The right to farm the land
Farmers tell of fatigue after years of fighting against mining development projects
MEET John Larsen.
He is almost 80 years old and has been farming the same land for his entire working life.
Some Kingaroy locals call him “the miracle farmer”.
It is a term coined to explain why his crops are always better than everyone else’s.
However Mr Larsen and many of his neighbours wake each morning to a lingering threat worse than drought, overdrafts, weeds or low commodity prices.
They are fighting for their farms.
Mr Larsen and his wife, Audrey, are opposing a proposal to turn their fertile red soil farm into an open-cut coal mine.
It is their fourth battle with a resource company in the last 10 years.
Neighbouring farms have been bought by a power company for a coal mine that did not proceed.
Another neighbouring farm was the trial site for a failed underground coal gasification plant.
The latest threat to his way of life and the land he loves is a proposal to turn Mr Larsen’s beloved farm into an open-cut coal mine in 2018.
John and Audrey see themselves as protectors, not protesters.
They love their land and are humble in the knowledge that it produces sustainable and abundant food.
“Coal is under most of Queensland but how many farms can grow peanuts, beans, corn and also a whole host of tropical foods like bananas and avocados around the house?” he said.
His neighbours, Damien and Neralie O’Sullivan, are in a similar position.
They have just developed a new bore to access underground water for their beef herd but the uncertainty about the future of their farm due to the coal mine proposal delayed their decision to spend money on their farm.
“We have had 10 years fighting a series of poorly considered resource proposals on our farm and we have pretty much had enough,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“The uncertainty about the wisdom of laying out any money for even important things like stock water is always on your mind and you spend a lot of time doing things other than farming.”
After the Cougar Energy Underground Coal Gasification trial failed over the road from their property in 2010, cattle from the O’Sullivans’ farm tested positive for toluene in the months after the gases from the crippled plant escaped.
“We celebrated when the plant closed down but had no idea that they would just change the name of the company to Moreton Resources and try their luck with an open-cut coal mine application,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Land use conflict is topical in the South Burnett at the moment.
Just as the community celebrates the opening of its recreational South Burnett Rail Trail, Moreton Resources plans to have it used for coal trains passing through the main street of local towns.
The company continues its plan to convert the rich red soil farms into a coal mine.
For people like the Larsens and O’Sullivans, living with chronic mining fight fatigue for more than 10 years is a price you pay for being a farmer.
LONG STRUGGLE: John Larsen checks his beans and peanuts in Coolabunia.