Dayne Pratzky in his alter-ego as the Frackman says he is ‘the worst environmental activist the world has ever seen’. The thousands who have flocked to see the documentary ‘Frackman’ suggests otherwise. Directed by Richard Todd and produced by Trish Lake (Freshwater Pictures), Simon Nasht and Kate Hodges (Smith & Nasht) the film documents Dayne’s five year battle to prevent coal seam gas conglomerates from drilling their way through Queensland’s pristine landscapes and the community of Tara in which Dayne lives. Pratzky in his white Frackman overalls, turns out to be a real-life super hero with powers he didn’t know he had.
Dayne’s path to accidental activism started when he received a knock on the door in 2010 from the Queensland Gas Company. They advised they intended to drill a bore on his property to look for gas and there was nothing he could do to stop them. This is because government not the people, own the resources beneath our feet and the rights of citizens and property owners alike are virtually non-existent in those circumstances. Having bought a parcel of land and with dreams to build a home and a life in Tara, Dayne makes the decision not going to take it lying down. As the juggernauts from Queensland Gas, Halliburton and Santos rip their way through a once tranquil and contented community, Dayne galvanises the locals to put a stop to it.
Joining him in the push, to push back invasive CSG mining is the Lock the Gate Alliance spearheaded by Drew Hutton. They are joined in their campaign of peaceful resistance by local agriculturalists, environmentalists, indigenous communities and other concerned parties committed to locking their gates to coal seam gas. The film follows Frackman Dayne and community members along their path of peaceful civil disobedience cataloging the highs and lows of a battle we’re left wondering if they can ever really win.
The film opens audiences’ eyes to the reality of the seismic changes taking place as a result of multinationals scrambling to take advantage of the next resources boom and get their hands on the spoils. Queensland and New South Wales already have close to four thousand wells anchored into the landscapes. The ariel shots of the carve-up of the landscape are in themselves quite shocking. The process of fracking involves ‘high pressured injection of sand, water and chemicals into the coal seam gas well. The injection causes fractures in the coal seam allowing the gas to flow to the surface of the well’ (Lock The Gate). The toxicity of the chemicals used can potentially leach into the water table and cause serious environmental and health outcomes, which are documented in the film and backed up by experts in the field.
The audience hears about the deterioration in water and air quality via local families who report their children suffer from persistent headaches, nosebleeds and rashes as a result of the activities taking place virtually a stone’s throw from their doorsteps. We learn of the physical and mental despair of communities under siege, held over a barrel by multi-national conglomerates who hold all the trump cards. Rivers and waterways which once provided a summer sanctuary bubble and ripple continuously suggesting the presence of escaping gas.
There is plenty of laughter to be had in the documentary with its array of colourful characters as they work to outwit the gas companies, but the message about the impact of relentless coal seam fracking is a serious one.
On the flipside, further up the Queensland coast, community residents from Gladstone talk about how their town has benefitted and will continue to do so from the investment and economic boom associated with the arrival of gas companies and that the ‘risk is worth it’. But with the health of marine life deteriorating in the Great Barrier Reef, in what was supposed to be a world heritage listed site, the evidence appears to be under our noses. Colin Hunt, Honorary Fellow of Economics at the University of Queensland also points out that the Environmental Impact Statements conglomerates produce are often ‘done by private companies hired by the businesses backing the project’ so how’s that for a conflict of interest?
This conflict of interest also had me wondering when at the end of the film it transpired that after five years, Dayne had signed a confidential settlement with the mining conglomerate against whom he had long campaigned. Although I could understand the overwhelming pressure to regain some sense of normality and to get his life back, his subsequent alliance with Simon Sheikh had me scratching my head. Sheikh is the CEO of Future Super, a Super Fund which does not invest in fossil fuels which in itself is a great step forward.
However to see Dayne sit on stage alongside the CEO of a Super Fund made me feel uneasy because it seemed to me that he had jumped into bed with big business. And although that big business is concerned with ethical investment and divestment away from fossil fuels, I wondered if that would be enough to stop the main problem of excessive CSG mining. I don’t think so. The preventing of future coal seam gas mining can only come from a political imperative (pushed heavily along by grassroots activists) so surely it is at the ballot box that we have the most power to effect real change. But I do understand Dayne’s desire to get ethical investors in big business to pitt themselves against those who invest in fossil fuels and so perhaps to him, this association was a sensible one. Viewers will make up their own mind.
It is easy to think that as ordinary people we have no real power. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by an issue that is bigger than we are as individuals. It’s easy to think there’s nothing we can really do. So what can we do to make sure our voices are heard on Coal Seam Gas? Well, remember we all have a vote. Let’s use it wisely come the federal election in 2016.
Let us stand beside the farmers who feed us, let us link arms with our indigenous custodians, let us show the mothers of those sick children that they are our children too. Let us join the alliance to Lock The Gate until the evidence is in.