Sunday, 8 August 2010

I've been working on the railroad

Gladstone, 550km north of Brisbane, is Queensland's largest port and busiest harbour. It is home to the world's largest alumina plant and is the site of major industries. Gladstone is situated between the Calliope River and the Boyne River. Both rivers lead into the deep water harbour off the shores of Port Curtis. The city of Gladstone is developed on hills overlooking the focal point of its economic development - the natural deepwater harbour.

It was in the year 1770 when Captain Cook first stepped onto a beautiful stretch of beach on the Central Queensland coast. Some wonder why he left and went back to rainy England.
Well after stepping on Barney Point beach, i didn’t go back to England myself (haven’t been there, don’t even know where it is). And i’ve seen many a rainy season in the Philippines. I don’t go to tourist areas anyway. I much prefer going to interesting places. Places such as railroads.

Someone kidded me years ago that I'll make a 'roads' scholar yet.
Many of the oil and gas companies involved in the exploration and production of coal seam gas in the inland Basins, have hundreds of kilometres of gas pipelines from those distant CQ gasfields to Gladstone. These companies and industries have gas liquefaction and export facilities on Curtis Island. I have worked on some of the gasfields and pipelines inland. I also did deliveries for Queensland Rail between 1997 and 2004, on their North Coast Line.

Now I’m back to do some more deliveries for them here in Gladstone, also on the NCL.
Gladstone is crucial to the Queensland government’s plan towards the public floating of its bulk coal rail company. QR's bulk haulage network, QR National, was split from the state-owned corporation and proposed to be privatised later this year. However, a $4.85 billion offer made by a consortium of the state's largest coal businesses to buy the rail lines is also under consideration.
That is the context of my assignment here – to deliver stuff. This is a critical stage of the QR asset sell-off by the state government.
I still had my loot of books and CDs for the Mount Mee trip all packed up, so on the day i caught a plane in Brisbane for the short one-hour flight to Gladstone. On arrival, my workmate who drove up earlier, picked me up from the Airport. We have bookings at a mid-city motel. Guess what it's called? And our hosts are the gracious Peta and Peter.
Being a cowboy (without a horse), I had to make do with spartan quarters. I’m not from Sparta but used to wear their foortwear :-)).

So for me a tiny room with two beds, two pillows, two women (on the TV), and two more bottles of wine.

I was hoping to meet some local birds, though i've heard it said 'be careful what you wish for'.

I got my wish not soon after. One time a little bird flew into my room chasing insects. I caught it at the corner of the glass window. It was too quick to smile for a photo. It was not unlike me an I-Chonglian coal miner. It was an Indian mynah.

Under blue skies. Under power lines.

Under grey skies. Over rail lines.

In sunshine, or in shadow. We worked all day-long.

Long hours. In the early morning, I can hear the captain (alarm) shouting. So up early at 5:00 o'clock, toil all day, then back at the other 5:00 o'clock. After dinner, it's paperwork until the 11th hour. Sometimes i burn the midnight candle.
That’s the routine. Everyday for five days.

I am thankful for some diversion. Like this little wonder. Lake Callemondah in the heart of Gladstone.

This lake is adjacent to our worksite. One day we had lunch on its banks. Some huge wild ducks live on this lake. And I mean huge. As big as pelicans! What thoughts must go through a Chonglian hunter’s mind here. Ahh all that prime pine-necked pikan. The lake used to be tidal but has been transformed into an artificial lake. Like Burnham in Baguio, it is also a recreation lake, but teeming with wildlife as fish and bird etc. It has been stocked with various species of anglers favourites. What thoughts must go through a Mainitao fisher’s mind here. Ahh all that inihaw.

Anyhow, the northcoastline crosses this watercourse at two points. One is at Auckland Creek. Under this crossing, a footpath has been constructed as part of the pathways around the lake. Another railway crossing is at Briffney Creek. Beside the railway bridge is a creek crossing where maintenance vehicles can drive in to do their business in the upkeep of the lake reserve. We delivered at these two creek crossings.

The main game of our assignment is at the railway coalyards in Callemondah, just north of the Airport in Clinton, west of Gladstone. These railyards are about 5km long and about 1km in breadth. The NCL runs along the guts of the yards.

So for a few days, we dodged coaltrains and rocket trains, steam trains and electric trains. The Rockhampton rocket flashed past us a few times. It was so quiet, you would have missed it had you blinked. The danger is ever present. So vigilance is the buzzword while working on the railways.

Sometimes we dodged rail lines and wasted time.

Some trains are only short engines, but you can get stuck waiting for a few coaltrains, kilometres long and going at 20kph.

And when they’re parked on the rails for days, and you need to be on the other side of them (only about 10 metres), you have to drive down the road a couple of kms and back to do so.

The railways of Queensland and Australia are integral parts of the infrastructure that are needed to move Australia forward. When the steel rails are humming and trains are running, then the economy is booming and employment is rising.

There is a bit of uncertainty with the mining industry (including coal), as the debate of the merits of a mining tax take centre stage in the election campaign for this month’s federal vote. And pitted against the economic boom times is the much delayed action on climate change.
According to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, Australia needs to do more on climate change and have an adequate mining tax. Stiglitz has credited the Labor-led government and its management of the economy saying the $42 billion fiscal stimulus package delivered in Australia staved off the worst of the global financial crisis. Many beneficiaries of the stimulus including myself, managed to keep their heads above water, by using the money given by the government to spend on some basic necessities (and some not-so-basic expenditures), during those hard times in 2008. Stiglitz stated his support for the federal government's proposed mining tax. He said that Labor carries the better economic credentials in leading the country again. But Stiglitz is less enamored by the coalition, saying the federal opposition had actually praised those responsible for the global financial crisis. He said the coalition’s economic ideas will tend to push Australia into financial downturn.
Of course the opposition of the big resource companies to increased tax, can lead them to suspend big projects that employ thousands of people. These companies are naturally allied to the conservatives.

So who is hostage to whom?
I am hostage to my job. It is hostage to the development industry, which is hostage to the economy.
I might just go and plant camote. Then I’ll only be hostage to lazy me.

Towards the end of our stay in Gladstone, I looked around the place a bit.
Gladstone is not just an industrial city pierced by gas pipelines and railway lines bearing oil and gas. The Gladstone region is a unique area of Queensland basking in a sub-tropical climate with islands, waterways and beaches on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef. The region has several impressive National Parks which add camping and 4-wheel driving to the adventures. One of the most impressive areas of Central Queensland is lush Carnarvon Gorge. Heron Island, on the Great barrier Reef just off the coast of Gladstone boasts some of the best scuba diving and snorkelling.

This dynamic, modern city basks in a sub-tropical climate with islands, waterways and beaches on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef providing year-round boating, fishing, swimming and surfing. A wide variety of restaurants and eateries cater to all tastes - from Australian tucker to Gladstone's famous mud crab and fresh seafood. Some of Australia's premier sailing events, the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race culminates in Gladstone.

Like I said before these tourist attractions are not for me. I'd rather visit the interesting places.
On our last day, on the way out of the site, we drive past Briffney creek in Lake Callemondah. This is stocked with barramundi and another 20 or so other species of fish.
I would not mind a bit of fishing...

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