Galilee Road Trip: a mission
Early on Easter Monday, 33 people from across Australia gathered in Woolloongabba at the start of a road trip to Central Queensland. Their intention was to observe the impact of coal mine expansion in the Bowen Basin, and to study the prospects for graziers, communities and ecosystems in the Galilee Basin, where nine huge mines are proposed across a 270-kilometre swathe of cattle country. Between them, the mines would ultimately produce enough carbon emissions, were they a small nation state, to place them seventh in a global league table of emitters.
The tour brought together the Lock the Gate Alliance, 350.org Australia, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Brisbane, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Mackay Conservation Group, the Australian Students Environment Network and Bridging the Divide. The interests and concerns of those on the bus (and in an 8-seater SUV) included environmental management and the preservation of unique ecosystems; community engagement strategies and social justice in rural areas; water resources and management in arid regions; proposals for a rail corridor from Galilee mines to coal ports; coal ports' impact on the Great Barrier Reef; fossil fuels and climate change; fossil fuel transition and divestment; education for sustainability; and stranded fossil fuel assets.
And then there were individuals making a pilgrimage to an 8000-hectare nature refuge that they had heard much about and taken into their hearts, but had yet to see for themselves.
We left Brisbane at just gone 10, rather later than scheduled. While we waited for the second part of the convoy, we took the opportunity to introduce ourselves and explain why we were going to the Galilee. And we tried to pack too much gear into too little space.
It's a long way from Brisbane to Rolleston, just north of the Carnarvon Range: 741 kilometres, in fact. (Google Maps give a journey time of eight and a half hours. With stops, it took us 11.) After an hour and a half there was a long hard climb for the bus up and over the Great Dividing Range escarpment into Toowoomba. There's a fine view over the Warrego Highway threading its way through the Lockyer Valley from Picnic Point Park lookout, 700 metres above sea level. Tabletop Mountain is an ex-volcano (last eruption some 20 million years ago). There are native grasses but no trees on its flat top, which reminded me of the 'balds' in the Bunya Mountains.
We dallied rather too long on our first break, not leaving till midday. We pressed on through the flat fertile plains of the Darling Downs past Dalby... Chinchilla... and the appositely named Miles. In the towns, large farm machinery outlets gradually gave way to heavy plant yards servicing coal seam gas exploration and development in the region. On our left, CSG equipment, all laid out and waiting, stretched a sizeable distance. And FIFO (fly in fly out) workers camps had spread since I was last this way in June. We didn't reach Roma – where the streets are lined with Queensland Bottle Trees – until sundown. There was still three hours' driving ahead of us.
I slept for the final hour – not a good time to doze – and was dopey as we tried to find the Showgrounds in Rolleston. To this reluctant camper, the facilities at first appeared primitive. Little did I realise that they were luxury compared to later sites. I was way beyond eating supper, and more than a little vague about which tent I could settle in on my borrowed stretcher bed and self-inflating mat. I had not anticipated sleeping easily under the circumstances, but I went out like a light and slept like a log. And this despite some kind of cattle operation nearby involving trundling trucks kicking up dust and disgorging their unhappy load late into the evening and from early next morning.
The Galilee Road Trip was weeks in the planning. Food and tents left in a van a day ahead of us, and both were set up by the time our tardy bus pulled into the Showgrounds. Before bed we were briefly briefed on plans for the following day, when we would visit Springwood Station and start our mission proper, meeting with landowners at the coal face.
As we packed up the bus next morning, hundreds of tiny skittish purple flutterbys couldn't keep still beneath a nearby tree. I promise you there is one in the centre of the photograph below (click on image to make it bigger). My reliable source, who consulted a higher authority, is fairly confident these were Two-spotted Line-blue butterflies.
There only remained to get the group to pose before we got underway. The sky was blue, the bus was still a novelty and spirits were high. For now we were headed just an hour up the road.
If you enjoyed reading this – and there are several Galilee Road Trip posts still to come – please share with friends and connections. One of our principal aims in making this journey was to spread the word about the Galilee Basin.
The post was last edited on 14 May 2014