As the election creeps closer, the issues of farming and mining collide centre stage. Last night’s ABC episode of Q&A revolved around this clash. It seems the once quiet achievers of Australian agriculture are now swaying the vote in the city too.
Echonetdaily photojournalist Eve Jeffery recently traveled to Gunnedah with the Cloudcatcher Media crew to shine the light on our food bowl.
Story, photos and video Eve Jeffery and David Lowe
The soil is so rich and sweet across the plains at Breeza it seems criminal to even drive on it, yet here we are travelling across almost edible earth to speak to farmers who are fighting for the land they want to continue to grow food on, not only for New South Wales, but for the country and the world.
As part of a film crew I travelled to Gunnedah to record a human sign and the community Gasfield Free Declaration celebration event for the people of the Liverpool Plains – they are grappling to save their land and their livelihoods from the coal monster and the CSG daemon. Like a silent hero, they are saving our food resources for us and we pretty much haven’t a clue what’s happening behind the scenes and to our future food.
It would seem that this is the way the mining companies and the government we voted for like it.
The people of the area are fighting mining on more than one front. Shenhua, a Chinese mining company, has moved into town with the ‘Watermark Project’ and is buying thousands of acres of land. It wants to reef the top off like a can of beans and scrape out its innards to be shipped off in coal trains. Meanwhile back at the gaslands, Santos’s Narrabri Gas Project inhales gas from the Pilliga and fracks holes in aquifers, those incalculably valuable water deposits underground, sending poisons directly into the coffee cups and drink bottles of the surrounding farmers bellies and those of their children.
Alistair Donaldson is a farmer who has three and a half thousand acres west sou’west of Boggabri on the eastern edge of the Pilliga state forest. The communities over his way are battling the Whitehaven coal monster and Santos as it mauls Maules Creek. It has been a long trek for Alistair who grows crops and cows.
It all started when a gas company wanted to put a pipeline through his place. ‘I am generally not impressed with what I see’, says Alistair. ‘My biggest concern ultimately is carbon emission. We are just in denial. As a farmer I am going to be at the forefront of the impacts of this.’
‘God knows what’s going to happen. It’s just going to get harder and harder for me as a land manager and a farmer to manage the environment that we are being presented with. Farming is a long term arrangement. If we make any stuff ups on the land we’ve got to live with it.
Alistair wants to tell the government to be careful about putting all their eggs in one basket. ‘We need to have a business environment that is sustainable, that is diversified, that is not prone to a boom and bust cycle that is so symptomatic of these two extractive industries.
‘We are mortgaging our children’s future.’
Back in Breeza, a little over 40ks south east of Gunnedah, we are speaking to Andrew Pursehouse and John Hamparsum who between them hold a lot of land and grow a lot of food that ends up on Australia’s kitchen tables.
Andrew Pursehouse shows us around his place then runs his arm round a vast swathe of the horizon which is being eyed off and carved up by the coal monster. He points out a water bore that could endanger the whole area – once used for growing food, now owned by the coal industry.
Andrew has great concerns for the river system.
‘I want to show you the expanse of land that Shenhua has bought the freehold title to’, he says. ‘The have bought 43 farming entities here which equates to about 35,000 acres.
‘They have bought ridge country which they are going to open cut mine on if they get their mining licence, but they have also bought a lot of black soil farming country.
‘They have purchased 400 acres of prime black soil farming which has 300 acres of it irrigated there is a full production irrigation bore.
Andrew says Shenhua also has a pipeline designed to go from that irrigation bore to the mine production site. ‘The irrigation water that comes out of that bore, which is currently used to grow crops, will now go to washing coal and laying dust on roads. Nothing short of criminal.
‘That water, like all the underground water resources out here, is water that you fill your water bottles up with. It’s just beautiful, soft, mineral water. That’s just criminal to see that water used that way.
‘This water is used by this community for growing crops. And when I say “used by this community”, it’s not only the farmer that is using this water to grow crops, he’s spending that money in our community. So he buys the tractors from the machinery companies, he buys the seeds and the fertiliser and the chemicals, the tyre service, all the community relies on the product of that water.
‘That water will now have another destination and another use so the community suffers.’
John Hamparsum tells us that the beautiful soil here goes six foot deep, he is a farmer who literally makes me cry speaking of his heartfelt love for the land and the fears for its safety.
‘I’m concerned for my kids. It’s their generation and the following generations that will be very angry at us for letting it happen. So that’s one of the reasons all the farmers round here are being so passionate about it.
‘It’s the future. It’s our kids’ future. It’s the world’s future in many ways. We don’t just feed people locally, we feed people all over the world with this stuff.’
‘I hope I don’t have to. I don’t know if I can look at a that, a big pit, every morning when I get up. I dunno.’
And a coal train rattles through sun up on the near horizon…