Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Surrounded by coal, camped near Mordor.

My image of Mordor is a region of never ending, noisy, repetitive production, ceaseless activity by blank faced automatons, endless mechanical sounds, the ear jarring screech of metal on metal, the deep rumbling, stomach-churning thud, thud, thud of heavy machinery and a pervasive stench, which permeates and taints the air for many kilometres around. An odour hard to remove from clothing by washing and which seeps into pores, eyes, nose and lungs relentlessly.

I never expected to visit, and camp beside a lake which lived up to exactly that image. Its beguiling beauty, the active birds and deceptively welcoming water were a con.
We thought it'd be pleasant to camp beside water after being in the desert. Lake Liddell, appeared, from the guide book, to offer swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, fishing and other cheery, family friendly, water based activities for the families living nearby in Muswellbrook and Singleton. We figured that if we arrived lateish, and left early, it could be a peaceful place for a night.

There'd be frogs, water birds wading merrily and diving for fish, the quaking of ducks and no crocodiles ... most enticing!

How wrong we were.

We were greeted by a friendly, welcoming woman, who explained in a frank, forthright manner, that under no circumstances should we have anything at all to do with the lake water. No fishing, no wading, no kayaking and definitely don't splash it on your face, or allow any droplets at all to enter your nose. There's something in the water that can enter your brain and kill you. It doesn't happen often, but when it does - whammo. She told us that all taps in the camp ground which would normally use lake water had been locked off, and even if we discovered that one had been overlooked we should definitely NOT use it. She reassured us that the showers were safe to use, as the water in the amenities block had been trucked in and was perfectly fine!

This wasn't what we'd expected.

We were also unaware (strangely, the guide book is quiet on this aspect of the park) that just over the toxic lake, over the charming hills in front of our tent is the Liddell Coal Mine which operates all day and night, every day of the year. To enable this to happen, massive massive lighting systems are used, so it's a bit like the glaring illumination from a large city which, unlike Paris, doesn't dim its lights during the wee hours. When he noticed, my husband commented drily "It's good the coal industry only runs 9-5".

So much for the anticipated tranquil night's sleep.

The mine's ceaseless activity ensures that what appear to be kilometre long coal trains, with not quite fully enclosed wagons, rumble and clang their way around the camp ground not far from where we set up camp. All day. All night. Seemingly every 1/2 hour or so. They come from between the hills in the distance to our left, slowly grunt and clatter their way along and rumble off, somewhere to the back of us. By daylight, we can see the mountainous tailings from the mine.

The steady, deep rumble, rumble, rumbling from the incessant trains, drowned out the cheeping, quacking, croaking and flapping of every living creature around, including, earlier in the evening, the raucous partying of a large group of young campers. That's quite an achievement. Between trains, the persistent mechanical hum from the generators of the power plant over to our right is the constant background noise. Very Mordor.

Edit 2020 - 4 years later - This is what the LNP is still considering propping up & keeping on life support to the tune of $100million pa, in spite of the companies objections. 4 years of transition lost due to outdated ideology.

I woke early (I didn't get much relaxing sleep), and as I walked along the shoreline in the crisp morning air, there was the distinctive smell of what I think of as briquette dust (well known to those of us who grew up in Melbourne in the 60's and 70's.) It's a smell which lingers unpleasantly and it wasn't possible to avoid.

This is the scenario which the current federal government supports and wants to extend. Not only that, but they also persistently run smear campaigns against renewable energy, particularly wind. A couple of weeks ago we stood next to a wind generator farm wondering what the fuss was about. No smell. No threat of fire and toxic pollution. A whooshing noise as the blades turned, and that was the sum of the experience.

I wondered as I walked, if I was tempting fate and that my steps would disturb the lake's lethal legacy and some vapour droplets would find their way into my nostrils. I lengthened my stride to reach higher ground a bit quicker than normal.

How privileged I've been. I've never lived near where coal is mined or near a coal fired power plant. The coal mining lobby and their political allies insist coal is here for the long term, and are desperate to extend mining and other fossil fuel extraction into prime agricultural lands. It's hard to be as enthusiastic knowing the extensive, reputable, well researched negative health and environmental impacts.

We have alternatives. We don't need to put all our eggs in the one basket. Companies want to invest in clean energy. People want jobs in the renewables sector. Citizens want to support sustainable options. Coal mining is scarring the land, having a massive impact on water (which is used extensively in mines and plant) not to mention the potential for fire as happened at Hazelwood Victoria. (Here and here.)

I'm glad I've briefly experienced what it's like to live near a coal mine and coal fired power plant, and I'm so, so grateful we can leave; this is too close to my vision of Mordor for comfort.

Further reading:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A night time of fireflies at Adels Grove - Outback Queensland

You know that feeling when people think you're bonkers and you're completely sure you're sane?
We recently experienced that up at Adels Grove near Boodjamulla National Park (formerly Lawn Hill). It's about a hundred and something kilometres from the Gulf of Carpentaria nearish where the western side of Cape York dips into the gulf. It's a long, long way from home in the south where we have proper winters and dry heat summers. It's hot, HOT, HOT, at this time of year and HUMID. UGH, UGH, UGH. Nothing dries out. Not us, not clothing, not anything. You take off your damply sweaty clothing at night and put it back on, still damply sweaty in the morning. (Limited space prohibits many changes, which wouldn't have made much difference anyhow as they'd have felt damp too.)
We were camped in the 'grove' - the quiet spot for people mostly in tents and without generators. The trees are thick, rotten (one fell less than a metre from a nearby camp with a massive whumpfh) and with a very, very dense canopy. There's a constant dropping of what we could only guess was poo from billions of small tree dwelling creatures overhead, so we covered our mugs at all times, shook clothing out constantly, and I brushed my hair not at all. It was kind of like itty bitty soft pellets like those tasty chocolate sprinkles you decorate cakes with. yup. really.
We tend to sit in the dark after dinner, watching ... nothing in particular ... just soaking up the ambience, keeping an eye out for bats, listening for night birds. That kind of thing. Most people don't. They use lanterns, torches, made big fires (in 32C heat! - crazy) which means they don't see special things that their night eyes have adapted to see. 
Like fireflies!
The first night we were at Adels Grove, I had no idea what I was seeing, but a wee light seemed to float up from behind the table, over the stove, and waft up into a tree.
A cautious question; "Um, Trav, did you see that?" Thankfully he had. But what was it? Lights don't usually float gracefully upwards and settle in a tree. It wasn't a one off though, it kept happening in different locations around the campsite. Next morning I made a point of asking at reception, but the blank looks and cautious, but calm backing away made it clear what they thought. "Batty old woman, probably had too much to drink, gotta keep an eye out for that kind of person."
We watched night after night. If I believed in fairies, that's what they'd look like at night! I was mesmerised. I'd wake during the night, and with the fly of the tent off (trying to make use of any stray breeze to cool down just a morsel, please!) and fly-mesh covering the roof, I could see them flashing and pulsing, in groups, singly, sometimes clustered, at other times apparently wafting on a not-really-there breeze between branches.
As I said, the people at reception seemed to think I was living in fantasy land, and no other campers we spoke to had seen anything, but a ranger I cornered at Boodjamulla had seen one recently, so took my questions seriously. She didn't know much about them, but knew they existed in Australia. Gotta love park rangers! ... Except she asked hopefully if I'd caught one - no, no, no and no ... for all I knew it could have been a land form of the irukandji jellyfish which would leave me paralysed, in agony for ever, or possibly dead. 
Anyhow, now I'm home with reasonable internet and data, I can say with confidence that they were fireflies, and it seems we were there at just the right time to see them in abundance. 

There's a bit more about them here:

This is not a firefly. My guess is it's a locust. They were thick everywhere and hopped/flew, getting pelted noisily against the car covering it with sticky, smelly, brightly coloured bug gunge. When we camped at Mt Moffatt, the birds (pied butcherbirds?) had a wonderful time picking them out from behind the numberplate, under the car, and up in the mudguards. They feasted.