Uniting for the Common Good – In Action
What do you do if you’re the Ex-Moderator of the Uniting Church in NSW and the ACT and you hear that there are plans to build a mine in Australia’s food bowl? You go to a festival! That’s exactly what Rev. Dr Brian Brown and his wife Helen did last weekend when he attended the Harvest Festival in the Liverpool Plains to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Gomeroi people, local farmers, and all others who stand united with them against Shenhua’s mine. This is his take on it.
“Uniting for the Common Good” is a catchy slogan which expresses some of what Uniting Church ethos means. It also looks good on a T-shirt alongside the logo.
Sometimes however, it means that we must do something to challenge big vested interests for the sake of the wellbeing of the whole of creation.
‘Like what?’ you might ask.
Like getting the camping gear into the car at midday on a Friday and driving four hours to a farm at Breeza on the Liverpool Plains, near the site of the proposed Shenhua coal mine.
Like struggling to pitch a tent in the heat and wind, while millions of flies unrelentingly bug you.
Like taking a two hour shift on the gate roster, where you have to encourage hardened country folk to use the gate, not the cattle grid.
Like selling raffle tickets to raise funds for the fight ahead. A fight which started when a corrupt State Labor Government accepted $300 million from Shenhua for a coal exploration licence in the blacksoil of the Liverpool Plains, in the Namoi River catchment area – part of the Murray Darling Basin. (Compounding the offence, they legislated to change the definition of “Plain” to exclude the ridge area just 40 metres above the flat land, and allowing the exploration to happen).
Like interrupting a conversation of important looking people to let the previous MP for New England, Tony Windsor know that the Church is in there with all the other concerned citizens. Windsor’s anger over the approval for the mine has inspired him to consider running for office again.
Like knowing you should have done the same with Jacqui Lambie but were not quite game.
Like being glad to again see the Greens, led by Jeremy Buckingham MP, in the thick of the action.
Like spending two hours in a hot grain storage shed trying to get one’s head around the science of groundwater. The experts explained that there’s up to a 30% chance of aquifer contamination by these proposed three massive open cut mines, so it’s like playing Russian roulette with our water sources.
Like hearing the pain of the local Gomeroi People at the loss of 11 of their 12 sacred sites at the nearby Whitehaven coalmine in the Leard State forest, and forseeing the same fate for their ancient grinding stones in the Shenhua site.
Like learning how easy it is for a company to brush aside the habitat and the fate of 200 koalas when they stand in the way of profit.
Like being forced to once again face the reality of exacerbated global warming, knowing that if this mine, and another in the area that BHP is proposing go ahead, millions more tons of coal will be dug, transported and burned.
Like recognising the absurdity of the fact that this is all about to happen in the rare black-soil region of Australia where it’s possible to grow anything.
Like travelling home, encouraged by the conviction of those in the know that this mine may not go ahead because Shenhua are probably having second thoughts.
Like understanding that leadership from the Gomeroi people will be critical to the success of the Save the Liverpool Plains campaign, and that so much rests on the wisdom, courage and common sense of Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Baird.
Like arriving home and having to make the case to one’s friends, as if there were two legitimate sides to the story.
If there’s anything I learned during my time spent at the Harvest Festival though, it’s that there is only one ethically sustainable side to the story, and it’s this:
The Shenhua and proposed BHP mines absolutely, categorically cannot and must not go ahead.
Despite this, both truly could, if people who believe in Uniting for the Common Good do nothing.
The next chance to do something big together is the People’s Climate March on Sunday 29th November in Sydney and Canberra. Yes- more travelling for many of us, but not as far as those Pacific Islanders who are about to lose their island homes to rising sea levels.
Please join me there. You can find more information on the march here.
Rev. Dr Brian Brown
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