An extract of Sharyn Munro's book - Rich Land, Waste Land
Let me tell you a story. It’s a tragedy, a scandal, a dark page of our history in the making, a story that winds its pain through many lives in many places – and it’s true.
You may have trouble believing it to be true, for such things couldn’t possibly be happening in democratic Australia, Land of the Fair Go.
I am talking of an invasion of our country, a taking over of land and a clearing out of people. And I mean
Appalled at what had happened to my nearby Hunter Valley, I set off with my tape recorder to other regions, other states, to see if the tales of invasions elsewhere were true.
They were – worse than expected, in the territory taken and threatened, the casualties, the tactics – and spreading bewilderingly fast.
In the victims’ kitchens, on their verandahs or in their utes, my little machine recorded their stories, while their pain and stress, their bitter frustration and utter disillusionment etched into my heart and spirit. Only my anger at the injustice of what is being done to so many people and places kept me going.
There IS a war taking place in Australia, and the warring sides are more unevenly matched than any David and Goliath cliche can convey.
The invaders are mostly foreign or multi-national, with unlimited troops and funds, and such political clout that our governments usher them into the country under a diversionary cloud of spin, and pave their way to victory – at our expense.
The invaded are mostly in the country, rural or semi-rural, from sixth generation farmers and rural villagers to “new” settlers or retirees.
In the beginning, many landowners were taken by surprise, stunned by incredulity – how could this be allowed to happen? – until too late.
Although that is less likely now, the defenders are still mostly guerrilla bands, poor in funds, troops, training and influence. Especially in the more remote areas, they may only have a few members each. But now hundreds of small local groups are forming, cyber-sharing information and tactics.
Many are creating alliances that transcend social and political strata and state borders, and the most unlikely people have been forced into defensive action.
Their enemy is coal, which includes its more recent insidious offsider, coal seam gas. Its backers are
big business and government. In fact, government is largely perceived as the real opponent, because it hands
big business the legal weapons, the loose legislation, the special exemptions and subsidies – and it has ignored both the war crimes and the collateral damage.
Just because there is a “demand” does not mean the profiteers should satisfy it at any cost. The economy is not the only aspect of Australia that needs to be healthy; what about its people, its air, its land and water, its foodgrowing areas, its remnant natural heritage, its fast-diminishing unique plants and animals?
Most Australians, most voters, live in the cities whose infrastructure and services reap the benefits of the spoils of war handed to the government.
Most Australians are ignorant of the true costs and impacts of this invasion, some of which, like the destruction of our food and water security, will be felt even in the cities.
Most Australians, I believe, are decent people who would be as appalled as I am by what is going on – if they knew.
I wrote this book to share with you what I experienced and what I learnt, hoping you might say to our governments, “This is not right. This is not the Australia we want to be.”
So that when governments talk of coal as essential for the economy, and coal talks of its unbridled expansion as essential for the economy, you will see the whole picture instead of only the spin.
I will show you this too, because I had to wade through the whole sticky web in my efforts to discover what is really going on. It wasn’t easy; I’m a writer, a grandma with a social conscience not an investigative journalist.
Eventually one constant thread of truth began to gleam amongst the murk – the spin has as little to do with reality as the “rigorous” invasion approval process does.
Big business and government pay public relations officers, advertising gurus, media staff and consultants to get publicity for their side; they have minerals and petroleum producers’ groups, mining and planning departments, websites and glossy publications to speak for them.
I don’t pretend to be unbiased; how could I be, after what I’ve seen and heard? I am unashamedly giving voice to the other side, the Australians whose plight has been ignored, downplayed or dismissed. And they are not paying me to do so.
You can assume that things will have got much worse for these people by the time you read their stories. I know they have, as I remain in touch with many.
They have either been defeated, forced to take their broken hearts and bitter memories and leave their homes, or they are under closer attack, or they are facing new mines or gas fields, and often both.
– Published by Pan Macmillan Australia and Exisle Publishing. Available Tuesday, April 24.