railed at the injustice and stupidity of any government allowing this to happen.

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Please follow the ongoing battle and progress of negotiations for heritage listing on Facebook. 

River love

Young mum Nicky Coombes is passionate about her beautiful Bundook area, her Gloucester River, and her family’s right to clean air and water.

As AGL’s coal seam gas project at Gloucester threatens all of these, she instigated a Gasfield-free Community survey in her Bundook locality. The first in the Gloucester region, the results showed that the great majority of residents do NOT want to live in a gasfield.

Nicky has come a long way from the first tentative public talks that I heard her give, and I think she has become a most eloquent spokesperson on the issue.

When I heard her speak recently, I complimented her:  ‘It was very poetic’.

‘Well, I have actually written a poem about it’, Nicky replied.

And she read it to me.

So now I share Nicky’s river poem and her beautiful river photos with you.

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Ode to the River

If you sit quietly & listen
You can hear her call your name
She wants to know your whereabouts
Your part in the game

We all claim common ownership
Her responsibility is ours
She wants to remind you
It’s your land that she empowers

It’s with your silence that she suffers
The cause of so much angst and pain
She questions your priorities
As without her you’d complain

Within you is the courage
And the strength to be brave
She’s asking you to speak up
Without you she can’t be saved

When we all speak together
Like her waters we can roar
She needs us to be united
A voice that cannot be ignored 

If you sit quietly and listen
You can hear her call your name
Please take responsibility 
For your part in the game

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Here’s Nicky at the recent Gloucester town walk. AGL better believe that she means what her sign says; the reverse message is ‘We will prevail’!

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Photo of Nicky and me by Linda Gill, who also made the steering wheel cover sunflower for The Ground Beneath Our Hearts event in Gloucester.

Sunflowers rule in Gloucester

On six continents groups large and small gathered to creatively celebrate and soothe the earth that we have so grievously wounded by our gung-ho extractive industries.

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In Gloucester, the Knitting Nannas Against Gas had been making sunflowers of every hue and size for months. On the day, sunflowers sprouted all over town, even on the garbage bins.

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Mannequins were found in the most unusual places and positions.

People were extra colourfully dressed for the monthly Walk through town and the mood was more positive than ever.

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Children in golden wings danced about like butterflies but couldn’t bring a smille to Nora the Knitting Nanna’s face; she knows CSG is deadly serious.

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At midday we met again at the AGL frack site gates where so many anxious and sad early morning vigils had been held as the fracking went on behind that high green wall in the distance. 

Now the Halliburton crew and their rigs are gone, AGL still have to vent the gas into the local air and take out the CSG water — then truck all the way to Queensland as no facility in NSW will have it, due to the BTEX it contains.

Today those gates bloomed with sunflowers and people parked and picnicked on the verge where once we were forbidden to stop.

Sunflowers are so much prettier than security guards…

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The security camera watched it all but no burly, poker-faced guards appeared. Clearly sunflowers and Nannas are not considered threatening enough.

AGL should not be fooled.

The Gloucester KNAGS certainly aren’t planning on giving an inch – or a stitch – until AGL are gone from their beautiful valley.

Gypsy farewell

Last week I loaded my much-loved Gypsy camper on to my ute for the last time. 

I have had to sell her due to financial problems.

The first to see bought her, and I had several callers wanting me to gazump them and buy her sight unseen.

I delivered her to her new home base near Inverell, where she is going to be used on a tray back ute and have major additions done to take advantage of the extra external side spaces.

I am now looking for a small 4WD campervan instead.

Here’s a few reflective pics of our time together.

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When she first arrived at my old Mountain home in 2012, she was immediately utilised by the locals for shade. I slept in her for the first night, just to celebrate what seemed my unbelievable good fortune in owning her.

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She was usually parked at the side of the cabin, very soon under a special sail for weather protection.

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Even while stationary there she had quite a few adventures with the local wildlife.

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I used to joke that I should rename her an ‘Activist Camper’, rather than an Active Camper, as she accompanied me to several protectors’ camps. At the original Leard Forest camp, a local frog immediately took up residence.

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We had only one actual ‘holiday’ — for two days — but she was wonderful for getting around to distant book talks, as in Victoria.

We did make it to a few national parks in between commitments in a given area — like Mount Kaputar when I was in the Pilliga, or the amazing Bunya Mountains here, from Toowoomba.

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Towing the final trailer load, she came with me as I passed through my gate for the very last time at the Mountain… a tough day.

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We made it here to our new home on 14th September, almost a year ago.

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Once here, at the Gloucester Protectors’ camp she was a frequent visitor, making the early morning action starts very easy for me.

She also coped with what seemed to be the frequent wild weather we copped there.

I felt guilty as tents ballooned and blew apart.

So my Gypsy has earned her new life and transformation. 

I loved having her, although I always felt she was too good to be true…