Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Workingman's blues #12 & 2. Stopping to smell the flowers.

I heard about how a 71-year old great-grandmother, her friend a man, and man’s best friend completed a more than 500km trek along the pipeline routes from the Western Downs to Gladstone. June Norman and her friend Potts and a chihuahua walked for 27 days to raise awareness about mining of coal seam gas. In Gladstone they met with UN officials who were assessing the impact of coal seam gas mining on the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. Along the way the travellers met with landholders, farmers and residents of communities affected by the pipeline corridor.
Reading how a couple of septuagenarians and a tiny canine could do all that in less than four weeks, inspired me to retrace my steps in the last couple of months.
From the Surat basin to port of Gladstone is a good 550 kilometres of pipelines. Towards the end of 2011 I had the opportunity to travel up to Gladstone and the Banana shire in central Queensland.
I have worked at both ends of the routes – from the Great Dividing Range in the Western Downs region of the Surat basin to the Callide ranges inland from Gladstone on the Pacific coast. These pipelines projects are going to be under construction for at least a few more years before they’re fully operational. The routes diverge into various alignments in parts but by legislative mandate are required to converge in a single common corridor. The common corridors are not restricted to the CSG and LNG industries but also other service providers with long and linear infrastructure. These co-locations are within the Callide infrastructure corridor and the northern infrastructure corridor.
We stayed in Biloela until we got kicked out for overstaying our welcome. We exhausted all options but there just was not any room at the inn. The only other option left, save for sleeping under the stars, was a hotel in a town no one’s heard about, Thangool. 
My room had a cut out from a beer carton as a patch for a hole in the door. 
We found last-gasp accommodation there but I would have gladly camped out in the open but for lack of a swag. Under the management of some backpacking Irish lasses, the derelict unsafe uninhabitable building advertised as a hotel was still doing a rip-roaring trade. Every night we were haunted by the eeriness and kept awake by 24-hour noise masquerading as music. 
It had no lock, no chair, no air-conditioning, no can. No can do.
I even shared a room with a workmate. We spent three days at this ‘hotel’ before some rooms were freed up at a motel back in Biloela.
For a few weeks, we travelled the Leichhardt, Dawson and Bruce Highways and many of the roads through Mt Alma, Gladstone, Mt Larcom, Calliope, Targinnie, Yarwun, etc. I was only in this part of the world for a brief period, so I took my time. I hastened very slowly, and made sure to smell the flowers.

Specimen hill on the Callide range in Dumgree is in private property not far off the Dawson highway. The hilltop offers views all around and cooling breezes especially during summer.
Access is from the narrow winding hilly Coal road.
Down the steep and treacherous parts of the Callide range, Dawson Highway snakes along before straightening up down the rolling plains leading to the back roads of Mt Alma.
I’m walking down that long and lonesome road babe... where I'm bound, who can tell?
In the solitude of these country roads, we get to meet some lonesome creatures, like this dog by its lonesome. Or is this a donkey, a rabbit?
Once there were greenfields, burnt by the sun. Once there were valleys.
Amidst the dull and sparse dark green vegetation are patches of nature that brighten up the day. The unexpected splash of colour is a pleasant surprise.
This pine plantation is an oddity in the empty openness of pastoral and agricultural properties.

Journeying on the Bruce Highway one day, I met a fellow odyssey-er in Mt Larcom.
I wonder if this family of oz can trace their roots back to Mainit, or to the wizard. I contemplated such possibilities that day as I worked in Gladstone road in Yarwun.

Eight major pipeline routes (operational and under construction) intersect various existing infrastructure such as at least eight highways/major roads, eight rail crossings and power lines. In the vicinity of these routes are eight state forests and reserves including the Great Dividing Range, the Callide ranges and Mt Larcom ranges. About two-thirds of the affected land is under freehold tenure (privately-owned land).
Targinnie north of Gladstone lies between Mt Larcom and the coast. It is surrounded by state forests, ‘the narrows’ strait and Curtis Island including national park and state development area. Lined by red dirt roads, this area is just a little east of the 151 degree meridian.
The port of Gladstone is a busy hive of construction activity. However construction activity does impact adversely on the harbour. A chemical manufacturing company is presently being investigated for releasing unacceptable levels of cyanide into the harbour. Waste water released into waterways goes beyond the harbour to the reefs and oceans.
Not far from Gladstone off the tropic of Capricorn lies The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. This national treasure is caught in the middle of a stoush between the resource giants (billion-dollar corporations) who insist on their stewardship, and the grassroots and green groups who argue the reef's survival is in the balance and that the reef's World Heritage listing is in danger. The UN agency UNESCO in charge of World Heritage sites has waded in to investigate the state of the reef over concerns about the environmental impact of the mining industry and coal and gas ports.
Meanwhile, upstream from the harbour, various pipeline activities affect and disturb many of the headwaters resulting in altered water quality, sediment and nutrient flows. The mining head honchos need to implement groundwater management plans, else send them all to rogues gallery, on the waters of oblivion.

Construction runoffs result in sedimentation and eutrophication of aquatic habitats and changes to stream flow.

Pollution of waters due to uncontrolled release of chemicals used in construction is a very realistic threat. 

We were oblivious to all these, going about our business, navigating streams and creeks, trekking steep hillsides and slipping and sliding down gullies.
There are at least 100 watercourses intersected by pipelines including at least 30 creeks. Many are unnamed intermittent creeks.

Pipelines impact on the topography and natural landforms and should give due consideration to the environment. The steeply sloping areas are expected to constrain pipeline construction along the proposed routes. Similarly, crossings of significant high river banks require careful management.
Always we were on the lookout for the ever present danger of snakes and bushfires. Fires occur naturally and artificially (deliberate backburning). By the same token, project construction activities increase the likelihood of bushfires and therefore should aim to not initiate bushfires or alter fire regimes. They should consult with relevant authorities to develop and implement fire management plans.
Part of our daily routine is to conduct a pre-start meeting where we talk about health and safety topics and possible risks we might encounter at work during the day. On any given day, the risk or danger associated with one thing may be greater than with others. But most of the things we are very mindful of are: bushfires, snakes, dehydration, heat stress, slips trips falls, wet weather, deep waterways, fatigue, wildlife, etc.

One day one of our teams almost got trapped in the middle of a forest fire. There is no greater horror when one is caught in a raging inferno. As a child growing up in the mountains of the Cordillera, I had a experience of this. Since then I have dreaded every hot and dry summer season when the forest fires inevitably light up.
The risk assessments that are hammered into us at work, should also be followed when not in work, at home and at play. Of course it’s not all work and no play for this odysseying man. We worked professionally and efficiently but at the same time took time to take in nature’s handiwork. The rough hilly range, the rolling plain and winding creek and river, all coloured by the eucalypt and the wattle and the wildflower. From the mountain to the sea, pasture to port, there’s steep cliff and deep reef, and beef and fish.
A kangaroo roadkill on the Dawson Highway.
The increased potential for road kills along access ways also elevates mortality risks for some species.
The pipelines projects span several local government areas: Central Highlands RC, Western Downs RC, Maranoa RC, Banana RC, Gladstone RC, North Burnett RC. These are in the vicinity of the towns of Tara, Kogan, Dalby, Chinchilla, Miles, Roma, Wandoan, Taroom, Theodore, Moura, Thangool Biloela, Calliope, Mt Larcom and Gladstone. Of course the tens of thousands of CSG wells and gas fields in the Surat and Bowen basins of Queensland span out to more than these areas.
The pipeline routes have been planned to avoid residential areas. These key residential and recreational areas along the pipeline routes associated with the townships have strong community bonds, friendly nature, and value the country and the lifestyle. The local economy is booming and businesses catering to the needs of pipeline workers are kept busy 24/7. These communities however desire a balance between community lifestyle, development and the environment. Some of the issues indeed are in need of quick resolution so that projects can proceed smoothly and communities are not under threat.
These communities are not quite alarmed but are alert to the presence of the pipelines.

Ultimately the importance of the environment should prevail over development, and that any unwanted development be stopped in favour of preserving the natural resources. Developments that do stimulate local growth and which seek to enhance the character and heritage of the community should be encouraged and supported.
Out in the gasfields and pipelines is often desolate. One could easily get disoriented if not lost. We are required to carry communications equipment including GPS trackers and satellite phones for emergency. Water is very important when going bush especially in the summer heat. It is rare to meet another person while out at the pipelines. Most other creatures we meet are the wildlife: kangaroos wallabies emus birds etc.

Many times we encounter cattle. Cattle are best left alone. Pipelines do not wish to injure or impact on stock and risk the ire of farmers.

Lantana weed is poisonous to cattle stock. Lantana forms dense thickets that smother native vegetation. These thickets become impenetrable for animals, people and vehicles. They are spread by fruit‐eating birds but mostly by people.
Prickly pear cacti
The movement of machinery and vehicles between areas has the potential to spread weeds, and although pipeline companies aim to prevent the spread of these weeds, the establishment of environmental weeds, has the potential to destroy natural flora and their habitat.

Sometimes we come across natural jungles that can be penetrated - by air.

There are numerous other identified environmental issues that have to be addressed by pipeline projects. The routes are within the terrestrial environment of the brigalow belt although only about 2% is actually protected, and most of the region is good quality agricultural and pastoral lands. Other regional ecosystems and threatened ecological communities are the semi-evergreen vine thickets and weeping myall woodlands. Based on habitat preferences there are hundreds of flora, fauna, and bird species present along the alignments.

Other identified issues impacting the environment include: noise and increased human activity, traffic and transport, topography and landscape, community and heritage, soil erosion and sediment control especially in the brigalow plains and melon hole (gilgai) country. 
All these issues and more are in urgent need of attention, or well may we ask "what price development?"

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A harsh mistress

This blog post is a confession. I am having an affair.
It started towards the end of last year - a few days before the full moon in December. I’d meet with her every Saturday, at a public park near a restaurant beside the Brisbane river. 
Yes we do it in the park, in New Farm, an inner city suburb of Brisbane. 
We’d conduct our liaisons in the morning, awkward but manageable. I like to sleep in on  Saturdays, but I gave up that luxury for pleasure (some might say pain). We’d be together for about an hour, me and my mistress, sometimes more sometimes less.
For our trysts, she wants me to be there early. She wants to ‘brief’ me on how to do things - where to start, the ways to go and turn, and even how to finish. My mistress is very demanding. She also wants some foreplay beforehand, ‘warmups’ she calls it. Recently, seeing how long I took, she suggested I should start behind, from the rear, so that I don’t get distracted.
The heat of our passionate meetings lasts long enough: 30 minutes or thereabouts. I do want it to be ‘quicker’ but cannot. Mind you it’s not for lack of trying.
We do it next to the bikes, on the boardwalks and on the paths, under the trees and on the grass. 
Most times I get hot and sweaty. Oh it gets wet and slippery too – in the rain. Almost always I’m gasping and panting. She likes for me to ‘sprint’ at the finish- but to shoot down the right chute –'yes there' she directs, between the ‘cones’ she says.
This affair is still blossoming, it’s only been three months. I hope it continues for a bit longer. I know that I’ll be there rain or shine, and come hell or high water- as long as the park’s not in flood. So far I’ve only missed one rendezvous. Truth was I had to be with another mistress. This other mistress liked to do it on the trails. This ‘trails’ affair early this month was up a glorious mount – in Mt Glorious. I made up all sorts of excuses for this one missed park run-d-vogue.
Some days though I'd have to make a choice. Do it in the park, or in the trails, or on the roads, out on the boring bitumen? Why do I have to choose?
I’ll stick with this mistress I think. There’s nothing like doing it in the park.
Sometimes we do it in sight of kayakers.
Down by the banks of the Brisbane... in New Farm park.

I thought of writing about this event just after the Mount Glorious trails affair two weeks ago, about the time of the full moon. Yes, it must have been the full moon!
Ahh the moon, now there’s another harsh mistress...
I met these guys after an encounter with the mistress. They forgot to slop on sunscreen and were caught red-faced, routed and rooted - beetrooted by that other harsh mistress - the sun. I am getting outed now too. Maybe I should go on that out-of-town work stint. Work? Ahhh yet another mistress... And work dictates that I should go out-of-town. Did I say I hate dictators too?
Shooting down the right chute at the finish – on the inside of the orange cones.
The Powerhouse, home of the mistress, the New Farm 5km Saturday parkrun.