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Monday, 23 January 2012

Workingman's Blues #12 & 1. Gasfields roundup

From Taroom in the north to the Bunya mountains in the east, Moonie in the south to the Roma-Condamine road past Dulacca in the west, the Western Downs separates the hustling bustling southeast corner of the state of Queensland from its outback. Between Toowoomba and Roma sits this rich 38,000 square km gasfields region that is a hive of coal seam gas development. For many the Western Downs brings up images of broad acres of wheat and grain farms, rolling green or brown pasturelands, and the dullish dark green of the forests on the hills and the ranges. But already much of this agricultural basin is crisscrossed by hundreds of kilometres of pipelines, with still more pipelines – in the pipeline.

Finding the balance between a sustainable and renewable resources sector and productive agricultural land, is the challenge that governments should deal with - and fast. But one way or other, agricultural land needs to be protected, because in the end we cannot eat coal, drink oil or breathe gas.

And while that is being sorted, I need to eat too.
My first stint in the gasfields was many moons ago. We worked mostly in the vicinity of Kumbarilla in the south of Kogan, on the Moonie highway between the towns of Tara and Dalby. Tara like many of the southern downs, is a quiet wheat country and cattle and sheep grazing area. In March 2011 Tara locals blockaded against coal seam gas development.
Gateway to the Bunya mountains and the gasfields, Dalby is a thriving town at the junction of the Warrego, Bunya and Moonie Highways. This town is a rural enterprise centre in Australia's richest grain and cotton growing area.
Kogan is home to what’s claimed to be the largest solar thermal project in the world. The $105 million Kogan Creek Solar Boost Project was launched in April 2011 by PM Gillard.
Our base was in Chinchilla surrounded by the vast broad-acre farms and forests. Australia’s melon capital takes its name from the Aboriginal word for cypress pine. Chinchilla’s melon festival (a bit of watermelon madness held every two years) was ranked 12th in the 150 must-do things in Queensland. Now a major town, Chinchilla has long been a service centre for the farming, pastoral and timber industries, and recently for power stations and the CSG industry.
Nearing the start of winter, we worked around the west of Wandoan ranging near and far between Miles and Taroom in Banana shire. We stayed in all three towns. Wandoan is surrounded by vast fields of grain and beef cattle properties. The town was built around Juandah station which was settled in 1853. The bustling town Miles (originally named Dogwood Crossing) stands at the crossroads of the Warrego and Leichhardt highways. I paid a brief visit to possum park on the Leichhardt Highway north of Miles where I was hoping to try out some wartime bunker accommodation. They booked us somewhere ‘more comfortable’ instead. Next time I’ll have downgrade to stay there. It is on the list of ‘100 things you can only do in Australia.’ Taroom straddles the Leichhardt Highway-Dawson River crossing in fertile brigalow country. Named after the thorny native lime tree, Taroom is the gateway to Isla gorge, the expedition ranges and other national parks. This serene town was the site of one of the bloodiest killing fields in Australia. The local Aborigines, the Yeeman, fought for their land against the encroachment of European graziers until they were eventually wiped out.

In our travels we skirted around some of the remnant brigalow tree stands especially down in Woleebee. 

We also stumbled on a couple of rare Ooline trees.

We sidestepped some bottle trees of various shapes and sizes. 

We saw some country and guzzled up a bit of fuel along the way. Often a full tank did not last two days. We traversed rivers and creeks, blazed trees and fence lines across many a green pasture of the rolling plains and grasslands in Arthur.
(Ramblin's startin' Martin).
I seen the arrow on the fence post, and the scarred tree, and been ten chains and miles in the south of a graveyard in Portsmouth. We dug holes, looked for shade, thanked trees for the shelter and the shade, jumped a few barbed hurdles, climbed a couple of hills, and baked in the hot sun and scorched earth of Bloodworth.
We held vigil at our post or left them by the gate, gaped at the height of flooding debris, and dodged beasts as we watchfully wove and drove on the byways of Golden Grove. 

Off many a little-travelled country road, we stepped over logs with snakes, and mustered cattle, as under cloud streaked blue skies and along the ridges of the high country we rode and rattled.
In Cameron I sighted a wedge-tailed eagle with prey in its talon, and we disturbed the homes of snakes and pigs long gone. Towards the end of Autumn, I started taking a few shots of blue label to stave off the fast-approaching winter.

Come the chill of the first winter moon we had to move base again to worksites closer to the Leichhardt Highway in the north of the great dividing range.
We travelled some miles around Miles, ran outa room in Taroom, and went wanderin’ the river walk and celebration trail in Wandoan.
Up in the county, down by the river, we found where Paradise Downs lay. We tracked a 20-chain road and an old stock route through Alex but met no bullocks.
The prickly pear was brought to Australia by governor Phillip in 1788 to produce red dye for soldiers coats, but quickly became one of the greatest biological invasions of modern times. These cacti spread to Chinchilla in 1843. 
We saw rabbits and wild dogs, rabbit-proof and wild dog barrier fences, croaked back at frogs, ached upon acres of prickly pear, battled cattle on roads and cattle in pens, and survived a mice infestation in camp. In the dusk and in the morn we did not mourn but rued the roadkilled roo or two. We admired the beautiful birds - a rosella or a cockatoo in Cassio.
I wandered. It's a long and a dusty road, it's a hot and a heavy loadI even listened to Tom Paxton in Mt Lawton. Sometimes I also couldn't help but wonder where I'm bound.


The more than 5,600 km dingo fence is the longest fence in the world. It was built to protect sheep flocks. This section is part of the 2,500km barrier fence in southern Queensland.
Guluguba (squatter pigeon) near Wandoan. As a peasant I went back to school there, just to check it out. Many times we travelled on the main roads and highways going from town to town. One day while nursing whiteline fever on the Leichhardt, I ruffled the feathers of a beautiful pleasant brown pheasant as it flew across in front of my car. I braked in time and pheasant survived to fly another day. 
Road train in Condamine.
Most times though we had to give way to the kings of the road, the bigger beasts like road trains and other oversize vehicles that ply these parts.

Off the beaten track, are numerous farmlands with crop and fodder or green pastures. The pretty grasslands can be deceptive. They're often spiky twiggy rocky snakey or holey.

In mid-winter we shifted yet again to sites on the north of Roma. So we did as the Romans do - roamed, but only encountered the Greek-named fields of Mimas-Tethys. Roma is steeped in rich and colourful pioneering history. Among its claim to fame: first gazetted settlement after Queensland separated from NSW in 1859; first natural gas strike in Australia in 1900; the largest cattle sales in the southern hemisphere.
Although sheep and cattle are major resources of this area, natural gas is still piped 480km to Brisbane. Roma is the primary service centre in southwest Queensland, and sits at the junction of the Warrego and Carnarvon highways. The road north passes through Injune on the way to the spectacular Carnarvon Gorge. I should do as the roamers do, and go there via Injune, and soon. Perhaps next winter, in June.
We found the lost city of El Dorado, but I'm not telling where it is.
We encountered echidnas, busted turkeys and many birdlife. The first rainy weather since January restricted our movements to the sealed roads and accessible paddocks only.
The big rig in Roma.
Whilst in Roma we looked around.
With a girth nearly 9m, the Roma bottle tree is the biggest in the world. It is a thousand  hands span. I gave it a big hug.

During the mid-winter stint, I could not go to back to Woleebee but was asked to deploy to Beelbee, back south of Kogan. One early morning as the sun shone, I heard the gum trees a-moaning in Glen Mona Road in Sean. And I looked but there were no hidden poppy fields in the out-of-the-way Poppy hills.
Chinchilla bookshop sign... guide to the world's major religions. I think the 'Ass' means 'assorted', but do give me the benefit - of the sign.
Finally got back to Woleebee in the springtime. Woleebee Creek, Juandah Creek, Mooga Mooga Creek, we came across many a creek that the old legs started to creak.
Should I build a bridge, jump, wade, swim or sink? Thimk.

Gurulmundi wildflowers. Hey Marty, can't you read the sign?

A brushfire in Wandoan one evening, was followed by some low-lying mist come the next morning.


On the forests of Peebs or Pinelands, I ventured near the edge of cliffs of the great dividing range. 

The western downs is rich in industry, agriculture, culture and heritage, and mineral resources. What is not widely known are the hidden fishing spots in the many creeks of the downs. Fish such as yellowbelly, murray cod, jewfish, silver perch etc, may be caught in the waterways. There are fishing locations from Dalby, Chinchilla, Tara, through Condamine, Miles and Yuleba, but alas where’s me rod?
Museums galleries wineries pubs are present in almost every town. Other features are dry type rainforests, national parks, open pastures, water masses, deep yawning gorges, all kinds of recreation and adventure destinations really. Along the wayside you might not know it but you'll be going through the local places of Goongarry Columboola Kowguran Eumamurrin Mooga Bimbadine Euthalla Weranga Wieambilla. Other places with strange foreign-sounding tongue-twisting names are Jackson North, Durham Downs, Peek-a-doo, Dragoncrest or Mt Saltbush. Some of the gas wells are visible from the country roads in Trelinga Trafalgar Wubagul, Burunga Lane, Niella Lacerta Hermitage Navara Pandora Talinga.
On any given Sunday or any other day, you might be in the parish of Cherwondah Malara Cobbareena Dinoun Goongarry Bartsch Ardah Whithu Dilginbilly Roughlie Pamaroo Daandine Braemar Eurombah or Bundi. You might come across my church at the top of the mountain or the highest hill...
You may meet a lineman from the county in Auburn Waldegrave Westgrove or Gubberamunda. 

Do say hello to these hardworking men and women pipeliners. They're helping build the economy and infrastructure, of Queensland and Australia.
Many times I witnessed a beautiful rainbow. Here comes that rainbow again. In the orange glow of sunset to the indigo gloom of night. In the misty sprays of violets of dawn, to the blazing rising yellow sun reborn. On the red dirt road in the rain, to the earthen fields of gold in the sun. On the shady green grass, I yearned for home - and hummed a little bit of the workingman's blues...
that open roads starts callin' again...
for i was born a ramblin' man.