The right to farm the land

Farm­ers tell of fa­tigue after years of fight­ing against min­ing de­vel­op­ment projects

Central and North Burnett Times - - LIFE - John Dal­ton, Kin­garoy Con­cerned Cit­i­zens Group

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.

PHOTO: JOHN DAL­TON

LONG STRUG­GLE: John Larsen checks his beans and peanuts in Coolabunia.

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