The story of the boiling frog is one that most people have heard of. Put a frog in a container of water and very slowly turn up the heat, the frog with get used to the shift and stay til it is too late, and then it dies. It is a great metaphor for life and also untrue as far as frogs go – they are smarter than that and do jump out!
So, knowing that no frogs were harmed in this story and that I did not meet Peter via kissing any frogs and them turning into Princes, it is a good example of how as humans we can be lulled into a false sense of security when change is slow and often very well marketed.
So, whilst we were learning lots and having lots of research supporting our practices, all was not well. Over the years our debt levels continued to increase but so did our assets as land values increased and we can borrow more to help keep moving forward. It was a slow but steady decline. There were always ‘reasons’ why – often commodity prices and their fluctuations.
Primary producers sit in an interesting space, they are price takers on both ends of inputs (like most people) and also on what they produce. There are complex reasons for that – global markets, and weather events but to add to the mix, what we grow (food) is a tradeable commodity. People are making money by gambling on what yields will be mainly made on very unsophisticated guesswork.
Not a game we chose to play but to which we were at the effect. We were working harder and being more efficient each year but slowly going backward – we were not alone. Our asset base kept us viable and helped us go into increasing debt. But our asset is our land which we did not want to sell as we love it and it is the place where we work with the ecosystem to grow the food we produce. We feel like custodians of the land rather than owners of a tradable commodity.
Then we had another major change come our way.
Where we live in the Maranoa in a region where oil and gas exploration has been around almost as long as colonial settlement and agriculture. Back around when Peter and I were married in the early ’80s, geophysical prospecting for gas began with huge vibrator trucks lumbering around taking grid pattern readings to access what resources lay under our feet.
At that time, we didn’t take a huge amount of notice except when they would not listen to local advice and proceeded into places where they would get terribly bogged or stuck at times. Choosing to believe the map over local experience and knowledge. When will we learn as humans to listen?
Nothing much happened on that front for many years, until some major gas infrastructure and well development started to the west of us at Spring Gully. It was a new industry and had a sense of a gold rush mentality about it. Big money, big business, big rush. Contracts signed, actions taken. Our road out here became very busy. But it was all to the west and nothing looked like it would be on our land.
It was a time of big change for our region and there was a lot of fear and uncertainty. It was also a time when as noted above, rural areas were feeling the pinch and in general in decline. Looking for ways to keep economies going. Roma was short-listed to have a high-security prison. We were personally not in favour of that for lots of reasons and glad when it was decided it be located back near Gatton.
Again I digress – but you can get the sense of deeper energy that was around.
One day we did hear, from our son who was doing holiday labouring to earn money for University with Origin, that there were in fact plans for a large development here. That was a huge shock to us all.
To try and tell that whole story would take pages, so how to give the highlights. It started badly – with initial interactions being very transactional and top-down. With a map in hand, no prior consultation, and coming to say this is what is going to happen on your land. For those who don’t realise, we as landholders only own the top 45cms of land, below that is the Crown and whoever has mining rights on the land.
Our primary focus was the care of the land and after that our ability to live and farm here. Setting that up had taken decades and the initial plan would have decimated that. While the actual footprint of a gas well is not huge its position makes a huge impact on natural water flows. Poorly done, erosion can impact the entire property.
At one point Peter and I sat in our garden and had a long and painful conversation – do we sell or do we stay? Many people had sold as the journey ahead had seemed too daunting for them. Could understand that. But for us staying was our choice as we loved this land and so decided our best way forward was to try and make it work.
As you can imagine it has been a bumpy road- some days felt overwhelming. We always ensured that we had the land first and we also tried to learn as much as we could, about what the constraints were for the CSG Industry as we aimed to educate them about agriculture. Both sides are ignorant of the workings of the other.
It is SOO easy to ‘Other’ others, get on our high horses, and be ‘Holier that Thou’, and takes more nuance and effort to try and understand. We had the belief that the people we were dealing with on the ground were humans who cared about their families and wanted the best for their futures. Who had a connection to the well-being of our ecosystem and land. And over time I do believe that philosophy helped create deep learnings and a way forward that was far better for people and the planet than had it proceeded from a place of power and blame.
Now CSG is part of the place here and it has financially helped us towards greater security as well. It is integrated here and we do see it as a transition energy until we can successfully live from renewable energy in the future. Also, we have a lot of underground infrastructure in place now that could enable water to be piped inland so future generations can continue to grow food and create a community in the decades ahead.
But not all is still quite right on the farm! There is still that very pesky and complex challenge around how we are actually farming here in a system that is asking for more and more from less and less and we Do NOT want to play that game.
The next blog will give that as it unfolded -as usual partly planned and partly when God whispers and then she shouts and has a bit of ‘4 x 2’ in hand!