Galilee Road Trip: coal-free communities
It was hard to leave Bimblebox; for those who had made a pilgrimage; for those who had fully appreciated the price we are paying in the name of economic progress for Queensland. I wondered when on earth I would return.
Paola fortified us for the journey with delicious, comforting rice pudding. How could we thank her enough for the last two days? We also had to say goodbye to our friends from Mackay. Bus logistics meant I volunteered to ride in organiser Ellie's car instead: the convoy took a while to roll. Three brolgas took flight but I wasn't quick enough with the camera. We bade farewell to Alpha and hit the Capricorn Highway. I drove the Alpha-Emerald stint as we left the Desert Uplands behind us. The purply green Drummond Range was a beautiful contrast to red sandy plains, but I'll have to go back: a long day's drive precluded photo ops…
...Except beyond Emerald, where I became a 'coal tourist', according to one of my travelling companions. I have to confess to a sort of fascination with coal trains. I mean, they are unimaginably long: you can never see the beginning and the end at the same time; and they are usually described in terms of kilometre-length rather than number of wagons. They are so long they need locomotives in the middle. The wagons have arrows on them in case you can't work out which way they're going! In this case, east to Gladstone, full, or west to Blackwater and the Bowen Basin mines, empty. Whoever would have thought I'd become a train spotter. The driver tooted as I snapped.
Onwards and eastwards to Rockhampton, and then south on the Bruce Highway – with a brief stop at Mount Larcom for late-lunch potato wedges and fruit salad – then past Gladstone to Miriam Vale. Here we turned southeast down the Bundaberg-Lowmead Road to our final destination of the trip: Avondale, a small community on the Kolan River – but a coal mine and gasfield free community nonetheless.
Not for the first time on this trip, I found it a bit daunting pitching up in a strange place in the dark, but there was the warmest welcome from the ladies waiting at Penny's place. The campers had a choice that night: their tent on a grassy sward close by Nunginungi homestead, or the Shed, a new construction a bit further away. The temperature was dropping and the air was damp, so it wasn't a difficult decision for me.
The trippers and the locals congregated in the Shed before supper. We heard once person describe finding her 'home' in this beautiful, unspoilt part of the world north of Bundaberg, and about anothers' passion for the area's pristine water and fertile land. We learned of the first surreptitious signs in January 2013 of two coal companies making exploratory moves – just down the road from Penny's place and on a property down by the Kolan River – without so much as a by-your-leave. Beneath the lush farmland of Avondale lies the Maryborough Basin, and there was excitement about 'a huge coal find', reported here.
We heard about residents' initial feelings – of disbelief, puzzlement, shock and distress. But the ladies who stood before us were smiling from ear to ear, confident about their decision to defend their community from unwanted development. Their positivity flowed from them and washed over us like a warm tropical wave.
In February last year, a handful of concerned Avondale locals organised a screening of Bimblebox and invited the indefatigable Annie Kia, Community Empowerment Coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance, to hold a workshop. Annie worked in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales to develop a strategy for communities threatened by invasive gas fields (or coal mines), and believes that communities can make a positive difference to future outcomes by means of grassroots participation.
And so gradually there took shape a plan for the residents to lock their gates to the coal companies' geologists or any other representatives, and, if a majority of residents so desired, to declare their streets coal mine and gas field free. In January this year, Avondale and Winfield (on Baffle Creek to the north) declared themselves coal and gas free communities. Their next goal is to get their own baseline testing done to enable them to prove contamination in future should the need arise. Last weekend they held a major – and successful – fundraising event in support of this aim ($10,000 of $70,000 raised so far).
Now six action groups are part of Coal Free Wide Bay, Burnett and Beyond Inc.
On the way over to the homestead we came upon a sluggish Red-bellied Black Snake who needed to be someplace warmer. It confirmed that my decision to sleep in the Shed was the correct one.
First we had a delicious buffet meal supplied by our hosts. The produce was locally grown, and it showed. The potato salad was the tastiest ever. And the flavour of the chicken reminded me of what chicken should taste like. We chatted... and we danced... and it was going on midnight by the time I crept around bodies in the Shed and crawled into my sleeping bag.
I awoke at six to beautiful country that I hadn't been able to appreciate the previous evening. There wasn't as yet any running water in the Shed so I washed my face in the abundant dew. The backlit grasses were magnificent and the birdsong extraordinary. Unfortunately, my bird expert was in a tent down the way.
After breakfast and packing-up we had our final debrief of the Galilee Road Trip, in the Shed. What a journey it had been. Now, there was so much more to do. We walked slowly, if not a little sadly, back to the bus... and headed back to Brisbane.
This post was last edited on 10 November 2016