Last night after watching 4Corners on the ABC I went over to the Bronte Surf club to retrieve my helmet, spear, and shield (aegis) because I’m going to to need them. I’m going to have leave my musings behind for a while and get dirty. Dirt is what the ABC program was all about. Dirt from the 14 Open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley that make the lives of its 40,000 inhabitents like living in Hades.
A truck driver encounters an orange cloud of toxic gas and is so overcome with its poison he nearly loses control of his truck; families have all their children suffering from coughs, asthma, bronchitis, hideous skin allergies which all disappear within days of holidaying on the coast.
In one small town 100 of the 150 people who have lived through this enormous expansion of King Coal in the area, have left to protect their families’ health. For some interviewed it’s already too late as they have inoperable cancers which they attribute to living so close to the toxic dust and gases from the area’s mines and two power stations, and there is mounting research, overseas and here ,to support this claim.
14 mines in the Upper Hunter pump out 99 million tonnes of coal a year for the furnaces of Japan, India and China.
100 kilometres to the south the port of Newcastle has become the biggest black coal exporter in the world and the mines are going to get bigger in the next 6 years maybe doubling their output.
At any one time 20 to 30 coal ships are lined up all the way to the central coast waiting to swallow their loads of black gold.
For the 40,000 people who live in the Upper Hunter, some of whom have been there for 5 or 6 generations,
there is no escape.
Latest yearly stats show a total of 108 tonnes of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and lead soaking the air of the upper Hunter along with 122,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide.
If Mt Olympus was an active volcano and if my father Zeus got really angry and ignited it, it could not produce a cloud of poison as bad as this.
You may ask why this makes me so angry. I’m the narrator in a factional fantastical story Digging Up the Dead being written about the effects of coal mining on a town and its people in Queensland in 1972 and 1992.
The local mine is small compared the ones of the Hunter and the Bowen Basin in 2010. But even back then people who lived near or worked in the mines were dying from underground explosions, fire, blasting accidents, toxic dust and gas. In my story, when the coal company decided to go underground again and mine the area in which 12 men were entombed in 1972, the town calls on me in my mortal manifestation as an unusual sort of diviner to help… more about this later
I was so moved by what the local GP in Singleton is doing
to try to get the government to even acknowledge there could be a problem
that I wondered if I should be going there to help him.
This man, who has been living and working there for years, is one helluva god.
After no response to a well written and researched submission from the town
for some sort of study into what might be happening,
with the help of volunteers he started a study of his own,
testing the lung capacity of 900 local children to see if they had asthma related problems.
One in six had significantly lowered lung function compared to the national average of one in nine.
He would like to test the lung capacities of a matched group on the coast
or in some other rural community away from mines.
But this surely is a job for the government.
I’m going to let him have the last word on this post.
Dr Tuan An said ,’ I’ve been here for 14 years, I have a good family and wonderful community and friends.
I can’t just pack up and leave. I hope every body working together, we can change the community.
I think the community’s not against the mining company or power station, they just want change.
The would like the goverment to listen to their…what they request
and because it’s their life and their family
and if we do not do anything else, the one we lose is our family…..’
Sorry, he can’t have the last word.
Unlike him I’m angry and
when Athena the Warrior Goddess is angry the whole universe shakes.
I don’t want to have to use the full strength of my powers, not yet anyway,
but I’m aiming my spear of Pallas and woe betide if it’s aimed at you:
irresponsible mining moguls, greedy consumers,
dumb governments, and dumber media
who think all we want to know about is Britney’s latest disaster.
What about a disaster that’s happening to 40,000 people
who live in what was once the most beautiful valley in the world.
and one more stat:
the NSW government earns 1.5 billion from coal royalties
and earnings from power stations and coal transport,
that’s a lot of reasons to ignore the people of the Upper Hunter.
Much of what I’ve written is based on the transcript of the excellent 4corners program of last night.
Any errors of stats, facts etc are my own as are the opinions expressed.