You should read this book. You will be moved to tears in places, but your overwhelming feeling will be one of shock and utter disbelief at what is being allowed to happen in communities across all the states of this nation. As more and more opencast mines and gas wells have started production and older mining areas expand, farmers and families and retirees alike fight for their land and their futures in long wars of attrition. Time-consuming monitoring of mining companies to ensure that the conditions of approval are adhered to and environmental breaches recorded and investigated means people have time for little else in their lives. In the meantime, their health and that of their families deteriorates in an increasingly polluted environment; and the mental toll is often far greater. These are true Aussie battlers.
Sharyn spent over a year travelling to many parts of Australia, from Queensland's Bowen Basin to Margaret River in WA, recording the stories of hundreds of people. Her book is a detailed catalogue of their experiences; of their struggles and their heartbreak. Like Sharyn, you will ask why these people's local councils, state government and Federal Government aren't doing more to protect them from the ravages of mining. Most of what the mining companies are doing, of course, is perfectly legal. You will wonder why it is that many of these resources are being plundered by largely foreign-owned companies, and their spoils shipped far away. These are the deals bolstering the Australian economy, is the simple answer. As you read of broken promises to limit the devastation and rehabilitate the desecrated land and you get to grips with the scale of operations, you may care to imagine what large tracts of the Australian landscape will look like in half a century. Finally, you might like to consider the fact that, while the millions of tonnes of fossil fuels exported to other countries are exacerbating global warming nicely, Australians are not using much of these cheap energy sources themselves, or benefiting from job opportunities generated by their extraction (mining is highly mechanised). Tourism employs many more people, but how many visitors will be coming to these shores in 50 years' time. Will they be still snorkeling off the Reef, or road-tripping out west into the bush? And what state will much of Australia's current prime agricultural land be in by then?
The Tribal Theatre is where, in March, I watched the Bimblebox premiere, since when nothing has quite been the same as it was before.
There is no concrete news of the Nature Refuge's fate. The Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, on its Current EIS Projects web page, still has 'Supplementary report to EIS being prepared by proponent' alongside Waratah's 'China First Coal' project. (That's where all the coal will be going, you see. China, first and foremost.) The 'Construction proposed start date', 2012, is looking increasingly unlikely, however. No news is good news on this front, I feel, especially as Waratah CEO Clive Palmer has recently made himself unpopular with certain Queensland Government ministers (see LNP infighting: Who do you do?, August 2012). And speculation about nervous foreign investors and a limited, uncertain future for coal mining gains momentum. In late July, Deloitte Access Economics – 'Australian's leading private-sector economics advisory' – predicted the current mining boom will last just two years.
'Mining companies are making it clear the current spike in investment is due to decisions taken a while back, whereas we are getting few new mega-mining projects across the line.'This may or may not be an unrealistic estimate. More importantly, the consequences of Australia's rather myopic attitude to its resources boom was considered a couple of weeks ago in the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/the-paradox-of-debate-it-is-deep-only-in-so-far-as-its-in-a-hole-20120730-239y1.html). The complacency described in the article is by no means confined to this continent, however.
The Federal Government has only just returned to work following its winter break, so we haven't heard much more from Environment Minister Tony Burke following his disagreement with Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney about the approval process for mining proposals in Queensland. I wonder how much thought Minister Burke has given recently to the possible demise of the southern Black-throated Finches should Bimblebox become an opencast coal mine?
A lot has changed since March, in fact. Before watching Bimblebox that night in Brisbane, I had only heard the name a few times, and it was always accompanied by an explanation of its plight. Now, if you're in the company of anyone even remotely concerned about Australia's wild places or her strategic cropping lands, no one needs that explanation. Politicians and other interviewees on talkback radio no longer qualify references to Bimblebox.
Last Friday, Sheena Gillman of Birds Queensland introduced Sharyn Munro and the Protect the Bush Alliance, a recently formed group that includes the National Parks Association of Queensland, Wildlife Queensland, Birdlife Southern Queensland and Birds Queensland. Sheena outlined the aims of the Alliance – to promote the protection of areas of High Conservation Value, and to identify and encourage activities that improve understanding of the areas' biodiversity and environmental values. The practical side of these aims will include the collection of data about biodiversity on such sites and the preparation of submissions to inquiries.
Drew Hutton of the Lock the Gate Alliance was also at the Tribal Theatre. He briefed us about the impending 'battle' for Cecil Plains on the Darling Downs. Farmers in this valuable agricultural region on the Condamine floodplain have been engaged in trying to prevent Arrow Energy's CSG development in the area. Here the soils are rich and the water used for crops comes from the Great Artesian Basin: farming involves precision drainage and cropping methods that are not at all compatible with gas wells and pipelines and all their trappings.
One more fight for survival and sanity. Several people I have spoken to recently seem to be anticipating that one day soon a local group of activists will succeed in focusing the attention of the whole nation on the plight of those communities fighting essentially for Australia's future. Will it be the farmers of the Darling Downs? Details will be posted soon on http://lockthegate.org.au of how you can help them out over the next few weeks. I will update that link when I have the information.
courtesy of Peter Lewis and the Newcastle Herald