For over 100 years Gippsland has been the beef and dairy heartland of Victoria, producing 23% of Australia’s milk as well as some of the best beef in the country. Farming is the biggest employer in the region when food manufacturing jobs are taken into the equation.
Coal Seam Gas (CSG) threatens all of this. There is a growing body of evidence from around the world that farming and CSG just don’t go hand in hand. Issues associated with the processes of extraction have resulted in contaminated beef and dairy products, fertility issues, sickness and death within exposed herds. Over 350,000 hectares of Gippsland are covered in coal, coal seam gas, shale gas, tight gas and other unconventional gas licenses. ‘Gippsland is Precious’ is a 20 minute documentary now available on You Tube.
The story so far
Our story started in the small dairy community of Poowong, nestled in the green rolling hills of the Strzelecki ranges, just 100km from Melbourne. When a small group of locals became aware of two coal seam gas licenses covering Poowong and surrounds they decided to embark on a David and Goliath battle against the multinational company holding the licenses over their land.
“We basically decided to ask every single person in our town and find out if they wanted to declare our community coal and coal seam gas free,” said Ursula Alquier, spokesperson for the Poowong group. The results came in with over 95% of locals supporting their declaration and the group decided to celebrate with a huge 50-metre long human sign on their oval, in the hope that decision makers in Melbourne might take notice.
Poowong’s declaration has had a ripple effect on communities across Gippsland, many of whom are now surveying their own communities with the goal of declaring all of Gippsland coal and coal seam gas free.
About the film
Producer Pennie Brown heard about the Poowong group’s plight for the first time while visiting family in Gippsland last summer. Having spent much of her childhood in Gippsland, Pennie understood the profound importance of protecting Victoria’s biggest food bowl.
“I wanted to make a film that celebrated all that is precious about Gippsland and that helps raise the awareness of the risks to this region if invasive coal seam gas mining goes ahead. All Victorians rely on Gippsland for food and water supply, so it’s really an issue for everyone.”
“The best thing about making this film was all the amazing personalities that I met along the way,” said Pennie, who spent three months travelling across Gippsland recording the concerns of farmers, business-people and tree-changers. Stars of the film include Ray Boys, a beef farmer from Strzelecki, Kieran Kennedy, Mayor of South Gippsland Shire and many other colourful local faces.
Film has been an important medium in the growing awareness of the dangers of coal seam gas mining, with landmark American documentary “Gasland” kick-starting the campaign that has now gone global, and a recent documentary by ABC’s Four Corners bringing further weight to the debate against the controversial gas extraction technique.
“Gippsland needed a way to tell their story and we hope Gippsland is Precious brings home the risks to Victorians.”
But the film also looks further afield, featuring footage of the heartbreaking experiences of farmers in Queensland and New South Wales and appearances by Queensland farmer-turned activist Brian Monk and Lock the Gate Founder Drew Hutton.
“Victorian’s have been warned,” said Mr Monk, commenting on the documentary from his base in Kogan, Queensland. “What I would say to the people of Victoria is that you have been warned, and you have been given enough time to research the American experience. You’ve been told, you either do something about this or this industry will poison your rivers, your water and your land.”
In the documentary Mr Monk shares his experiences of having a gas field drilled in the land which surrounds his farm. “We’re in that very unfortunate position where we’ve got nothing left to lose. Our property is worth nothing. We have no choice but to fight. Don’t get into my position where you’ve lost everything. They make their wealth out of devaluing your wealth. Every Australian farmer loses out.”
The film also features narration by actor David Field (Two Hands, Chopper), whose personal experience with the campaign to stop coal seam gas mining in the Illawarra saw him lend his weight to the documentary.
The premiere, which was held in Poowong in May 2013 was attended by many of the film’s local stars.
“It was a night to celebrate Gippsland and the power of our communities to protect all that makes our region precious,” said event organiser Ursula Alquier. The event drew a huge crowd from all corners of Gippsland and there was standing room only. It was a great opportunity for all affected communities to come together to show their strength”.