The next day, the Mackay Conservation Group www.mackayconservationgroup.org.au) organised a Save the Reef stall at a local Wine and Food Festival. We were joined there by Jonathon Dykie, the Greens candidate for Dawson, who is working his butt off to promote Greens values and policies and has been so supportive of the walk along with other Greens along the journey.
From the stall we collected signatures on a petition to help save Dudgeon Point (www.dudgeonpoint.org) from becoming the next coal port and distributed pamphlets to the locals, advertising a talk by Bob Irwin to be held in Mackay on August the 7th to try to muster support from the locals (www.FightfortheReef.org.au)
However, much of this town, that was once a sugar town has now become dependent on the coal industry thus a clash of interests That night, our host, 76 year old Mabel Quakawoot, resident of Mackay for 51 years and Bailai (Bayelee) traditional owner of the Gladstone area, offered her home for the Conservation Group to put on a BBQ for us. Mabel has been fighting since 2006 to save Curtis Island, off the coast of Gladstone, from the establishment of facilities to freeze coal seam gas. Mabel and 4 other traditional tribal elders are currently under pressure from the Port Authority to sign away the Traditional Use of Marine Resources Area (TUMRA) rights to enable the Ports Authority to further dredge the port and transport the frozen gas to cargo ships waiting on the reef. Additionally the claimants groups are being pressured into signing an agreement to negate the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) to enable the Port Authority to dredge the harbours in Bundaberg Rockhampton and Gladstone.
The walkers spent the next day of rest exploring the community permaculture garden followed by a 6km walk on a walking track along the Pioneer River, still lined with mangroves and topped the day off with a winter swim at a local beach.
The next day was my first day of walking. It began with the Greens’ Senator, Larissa Waters and Jonathon Dykie being interviewed by local radio and television reporters from ABC, Channel 7 and other local journalists. Larissa had especially made the trip to support the walkers and promote the campaign for protecting the reef. Larissa and Jonathon later joined the walkers on our way to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay, the site of a huge expanding coal port that dominates the bay .
That night we stayed at Louisa Creek Community Hall organised by a local conservationist. Louisa Creek, situated on Dalrymple Bay was once a little village with about 100 resident families. Of those families, only 15 remain. The remainder of the houses are either abandoned or owned by the Port Authority, who rent them out. According to a couple of locals we met on the beach, Sydney siders bought many of the houses but when they found they couldn’t live with the levels of coal dust, were bought out by the Port Authority. The remaining locals grin and bear the coal port as their unwelcome neighbour, putting up with the coal dust that covers everything they own including their lungs and the noise of the coal port 24/7. The sound of waves on the shore has become a distant memory to them. However locals battle on and put their energy into retaining what they have, regenerating remaining bushland along the estuary, determined not to abandon the place where they have been living for generations. Even if they wanted to move away, the cost of living in Mackay has sky- rocketed because of the coal industry. House and rent prices are comparable to Sydney prices, minus the facilities.
The activists working to protect the reef, were described by Campbell Newman, Premier of Queensland as a shadowy clandestine group. This hardly describes this group of activist walkers, consisting of two doctors, an adult educator, a teacher and research scientist with a PhD, a 72 year old retired welfare worker and grandmother.
I sadly now have left the walkers, needing to return to Sydney. The walkers will be getting into Rockhampton on August 6th and from there heading to Keppel Sands Bay and Fitzroy Delta which is threatened by a the proposal of two new coal export terminals (www.protectkeppelbay.org) then onto the already damaged Gladstone, by August 15th where the walk finishes.