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Byron Shire
September 25, 2022

Here & Now #49

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Image S Sorrensen
Image S Sorrensen

S Sorrensen

Somewhere near Gunnedah. Sunday, 11.15am

I’m the driver. Standing next to my car parked on the shoulder of a long straight road, I hear another vehicle approaching.

It’s quiet out here among the fields of sorghum that flood these fertile flatlands. Occasional hills dot this broadacre sea like islands. Here and there, a farmhouse marks its turf with a shade tree and sheds. It’s lovely.

But there’s a coal mine, so farmers are being forced to move off their land as the mines grow. Coal dust is dangerous.

I have a video camera clamped to my eye. As well as being the driver, I’m the video bloke, recording the mission for the records. Driver and video bloke. Big responsibilities. I’m a bit nervous; not afraid, of course, but – let’s just say – apprehensive. Anything can happen on a mission.

Zooming out, I see a mountain of slag. Slag is what a coal mine turns country into. The slag mountain is a huge white tombstone glinting in the autumn sun, marking the grave where lies the Liverpool Plains, once a great food bowl, now a casualty in the war against Earth.

Zooming in, I see Ash attacking the first and most fierce of the mine’s defences – a barbed-wire fence. Will the mines stop at nothing to protect their dirty business?

Luckily Ash is wearing a wetsuit, which may provide some protection against the pricks. He also uses his surfboard to negotiate fence. (Well done, Ash. Improvisation is the hallmark of a guerrilla surfer.)

I pan across the slag ridge; there may be security guards. I must be vigilant, because as well as being driver and video bloke, I’m also the lookout.

Holding camera to eye with one hand, I check my pocket for my phone with the other. If there’s trouble, I’ll alert Ash and his support team.

Yes, I have important roles. Dangerous too. Well, maybe not dangerous, but eye-strain, sunburn and the possibility of police interrogation take their toll. Every muscle is poised; senses heightened. I’m a trained professional (not that English teaching is all that helpful here…) and totally focused on the job.

The approaching vehicle is close. I can’t turn to see it because I must keep my camera on Ash. But the vehicle sounds like it’s slowing down. Oh no…

Ash is through the fence! He scampers across no-man’s land towards the great white wave of rock. His team follows, flitting like ninjas behind enemy lines, cameras on hips.

The vehicle sounds like a V6 (which cops drive). It’s taking ages to pass – must be stopping. A shiver of panic races up my spine, but I keep my camera on Ash as he reaches the slag wall. A bead of sweat blurs my vision as Ash dons his gas mask. (Coal dust is dangerous.)

What will I say to the cops? ‘Just filming your lovely slag.’ Maybe I should phone Ash now: ‘Abort! Abort!’

We should have worked out a plan B for this. I don’t know what to say to cops. I’m just the driver. I don’t want to go to jail in Gunnedah. I have plants to water…

Under pressure, people’s real strength shows. So, despite a car probably filled with big angry cops probably stopping behind me and despite my propensity for anxiety attacks, I grit my teeth, gird my loins (I have a free hand) and keep filming: Ash jumps on his board and surfs the tsunami of inappropriate mining that threatens Australia. Cameras shoot. Team Surfer punches the air.

Mission accomplished! So what if I go to jail? Sometimes you just have to do what’s right.

I turn to face my destiny. An old V6 Commodore rumbles by, its driver giving me the thumbs up.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. We no longer get S’s comments here in Casino since the Echo went into the ‘paid for’ variety. Yep. Fifty cents a copy. And, no longer delivered to all of the shops etc in the CBD. I guess that the 50 cents per copy makes the ‘Echo’ somewhat of an collectable’ or more readable item. If you can find it!
    We have a serious problem in this area and the Northern Star and its children seem to be ignoring this pain.
    Metgasco are raping the region for dollars.
    It saddens me to see the lack of Government concern in this horrible cancer that is about to overtake our region.
    Local (Lismore) member has family interest in getting the CSG mining off the ground. His son is employed by Metgasco.

    • Thanks Brian, ‘S’ no longer writes for the ‘Northern Rivers Echo’, who sold out to APN years ago and are now owned by the same multinational that owns the ‘Northern Star’. Here at the independent Byron Shire Echo (and Echonetdaily), we believe that what makes a paper (or online service) readable is excellent content, not the cover price, so our newspapers and S’s online columns can be read for free. If you’ve missed a copy of our paper, or S’s column, the archives are all collected on this site and can be viewed for free.

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