Friday, April 29, 2016

Visit to Wollar

Col Faulkner outside his c. 1904
ex-butcher’s shop home in Wollar

Col ‘Midget’ Faulkner still holds the record, he says, for the longest tube ride on Sydney’s south side. Never one for publicity or competitions, Col – not to be confused with Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly – watched the greats come and go, and gave most of them more than he got: even world-champion Nat Young once made the mistake of dropping in on Col’s wave at Cronulla Point!

Nowadays Col lives a long way from the surf, in the tiny, dying hamlet of Wollar, 50 km north-east of Mudgee, five hours’ drive from Sydney. He lobbed there 30 years ago to visit his uncle, helped out with the shearing for six months, and never left. Col loved the peace and quiet - of being quite a way from anywhere. But for the past decade his town has been stealthily besieged, its social fabric eroded by the insidious intrusion of multinational Peabody Energy (the world’s largest private-sector coal company – recently declared bankrupt in the US), which operates the Wilpinjong coal mine, ever-closer to town. The NSW government is currently considering (i.e. about to approve) Pit 8 – an expansion which will bring more unacceptable dust, noise and division to the town and its dwindling population. Already residents have lost the mechanic and the hardware/stockfeed supply … and the school’s down to eight pupils. Since the bottleshop closed there's not even anywhere you can buy a drink.

Bev Smiles’ prescient COAL IS OVER! placard, Newcastle 2008
Photo: Sharyn Munro

On the invitation of long-time local anti-coal campaigner Bev Smiles, members of WRVAP attended a meeting convened in the Wollar Memorial Hall on 20 April 2016 to discuss ways in which the townsfolk might get a better deal (or rather, how a really bad deal from an industry now in its death throes, might be sweetened)…

Wollar Memorial Hall

After a number of residents (including Col) have had their say, several of us speak against the mine expansion – about degraded environments, compensation for ravaged social fabric, and mine remediation. Although the meeting is locally framed we feel impelled to emphasise that the extraction and burning of coal is currently destroying not only Wollar’s but the entire planet’s social and environmental fabric. [Only the day before we’d learnt that the corals in Sydney Harbour were bleaching due to dangerously warm ocean temperatures]. After a comfortable night’s sleep @ BIG4 Mudgee we drive back to Wollar next morning to take some photos. In the car we re-visit the complex traumas of coal mining and struggle once again to devise a manner in which we might capture its inhuman face, its incalculable costs within the spaces of a Sydney art gallery. Suddenly I see Col pacing within a cage, a white-maned man/lion neutered by circumstances beyond his control, speaking to (and perhaps growling at) visitors. When we meet him again later that morning I tell Col that we might need HIM for our exhibition, adding ‘but you probably wouldn’t want to come down to Sydney, would you?’. ‘Na’, he drawls, ‘I got outta there’.