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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: The unravelling

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Goondiwindi. Saturday, 6.20pm

Do these people realise what’s going on?

They seem normal enough. There’s a mother with her two kids at the table next to me. With them is an older woman, whom I take to be the mother of the mother – they share a penchant for thin, arched eyebrows. The mother’s mother’s are more startling because her eyebrows are dark brown while her hair is as white as the cotton bolls that, along with fast-food litter, line the roads around here. The children have eyebrows I guess, but they’re hidden behind iPads.

I have driven south from Carnarvon Gorge to this town on the Queensland/New South Wales border. The road was good but the land is sick. My time at Carnarvon Gorge, where farmers and miners have not made their mark, has reminded me that brown rivers and scorched earth is not the way it needs to be.

At another table sit two younger men with an older bloke. They wear blue shirts with logos. One bloke has a laptop computer, which he refers to as he talks crop yield and spary drift to the others. They ignore the screen on the wall where the rugby league is playing.

I’ll have a red wine, I decide, while I’m waiting for dinner. I’ve been drinking beer for a week now. Beer goes with camping – we’ve been camping for ages – but tonight we’re not camping. Tonight, we intrepid adventurers (three adults and two children) have decided that, one day from home, we’re going to sleep in a hotel in Goondiwindi. So, no setting up camp, no making fire, no cooking dinner, no drinking beer – but rather, we’re enjoying the simple country-pub comforts of bangers and mash, a glass of red, football on the big screen, horse racing on another screen, Keno on another, the trots on another…

Three young men with beanies bring their beers to a table under the screen.

‘C’mon Manly!’ says one.

A young woman, hair bunched on top of her head, brings their meals. The blokes flirt, she smiles, places the meals on their table, and returns to the kitchen. The men turn back to the footy.

Do these people realise what’s going on?

I have just driven through their homeland. It’s buggered. Rooted. The creeks are erosion gullies funnelling mud. The land is furrowed, scraped, poisoned and desiccated by corporate farmers with no dirt under their nails, just a keyboard at their fingertips. Since my last visit here, cotton industrialists have cleared and laser-levelled the land until mirages confirm it really is a desert – precious aquifers drained for a wet crop grown in a dry land for a quick buck.

After millennia of sophisticated land management, is this how it ends? Do the people in this dining room realise that their future has been decided in boardrooms of cities they will never visit?

Of course they do. But, apparently, these people have no connection to the land; they are connected only to their screens. Instead of outrage, there is docile compliance. They, like the forests and creeks around them, are collateral damage in the blind pursuit of profit. To object is a social sin. Capitalism brooks no opposition.

Maybe these people believe Jesus or Elon Musk will save them; that they can ditch this place when it is wrung dry, and they’ll be delivered to Heaven or Mars.

Maybe, they think they can live without land or water as long as there’s wi-fi.

Maybe it’s just too frightening to think about.

Manly scores a try, and a cheer goes up from the beanie lads. Eyebrow Mama looks up from her phone and arches even more her arched eyebrows. The kids shimmer in screen light.

The waitress brings me wine.

‘Enjoy,’ she says.


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  1. “precious aquifers drained for a wet crop grown in a dry land for a quick buck.” a quote whose message applies to applies to many of the destructive things happening in this country. Substitute, anything precious…. like old growth forests, the Barrier Reef, Aboriginal Sacred land, the Social Services, Education, the Environment, Truth, Respect, Social Consciousness….etc, etc.. all are raped and pillages for the quick buck.

    The so called “Liberal” government, (who are anything but liberal) seems to be a puppet of the polluters and there is no guarantee Labour would be much better. Turnbull’s mob are now the Far Right and Labour is shifting to the Right as well. Can this be turned around, so we have a government that truly serves the land and its people? If not, we face a gloomy future.

    Thanks S, for your column…. always read it first for its wit, humour and good sense.

  2. Blind pursuit of profit. Buggered lands. Hair bunched. Ugly images throughout this article and Sorry Sorrenson fails to go up to anyone and ask a question. Failed hack. Imposer. Imposter. The issue is Murray Darling water that far up the chain and where it should be going, whether drought or flood, and everyone has a say. Is Sorrenson’s targets Norman Farming? We don’t know he doesn’t say. There are other cotton farmers in the area.

    • S is trying to make us think. I think he asks plenty of questions in this piece without having to go up to anyone and single out an individual as the problem. The environment and current political and economic systems are a collective problem.
      I love the images S creates, even the ugly ones.

      • Almost right. A complicated democratic system in a country no stranger to drought. Fact checking and straightforwardness make for good journalism. General allusions to climate change and the pitiless rich just make you wonder which other idealogy is at work, without it being named. As for observation I think I know more about Goondiwindi after an hour of phone searching than Sorrensen knows travelling there. And I don’t have to stereotype the pub and its people to make my point.

        • ‘Fact checking and straightforwardness make for good journalism’. You can’t argue with that Robot, and I’m not trying to argue at all. Love your passion. Seems like you care about this issue. So not sure why you are not happy with Sorrensen, surely there is room for anternate ways to challenge people to think about the state of play here. S may have trotted out a few stereotypes, but sometimes they have their place. Seems like a bread and circuses argument, which can seem simplistic, but doesn’t make it any less real. Also with respect to Goondiwindi, this was not about Goondiwindi, and speaking of allusions, which other ideology are we talking about? Anyway I’ve gone on, and got off the point. What I really want to say is, thanks for making me think and challenging me to write this, and most of all I want to say there are people out there that deserve your attention more than S. Sorrensen.

  3. Sorrenson writes as an observer. Describing what he sees.
    Doesn’t mean he’s got the answers to right the wrongs.
    How do any of us?
    When so many are not seeing anything beyond their own concerns, their own comforts and their own interests?


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