Proposed Colton coal mine map.
Proposed Colton coal mine map.

The real implications of Colton Coal Mine for Gympie region

I'VE lived in the Gympie community my entire life.

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My childhood was one lived outdoors, surrounded by the menagerie of animals. As children we were free to roam anywhere we liked on our farm. We "fished” for guppies and lobbies in the little creek on our farm and heck, we regularly drank the water from that spring fed rivulet. That tiny stream was a wonderland to small children, back in the 70s.

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My childhood memories are of flooded creeks, and washed out driveways. Of slippery grass tracks that had to be tackled just so, in order to ascend to the house. Of watching our neighbour a few farms down dragging his topsoil back up the hill before he planted his winter bean crops. Of missing school pretty regularly due to flooding or the schools closing due to extended wet weather. In fact, I recall hearing that, anecdotally, Wolvi received similar rainfall to Tully.

Jodie Cameron Barenutss, CC's CC Diaz, Melinda Murnane Rhodavale Pork, and Karen Jarling from CGL Beef.
TIME TO ACT: Widee producer Karen Jarling (right) runs CGL Beef with her husband. She is pictured with other local producers (from left) Jodie Cameron of Bauple's Barenutss, CC's CC Diaz, and Melinda Murnane of Rhodavale Pork who will all travel to Europe in September to represent the slow food industry, sponsored by Slow Food Noosa. Renee Albrecht

But that has changed in the space of my lifetime. It's changed so dramatically that the farm that my family now share leases just down the road from Wolvi, was perilously close to being completely out of water in the last drought.

Is that a natural climatic change? Is this human induced climate change? Most climate scientists now think the latter is more likely. But even if it isn't, wouldn't it be a good idea for our leaders to err on the side of caution and rein in the approvals given to these giant multi-national, fossil fuel mining companies.

Mo Riggs, artist Jane and Liz Diggles at the Colton coal mine information session.
Mo Riggs, artist Jane and Liz Diggles at a Colton coal mine information session. Amber Macpherson

The stories I listened to back in March at the summit in Eumundi make my idyllic childhood sound like an imagined fairytale.

For the most part, the tellers of these tales were strangers to each other, but over several days we bonded over a visceral desire to protect our land. And by that I mean Australia...not just the lands we own.

Farmers there told true life horror stories of living next door to a coal mine or of having coal seam gas exploration on their farms. Of having to become proxy lawyers and defend themselves in court against multi-billion dollar companies. Families and communities torn apart when mining companies come to town. Of illness that just won't quit. Families on larger farming properties, usually an insulated world, now not willing to let their children beyond the house yard because they no longer know who is on their own farm. One gentleman and his wife have been living with and fighting against coal mining on their farm and boundary for over 20 years. Twenty years of stress on them as adults, but their children grew up amidst this also, ill health and financial strain - because they want to say no, to what is going on around them.

The Major Infrastructure General Layout of the proposed Colton coal mine.
The major infrastructure general layout of the proposed Colton coal mine, which could have major implications for the Gympie region. Contributed

But this is not something that happens 'way out there' know - in the outback, where there aren't many people to be affected. The New Hope Colton open cut coal mine planned for the Maryborough area is an hour and a half from us.

And there is Exploration Permit 2556 that extends right down to Cooran....20 minutes from Gympie. Add to this the the 3000sq km of proposed gasfeilds in the Maryborough Basin and you can see these issues are here on our doorstep.

The Colton mine has approval to dump waste directly in the Great Sandy Strait. There is no requirement to refill the pits. That means gaping great wounds open to the elements just 12km from the World Heritage Listed Fraser Island for all eternity.

All of these proposed energy developments take away the right to a childhood like mine, from the children of today and those children yet to be born.

Now there are people in the community who think that these plans will at least 'bring employment to the regions' oft-touted line by which ever politician is seeking to be elected. But if a government...any government, actually forced the hand of the mining and energy companies to rehabilitate the spent sites they leave behind, then the jobs provided would be many more and far more long term than the short life span of a mine.

After all, if the investment in renewable energy sources was growing at the same break neck speed as these non renewable investments, then all we'd have is clean air and water.

Many farmers, my family included, are investing in new farming techniques that will build soil health. This will lead to healthier plants, healthier animals and taking vast amount of greenhouse gasses out our atmosphere and storing them in the soil where the soil life can use them.

But we cannot undo the scars on the landscape caused by mines.

We can't take the gas out of the rivers and put it back into the bowels of our Earth.

We can and do feed many, many people here and beyond our shores.

To have a fighting chance of dealing with this changing climate we need to have legislation that protects our most precious assets.

Clean soil, clean water and unpolluted air.

We, the farmers and the wider community have thrown away our obligation to direct our government for too long.

So what do we do?

We call out the behaviours of politicians like Matt Canavan and his proposal to spend $26 million...of your money....on ramping up these very industries far into the future.

We approach the LLew O'Briens, the Tony Perretts, the Jackie Trads and our elected representatives and we tell them over and over and over again that this is not what we want for our community.

We can attach the bright yellow signage of The Lock The Gate Alliance to every front gate in our community.

We stand up for our patch! That's what we do.

I invite you to a gathering in the Widgee Hall on Saturday afternoon, June 9, 1.30pm to hear more about these threats with speakers from Lock the Gate Alliance and Farmers for Climate Action.