Roadtrip to Coal Country
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.” Paul Hawken
At midday, a clean up from the collision of a truck and car in the early hours of the morning was still underway. So we took a 70 kilometre detour. It was the first week of November and I was travelling with a group of 12 to a climate activist camp in the heart of Queensland.
It was an opportunity to stand up against Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin, an environmental disaster I'd so far opposed from the comfort of my home on the Gold Coast. I was now going to have my first experience of frontline resistance.
As the red road stretched before us and the harsh afternoon sun began to burn a hole in the windscreen, my excitement for the experience ahead slowly transpired into impatience.
Then my interest was piqued. There are more than 30 coal mines operating in Bowen Basin through which we were driving. We saw arterial roads leading to various mines, with several open extraction pits visible from the road. Long coal trains snaked past intermittently, each pulling upwards of 100 cars, with uniform peaks of coal visible above the lip of every one. We were smack bang in the middle of coal country, passing historical mining towns, and anti-Labor election signs - we were in adversary territory!
'SAVE OUR COAL JOBS, PUT LABOR LAST’ read the LNP slogans affixed to tree trunks. The election had been held two days prior and Labor had in fact won - a victory against ill-informed coreflutes! But a victory for the environment, not quite. Labor's environmental track record is nothing to stand by. Queensland's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is forthright in her support for new coal mines and the 'local jobs' they support. Meanwhile, the state's Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch has announced that Labor will develop a 'climate action plan'. So Labor has revived the C-word, after notably dropping it from party rhetoric since their federal election loss in 2019, but whether their proposal will be bold is still unclear.
Politicians like to claim that coal mines are driving regional job security in Queensland. As I've learnt, thanks to Frontline Action on Coal and others, this applies an inflexible logic to Australia's relatively healthy job market. Quiggin’s paper for The Australia Institute refutes misguided arguments supporting Adani's case. For example, that jobs in this sector are the foundation of regional towns. Only 0.25% of Australia’s workforce is employed in the thermal coal sector. Many of these workers are close to retirement, while others are employed on casual or short-term contracts. Mining provides insecure work, and 20-30% of staff leave their jobs every year, due to the challenges of the Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) lifestyle.
It's also reported that Adani plans to push jobs away from the coal face and into larger cities with automation at their sites.
Our government proclaims the importance of sustaining communities, but has granted licences for Adani to extract unlimited groundwater and 12.5 billion litres each year from the Sutton River, simply to wash coal and smother dust from the mine.
Water is life. Taking it from the Wangan and Jagalingou people's ancestral lands, and diverting it away from these communities, risks their existence entirely.
As we continued our illuminating journey through coal country, I tried to imagine a local mentality. How would I feel if I was perceived as the enemy because I worked in a mine, and my livelihood was threatened by outsiders, or I didn't care to understand the part I played in the bigger environmental picture. But I came back to my own belief that everybody needs an awareness of universal values (social progress, harmony with nature or environmental protection) as globalisation binds our lives to those of people on the far side of the world; we understand that even individual actions have cause and effect in a global community. So we develop our compassion for others and the world around us to different degrees.
Spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen says that human survival depends solely on wilful evolution as a species, as we stare down the fork in the road. Do we continue to use our power to destroy, or create harmony, worldwide?
Since the Black Summer bushfires, even conservatives have withdrawn support for coal. The transition to move Australia beyond coal can be seen in the steady growth rate of renewable infrastructure, but our government is not preparing for the inevitable nor investing in supporting workers and communities.
When we arrived at camp we were welcomed as returning friends. The crew were vicarious and eager to involve us in a series of actions. The next few days were a rich, instinctive experience of learning, sharing and creating with a group of truly admirable humans.
Each person at camp had their own thread of a story that had brought them here, and each participated and offered skills in different ways. Their individual strands of courage, determination and hope now coiled together into something like the toughest rope. We Gold Coasters threw our strands in too, and together we heaved in the same direction, exerting pressure on Adani and their associates, pinning them down at their every move.
And we painted poo puns on signs! An unexpected highlight of the trip was transporting a giant poop around central Queensland for its debut, to draw public and media attention (and ridicule) to the fact that Adani owns various subsidiary companies that it has renamed. The morning we took the poop to Adani HQ, the news broke that Adani had rebranded themselves to Bravus in Australia. Our timing could not have been better.
Our last day was unforgettable. We numbered a large support crew for a risky action on the site of an Adani contractor. We danced around our giant poop on a hilltop to the voice of Bob Marley, sending joy and strength from a safe distance, across the dry earth, to a fellow protestor sweating it out in the scorching sun. His action stalled work for six and a half hours - of course he was eventually arrested - and we cheered heartily as the police car passed by. Then it was time to drive home again and see the ocean.
I consider myself a compassionate person, and I think we compassionates have the tendency to feel that we're never doing enough, to help others, people in need, or our planet. Yet I found in the simple act of showing up at camp (ok, after a long drive), observing and finding my place, and taking part in my own small way, that in this dusty corner of Queensland, I was doing enough.
To find out more about how the Stop Adani campaign is successfully destabilising Adani's future in the coal industry, visit the Stop Adani website.