OPINION: Community collateral damage

HE sits at the well-loved, worn kitchen table, head slumped in his capable and weathered hands. The contract sits in front of him, the emotional weight of it the final straw.

Quietly the tears run down his face. His wife sits in silence, trying to fathom the strength to speak and make sense of the nightmare that has consumed their lives and those of their neighbours for the past eight years.

Four generations have thrived in this farmhouse. Blood, sweat, toil, tears, love and laughter are ingrained in the patina of this family home, soon to be demolished and dwarfed by a massive open void filled with deep, cold and uninviting water.

Their son and daughter have to find employment elsewhere

It started with a small, indecipherable map in the local paper. An exploration licence had been granted over their farm.

Then the knock on the door.

It's a fellow saying hello. He understands the predicament and is here to help. The neighbours are happy to sell, but please don't talk to them or the media.

The routine is well-oiled and now rolling out in an iconic and beautiful food-producing valley near you. City food. Export food. Your food.

Neighbours started to sell as they were frightened about being left behind and then unable to sell.

But they could not talk to each other. They were legally bound by the contract they signed to never disclose their dealings with the company and never talk to the media.

Surely, thought those with the strength and ability, we can stop the destruction from this increasingly rampant resource extraction industry?

The government, the real people who have a heart and a conscience, would listen to us and hear our distress? Send in a submission, write letters, ask for legal help. Who do we turn to? Where do we start?

PR consultants had been hired to talk to communities to see "how we can work together".

Money started to flow to community groups, photo ops appeared in the local paper. Ads telling you how many jobs would appear at twice the national wage packet - never mind that so far we have lost 32 properties, gone forever in one part of the valley alone, with more than 75 people displaced.

He lifts the pen and starts to sign, slowly and reluctantly.

Then anger takes over.

How do they move on from all this? He wants to fight to stop this from happening to others.

The uprising started slowly. Ordinary people felt their way around the issues, not wanting to be tagged but realising that if they did not speak out, who would?

The minority wanting to industrialise the valley started to publicly disparage those speaking out, but it just made the majority in the community angrier and more determined.

More community activist groups formed, driven to change legislation to protect communities - people - and environments from permanent destruction.

Still the government ignored them. They started to peacefully protest. Elderly people who had never stood up to authority in their lives started to be arrested at blockades.

People power is on the move and gaining momentum. Still the government (as previous governments did) is ignoring and disparaging those who are standing up to be counted. Does that make you wake up and get involved?

Are you moved by what is going on in your heartland and food lands?

It seems social issues do not figure in government legislation. People simply do not seem to matter. Neither do the aquifers or the river systems in NSW.

The NSW approach began in the early 1990s with the little-known report Effects of Land Use on Coal Resources from February 1994.

Reading the report in August 2012 shows how the influence of coal on the state bureaucracy is finally coming to fruition (maulescreek.org/effects-of-land-use-on-coal-resources/).

In Victoria the government prefers to wait until the science is well and truly in with coal seam gas (CSG).

The inaugural NSW Coal and CSG Community Conference is on at Gloucester at the weekend. It will examine how people can be peacefully active and understand the compounding issues many are facing across the state.

Register at groundswellgloucester.com.

Julie Lyford is a former mayor of Gloucester Shire Council and co-convener of the inaugural NSW Coal and CSG Community Conference, Groundswell Gloucester, at the weekend. These are her own views.

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