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Byron Shire
February 26, 2021

The farmer and the mining giant

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Sixth generation Gunnedah farmer Sam Clift is being forced to sell his farm to a Chinese mining consortium. Photo Eve Jeffery
Sixth generation Gunnedah farmer Sam Clift is being forced to sell his farm to a Chinese mining consortium. Photos Eve Jeffery

Eve Jeffery & Elise Moser

You hear about struggling country folk all the time. Hard-working people of the land who enjoy the simple things. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but for a good chunk of the Australian population, it is a way of life. It’s the only thing they know, they’ve been doing it for generations and they love it.

Imagine you are one of these folk who has worked hard since forever. You have done all the ‘right’ things. You raised a family and looked after your parents, and you continue to toil all in the name of earning an honest living, until one day a stranger arrives in your front yard and tells you that you have to leave and you have no choice in the matter. They also they have the weight of the government to back them up.

Welcome to Sam Clift’s world.

Sam with his partner Kate Wilson. It’s not a matter of if but when they leave.

Sam is from the sixth generation of Clifts in Australia who live on the road from Gunnedah to Breeza in northern New South Wales. ‘We came over the ranges and took the country up when we came, so we’ve been here since the 1850s, something like that.’

Sam is a broadacre farmer, who grows wheat, barley and cotton. A Chinese mining company has moved into town and is buying up big around Gunnedah and Sam’s place is pretty much one of the last farms on their list of must-haves.

Reputedly the world’s largest miner, the Shenhua Group is ready to embark on the Watermark Coal project in NSW with plans to develop a new mine with an annual capacity of ten million tonnes. This is literally on Sam Clift’s doorstep. Sam has been told that the pollution from the noise and the dust will make the farm uninhabitable and for the sake of their health, Sam and his family must leave.

This is one of those rock-and-hard-place scenarios. If Sam takes up Shenhua’s offer he will have quite a few dollars in his pocket.

If he refuses to go, the government will turf him out with the bare minimum of remuneration. It makes digging in your heels futile when you know it just won’t help, but the thought of willingly handing over his heritage is hard to stomach.

‘The normal valuation is around about $3,000 an acre and about $1,500 on the ridge’, says Sam. ‘If the mine buys it they’ll probably give us more than that. If the government takes it that’s what they will give us. On our farm there’s four people in my family and we’ve got about five men working for us.’

Isn’t it ironic? One of the assets that will be lost when Shenhua moves in is Sam’s solar panels which currently feed power back into the grid.

Sam says he is really unhappy about this and his 88-year-old father even more so.

‘Dad’s really pissed off. I’m just pissed off, but he’s really pissed off’, he says. ‘It’s our heritage. We walked over the hill and took it up, we’ve been here a fair while.

‘If we don’t wanna go we shouldn’t have to go. I’m sad. I’m sad I’m losing the country to the mine and I’m angry that I’ve been made to make the decision. We don’t have any choice to stay. There will too much coal dust coming into our water supplies and coal dust in the air.’

Sam says he has heard that people from the Hunter Valley talk about the sulfur in the air from the coal.

‘In the mornings it gets in the dew and it’ll flow down the hills off the coal mines out into the crops, and ends up killing them. So you’ve also got to think what’s going into the cattle as well, because they’re eating the feed.

‘So we’re very worried about whether our meat will be contaminated and be condemned. It’s happened once before when they fed that cotton feed in the drought and they condemned all the cattle.’

For Sam there is no way out. He has to go and there is no other course for him to take. All that is left is the when. I asked him if there was any way to fight this. He said no.

‘Because the government’s against us.’

Sam’s place – a food bowl destined to become a dust bowl.

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  1. Sam works hard on his land which is part of our food bowl – It’s heartbreaking to see families having the things they rightfully own, taken away from them.
    It seems we never own our land in the eyes of the government, they just take what they want. It makes me feel helpless just knowing about it. I can’t imagine how helpless it makes the Clifts feel.
    Sam I wish you and your partner Kate and your family all the best and thank you for the wonderful lunch and your generous hospitality.

  2. Sam, if they really need your place for the project go ahead, you could just keep saying NO, as Wendy Bowman has done/is doing to Yancoal/Ashton at Camberwell. As the Clifts– is George your dad? – and the Duddys did to BHP for so long.
    Stressful for sure, but you are in the right, and you would have much support if you chose to do that.

    Lock the Gate, symbolically and physically; delay, invoke the law of trespass. It’s very bad PR for a company to take a farmer to court; they really don’t want to. These are bad laws that deserve to be broken. Clifts ought to be farming on the Liverpool Plains for another 6 generations. Long after Shenhua and BHP have gone– that is, if they go ahead, and if there’s any water left.

  3. What the hell is happening to this country, farmers thrown off their land and we get a dirty big hole, sorry for your loss Clifts, I hope the greedy bastards choke on it.

  4. This is the break-point for the National Party.

    Do they continue to represent the people and communities who, year after year, produce food and clothing for this country and for export or,

    The cashed-up carpetbaggers who make huge short term profits, push up rents and divide local communities, then leave when they’ve had enough.

    Hint: Once you have polluted the land and the water, it takes more than “few generations” to get it back.

    Listening to Warren Truss, I suspect he will go for the fast money.

  5. Don’t you mean “broadhectare farmer”? Oz went metric nearly half a century ago! Or is it that the Echo uses Oz’s slave to the US Websters manual “How to Con a Nation by Murdering the English Language”? TA! RA! the Macquarie!

  6. I hope this message gets to Sam Clift. Sam, are you George Samuel Clift who went to TAS? Are you about 53 years old? I’m Rob Jones, who taught art there. I came across this page by chance, and I’m pretty cross that foreign mining companies can do this. Of course the government supports them because of the money they’ll get out of it. It’s a real bugger of a situation. I now live in North Wales, on the Isle of Anglesey. I have a business on the mainland – a B&B in Caernarfon. Let me know if it’s indeed you whom I taught all those years ago.
    Rob Jones

  7. Well I think this is discusting. Generations have worked hard to bring these properties to produce good crops and the dirty filthy politicians see nothing but money, couldn’t give a rats arse about our Australian history and Australian people and their farms.
    Ironic isn’t it our fellow soldiers fought hard and went to war and died , many soldiers died and for what ?? Should we simply just give it to them ? It was all for ‘NOTHING because overseas Chinese , Japanese and even the Arabs are buying up our farms, Every single one of these soldiers have died in vain for nothing!!! Australias not Australia anymore, its multicultuered and sold to the highest bidder, fu””the politicians , turn the bloody land into dust for who cares , not our corrupt government that’s for sure ! Makes my stomach churn. Loren

  8. Well,this is quite discusting .I strongly object to letting the Chinese drilling companies just rip up good viable farming land , good rich fertile soils producing reductive crops that’s been owned by generations of farmers.
    What the hell is our government thinking , greedy just plain greed !
    Question; Why the hell did our soldiers go to war to protect us and our land ? Let’s face it, it’s all been for nothing , should of just given it to Japan or who ever! Our soldiers were brave and went to war with pride and fought to keep it for us. A lot of them didn’t make it back.
    They went and fought so our land was safe!
    Waste of time, now we got Chinese making a dust bowl ripping up our best farming land.
    We got the Arabs down South buying up farms in a large group where I owned a property.
    Now Japan owns a fair bit of our land . The Chinese had got a hold on Cubbie Station, having cotton pickers there it was an eye opener! That place should not be half owned by the Chinese its a bloody disgrace,
    The whole thing churns my gut just thinking about it !


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