At last I can tell everyone what I have been working on for the last two years, monopolising my mind and my heart, and near breaking both at times.
My new book, Rich Land, Wasteland — how coal is killing Australia, will be in bookshops at the start of May, a joint publishing venture by Pan Macmillan Australia and Exisle Publishing.
I knew the Hunter had been — is being — trashed by coal, and the wishes and wellbeing of its residents apparently treated with contempt by both corporate coal and government. Was this unique or could it possibly this bad elsewhere?
To find out, in 2010 I took my tape recorder and travelled to other coal areas around Australia — a black road trip in more ways than one.
What I found nationwide shocked me with its scale and scope and speed — and the awful human toll from the frenzied push for profits by the coal and CSG industries.
This was an industrial invasion — ‘a taking over of land and a clearing out of people’ — and it was by mainly foreign forces, with full government support via their loose and biased laws and processes — at best.
In the face of all the spin from industries with bottomless pockets and from gormless governments, I wanted ordinary Australians to know what was happening to their country and their countrymen behind their backs — in the confidence that they will say ‘This is not the Australia we want to be’ when they do.
Food and water security, health and social structure, precious natural resources and places, both environmental and agricultural, were being taken away from us and from future generations — and nobody apart from those immediately impacted knew much about it.
And, tied up and worn down with their specific local battles, nobody knew the full national picture.
It took all of 2011 to make a readable (and liftable) book out of the many interviews with affected people, the information I gathered from research, and the ongoing updates from news and from community action groups all around Australia, right up until the end of February 2012.
I remained in touch with most of the folk I met on my coal trip, and I can tell you that things have gotten worse for most of them.
But 2011 was a boom year for action, as more once-conservative people, especially farmers, realised they could not depend on governments to protect them and theirs, and took strong stands, from Locking the Gate to legal challenges.
CSG may have grabbed the headlines, and it should, but we must not forget that Coal continues to plan expansion on a truly massive scale, in places like the Galilee Basin in Queensland, around Cooper Pedy in South Australia, and the Canning Basin in Western Australia.
I’m a writer, not an academic or a journalist, so I wanted to write a ‘story’.
I didn’t want to only present readers wth a collection of dry, if horrific, facts; I wanted to give a vivid and impassioned narrative that brought readers with me on my journey into this ‘national tragedy’.
The real voices from the coal fronts certainly do that. My book is a tool that I will use to the maximum with talks and publicity.
I hold out hope that adding all our voices to theirs will raise the momentum on the turning tide, as I feel it to be, and that ‘profit’ will be forced to be legislated back into perspective, with people and the planet as priorities.
Maybe then Australia can have the sustainable and smart future we would wish for our grandchildren, rather than the rapidly looming shortsighted one that I discovered.