I’m in the middle of the moving rush at the moment, so I don’t have time to post much – but I thought I’d share this speech I made last night at the UQ Environment Collective’s EcoSpeak event!
I am a northern rivers girl.
The spaces that defined my childhood were the beach and the bush, picnics and waterholes, bushwalks where you can watch the forest change from scrub to subtropical rainforest as you walk. My memories of the parties I had in high school are of paddocks and open sky, and of stripping off to our underwear to wade through waist deep sparkling creeks, and of watching the wallabies nibble at our fruit trees in the mornings.
Growing up as a teenager in one of the small villages surrounding Lismore I was bombarded with comments from my peers, moaning about the lack of pubs and nightlife and opportunity, swearing that the moment they finished high school they would be gone, never looking back. And I never understood. I felt so deeply connected to the landscapes I grew up in that I wanted to stay forever. If I could have taken UQ and dumped it somewhere on the hills outside Lismore, nothing would have made me leave, but the archaeologist in me ultimately forced me to.
It was hard coming to the city. I missed the quiet, the space, the wallabies, the brightness of the stars, feeling like I knew every street in town as a person. It’s easy to drown in the excitement of the city, and hectic Uni semesters. It’s only when I go home for the holidays that I realise just how much I’ve missed the northern rivers. And it’s only then that I really remember that an outright war could be declared at any moment.
It’s already begun. There are already established exploration wells in the valleys surrounding my home, there are countless applications for further exploratory work that will cause irreversible damage to the land and the people who live on it. All in the name of this absolutely safe and totally non-invasive coal seam gas industry.
The propaganda is everywhere, with all its pretty pictures of horses and smiling farmers and smooth words that mean absolutely nothing, nothing except “we’re coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop us, because we have the government in our pocket and can wriggle our way out of anything.” Like by designating the waste-water ponds evaporating toxins into the area’s atmosphere without regulation “holding ponds” just to get around the ban on evaporation ponds. Like refusing to name the chemicals and toxins that leak into the groundwater and air. Like discrediting the real-life experiences of people already living near gas fields and designating their health problems as coincidental.
Environmental issues suddenly become a lot more threatening when it’s your backyard they’re in, your groundwater that they’re poisoning, and your land that they want to drill and crack and break open. I’d never really appreciated that before. It’s scary and real and at any moment some company’s approval will go through and there will be drill rigs driving down our roads. And it hurts that I can’t be there all the time, that I can’t be the person whose car mysteriously breaks down in the middle of the road to stop a drill rig. It hurts that I can’t be the person chained to the bulldozer and stops all mining progress for a week. Most of all it hurts to know that the beautiful area I still call my home is under such threat.
But every time I go home, I am also amazed at the efforts that the community is going to to make sure that their land doesn’t become casualty to this insidious and short-lived industry. Not a single person on my road wants coal seam gas mining near their properties. There are signs on driveways and rooves and roadsides; banners strung across trees. Every time I go home another community has pledged that they will not let coal seam gas companies onto their roads and their land. And when I see how determined the whole Northern Rivers community is to making sure our land stays just as beautiful as it is, I have hope that my land is protected, and will remain as beautiful and vibrant as it has always been.