Day 2 in the Forest

Marquee and banners from Camp FLACPancakes were on the menu for breakfast this morning – still a few left over when Channel 7 turned up to do an interview and take some shots of camp. The media interest in these mines has been huge (not that the coal companies want too much attention on their mines at the moment because they are such a commercial risk).

More community members dropped in over the day to say hi. When a coal company comes into a new area, it’s a divide and conquer game and the community impact can be massive. Phil Laird from the Maules Creek Community Council told the Sydney Morning Herald in May, “They’ve bought all the land from Leard’s Forest through to Gunnedah and now they’re coming this way. We’re just running out of people.”

A quarter of the Maules Creek community have been bought out – their two options are to sell or to put up with the mines. The entire process can cause tensions in the local community, but at Maules Creek, the overwhelming majority of the local community are opposed to further open-pit mining in the area. In their submission about the Boggabri expansion, MCCC said that “the main impact of the offset plan appears to permanently remove farmers from the landscape, decreasing the agricultural viability of the district and destroying the fabric of the local community.”

Another landholder has sold their farm a few days a go, for 1% of the value of the coal that is under the property. Under the law, farmers only own about 20cm of topsoil, and it can be compulsorily acquired under radical title by the Crown at any time.

The flip side of the tension that the coal industry creates in a community is visible at Maules Creek. The mine has brought people together who never would have worked together normally – farmers, environmentalists and Kamilaroi people (as well as a few people who work in the mines!). Even those farmers who do sell don’t support the mine but feel as if they have little other option.

Waves, car-honking and visits by local community members bring a sense of hope. By working together and taking action together, these mines can be stopped. The coal industry is in trouble – the boom is over and costly mines such as these are marginal at the best of times. When the scale of impact attracts a blockade camp, the investment starts to look downright silly.

Rice and veggie stir-fry for dinner – we’ve got plenty of work to do yet!