‘We’re living, eating and breathing this stuff… How is this acceptable?’
Tara, Qld. Saturday, 5.10pm
A tear is forming.
It flashes in the late afternoon sun as she leans into the microphone.
She’s not a stage professional, as I am. She’s not standing on this makeshift stage on the back of a truck in a gasfield in the bush because she wants to sing or dance or tell jokes.
She’s here to tell her story, to expose the consequences of coal seam gas mining to whoever will listen, because she’s desperate. She’s a mother with sick children who are getting sicker – and she has run out of options. Her government belongs to the gas company and will not help her. Her community is divided between those who have accepted gas money and those who haven’t. Those who have accepted gas money don’t want to know because she is an awkward reminder of social responsibilities more important than a quick buck.
She doesn’t want to make the people gathered here in a remnant of the once great forests of the Western Downs dance or laugh. She just wants someone to listen. She’s not the theatrical type, but her tear is a most eloquent performer.
‘This crap causes cancer and brain aneurysms,’ she says, looking up at me. (She’s not a tall woman.) The tear, perched on a bottom eyelid, lets go, and falls down her cheek, underlining the sorrow of a mother watching her kids grow sicker every day.
She has seven children. They live across the road and all suffer – nose bleeds, headaches, arm spasms – especially, she reckons, on cloudy days when the CSG gases are trapped under the cloud cover.
Her ten-year-old is standing in the wings of this improvised stage, waiting to join her mother. She’s a beautiful child, but pale with dark rings under her eyes. She clutches a sheet of paper on which she has rewritten the John Williamson song Rip Rip Woodchip to depict her gasland situation. She’s nervous, but wants to sing her song to the people.
‘We’re living, eating and breathing this stuff,’ the mother says, still looking at me. ‘How is this acceptable?’
The setting sun is lighting up the western sky like a giant gas flare.
All day I have talked with the activists, performers, speakers and organisers at this anti-CSG mining protest. I have heard about aquifer poisoning, air polluting, community splitting and the planet warming.
How is this acceptable?
I have heard the raves, seen the videos, taken in the tunes, formed a circle, chanted the chants, and put up with Alan Jones accidentally getting it right, but that single tear trailing down the mother’s cheek as she looks up at me – as if I can do something – has triggered an upset, a frustration and an anger that all the songs, all the speeches, all the celebrity video messages of support have failed to do.
How is this acceptable?
Two crows flap slowly across the sunset, awk-awking as they go. Crows like it here; they feed on the plentiful road kill generated by the army of mining company utes and B-triples that have invaded Wakka Wakka country.
‘Why don’t you leave?’ I ask her. I think of home.
Her eyes say she would love to take her children somewhere safe – like the northern rivers. But she can’t. She has a mortgage to pay on a block of land she can’t sell.
‘Nobody wants to live in a gasfield,’ she says. Trapped.
‘What will you do?’ I ask her.
‘Keep fighting,’ she says, wiping away the tear trail. The audience cheers, banging shields and swords together.
I pity the heartless who promote this industry because there is no fiercer fighter than a mother protecting her children.