Environmental damage: mining versus farming

Adelaide’s “Festival of Ideas” last month featured a useful discussion of the mining industry’s contribution to the economy, since replayed on the ABC program The National Interest.

Towards the end there was a brief discussion of how mining damages prime farming land. Asked an audience member: “How does farming start again on land that has been desecrated by lots of open-pit mines or coal gas seam mining?” Economics journalist Paul Cleary, now also a researcher at the ANU, responded by agreeing, calling it “heartbreaking” that some farmers had sold out to mining companies – “and they have sold out for three times the value because they’ve got huge debts, and it is heartbreaking to see those people leaving their land”.

I’m a fan of Cleary, who has a fine history of picking the right issues on which to go against the prevailing wisdom. And his comments drew warm applause from the audience.

But I found this whole line of inquiry puzzling. Yes, mining causes environmental damage. Yes, it can cause severe damage, notably when mine waste interacts with naturally-occurring water. Yes, coal-seam gas poses a bunch of special risks, and we need to find out whether its benefits are worth the potential damage. But overall, the scale of the damage that ensues from the typical mine seems relatively low compared with the scale of damage resulting from farming, for a given unit of GDP. (Note that I’m using relatively in its true sense, to imply a comparison rather than an absolute level.)

Farming’s great environmental impact is simple – habitat destruction. Forget climate change for a minute here: habitat destruction seems a more urgent problem. As ecologist Daniel Simberloff wrote a few years ago in American Scientist, “by far the major single cause of recent species extinction and current endangerment is habitat destruction”. Simberloff is a pioneer of sophisticated statistical approaches in ecology, famed for bringing a new mathematical rigour to the field. I could be wrong, but I think he understands the relative quantities and I don’t think his position is very controversial amongst ecologists.

And the simple reality is that farms take up a lot more space than mines for a given unit of output. I don’t have figures to hand, but the difference is fairly huge. Mining doesn’t destroy much habitat, because mines, even big mines, aren’t that big. Stand on the edge of the pit at Yallourn, say, and you can see a pretty big hole. But cast your eyes out to the horizon, and most of what you see is farmland cut out of the bush.

In short, mining seems to provide much greater economic benefits per unit of damage than farming. And awful though it sounds, in a world of massive habitat destruction, we need to think about how to get the biggest economic bang for the smallest environmental damage. So all other things being equal, environmentalists ought to prefer mining to farming.

And if a bunch of miners buy up farmland, my bet is that the economic value per unit of environmental damage rises sharply. On top of that, the farmers at least walk off their land with some money. Their debts wouldn’t be any less crippling if miners weren’t there to buy them out.

I’ve spent a lot more time on marginal farmland than I have on minesites, and I don’t know the literature as well as I’d like to. What am I missing here?

About David Walker

David Walker runs editorial consultancy Shorewalker DMS (shorewalker.net), editing and advising business and government on reports and other editorial content. David has previously edited Acuity magazine and the award-winning INTHEBLACK business magazine, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He has qualifications in law and corporate finance. He has written on economics, business and public policy from Melbourne, Adelaide and the Canberra Press Gallery.
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Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

What you are missing is that lefties are opposed to mining because it makes a lot more money per square meter. It’s the making money thing that really gets their goat.

JMB
JMB
10 years ago

Dear Yobbo, that crack about lefties was rude, unproductive and uncalled-for.

A couple of issues:
1. Sulphate soils and other nasties. Farmers, especially those with plows, release quite a lot of salt from their land, where I come from, often sulfate soils. I have seen others wrestle with salt buildup in a power station’s cooling water dam for years and seen their frustration that, whilst much of the salt that they must remove is from the power station’s own operations, what prevents them from getting on top of the problems is the inflow of salt from farmed land up-slope. I am sure that many farmers have no idea how much salt is washing around on their properties.

2. Mining, especially in the Hunter Valley of NSW, can and does occupy wide swathes of previously good farming land – mostly grazing land but some cropping country. A look at Google Earth brings this into focus. The question becomes not whether the land has been damaged, but how good the rehabilitation has been after mining. There must be plenty of research into precisely this out there in academia and used by soil conservationists and regulators on a day-to-day basis. I am not knowledgeable in this area, but I am sure that the knowledge is out there.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

Why was it uncalled for JMB? The original article asks the question as to why environmentalists are so opposed to mining when, on the author’s own admission, farming is more damaging to the environment.

The answer I provided is the explanation. Mining companies make a lot of money. Farms, on the other hand, are typically family-owned small businesses that make less profit in a year than your average leftie earns in his level 6 executive public servant job.

The reason they detest miners and favour farmers is simply because they hate capitalism and profit, and the more profit you make the more they hate you.

llengib
llengib
10 years ago

Surely the prime concern is the time that the land remains productive. Mining is one off, sell the rocks, move on. Farming results in decades of returns on land. In short, do we have a hyperbolic discounting market failure?

Can a mine site be converted back to farmland? If yes, knock yourself out. If no, go underground to mine.

*this comment in on the relative merits of farm vs mine. For environmental uses you would have to value ‘ecological services’ in the economy.

kymbos
kymbos
10 years ago

Environmentalists favour farmers, Yobbo?

Not on this planet.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

They seem to be on the CSG issue. But they are only doing it relatively.

I wonder if the complaining farmers are those getting the big prices or their neighbours?

A coal miner told me that what they leave behind if pretty shitty. An expanse of crap soil and an acid lake.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Where I live, it’s not just the farmers who are complaining about the disuption to the rural community that will occur if CSG mining is allowed to go ahead. It is the many retired people and young familes who now live here, and they are not well-off tree hugging lefties, who do not want the social changes that happen when mining companies move into a community.

Farming did destroy the environment, but now it is ‘the’ environment and people out here are not really into change or growth for growth’s sake. We don’t tend to attract libertarian types who want more wealth. We, and I’m including many of the traditional coalition voters I talk to up at the post office where we all have to go to pick up our mail, do not want more economic growth at the expense of the life style that we have sought out.

I hear that many are ready to vote for Katter, or Barnaby, or anyone who will stop the mining.

Incurious & Unread
Incurious & Unread
10 years ago

David,

If your analysis is correct, miners should be able to easily get environmentalists on-side by offering to restore the habitat on the farmland that they buy up: obviously allowing for the drilling sites themselves and access roads, ancillary buildings etc.

Have they offered to do this anywhere? If so, how has this offer been received?

TimT
10 years ago

Good post. Maybe the arguments are framed in this way because farming is such an old and enduring symbol that can fairly easily be associated with fertility and prosperity. It’s not so easy to describe mining in this manner.

It depends partly how you define ‘environmental health’ and ‘conservation’ of course; the idea a farmer has when these words are raised is very different to the idea an environmentalist might have – and indeed the definitions would change a great deal around the world.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

Where I live, it’s not just the farmers who are complaining about the disuption to the rural community that will occur if CSG mining is allowed to go ahead. It is the many retired people and young familes who now live here, and they are not well-off tree hugging lefties, who do not want the social changes that happen when mining companies move into a community.

Farming will work the same way in 20 years time. Fly in, Fly out. A single operator can work 2-3 times as much land as he could 40 years ago due to improvements in technology. Once thriving towns are disappearing because no new farmers are taking up the occupation. The old ones just sell up to their neighbours and move to the city.

wilful
wilful
10 years ago

It’s quite simple really. Habitat destruction by farming is largely historical, habitat destruction by mines is largely potential or actual. We’re not starting with a clean slate here.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
10 years ago

I didn’t know lefties had goats (as a general rule of course – it stands to reason that some lefties have goats). Anyway, I guess they don’t have them any more.

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

Yobbo is bang on the button. It is the making of money that gets on the goat of the deadbeat brigade. Thus their “support” for farmers is relative (& temporary).

Furthermore, the alliance is only recent, as the ..er… “environmentally aware” brigade weren’t culturally tuned in enough to know that that farmers detest miners & mineral companies.
It came as quite a shock to them. Trawling back through net archives reveals that at the beginning of this year the “tuned in man” brigade were more or less using the words “farmer” & “miner” interchangeably (both support the liberal party you see).

Only when they discovered the vehemence of farmer opposition to CSG did the professional protesters form an alliance with farmer groups.

This bunch ain’t the brightest Australia has to offer, but they are all that farmers have got in their corner at the moment.

During this alliance there’ll be a short term blind eye turned to farmers raping the planet (i.e. starting up a tractor & planting a crop)

Rather a shame that the northern cattlemen weren’t subject to a CSG invasion, the people who agitated to kill off their livlihood may well instead have tried to save them.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

You’re making a strawman out of both the left and farmers.

My mum grew up on a dairy farm in mid-north NSW. Her dad was staunchly Labor and her mum voted Country Party.

Both they and their neighbours were incredibly interested in the ongiong economic and environmental sustainability of their concerns (although they wouldn’t have used the terminology ‘environmental sustainability’).

They all would have detested the idea of destroying farmland for the once-off benefits of CSG.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Yobbo says “Farming will work the same way in 20 years time. Fly in, Fly out. A single operator can work 2-3 times as much land as he could 40 years ago due to improvements in technology. Once thriving towns are disappearing because no new farmers are taking up the occupation. The old ones just sell up to their neighbours and move to the city.”

In your dreams, and from your limited and woefully uninformed understanding of people – based as it is on your own venal and agressive worldview – this will happen. The place I live is based on family farms and there is an increase in the numbers of younger people willing to take over these farms.

The small towns that are dotted amongst these farms are not dissapearing but have survived, are actually growing and seeking new ways to thrive again with a new approach to the idea of wealth, security and freedom that doesn’t depend on the winner take all and stuff the rest, mentality of ‘the market’ that you support.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

I wonder if Yobbo is less egregious in person? I guess he must be, otherwise I can’t imagine his business being very successful.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
10 years ago

Business? Last I heard (although it was some years ago) Yobbo was a professional online gambler.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Furthermore, these are not many liberal voters out here. It seems to me that they are staunch national party voters who would love to dump the libs and their neo-liberalism.

Like I said, they seem to want what Katter is offering; agrarian socialism, I think it is called.

TimT
10 years ago

That’s the other thing – does mining really destroy farmland ‘forever’ as people are claiming? I would have thought the effects could be easily contained, and after the normal operational life of a mine, surely in many cases farming could begin again? Is there strong evidence either way (I don’t know enough about the historical examples, but maybe someone else…)

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Ken@17: Ah. He described himself as ‘self-employed’ on another thread, which I interpreted as, y’know, having a job (even a socially productive one!).

Would be happy to receive clarification.

TimT@19: Good question. Can anyone shed light on this?

llengib
llengib
10 years ago

Mine rehabilitation into farmland? A quick and dirty 5 min job reveals a qualified yes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_mining#Mitigation

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_rehabilitation

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

The main thing that I and most people I talk to locally are concerned about, is the possibility of contaminamtion of the water table. The science of CSG mining is not ‘settled’ on this issue.

Another concern is that the coal seams themselves are not contained to a small area; they go all over the place underground and the soil levels and quality of the soil will be affected a long way from the site of the ‘mine’ itself. The soil will sink in unpredictable ways and areas that will make plowing and planting impossible.

But even if the farmland can be restored to it’s original condition, and the wiki links above are not positive that this can always happen; what about their lives in the meantime. Do farmers have to take up knitting while the miners take what they want?

Farming knowledge in these small family owned farms depends on continuity, on an ongoing knowledge of the fertility of the soil and it’s capacity to grow certain crops. All this knowledge will be lost if the land is given up to mining.

And what about me and the other town residents? The local pub owners would very much like more custom, but even they don’t really want miners to take over the pub; it’s a family pub. There would be a big difference in our lives when lots of single men, who have no commitment to the town move in.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago
Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

See comment 7. I think they fuck the top soil for a fair while

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

Rehabilitation (of any sort) after open cut mining, is a pipe dream. I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen it talked about a lot. But never seen it work out in practice. Not on a scale any larger than a trial to “prove” it can be done.
Anyway it wouldn’t be remotely economic to do it.

Mattdv
Mattdv
10 years ago

At the risk of stating the obvious, even the most extreme straw man lefty working in his high level public service job recognises that someone has to produce the food that he eats.

TimT
10 years ago

Hmmm, I can’t help but comment on this Julie:

But even if the farmland can be restored to it’s original condition, and the wiki links above are not positive that this can always happen; what about their lives in the meantime. Do farmers have to take up knitting while the miners take what they want?

The farmers will have got a lot of money for their land so obviously they can either retire, use it to start up another business, or just save it for the future while they go and get another job – in other words they’d do what anyone does who in a little time gets a lot of money. I don’t think that’s problematic – what is problematic obviously is if the acquisition of the land by the mining companies happens without the full consent of the farmer. There’s room for concern there.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Soil structure is an ongoing process, so absent something toxic left behind, eventually the soil structure will become more productive. It’s like putting manufactured soil in your garden beds, eventually with mulching and stuff you get decent soil, but it takes a few years depending on the starting quality and how hard you work.

After finalising the negotiation to buy a property for a few mil over the premining value, the client did a quick calculation of the value of the coal underneath it. $24Bil. That’s quite a few dressed steers.

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

Tim T: #26. I am not sure of your information sources. Most acquisition of land for mineral exploitation occurs over the dead body of the farmer. The law (govt) backing the farmer into a corner, & giving them little to no option but to “cooperate” does not mean the farmer has willingly consented.

Furthermore, financial compensation, in my experience of compulsory acquisition, has been one-third of the going market rate. I have seen land acquired without compensation. If one is a lay observer, one can easily be deceived by the publicizing of circumstances where a canny landholder gets slightly above market rate from a mineral company that doesn’t want hassle, or bad publicity in the district.

However it is often not so. And this is only the acquiring of land for a mine. The exploration phase, (toyotas & drilling rigs all over your land) which can be 20 years or more, occurs without any compensation, and sometimes with interruption aplenty.

JMB
JMB
10 years ago

Regarding rehabilitation, which is why we came here, remember, a distinction m ust be drawn between grazing and cropping farmland.

Rehapilitation of grazing land is done quite successfully, from my partially-informed POV. Soil low on carbon? Add sewage biosolids. Ph too low? Add lime, and so it goes. Eventually, grasses and clovers will grow and production resume.

Where it gets really hard is the river flats and anywhere where a spot of deeper soil permits cropping. After mining, this type of soil must be dastardly to re-establish. Further, it subterranean water profiles must rebound. One mine I have had personal dealings with calculates that wtare table rebound, fed from the far-off Hunter River, will take about 150 years.

150 YEARS???

So, all you vegans out there, get ready to eat meat or grass, because the croplands which are mined will be rooted for good.

As far as CSG goes, if there is an aquifer involved, then I’m pretty sure that the gas companies are simply superoptimistic about others’ livlihoods. I have tried, but to no avail – there appears to be little literature out thers indicating that CSG drilling can be done on a commercial scale without risking underground water flows, both salty and fresh, which can be tainted, polluted, commingled or simply lost. How are they possibly going to restore a stuffed Great Artesian Basin or two?

Am I wrong?

Mother Hubbard's Dog
Mother Hubbard's Dog
10 years ago

One of the reasons a lot of farmers are fairly quiet about groundwater contamination is that they have been the guilty parties in the past. How many properties have you seen where the diesel pump has a big pool of fuel seeping into the ground? Or a few car wrecks lying around? Old batteries? Drums of farm chemicals?

I will be the first to admit that farmers have, in general, cleaned up their act since the bad old days. But that doesn’t mean the bad old days didn’t exist.

JMB, the real danger to underground water with CSG extraction is not from the fracking, but from the drilling. The rock layers in which the fracking is done are impermeable to water. The only way that water can be contaminated is if the pipe down which the drill is inserted cracks.

derrida derider
derrida derider
10 years ago

OMG, I’m on Yobbo and satp’s side in an argument!

Julie Thomas, IMO, made Yobbo’s point for him – a lot of those opposing CSG act as though someone other than them making a quid is a Bad, not a Good, thing. Julie, why should the rest of us have to put up with coal-burning rather than gas-burning power stations, and at higher prices, just because you don’t want change? Your attitude seems to me to come close to “I’ve got mine now & the rest of you can get stuffed”.

None of this means we ignore the environment. Making a quid is desirable and so is the environment, so we need to be willing to trade each off against the other. Now it is certainly legitimate to argue over how much environment we should trade off for how many quid, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that all else equal a quid – even a profit quid – is a desirable, not undesirable, thing. To think otherwise is to be a Puritan in Macaulay’s sense – “The reason the Puritans disdained bear baiting was not for the pain it gave the bear but the pleasure it gave the spectator”.

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

I struggle with Mother Hubbard’s thinking.
I’ve never seen a farm that has a diesel “pump”. They mostly use gravity. That aside, every farm has had a diesel leak, up to 20,000 litres at a time in cases. Any diesel leak, old car body (er.. so what? relevance please) & batteries laying around are a drop in the ocean. You’d not detect their presence in groundwater, unless they were dropped down a well or something.

CSG wells, a hundred yards apart, in a grid pattern, are a horse of an entirely different colour.

Farms have had an old battery pile forever, likewise they have derelict motor vehicles (what else can be done with them?) and still they have watered the sheep.

Mines on the other hand, have been able to strike water, pump it out, and hey presto, wells that never went dry suddenly never have water again.

This gets on the goat of farmers, who in the past 20 years are buried in commo literature about how it is “the people’s” water, & they cannot even make a puddle for kids to play in without more regulatory hoops (+ financial levy) whilst mines gaily dispose of in a couple of weeks more water than most farmers see in a lifetime.

Mother Hubbard's Dog
Mother Hubbard's Dog
10 years ago

For “CSG” in my previous post, read “shale gas”.

derrida derider
derrida derider
10 years ago

Also, we seem to have got some confusion here betwen opencut mining and CSG. Nah, of course you can’t really rehabilitate after open-cut, at least not over a single farmer’s lifetime. The soil is stuffed by all the digging.

But CSG is, in the long run, a SUBSTITUTE for opencut. From this distance it does seem that you might have to worry about aquifers and, in geologically active areas (not Australia), more earthquakes – but let’s look at the science before panicking, OK? But most of the other “environmental” worries seem like pure bullshit – drilling rigs take up extraordinary little farming space, and subsidence is far less than with underground mining (which in any case doesn’t stop farming).

Mother Hubbard's Dog
Mother Hubbard's Dog
10 years ago

Steve, I am not Mother Hubbard, I’m the Dog. Mother Hubbard is the government, which occasionally throws a bone my way.

If you think farmers haven’t been guilty of groundwater contamination in the past, you’r welcome to your opinion. However, I disagree. Here’s just a few papers for you to be going on with – just the first few that Google Scholar comes up with:
https://www.crops.org/publications/jeq/pdfs/21/4/JEQ0210040579
http://www.springerlink.com/index/j3751k5766296622.pdf
https://www.crops.org/publications/jeq/pdfs/25/3/JEQ0250030419
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-6584.1975.tb03065.x/abstract
http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0889189300001776

You’ll notice that most of these are fairly old – this is because, as I said, farmers have been made aware of the issue and have generally cleaned up their act.

JMB
JMB
10 years ago

Mother Hubbard’s dog said

“The rock layers in which the fracking is done are impermeable to water. The only way that water can be contaminated is if the pipe down which the drill is inserted cracks.”

I wish that it was that simple.

1. The layers being frakked are not, typically, impermeable – they are coal measures, which are highly likely to be cracked, but with a crack pattern that is not favourable to the nev masters’ intention, so pressure and chemicals and megalitres of water and fine sand and secret stuff are pumped in to open and to keep open those cracks which are already there as well as the new ones.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee in all of this that the millions of litres of water pumped in from the surface will not simply flow out down dip and be lost, taking their load of chemical nonsense with them.

2. There is an extensive history of holes being punched through aquifers, world-wide, and for clean water to be mixed with saline or arsenic-loaded or highly acidic water and thus contaminating previously good aquifers which were used to supply water for drinking and irrigation. I take it that some may not be convinced. It is a topic which I studied at post-grad level 15 years back – it’s not rocket science but does involve some maths (hydraulic models), some second-year or above undergrad chemistry and a lot of educated guesswork.

From start to finish, frakking leaves me with unanswered questions, yet the proponents seem keen to pepper every known aquifer, world-wide, with holes, like large scale collanders. The impatient goldrush mentality of the frakkers is sufficient to convince me that, deep down, they realise a horrible truth, and it is this.

The miners fear that they probably won’t be permitted to do this for long. Consequently, they set out to grab what they can before the gate is shut and locked – or is it horse-whipped and run out of town?

(Nearly said “… grab what they can before the plug is pulled”, then I remembered the collander analogy. Q: “When is a collander a bathtub?” Ans: “Before it has been frakked.” )

Mother Hubbard's Dog
Mother Hubbard's Dog
10 years ago

JMB, of course you are right re CSG. See my later emendation of my post.

My take on fracking in general is that it is dangerous when done badly, OK when done carefully. This is the guidance I get from my friendly geologist, whose specialty is groundwater. I certainly don’t know enough to disagree with him.

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

I’ll second everything JMB says @35 (except the spelling of “colander”).

While DD @34 “drilling rigs take up extraordinarily little farming space”
Likewise it could be said that 24x scattered stubbies of beer take up “extraordinarily little space” on a billiard table, and thus wouldn’t really have much effect on a game of snooker in progress.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

TimT With CFG, the farmers don’t actually have to sell their land, I believe the mining companies sink wells all over the place but as DD said the wells don’t take up much of the land. The farmers get paid rent for the wells; the price isn’t really an issue. They say the wells will be in the way; that having people walking over their land will disturb the cows and other livestock.

I wouldn’t know how much they are freaking out simply because they just don’t want miners – or anyone on ‘their’ land. It very much is ‘their’ land since they have been farming it for many generations. We don’t mention who they took it from or what happened to the original ‘owners’.

Sure, everyone says that it will be ok if done carefully, but who trusts money-hungry corporations to either tell the truth about the risks of contamination or to carry out the procedures carefully?

Farmers don’t, the tree changers don’t. Perhaps some of the tradies and small business people who want to ‘get ahead’ would be willing to take the chance but most people chose to live out here because it is slow paced and not full of large supermarkets and all the other dubious benefits that intensive capitalism brings.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Derrida Derida

I don’t think that I ‘acted like’ people making a quid is a Bad thing.

Whether you put up with coal-burning power stations or not is up to you eh? Who can tell if it will change your power bills much if we stop CFG mining happening?

I have changed in many ways to be able to live out here among the conservatives comfortably.

I am not particularly interested in whether you get stuffed or not but I’m not bothered if that happens to the mining companies; not that making money is necessarily a bad thing. It’s more a sad thing, to think that making money is all that matters for too many people.

Mother Hubbard's Dog
Mother Hubbard's Dog
10 years ago

Sure, everyone says that it will be ok if done carefully, but who trusts money-hungry corporations to either tell the truth about the risks of contamination or to carry out the procedures carefully?

Nobody. That is why we have lots of regulation of this sort of thing.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

Julie I’m not sure where you are from but in my town the population has decreased from over 1000 to 600 odd in my lifetime. When a farmer sells up, land gets consolidated into the larger holdings that remain.

Nobody new is buying farms, at least not serious ones. Tree changers buying a few hundred acres to live on and maybe breed a few ponies is not a farm.

You’d be crazy to buy a farm, it’s a terrible investment. You would earn more putting the capital in a managed fund. The people who still do it only do so because they love the lifestyle.

But eventually there will be no lifestyle to enjoy because the town will consist of 10 families who each own 30,000 acres. At that point they will all sell to a conglomerate who will hire wage earners to work the land.

I have seen this trend throughout my entire life. I grew up on a wheat farm which when I was born was about 5500 acres, and is now over 9000 acres due to acquisitions. In that 35 years not a single new family has arrived in our town and bought a farm. They have all been bought by existing families who increased their share of land in the shire.

The ones who sold up moved to the city so that their kids could go to a decent school, bought a business with about 1/5th of what they sold their farm for, and invested the rest.

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

Tree changers all buy at Happyville in the Gippsland, not at Whereareya NT.

There aren’t any hobby farm size parcels of land in most bush districts, & even if there were, tree changers don’t want to move to somewhere that feels like a disused MadMax film location, they prefer, you know, handy to coast, cities, greenery, perhaps even an artisan bakery or at least something more than a pub, post office, cop shop & general store cum servo.

In most of rural Australia it is like you are stuck in “Sunday Too Far Away” (or even “Wake in Fright”) rather than “McLeod’s Daughters”

Mother Hubbard's Dog
Mother Hubbard's Dog
10 years ago

Steve atp, I like your turn of phrase. Your observations of rural life are spot on. The folk who thrive on it are a breed apart, I dips me lid to them.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Ah well Yobbo and Steve at the pub, It’s different here, there are a lot of reasons why I think this area has a lot of potential for something better than being a mine site.

There are a large variety of farm types, mixed dairy and grain, horse studs, vegetable farms; no hobby farmers at all; except the old farmers who have retired but still keep a few cows and sell the milk themselves for pocket money.

There are a few large towns; big enough for a reasonably efficient supermarket and small to medium business that are doing quite well. There are a lot of small towns in-between the larger centres that still have small corner shops and also have historical buildings for sale.

The new comers like me mostly live in the small towns and we buy the old shops with the fantastic art deco windows, and turn them into ‘tourist attractions’. We aren’t very good at it but we aren’t aiming for any ‘development’ that makes anyone a lot of money. Like Edina from Absolutely Fabulous, we want nicer things not more choice.

Most of us are self-funded early retirees, or on a disability or other pension, or run small service type industries; home hair dresser etc or work in the larger towns in mostly small to medium business. It’s usually only a 20 minute drive to a town where there is work.

There are also lots of locals who have lived here all their lives and the only thing that drives them to sell up and move to town is ill-health. It is an interesting mix of people, quite lovely country and I think there is something better we can do with it than mine it.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Yeah you wouldn’t like it Steve. We only got a pub recently. The town used to have 4 of them but they had all closed down. The other towns have lots of pubs though; this is Queensland we’re talking about.

Steve at the pub
10 years ago

Hehe, I am in the pub trade Julie, lifestyle doesn’t get any worse than that!
One aspect of the pub trade is it doesn’t matter which town or city you are in, as you never get out of the 4 walls of the building, and the lifestyle doesn’t change.
I could be your nearest publican for all you know! ;-)

murph the surf.
murph the surf.
10 years ago

‘money hungry corporations’
Can’t I enter this phrase into a contest of some sort on this website?
Wake in fright – well said.Too true too true.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

I thought owning a pub was the ideal lifestyle! My oldest son, works in Melbourne doing something in a ‘logistics’ company that I don’t undertand and earning far too much money for one person, always says that he’s going to buy the pub when he’s ready to move back here.

He won’t come until we have ‘real’ broadband though. Says ‘pffft’ about my current speed, even though it has got faster over the years.

I think at my pub the custom is so intermittent and the clientele so local and therefore ‘trustworthy’ that the proprieters can get out for a while when they want to, but there’s nothing to get out for really. All the action(?) happens in the pub or the post office. Things can get really busy there at peak hour. lol, I’ve even had to illegally park in the disabled parking spot!