The beautiful rural Hunter Valley region has become a playground where Australia’s deadly Carbon Games are played all year round, local Sue Abbot reports
The fog edges to the very seams of dawn and dutifully the morning light retreats to the sidelines to await further instructions.
In those cold early hours, the paddocks of the Hunter Valley whisper a memory from another time, a time of brood mares and foals, of good reds and Swiss browns, until sulkily the fog agrees to leave so daylight can begin albeit late for its day as is the norm now.
But the soul of the valley is never prepared for the moonscape that greets it, so diametrically opposed to that earlier time when any sound of digging and sifting of dirt came from galloping hooves rather than caterpillars and excavators.
Welcome to my home, one of the many playgrounds where Australia’s deadly Carbon Games are played all year.
The Carbon Games rules are read out regularly to the townspeople of Scone including all amendments that come with each new edition. Initially, we were asked to select our teams: Team Overpass and Team Bypass.
Naturally Scone being Scone, we helpfully obliged with our role in this selection process, and willingly submitted many a submission or letter with our task in mind.
But while we were brainstorming all options for the right teams for Scone, the requisite background scenery was steadily adjusted to accommodate the Games, the players, the officials and the audience.
The building frenzy has ensured that the Games will be a success, and Games officials such as the Australian Rail Tracks Corporation (ARTC), Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), State and Federal governments and no doubt the Urban Taskforce and probably Infrastructure NSW as well, can rest easy that their work is progressing nicely.
From Gunnedah down to Newcastle, officials have engineered a complete remodelling. Rural roads are now super highways and rural towns have become motorway services.
Roll up, roll up, everyone’s a winner…
…and for my town, our Carbon Games enhancements have meant the building of an enormous carbon-friendly Council Chamber, the insertion of traffic lights, and plans for a bypass coupled with plans for an overpass.
The final execution of planned infrastructure projects will ensure that the Carbon Games can begin, and that career community-destroyers will be able to declare “[their] work here is done” in a rather Mary Poppins way, only without the spoonful of sugar.
With the announcement of approval for two new mines in Gunnedah, the projections for track and road movements in Scone are grim. Weasel words have peppered weasel meetings and, to make matters worse, the town mood appears to have improved now we have been told we can have both teams: Team Bypass and Team Overpass.
Inexplicably my town wants this. Why?
When coal is mentioned as the driver of these unfathomable pieces of municipal misfortune, folk are tersely reminded that coal is a good thing.
At the recent Roads and Maritime Services presentation at the Scone Motor Inn, RMS project manager Phil Davidson explained that the federal budget had boosted the Nation Building 2 Programme, “so there is more money on the table”.
“It will take another two to three years to develop plans which include buying properties along the pathway of the bypass. Property owners will be contacted and we have started that process in letters already – basically we’re still at the planning stage,” Mr Davidson explained.
“But now with more money on the table, RMS can support Council’s request for a local bridge after the bypass has been put in. From the meeting last year, we know that the regular Scone townsperson wants both.”
Upper Hunter Shire Council Mayor Michael Johnson agrees.
“It was never an ‘either or’ solution – it was always a priority situation. First, it was to sort out the railway line and then it was a question of getting the heavy vehicles out of town,” he said.
“The game changed when $90 million was put on the table. Council suggested and RMS agreed in principle to do both.”
But Joel Fitzgibbon, federal member for Hunter, is sceptical about plans for the two options.
“I struggle with the concept of doing both: a heavy goods vehicle route needs to be a good road to be able to take the weight of trucks and then if that is the case other vehicles will use it too.”
Asked if he’ll be part of the process, he acknowledged: “We certainly always are when [council] come cap in hand for money, and each time they have, we have delivered.
“We, the federal government, are dependent on various technical bodies for their recommendations and in the absence of an overpass a solution is not sorted. I have not been advised as yet of the bypass.
“I am sceptical of the costs; in 1990 the Hunter Valley Expressway was to cost $180 million and now in 2013 it has cost $1.7 billion. The RMS have their own agenda and putting in a heavy vehicle detour is in their interest.
“The community will decide.”
But how can we? It is like saying the audience can organise the Olympic Games.
And what about coal being a morally reprehensible energy source? What about councils and infrastructure bodies facilitating the devastating Carbon Games? Should we be continuing on this super-highway to elimination?
And who are the goodies in all this? Is it too late for them? Must we keep on digging up our future ad infinitum?
The world has us on notice and it can only be a matter of time before our “coal reserves become worthless as the world attains carbon emission limits”. And the warnings ring here in Australia as well. The Unburnable Carbon – Australia’s carbon bubble report states that:
…within the coal sector it is clear that if demand is reduced and prices fall then the most expensive sources of coal will suffer first. Given Australia’s current position as a high-cost producer, this should be of concern to the sector and those who invest in it.
John Connor, Climate Institute CEO, said: “Our point is that investments both public and private rest on a speculative bubble. Climate change denial is a question of indifference or dreaming.”
So why do both our mayor and local member express views that coal will be with us for a very long time?
“We are reducing our fossil fuel dependency more than any other government,” Fitzgibbon said, “and we’re doing more than any other government to lessen our carbon footprint.
“Renewables have their opponents as you will remember. The windmill park in Scone was ill-received.”
I do remember, and back then I was opposed. But times have changed and we cannot keep ‘dancing to the end of love’ with coal. We need wind; we need sun; we need anything but coal.
Yet the Carbon Games continue in a commercially prescribed dystopian future.
And what of those who do try and throw themselves in front of the planet wreck? They are meted out with a brutal retribution.
We are to fight to the death, and in Scone, we watch on, allowing coal to entertain us, to feed us, and to even provide us with a jolly community magazine that encourages us to get behind the mines as though they were a valiant community group under threat.
We are intimidated by the spectre of losing the work and this fear and dependency stymies rebellion. We are pitted against stronger players who have trained for this operation all their operating lives.
The canary is long since dead and we did not notice. Our town has morphed into a mining community. We are captives of the mines.
Oh yes these games will be televised…to the planet’s inexorable death.
Update: XStrata sacks 46 workers blaming a slowdown in demand for coal