By Karin English 2nd Year medical student at the University of Queensland, Ipswich
Two weeks ago, as the representative of DEA, I was fortunate enough to attend this rally, primarily against the proposed expansion of the mine at Acland.
I’ve lived all my life in cities, so I feel very lucky when I get to venture outside the ‘bubble’ I live in and experience issues first hand that I have only read about. I won’t bore you with yet more information about the negative consequences of coal mining – as I’m sure you’re all aware of what they are, but I hope that my description helps you experience more deeply an issue that may seem quite far away, as it previously did to me.
As we drove into Jondaryan, I was astonished to see the giant heaps of coal that are immediately adjacent to the highway. There they sit, blowing their dust freely into the town, while they wait to be loaded onto trains. The sheer magnitude of those piles of coal, which I was told were actually much smaller than usual, in anticipation of the rally, was beyond belief. The rally site itself was also hard to miss; despite the blistering heat the turnout was quite impressive. When we arrived Nicki Laws, from the Oakey Coal Action Alliance, who was our knowledgeable guide for the day, greeted us.
As the rally proceeded, I realized that it was quite unlike any rally I had ever been to before. First of all, not only were the Greens there, but Alan Jones was there, and Bob Katter rolled up with his big red bus. Granted, the motivations for each group to be there were very different, but they all wanted to same thing – to stop the expansion of the mine. As I stood there and listened to the issues each group raised, I realized that there was one group missing – the group that apparently would benefit from this mine. As the rally continued, the reasons against the mine mounted, to the point where it was hard to imagine that there could be any chance of a mine that large being permitted in the Darling Downs, on such good farming land and so close to residential areas… Missing, noticeably, from the rally was the Government and the Coalition.
After the speeches we marched to the coal heap where activities had ceased for the day because of the rally. We then drove into what is left of the town of Acland and spent several hours there. In the middle of the town remains the pristinely maintained park, but many of the houses are now gone. Despite the fact that stage 3 has not been approved, New Hope Coal has moved many of the houses from the properties it purchased to a field not far away from Acland. Because many of the houses have not been sold, it’s commonly felt that the houses were moved to make Acland appear less like a town, to make it look like there was less left to fight for.
In Acland, we talked to many locals about the impact that the mine has had on their lives. Of course there are the health concerns from the dust that accumulates on their roofs and in their houses, but I also had an overwhelming sense of the amount of energy that has been spent fighting against this coal company. Each EIS has been examined down to every last word, regulations have been researched, legal battles have been fought, and pages upon pages of concerns have been drafted. All of this the people of Acland, Jondaryan and Oakey have done on their own.
Despite all this effort, every day the people of the nearby towns have to worry about the safety of their drinking water, put up with the health effects of dust levels above national standards, and being awakened by the explosions at the mine while they sleep. I found that their continued struggle, despite the continued obstacles they face, to be a very moving example of resilience, but I was also aware that the situation over the past decade has resulted in untold amounts of stress.
As we drove out of Acland we passed phase 2 of the mine. Although I have had exposure to coal mining before, and even studied it, it still always shocks me to see the sheer magnitude of the holes that are cut into the earth, with the vast piles of minerals that are ready to be transported. Of course it always comes down to money. I know that if the Government and the Coalition had been there, that is what we would have heard.
Today Anna Bligh promised $300 million to make mining towns “great places to live, so people will stay here.” After having heard the stories of the people from Oakey, Jondaryan and Acland, and their experience with the mine in Acland, I find it hard to imagine that anyone would want to live near a mine. To me, something just isn’t adding up.