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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.)

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Abbot Point in flood time

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

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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’.

Women warriors at Woodford

Over 2012, Paola Cassoni and I have worked together to use her Bimblebox film and my Rich Land, Wasteland book as our tools to raise awareness, to shock Australians into action.

Wherever I speak, if I am allowed, I have the Bimblebox DVDs for sale.

For background. see my recent Bimblebox posts:

Beyond Coal and Gas

Bimblebox and beyond

Short way to speak up for Nature

Our next gig is at the Woodford Folk Festival (27th December—1st January). Bimblebox will be showing there at 9pm in the Greenhouse on the very first night. The festival website is here.

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This is my emblematic Bimblebox photo: a bimblebox tree leaf plunk in the middle of a cowpat, taken when I visited there in August.

The property is an ongoing research centre into ways of managing cattle and conservation without clearing precious and poorly represented bushland. They can coexist.

Opencut coalmining and conservation can’t — Clive and Campbell take note!

Paola and I will both be helping out on the LocktheGate stall (near the Greenhouse) and also available to chat at RocktheGate each evening: Paola from 4—5 and me from 6—7.

I’m told it can be really hot and/or really wet, or unseasonably cold, so I’m packing gumboots, sunscreen and a beanie. 

Hope lots of you come by and say hello, in between listening and dancing and doing at the fabulous events lined up for the Festival this year.  I’m looking forward to ‘dancing that coal right outta my hair’!! 

If not, have a safe and happy holiday season.

Pipeline nightmare

Battlers used to be applauded in Australia;  this year I was privileged to meet Celia Mackay, the truest bluest Aussie battler one could imagine. I visited her property with the ‘Bridging the Divide’ bus tour, where city people came to see and hear first hand what rural folk are suffering from the coal and gas rush in Queensland.

Celia, from the Western Downs, thought she was doing the right thing in signing a conduct and compensation agreement with QGC to run their CSG pipeline through her farming property. Here she breeds Santa Gertrudis cattle, fattens lambs and grows forage crops. The interruption would only be for 12 weeks, they assured her, and they’d compensate her for that.

As Celia says, in the bush you expect people to be fair and honest. The company said they’d pay $3000 if she wanted take the agreement to a lawyer, or else she could keep the money, but she feels she was strongly given the impression by QGC that legal advice wasn’t necessary.

Now she knows it was, and that she should never have signed that agreement.

It meant a 40-metre-wide bare excavation where the enormous pipe sections were propped up on dirt until ready to be joined and later buried.

In the meantime, her sheep could get under the pipes.

The wild dogs who were attracted to the long bare stretch of ground could get under them too.

But her vehicle couldn’t get through. So it wasn’t possible for her to use those paddocks.

Photo by Jenny Leunig

They said they’d put fencing and gates in to stop the dogs, and they did, but the knee-high gap under the gates let dogs in and sheep out. She lost more than 100 sheep to wild dog attacks. Celia said it took her ages to get them to add mesh along the bottom of the gates to make them of any use, and that was only after she’d locked QGC out.

In true neighbourly fashion they cut her locks to come in.

In effect Celia lost the use of 500 acres of her 1500 acre property, unable to earn money from crops due to the pipeline dividing paddocks and cutting her off from her access roads.

Other small ‘oversights’ that the company didn’t tell her about was a hole like this where sheep or children could fall in and drown—or a cable buried at a depth where her machinery could cut without knowing about it. She feels they are not treating her, as the landowner, or her business needs, with any respect.

She might have managed for three months but when we spoke in August QGC thought the pipe would be still above ground for another four and a half months. The project had kept being delayed and Celia was going broke.

In 2011 she sold her commercial herd to pay the bills; unable to finish her lambs on a sown pasture, she sold them for less than half their market value. 

Then in 2012, in desperation she risked all and sold much of her precious stud cattle at auction to try to raise the $50,000 needed to take QGC to court and urgently renegotiate their agreement, for fair compensation for the reality of what is happening.

As Celia said, “If I lose this fight I will lose my property; I just don’t see how I’ll be able to keep going. But sometimes you just have to stand up for what is right and fair.”

And she hopes her case will warn other landholders never to sign such agreements without legal advice.

Celia needs help. Please donate whatever you can to this Aussie battler’s legal fund:

Celia MacKay’s Fighting Fund
SDPL Law Practice Trust Account
BSB 084-630
Account: 814159707
Reference No: 2012/539

Cecil Plains: last stand for sanity

About 80 kilometres west of Toowoomba lies some of the richest cropping land in the country — ‘Prime,’ ‘Strategic’ — and any other classification that means the best. This is Cecil Plains.

I’d like you to consider visiting there very soon — as part of a blockade/rally to support the local farmers making a stand against Arrow Energy – and for their land and water.

Good soil and reliable water mean good crops, from cotton to chickpeas.  Cecil Plains has the famous self-cracking black soils over the Condamine Alluvium and the Great Artesian Basin. These are the really essential and sustainable ‘resources’, to be treated with care for future generations.

Arrow Energy wants to drill for CSG here, as part of the short-term resource boom that will end Cecil Plains as a highly productive, long-term food and fibre ‘resource’ region.

The farmers there have been against the ill-informed proposal from the start, to the point of going to court over it. They know what a gas field will do their finely-tuned broad acre precision farming and their careful management of water use for their intensive irrigated cropping.

Arrow has been told of the impacts but presses on regardless and the Government is not stepping in as one would have hoped.

Save Our Darling Downs (SODD) says:

‘After years of discussion with Arrow, the farming community at Cecil Plains remains unconvinced that coexistence is possible. CSG will negatively impact on groundwater and soils and will diminish agricultural productivity in the area. This is unacceptable to our community and should be unacceptable to all Queenslanders.’

And to all Australians.

The project covers 8,600 square kilometers from Wandoan to Goondiwindi and almost 50 per cent of the project area is located on Strategic Cropping Land (SCL). 7,500 wells, thousands of kilometres of pipelines and multiple dams, compressor stations and water treatment facilities are planned.

Why even proceed if SCL would truly stop those activities? 

Lock the Gate says that:

‘Arrow has told the government that this Condamine flood plain area at Cecil Plains has a large proportion of the gas across all their tenements and are insistent they will come on. If they can’t get on to this land they will withdraw their investment.’

When Federal Environment and Water Minister, Tony Burke, approved the first two big gas projects in October 2010, it was against the advice of his own department’s Water Group, with ‘significant concerns’ about the CSG projects, warning that it could be ‘at least 1000 years’ before water levels recovered.

They spoke of ‘significant impact’ likely, with implications for the Murray-Darling Basin by reducing water in the Condamine Alluvium. 

As at Cecil Plains.

After speaking in Cecil Plains last Wedneday night, I stayed with Graham and Wendy Clapham of SODD, and next day Graham showed me around the farm.

I was impressed, not just by the vast size of the operational fields, but the ongoing amount of thought and time and money that has gone into the design of the agriculture practices 

The slope of the land, undetectable to my eye, is precisely calculated as to where the water will go. The machinery is designed not to interfere, nor to compact the soil anywhere more than absolutely necessary. In fact, farmers are highly regulated as to what they put on this flood plain, so as not to interfere with the flow.

How can Arrow avoid that? Even one drill hole interferes.

Here they collect any surface water and pump it into storage dams to use — and reticulate to re-use, as well as drawing on their underground water, which is also re-used. They know how precious the Great Artesian Basin is.

The afternoon before, I drove in through a hazard-reduction smoke haze, but the community opposition and the lack of social licence for Arrow were clear.

If this project goes ahead, anywhere is ‘fair game’. Arrow is coming back there on 22nd August.

If you want to help force a return to sanity and balance in our destructive and biased mining and petroleum laws,  please keep an eye on the Lock the Gate website for a call hundreds of folk to come in the next few weeks and support the farmers of Cecil Plains — and hence the rest of Australia’s sustainable natural resources.

Cecil Plains may prove to be an historic last stand for sanity.

Beyond Coal and Gas

In a few weeks I’m heading back up to Queensland, to revisit some of the places in my Rich Land, Wasteland book, as in the chapter ‘Dark times in the sunshine state’ and others.

The catalyst was that I’ve been invited to speak at the Beyond Coal and Gas Forum, which will be held in the almost ex-village of Louisa Creek, just south of Mackay. It’s right beside the Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay coal stockpiles and loaders, and is threatened by a proposed stockpile in the village itself.

The idea behind the get-together is ‘Uniting communities affected by the boom’. And boy, do they need to help each other under an even more pro-dig and drill-it-all-up government than Anna’s, if that’s possible.

“We have brought together a range of voices to help communities and landholders overcome the steep learning curve that is necessary when coal and gas companies decide to set up shop in their region”, said event organiser, Ms Ellie Smith.

The other speakers include three people, Jo-anne, Maria and Patricia, who are in the book…

  • Jo-Anne Bragg, Principal Solicitor of the Environmental Defenders Office in Queensland (who’ve just had their funding cut!);
  • Dr Gavin Mudd — Monash University: Coal and gas mining impacts on ground and surface water;
  • Mark Ogge — The Australia Institute: The economic impacts of the coal and gas boom and renewable energy alternatives for Central Queensland;
  • Sarah Moles — Lock the Gate Alliance: Key lessons from the Lock the Gate movement in Queensland;
  • Maria MacDonald — Bowen resident and health professional: Health impacts of coal including dust and noise pollution;
  • Jaquie Sheils — GBR Marine Biologist: Threats to the Great Barrier Reef from the coal and gas boom; and
  • Patricia Julien — Mackay Conservation Group: Overview of the extent and impacts of coal expansion in Central Queensland.

“We’re inviting people from all over regional Queensland to come together to learn and share strategies for protecting our land, our water, our reef and all their associated industries. We will look beyond coal and gas to strategies that will build a more secure future”, said Ellie.

WHEN: 9am Saturday 28th July until 4pm Sunday 29 July 2012

WHERE: Louisa Creek Community Centre, Hay Point, South of Mackay

TO REGISTER OR FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit the forum website or contact forum coordinator Ellie Smith at the Mackay Conservation Group on (07) 4953 0808

Personally, I’m looking for inspiration and possible solutions as well as to catch up with many of the people who shared their stories in the book, like Louisa Creek local Betty Hobbs, Paul Murphy, Paola Cassoni, and Avriel and LIndsay Tyson.

Afterwards I’m visiting Bimblebox and giving talks around the regions en route to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast — details later!

Visit the forum Facebook page

Victoria, the next Pilbara?

Victoria used to be all about brown coal, but only in the Latrobe, and only for the adjacent power stations. The whole world knew about dirty old Hazelwood, but all their brown coal power stations create 33% more C02 than black coal.

We also heard a fair bit about its wind power, and how the yellow-bellied parrot had stopped one progressing.

But since I was there in mid-2010, the government has changed. Mr Baillieu has dropped the target of bringing emissions down to the very low benchmark of black coal power.

He has also publicly, and I assume happily, said something like ‘Victoria could be the next Pilbara’.

This means that vast areas of Victoria are now under exploration licences for coal (brown or black) and gas: methane, however it comes, CSG, tight, shale. Often the same company is exploring for both in the same place.

Now this looks like a good place to put a new brown coal mine. This is Bacchus Marsh, about 55km from Melbourne, on the way to Ballarat. It’s a fruit and vegetable (and herb) bowl if ever I saw one, with market gardens and orchards picturesquely lining the road in.

Grain and beef production are also important here, I’m told, but they wouldn’t look as pretty as this field of what I assumed to be parsley .

Bacchus Marsh also made national headlines in February this year when pregnant local resident Natasha Mills and Quit Coal activist Paul Connor chained themselves to Mantle Mining’s drilling rig.

Natasha and her friends in the Moorabool Environment Group (MEG), like Deb Porter, Kate Tubbs and Liz Cooper (L to R) don’t want Bacchus Marsh to go the polluted way of areas like the Hunter Valley of NSW and they intend to keep fighting to stop it. MEG have joined Lock the Gate.

They’d been doing their best to alert locals of the threat, but since there’s long been a very small mine here just for fertiliser production, most can’t believe that the new owners plan a huge mine here.

Mantle, whose licence covers 38,000ha, apparently aim to use Exergen’s still experimental drying technology to reduce carbon emissions and hence export it to India. It’s called ‘clean coal’!

Looking back to Bacchus Marsh township from an opposite vantage point, I imagine the ‘bowl’ edging mountains would do a good job of holding in the pollution from an open cut.

MEG asked me down to talk to locals, and showed me over the proposed site. The coal here is not like in the Latrobe, where it’s only 9m below the surface and so soft that no blasting is needed.

Here it’s under basalt and can be 70m or so down, so blasting and overburden mountains and dust and air pollution will be the lot of Bacchus Marsh if this open cut goes ahead. And who knows what will happen to the aquifers?

Totally incompatible with a food production area.

It’s also a major harness racing centre, and I knew I was nearing the Tubb family’s Jessamy Park, where I was to stay, by the ‘dirty’ signs along the fence. Mantle want to drill on Jessamy Park. Healthy horses, like healthy people, aren’t compatible with an open cut mine either.

(Photo of Eleanor,top, by Liz Cooper)

After I got back home, I received this media release. I guess getting into Hansard is some sort of milestone!