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.


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

Book boom

Things are snowballing with the Rich Land, Wasteland coal book. One amazing lady has just bought 100 books to send to politicians whom she feels simply must read it to know what they are doing to us.

Bacchus Marsh and Inverloch here in Victoria are yet more unthinkable regions for mining/gas to be proposed.

When I get back from Victoria, I’m heading over to the mid-north coast for several talks before nipping down to Parramatta. Maybe some of you can make one, so just in case here are the details:

?Wednesday 27 June
Gloucester? 7pm Senior Citizens Centre
?30 Hume Street
Contact: Email Di Montague

??Thursday 28 June
5.30pm Laurieton Library
Contact: Kate Forrest, Librarian (02) 6581 8177 or email?

Friday 29 June
?4.30pm Kempsey Library
Contact: Alison Pope (02) 6566 3210 or email

??Tuesday 3 July
?1-2pm Taree Library
Contact: Margie Wallis (02) 6592 5291 or email

and ??6-7pm Taree Library

??Wednesday 4 July
5-7pm Parramatta Library
Contact: Yan Zhang (02) 9806 5157 or email?

Hornsby talk

For interested Sydneysiders, I’m speaking at Hornsby Library at 10 am on Friday 8th June. Phone (02) 9847 6904 for details.

Having spoken there for each of my other books, I know it’s always a good event, with keen readers and a lively Q & A after the talk.

Novella Fine Books from Wahroonga will be there with books to sell — and be signed!

Eltham event

After winning the Alan Marshall Short Story Award in 2002 I spent three months at an historic and extremely atmospheric mud brick house, ‘Birrarung’, near Eltham.

This was a writers’ residency courtesy of Parks Victoria and Nillumbik Shire. It became a chapter in my first book, The Woman on the Mountain.

So I have a special spot for Eltham and Meera’s terrific Eltham Bookshop, and have spoken down there several times.

If you’re in the region, come and meet me on Sunday afternoon, June 10th, 3:00—4:30pm at Edendale Farm, Gastons Lane, Eltham.

Bookings are essential: Call (03) 9439 8700 or email Eltham Bookshop. Refreshments are included in the $5.00 entry.

Find your way to Edendale Farm by checking Eltham Bookshop on Facebook.

City and Country: united we stand!

On May Ist, I joined a busload of Hunter farmers and ‘concerned citizens’ like myself and headed down the freeway to Sydney. There we and 4000-5000 others walked from Martin Place to Parliament House in Macquarie Street, chanting all the way, like ‘City and Country — united we stand!’ and bearing colourful signs that spoke of desperation and anger at the threats to their regions.

The ‘Protect our land and water’ rally was organised by NSW Farmers against the Coalition’s draft Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, which breaks pre-election promises and in reality gives no certainty as to protection of either agricultural or environmental values from CSG or COAL or any other resource company’s desires. It was not, as some media portrayed, solely an anti-CSG rally, although there was plenty of angst about that.

The broken promises centre around exclusion of identified areas of value before exploration licences are issued. Exploration also causes harm (e.g, to aquifers) and investment down that track increases the likelihood of lobbying and success in getting by the proposed protective ‘gateway’. The exploration stage can last years and is extremely stressful for the landowners concerned.

And Cabinet can override the gateway process anyway, as the old 3A did, for projects deemed state significant.

Identifying and mapping areas tp be protected is a good start, but not if is incorrect, so that it only legitimises the absence of extremely important and very obvious features and so offers them not even token protection.

A few glaring omissions just in the Hunter are:

  • the quality Upper Hunter wine industry around Denman is not there as a critical industry cluster!
  • the Gloucester Valley with its guaranteed water and fertile soils as future food bowl, let alone environmental values
  • the Merriwa Plateau’s cropping and grazing areas

To me, these feel like sacrifices to the coal and CSG projects already in the pipeline there.

So people are upset, feel betrayed, and fear for the futures not just of their farms but their region. From young to old, they wore their protests, often handmade, on their hearts, in their hands, around their necks, or like me, on their hats! (Denis Wilson snapped the pics of my hat and me with a strange Mad Hatter expression)

Read moreCity and Country: united we stand!

Media alert

My new book, Rich Land, Wasteland, will be in the shops this coming week.

Now begins the media — the using of the tool, which is how I see the book.

I’ll be on the panel of ABC News 24 TV’s ‘The Drum’ at 6.30 on Monday 23rd — that’s today —and I’ll also be a guest of Phillip Adams on Late Night Live which airs tonight at 10.00pm on ABC Radio National (repeated tomorrow at 4pm).

And tomorrow, Tuesday 24th, I’ll be talking to Alan Jones on 2GB at 7.40 am.