In the struggle to stop mining and the government from ruining their land, health and livelihoods, the people of Meerlieu and surrounds could have found no better vehicle for expression than the iconic farmers’ ute. It symbolizes the toughness of farm work and the versatility and range of the rural lifestyle, and reminds us that this vehicle is essential for the work that supports rural people and provides food for the residents of towns and cities across Victoria.
Their spectacular “No Gasfields” ute sign was all the more moving for being underlined by residents from Goon Nure, Bengworden, Meerlieu and Perry Bridge districts. That people underlined the words with their bodies is poignant as it is the regional people whose health is affected wherever unconventional gas is mined. The ute sign made for a wonderful aerial photograph surrounded by the vivid green of fields and sports-grounds and given extra emphasis with an exclamation mark formed from a truck. It summed up the resilience and determination of people from vulnerable small communities, and was a reminder that children’s growth and development must be protected from the effects of toxic discharges from on-shore gas mining.
According to the local coordinator, more than 450 residents were surveyed from these communities, and an overwhelming 98% said “NO” to unconventional gas mining. This declaration was accepted by Deputy Mayor Cr Peter Neal of the East Gippsland Shire and Cr Darren McCubbin from the Wellington Shire in a packed out Meerlieu Hall. “We were very pleased to have representatives attending from both Shires that are impacted by the declaration,” said Debbie Carruthers, Gasfield Free Bairnsdale Co-ordinator. The councillors have been asked to bring the declaration and the will of the community to their councils.
“Meerlieu and District is now the 26th community in Victoria to have shown its deep concern about Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining by taking similar action, although this is the first ute sign,” said Ms Carruthers.
Regional Victoria may be under the greatest threat it has yet experienced, but it is clear to anyone watching that the movement to protect the state’s farmlands, water and food is accelerating, thanks to the resilience and inventiveness of Victoria’s rural people.
By Catherine Hearse.