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.

Read morePlotting the Nannalution!

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.

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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?

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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.

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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. 

Co-existence with coal?

Hadyn Wilson is a friend of mine from the Hunter Valley — south of the coal wasteland, but he’s deeply aware of it. He is also a fabulous painter, a deep thinker and a sincere environmentalist. 

Recently I saw an exhibition of his work at the Frances Keevil Gallery in Double Bay, Sydney. Hadyn describes this exhibition, entitled ‘Incidental Landscapes’, as representing “a particular approach to ‘landscape’ which looks at the way this genre has changed and the cultural shifts that have occurred, particularly in relation to concepts of nature and land use within Australia.

 “The paintings therefore sometimes borrow imagery from that tradition and comment playfully on the way these references have perhaps changed in their reception over a century or more and particularly in relation to environmental considerations today.”

The painting above is called ‘Hunter Valley Landscape’. At 200 x 150 cm, it’s a big work, but then this is a big topic.

Knowing how the once-rural landscape between Singleton and Muswellbrook has been drastically changed for the worse by runaway coal mining, I find this work tragically moving, because so true and yet also highly symbolic.

I reckon this painting ought to be owned and publicly and permanently exhibited by a Hunter regional gallery, like the Newcastle or the Muswellbrook galleries.

 Perhaps the state authorities who have allowed this destruction should buy it as a token of their abject apologies to us and future generations – who may actually need farmland more than coal – for the harm they have done. 

And not only in the Hunter. Look at what is being proposed on the Liverpool Plains.
Even if the mines don’t wreck the precious water sources, the coal and overburden dust will contaminate the crops nearby. Would our customers like their wheat leaded or unleaded?

There’s a great video of Hadyn on the exhibition’s website, a precursor for a film. (link)

I sometimes call myself a literary activist, modelling on the amazing Arundhati Roy. I write books to spread the word.

At Bimblebox Nature Refuge (link) they hold artists’ camps with participants from multiple disciplines, with ensuing illuminating exhibitions. 

Here’s an extract from Hadyn’s essay on the role of artists in activism:

“Artists have throughout history stood with others against those who would destroy the natural and aesthetic realms to appease the gods of progress.”…

“At a time when this country is making decisions which will effect generations long after we have gone, what role can the artist play and how can that role effect any sort of broader cultural shift towards considering more seriously, our environment, our landscape and our future?.

“Charles Dickens, a man who lived through the industrial revolution and witnessed the excesses of that period, famously said “self preservation is the first law of Nature”. The measure of what we do next will be determined to a large extent by our ability to creatively respond to the incontestable reality that our environment, our landscape is what we are. If we look after that, then Dickens first law of nature will be taken care of.” 

See more here.

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No painting, but tragic realism nevertheless. This my photo of cattle co-existing with coal, somewhere near Clermont in Queensland. Apart from the cattle grazing on coal-contaminated grass, look at the trees dying in the background. That’s from the longwall mine strip underneath.

Dead trees, poisoned grass — happy cows — and happy consumers?

Knockout Knitting Nannas

Q. What’s black and yellow, clicks quietly and annoys politicians?
A. A Knitting Nanna Against Gas — a KNAG.

KNAGs also own to being Knitting Nannas Against Greed.

Never heard of the KNAGs? Well you’re about to be introduced, because I’ve just returned from the inaugural Internannanational Conference on the NSW north coast. 
My friend Christa from Kempsey also went, and took the following blog photos for me (except where noted otherwise). That’s Christa second from right, front line, in the group photo above, taken by Louise Somerville.

Imagine 80-odd women of a certain age and beyond, dressed to disarm and amuse, in a riot of Op-shop styles and shades of yellow, but nearly all wearing the trademark knitted KNAG beret, beanie or snood in yellow banded in black, or crocheted accessories like earrings and necklaces and hair or hat decorations.

To quote from their website, ‘KNAG draws on a broad history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism.’ 

…’We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities.’

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I was camping at Camp Liberty at Eltham courtesy of tireless and innovative anti-CSG warrior couple Judi and Gwilym Summers. Here the casual atmosphere, conversations, camp showers and loos, good food and river swimming brought such a great sense of Nanna camaraderie that I was glad I hadn’t chosen to be billeted.

I’d intended to take my own slide-on camper but it was too wet at home to get it on, so the Summers generously offered me their brillant mini-pod teardrop retro caravan that Gwilym had made: VIP accommodation indeed!

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We were bussed everywhere, carefree of getting lost or staying teetotal. The weekend started with dinner at the fabulous and friendly Eltham Pub, where the conference cake bearing the KNAG ‘coat of arms’ was cut.

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Here’s a trio of well-adorned Gloucester Nannas — Kate, Carol and Elizabeth — enjoying the night.

Then a full day Saturday at the Lismore Workers’ Club, where the programme was a well organised mix of facts and farce and KNAG history, as told by founding member Clare Twomey, in between three great speakers, whose presence I consider to be a mark of the respect in which the KNAGs are held.

Read moreKnockout Knitting Nannas

Of birds… and an elephant

I’m not allowed on my front verandah at present. Two sets of protective parents say so.

The Welcome Swallows have hatched a second set of babies in the original nest. I have spotted three sets of panting baby beaks so far.

Perhaps being second time parents on my verandah in one season has made them more relaxed around me.

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But the Willy Wagtails frantically circle and flit above me, chittering incessantly, even when I keep my distance or stand inside at my bedroom window to watch the babies. I wish they’d accept my assurances and spend more time feeding and watering the babies.

So I don’t go as close to take the photo as the Swallows permit.

I am feeling anxious myself for all the nestlings as the days heat up; 38 degrees on that verandah yesterday, and their parents have built the nests right up under the tin roof, which is lined but not insulated.

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Conversely, I have just spent a week in icy airconditioning. I’ve been in way-too-crowded Sydney with four bush and bird loving ladies: L to R, Sheena Gillman, Patricia Julien, me, Paola Cassoni and Lee Curtis. We were on the Bimblebox/Protect the Bush Alliance stand at the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Parks Congress.

This Congress has been 10 years in the planning. People have whispered to us that the IUCN would never have chosen Australia as the venue for this Congress had they known what our government would be like in 2014: anti-environment and anti-action on climate change. And stupidly pro-coal. There are about 2000 people here but apparently others had opted out in disgust. Everyone knew about the Reef. 

People were actually commiserating with us for having such an embarrassingly regressive prime minister. I offered to swap him several times but there were no takers.

For my part, I have been apologising to all for our coal fuelling their climate chaos pain. 

Unfortunately the IUCN did not acknowledge the current and threatened impacts from coal to our ‘protected’ places like the Reef and Bimblebox. We know Bimblebox is home to 154 bird species… and counting. Worth far more than a coal mine for Clive Palmer.

As the only stand that mentioned mining, we did our best to arouse the very large elephant in the Dome. We made sure overseas delegates knew that our governments put Coal before Conservation every time.

Greg Hunt gave a backpatting closing ceremony talk that made me want to throw up. Conservation starts at home, Mr Hunt.

Later a young Indigenous man dared to let the elephant roar in his speech: extractive industries must not be allowed to harm the Reef any further, any longer.

Sitting for Leard Forest

In the past, I’ve walked in rallies or stood in protest against the threats from coal or gas that continue to bombard our special places.

On 28th January, instead I sat for a day, a small part of the ongoing blockade against Whitehaven Coal’s destruction of Leard Forest near Boggabri. (See my past posts here, here, here and here).

A convoy of us set out at 4 a.m. from camp; the tripod for our intrepid high sitter, Surya McEwen, went up across the gate in the dark under a crescent moon.

A row of nine ‘staunch supporters’ were arranged tightly side by side in front of the tripod, ready to lock arms in our chairs, to protect him and make it more of a problem for him to be removed.

By dawn we were all in place, with even the luxury of a shade tarpaulin.

Maybe because we were all over 50, we were happy to sit, but also willing to be arested if need be, so strongly do we feel about the shortsighted injustice of what is being allowed to happen here — and why we are helping to try to stop it.

Stephen Galilee, CEO of the NSW Minerals Council, calls us ‘green extremists’

Given the range of perfectly respectable elders who made the choice to sit that day, and if necessary defy the law, Mr Galilee is way off base. From the youngest of us, Sharyn Brock (55) next to me, to the oldest, Kokoda veteran Bill Ryan (91), next to her, we were all regular folk, seniors who care deeply enough about this insanity to come from Sydney, Manning Valley and the Hunter to do this.

For it is insane to be digging up a precious remnant habitat like Leard Forest, under misguided approvals using totally discredited offset plans, to pollute and ruin the beautiful Maules Creek farming valley, and wilfully disregard what is sacred to the Gomeroi people, for the sake of product that will add to our global warming debacle.

Mr Galilee says ‘The protestors’ mission is to shut down society to save the planet’. Shutting down a private company’s legalised looting, its plans to destroy this area, is not quite the same thing! And the planet is our only home, Mr Galilee: ‘there is no planet B’. Saving it is not an aim to be dismissed so derogatively.

Indeed it is our concern for our society, for the future of our grandchildren, as our governments place monetary value — ’the significance of resource’ — above all else, like health and water and food production and endangered plants and animals, that drives us.

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And yes, a Greens politician did lend support to the protest that day; Senator Lee Rhiannon (at centre) was with us from the cold dawn start to the hot late afternoon finish. Not just briefly for a media grab, as most politicians would. It was not a case, as Mr Galilee puts it, of ‘The Greens and their extreme supporters’, but the other way around; not that I ever admit to or advocate any extremism; this is just commonsense!
 
Ever since I’ve known her, about 9 years now, Lee has been actively supporting small communities and special places under threat.

She genuinely cares.

As does Julie Lyford (right), ex-mayor of Gloucester and key driver in Groundswell Gloucester, who works so cleverly and so hard, unpaid, to save her community from being over-run and harmed by coal and coal seam gas. (Julie also sent me some of these photos.)

If such people are green extremists, I am proud to be counted amongst them.

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Of course there were younger folk there; after all, it’s their future at stake. How can they be castigated as activists, for acting to save it? They included some from Japan, given that much of our coal is headed for Japanese and Korean power companies, who have an interest in many Australian mines.

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More creative young folk added a touch of theatre with these owl masks and toy koalas. Although as it was pointed out, any self-respecting owl would have quickly had those litle furry critters for breakfast!

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Our uncomplaining tripod sitter was up there all day, under a brolly and later a mini tarp to help bear the heat.

When the police finally got to us, after dealing with the pole and tripod sitters scattered elsewhere in the forest, we were asked to move back as it was dangerous to get him down and dismantle the tripod with us there. OH&S rules, you know.

We decided not to. They went ahead anyway.

Altogether about 30 people have now been arrested at the Leard protests; 120 were there on the 28th. They are to be applauded for standing up — or sitting down — for what is right, not derided, as Mr Galilee does, for ‘their self-righteous claim to the moral high ground’.

He certainly can’t claim it; self-interest rules in the Minerals Council.

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As I drove out next day, the overburden mountains of the Boggabri mine and the fine brown layer of dust and pollution in the sky above gave a portent of what lies ahead in spades if the Whitehaven mine proceeds. It would be good if the investors decide that the delays in its path from the protests are not worth pushing on with a dodo product, of declining acceptability worldwide.

Action to save Leard is ongoing and supporters are needed; go to Frontline Action on Coal for latest news and new camp.

Hunter coal’s 100 black marks

Can we send the coal industry in the Hunter to the sin bin and make them stay there until they learn how to behave better? This is Singleton, centre of the coal boom/blight in the Upper Hunter, where residents have just received their 100th air pollution alert. 

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage issues warnings to subscribers by SMS and email, when air pollution exceeds national health standards. What do you do on such days if you have heart or respiratory problems? Stay inside.

Particle pollution in Camberwell, about 15 kms north of Singleton, with mines on all sides but one, has exceeded the national standard for PM10 a total of 22 times this year,

Yet against the advice of its own Health Department, the O’Farrell government approved the proposed Ashton (South East Open Cut) mine, owned by Chinese government-owned Yancoal, right next to Camberwell village and on that last remaining unmined side. 

The message to the people was clear: your health is less important than coal dollars.? 

Eleven of the 17 Hunter Valley monitoring stations have recorded exceedances this year, exposing residents to harmful levels of PM10 (particles of up to 10 microns in diameter). Air pollution alerts have been issued for Mt Thorley (14 times), Maison Dieu (12), Singleton NW (13), Lower Hunter (9), Singleton (6), Bulga (7), Warkworth (6), Jerrys Plains (4), Muswellbrook (3) and Singleton South (2).

The Valley from Singleton to Muswellbrook is facing a crisis of air pollution caused by opencut coal mining, despite all the industry spin about best practice. So they should sort out how to operate without the particle pollution – if they can – and don’t add to the problem with more coal mine development until they do. And if they can’t, then stop.  No impact or no project.

Yet due to shameful proposed planning changes by the O’Farrell Government, it may be the last time a local group has the opportunity to challenge a coal mine approval in court, as they want the ‘resource’ placed above all other concerns like health and water.

Hunter Environment Lobby has launched a legal challenge against the approval of the South East Open Cut project and the case begins in the Land and Environment Court, Macquarie Street, Sydney, on Monday 2nd September. Supporters will rally outside the hearing at 9:30am.  Can you make it?

On Wednesday 4th September the hearing will be held at Singleton Courthouse, and supporters will rally outside at 10:30am. Can you join me?

(If you are a tweeter, celebrate this infamous milestone of 100 black marks; the Minerals Council have their own twitter hashtag #nswmining where anyone can leave a pointed comment congratulating them on a century!)

(For information on the court case call Jan Davis, Hunter Environment Lobby, 0417 422 738)

Downstream worries

Taree is on the Manning River, downstream from Gloucester. Taree doesn’t have CSG or coal, but Gloucester has.

In a sane world the beautiful and bountiful Vale of Gloucester would not be even contemplated for these industries, but it has two coalmines, expanding, and a third, the Rocky Hill mine, proposed but being vigorously opposed, plus an approved AGL CSG project — equally opposed.

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At the Taree Envirofair last Saturday, water was a big worry. Firstly, would the rain hold off? It did.

Secondly, how to alert Taree residents to the looming threat to their clean water supply if AGL’s fracking gas wells go ahead, with so little known about the aquifers with which they’ll be interfering?

Plus both coal wastewater and CSG produced water is contaminated and saline, and its disposal is always a hugely risky and still unresolved issue, especially in high rainfall areas.

Irrigating river flats with it doesn’t seem like a good idea if you want that river water to be clean. I think of this irrigating as simply a slower death by pollution than direct discharge into the river…

Taree certainly doesn’t want it.

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The Manning Clean Water Action Group’s stall (MCWAG) had plenty of folk signing petitions and gathering info, and their red-T-shirted members proclaiming ‘Water not coal or CSG’ were highly visible throughout the Fair.

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In between local entertainers, the Fig Jam stage was held by speakers like activist Jonathan Moylan (pictured), Chris Sheed from MCWAG, local solicitor Paul Lewers, Bruce Robertson (ex-Transgrid fighter from the Manning Alliance) and lastly, myself.

The message from us all was, in the end, similar: we are under grave and imminent threat of losing many precious resources like land and water, against the wishes of the people. 

None of our governments are yet taking the threats seriously. So we, the people, must stand up, speak out — and make them!

Camberwell fights on

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This is me and the heroines of my Chapter One, ‘Living with open cuts’: Wendy Bowman, The Genteel Guerilla General’, (left) and Deidre Olofsson, ‘Deidre the Dauntless’. They are still fighting for justice and survival, and we were at Wendy’s home, ‘Rosedale’, where I spoke at a fundraiser for their court case.
Photo courtesy of the Singleton Argus, from an article by Editor Di Sneddon, 28th May 2013.

Many of my readers will remember the posts I’ve done about the long-suffering villagers of Camberwell, just 15 kms north of Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley: ‘Camberwell — in crisis from coal’ and ‘Hopes for a saner 2012.’

I told you that if the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) rejected this Ashton S-E open cut proposal by Chinese miner Yancoal, that would be the end of the village. This was on the grounds of water and health.

I didn’t tell you what happened after their victory.

The mining company, with the backing of the Department of Planning, of course appealed the decision in the Land and Environment Court, which sent the decision back so that a second PAC could assess the proposal.

Somehow, suddenly, the serious water issues for Glennies Creek — on which the Hunter River below here relies, as do the famous Hunter’s vineyards and other irrigators — were not so important for the NSW Office of Water.

The Department of Health remains opposed to the project. Dust levels are already shocking in this part of the Hunter; far more kids in the Singleton area (1 in 3) have reduced lung function than the state average (1 in 9).

The Hunter Environment Lobby (HEL) has now launched an appeal against that second approval and the case goes to court on August 26th. They need more funds to pay for their legal team and the excellent expert witnesses they have assembled, even though many are providing services for much less than usual.

This case will have far wider impacts than for Camberwell.

So, on a sunny Saturday 25th May, HEL had a fundraiser garden party at Wendy’s ‘Rosedale’, right where the open cut would be. It’s Wendy’s second dairying property and home as she was forced off her first by another open cut.

Cakes were in abundance, auctions and raffles were heId; I donated a box of Rich Land, Wasteland books.

Can you help, in even a small way?

Any donation above $2 can be claimed against your income tax. Please support the legal challenge to the Ashton S-E Open Cut by downloading and printing the donation form here.

Time to speak up for Nature: it can’t

Many of you will have seen the Bimblebox documentary, partly about Paola Cassoni’s fight to save this Queensland nature refuge, but also a pretty shocking overview of the coal and gas rush in Australia, and its consequences, for global warming, for the Great Barrrier Reef — to name a few small impacts!

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It’s now BB-Day; whether you saw the Bimblebox film or not, I ask everyone to spend a few minutes of your time and speak up for the creatures of Bimblebox, and the principle that Nature matters more than a short term coal mine to fatten Clive Palmer’s pockets!

You may like to look at some of my past posts here, here and here on Bimblebox to get a feel for this special place.

The BB team have now waded through the 4000 page Supplementary EIS to produce a simple submission that you can tailor to suit yourself if you like. I’ve done mine. 

Comments must be in by 6th May, so time is short. Let’s make this THE submission avalanche of 2013!

Clive Palmer is loud and gets a lot of press. His concern for Nature is such that he dismissed the discovery of the endangered Black-throated Finch at Bimblebox, saying something like it had wings and could fly elsewhere.

The creatures of Bimblebox cannot fight the likes of Clive Palmer, who also said he would ‘kick arse’ to get this project though. It’s up to us to speak out for them. 

We want 5000 submissions to show the Newman government that this China First mine must not proceed in its plans to destroy Bimblebox.

You can make your submission here.

Then please share on Facebook and anywhere else you can.

Send the following text by email to your contacts:

  • Say no to Clive Palmer’s massive new coal mine
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  • Billionaire Clive Palmer is still pushing to get approval for his proposed China First coal mine (oherwise known as the Galilee Coal Project.)
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  • If it is allowed to go ahead, this project will destroy the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, impact on our precious groundwater resources and help open up the whole Galilee Basin to more coal mines.
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  • Over the life of the mine, the coal from the China First project will generate greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to nearly four years of Australian total annual emissions! It would need to be transported over farmland and shipped through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
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  • While the owners of the mine stand to make large profits, it will have negative economic impacts on other, more sustainable, industries.

Please share the link and the text with friends, colleagues, family and any organisations you are part of. Can we reach 5000 submissions against this mine? Not without your help. After you’ve signed the submission, please share it on Facebook, Twitter and email.

Thanks for your support,
 
The Bimblebox Team

P.S. you can also download, print, sign and send a slightly longer submission at our website. Why not print 10 or 20 and head to the local markets with a clipboard and pen?