Occupy Faith

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coal for breakfast?

There is a saying about us here in Australia:
If it moves shoot it.
If it stands still, mine it.

That saying probably came from our own droll sense of humour. This next one came from a marketing company:
Queensland. Beautiful one day. Perfect the next.

I've come up with another which expresses both sayings in one:
Beautiful one day.
Mined the next.

I am an expatriate Queenslander exiled and living in Melbourne. Many moons ago, I lived in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs. The Darling Downs and the neighbouring South Burnett region were ancestral homelands for one branch of the family tree: places like Pinelands, near Crows Nest; Bunya Mountains; Neumga near Nanango; Maidenwell; Cooyar (where my grandparents were the first to be married inthe Catholic Church there); MacLagan; Kingaroy. As you can no doubt guess, I came from farming stock at a time when most Australians living in urban areas had relatives back on the farm to whom they would go to for holidays.

The Darling Downs is a beautiful part of the world: a major granary and a major wool producer. Rich soils under cloudless blue skies for miles on end. The sort of place in which you wouldn't travel without picnic basket and thermos at the ready.

On my recent visit from Brisbane to Toowoomba, I didn't get out on to the Downs proper but the urban blight contaminating the landscape up through the Lockyer Valley to the Toowoomba Range made me wish I hadn't made the journey. When I left the Downs just over 30 years ago, the blight had started but it was minimal. Now it has sped up along Warrego Highway and the memories of rolling green paddocks made me want to weep.

Just as I want to weep when I see the video at the top of this blog. If we let this go irreparably to coal, what does this say about Australian society, Australian governments, Australian corporations. It says that we are after the quick buck taken from leasehold land, mining leases.

True, much of our pastoral and agricultural land was once taken the same way and those interests were not unlike miners insofar as they picked the most suitable country from which to "mine" its contribution to agricultural production. That sort of tenure has long since gone and there has been too much hard labour and sacrifice by men, women and children poured into winning a livelihood from the land to think to hard on the actual investment made.

We now live in a land of competing resources: mining -v- agriculture and both compete with urbanised communities for dwindling clean water resources. We are playing one resource off against another as if we can afford to play this game as long as all the balls stay up in the air.

Of course, the balls won't stay in the air. Governments will see to it that agricultural land is swallowed up to miners or land developers. As the video points out, we can't eat coal for breakfast. We can't drink clean water when it is no more because of our own carelessness and bad management. What a bequest to future generations.

Our friendly Network, Denis from The Nature of Robertson, has sent the following Statement from the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches on the Darling Downs. Clearly, the churches are standing right where they should be: beside their people. Listen. Because, it is not only here that the battle is being fought. It is also being fought in the equally rich Liverpool Plains of NSW - and I am sure, dear Networkers, you will write and tell me of others facing similar impending catastrophes.


A Statement of Concern Regarding Mining and Agriculture on the Darling Downs

The local leadership of the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches on the Darling Downs have great concerns about the impact of some proposed mining activity on prime agricultural land. They support calls for a regional plan that would identify areas which could be mined and others which should be kept for sustainable agriculture and food production. Two areas in the region currently under consideration for coal mining are Felton and Haystack Plain.

Caring for creation is a strong part of the three Christian traditions. We believe that we are called to be wise stewards of the earth. In terms of our fragile planet we are facing an ecological crisis. Respect for nature and ecological responsibility are key parts of our faith.

Transformation to wise and sustainable use of the environment is at heart a spiritual matter. Environmental concern is a legitimate and necessary part of a Christian's response to God's loving provision for us. (Green by Grace A Report prepared for the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia 2004)

Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace. (Message of his HolinessPope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the World Day of Peace 1 January 2007)

We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment. (Uniting Church, Statement to the Nation, 1977)

As communities of faith we stand in solidarity with those farmers who fear for their security and future way of life at this time. We also understand the contribution of mining and the generation of electricity in our region. We have a particular perspective on development which centres on the human person, the family and the community. When we consider future planning or development our primary question would be, “What is happening to the people?” rather than “What is happening to the economy?”

With the current world food shortage we believe it is important to protect land that has a history of sustainable food production. With a growing understanding about the impact of climate change we would also urge the Queensland State government to consider alternatives to coal mining in the Felton and Haystack Plain districts. These alternatives should be more sustainable and contribute more to the local community and economy.

We have concerns that the proposed coal mines will have an irreversible damaging impact on the soil and people of Haystack Plains and Felton. We would urge respectful and genuine dialogue between the resources and agricultural sector. For generations farmers in the Felton and Haystack Plains district have produced food for the wider Australian and international community. They have adapted their practises to ensure that future families can also live from and with the land. Our hope is that decisions made on the future use of these areas are based on the common good of all humanity.

Bishop Rob Nolan (Bishop of the Western Region, Anglican Diocese of Brisbane)

Bishop William Morris (Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba)

Sharon Kirk (Presbytery Minister Uniting Church in Australia Downs Presbytery)


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