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.