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.

13 thoughts on “Cecil Plains: last stand for sanity”

  1. Hi Helen,
    I know how you feel about pacing yourself with the pain of the truth in my book. Thanks for reading it . Was the worst two years of my life, writing it! You might like to look at the post I did after one of my Victorian book talks: http://lelal.com/munro/?p=3728

  2. It is breaking my heart reading your well researched and written book about coal mining.

    I live nowhere near a coalmine, (that I know about), in Melbourne.

    The farmer I married in 1979 lives in East Gippsland and I fear for the property his family has farmed and owned for generations. All I can do is sympathize and feel to my core being, that our land is being raped, frankly, and with so much disregard for the average citizen.

    Your book, Rich Land, wasteland, I can only read in about 1-1and a half hour stints. It’s hard going for me. It makes me, in turn, incredulous, sad, disappointed and ultimately, depressed.

    You have my very grateful thanks for having the courage to write the book. Otherwise, I really wouldn’t have known about the situation we’ll are and will be facing in regional Victoria.

    Land, and especially good, fertile land, which is where all the coal reserves are, isn’t found all that easily in our country. It needs to be treasured and kept in Australian
    citizens hands – especially farmers; who I have great respect and admiration.

    Australia, Federally and State governments, at present, don’t seem to have much money at all.

    But: it worries me intensely that any G’ment, let alone ours, should be so desperate as to put $’s before their countries citizens’ health. The politicians wouldn’t like the mines in their personal backyards.

    Thank you again: for opening up my eyes,

    Helen Waller

  3. “Sucker nation” indeed’ Chas! We only have to stall until sanity returns and they see they have to come up with other revenue and job sources.

  4. Thank you Sharyn for your return thanks,you know the first morning at day break after the lad and his dad had departed to the wide brown yonder I and my companions started to apply our selves to the job at hand, climbing up onto the roof of the “homestead” [A cottage provided along
    with the soldier settlement land grants] standing on the roof there was 360 degrees of these grand open country acres[more like square miles], not a dozer in sight only the wide brown land that seemed to go on forever. I hope and pray it stays that way. Incedently our next job was cutting the timber roof members for the bulk wheat silo in Brookstead, as pointed out, my age, the future for me is remembering my past. I cant help thinking when the coal, the gas, the water [sub] the iron ore, the bauxite, and whatever else has gone north, the world may tilt,leaving generations to come indigonous food gatherers. we are fast becoming the”sucker nation” of consumers, thanks to people of your calibre and the want of a government that can stand by you, you may not be able to stop it, but you will definately stall it Chas.

  5. Hello Charles,
    Thank you for that terrific tale of your Cecil experiences! And I do not believe that the farmers are going to let Arrow ruin the Plains and its alluvium. Many people will help them stop such an atrocity.
    Arrow has just pulled out of their PEL over Warwick and Scenic Rim. Let’s hope they keep pulling out!

  6. If I may I would like to add I still live in the Hunter Valley midst of huge mounds of overburden that one day are one side of the valley the next day on the other side with all the land between rolled over, and less than twenty Ks. from the worlds largest coal export loading fascility and endless locos pounding away all day and night its difficult for me to imagine “The Plains” turned over,a sad day that will be, then again let them in and some day in someway wheat may grow again, then farmers will have to learn all over again, but will never be like it was. AAHH,FOR MEMORIES

  7. OOOH,Cecil Plains.
    Ihad the pleasure of working on a vast wheat growing property on the “Plains” 1952, a mate and I newly out of our apprenticeships as carpenters decided to seek our fortunes in the wheat and wool growing districts of southern Qeensland, both wheat and wool were booming were the phrases used.Leaving the hunter Valley N.S.W, aboard a Douglas D.C.3. @ Kingsford Smith airport arrived @ Oaky landing ground some hours later picked up a friend in Toowoomba, then with our tools, and little money bought our tickets to Pittsworth on the rail motor, that in itself was an experience, not accustomed to the engine driver stopping along the way to shoot kangaroos, rabbits and or wallabies, or a “cuppa brew”and a chat which turned out to be informative as he knew a wheat farmer who required a renovation to his home out on “the plains”. Eventually arriving in Pittsworth looking for a place to bed down settled on wheat bags stashed in the “lumpers shed” after a night of which you could only imagine, went to the water tank down by the railroad had ablutions then to look for a place for “brekky” and away to contact the wheat farmer who needed the renno’s done. That being done we took stock of our collective wealth, in the midst of the huge expanse of open spaces, our capital was pretty small, but with the promise of work we set about needed provisions and some form of transport, we aquired both, even had some change,the provisions were meagre as was the 1927 Dodge tray back ute that soon gobbled up the loose change. As the day was closing in and our destination didnt seem far off. What a laugh in a 1927 Dodge tray back ute, we should have bought the brakes along with the ute not realising they were an optional extra, along with the head lights, but it did have tyreless tubes, and a thirsty motor, with me driving and my “pals sitting on the front mudgaurds felt our way to the property out on the “Plains”,already we were realising what an amazing place this Queensland was. I would dearly love to tell who the property belonged to, it will be enough to know that it was the most eye openning experience of our young years.
    First morning woke up to a motor starting up then a bigger motor cutting in, dragging myself out to see what the noise was about, finding the owner and his eight year old son at a huge bulldozer linked up to harrows of a width I had never seen, yes an eight year old boy sitting a top of this, to me, monster, I thought this is going to be interesting, so I moved our ute to some where save, didnt want to hurt the dozer, next thing this lad was heading off to the yonder, his dad was unconcerd Iwas in panic and told him what I thought of him, he just grinned and said that that was his job, this eight year old at day break each day would be gone till dark, the father had another dozer somewhere out there and apperantly caught sight of each other on occassions. We with job completed prepared to leave this property, we were there three weeks, and were to go to another job in Brookstead, any way dad and the boy and his little brother and mother, knocked up a huge brekky, shoved a fat envelope into my hand saying of a job well done, best of luck, We headed our to be faithful old ute [which the farmer put right for us] toward Brookstead. The farmer heading toward the seemingly endless plains of Cecil. I am now eighty one yo. and memories are still vivid of Cecil Plains, and southern Queensland. Believe me there is lots more to tell but I dont want to bore you, and “good on yer Cecil Plainers”.

  8. Thanks Merilyn. I know your family’s story is ongoing with the New Acland mine, but I am glad that you found some comfort in my book.

  9. Congratulations Sharyn on a very emotional but unfortunately very real book. I wish it was fiction.

    To all those who were in the book my thanks for telling their stories. For each page has been a lifting of a heavy rock from my back. I know I am not alone in my issues of dealing with companies, governments of all levels, trying to improve your plot of land and health issues. It has crystallized in my mind that the issues are all real and not part of an over active imagination

    To those in the book I hope that all the stories in some way help you and don’t just make you mad and cranky as I know it has made some people who have read it. Anger is good and justified but we must some how harness that emotion so that only good for the people and planet can survive

  10. Thanks for the support for the Cecil Plains folk, Robyn, Anne and the indomitable Knitting Nannas. Blockade now also at Fullerton Cove near Newcastle. The tipping point is here.

  11. I will be there as part of the blockade Sharyn and so will many others from the Northern Rivers district of NSW. We are all united against this insidious industry, particularly when it comes to food or fibre producing farmland. See you there.

  12. We’ll be there to support Cecil Plains, needles sharpened, bifocals polished and those special pants you wear when you know there might not be a loo stop for a bit. As soon as we get the nod, forces will be mobilised.
    KnittingNannasAgainstGas xox

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