Honour for environmental activist farmer, 83, surrounded by mines on three sides

For 30 years anti-pollution campaigner Wendy Bowman has stood firm against mining monsters, supporting other landowners under pressure to sell

Each morning just after dawn, if you stop at the top of the hill that separates the town of Singleton from the tiny village of Camberwell in New South Wales, replies Wendy Bowman, youll see this chocolate-brown scud in the various regions of the sky.

It doesnt go over the ridges; it stays in the valley, going up and down all the time. She mimes a slow sieving motion: up, down.

The dirty halo of pollution hovers above the open-cut coalmines that surround her 190 -hectare property in the Hunter Valley, 200 km north of Sydney. Bowman has lived in the farming field for most of her 83 years and is one of Camberwells last remaining residents.

Bowmans
Bowmans farm, surrounding her picturesque cottage, is a bastion of resistance. Photo: David Fanner

In the past 30 -odd years she has ensure communities divided, then conquered, by coalmining. Surrounded by excavations on three backs, Bowmans farm surrounding her picturesque cottage, Rosedale is a bastion of resistance.

In 2010 the Chinese-owned corporation Yancoal proposed expand the Ashton South East open-cut mine: an $83 m project to obtain 16.5 m million tonnes coal over seven years. An initial objection on grounds of air and water pollution was overturned on plea in 2012 and the expansion was given the go-ahead by the New South Wales state governments planning assessment committee. More than half the coal this is gonna be extracted was under Bowmans property.

That proved to be quite the barrier. She refused substantial gives, reportedly in the region of seven figures, to sell it to Yancoal.

Their solicitor rang me and said, I feel Ill come over and well discuss the above acquisition price, she remembers. I said, I wouldnt bother if I were you. He said, Why? I said, Im not selling to you, so dont contact me again.

I havent learn from them since.

Yancoals stillnes was not to be taken for acceptance and the company launched a protracted legal combat to get the expansion over the line. In November 2015 the nation appeals court upheld an earlier decision that the mine could proceed simply on condition that Bowman sold Yancoal her land.

It was the first time an Australian court had placed such limitations on a mining corporation. By then the David and Goliath-style battle between Bowman and Yancoal, as it was reported, had been before the courts for nearly five years.

An
An open-cut coalmine in the Hunter Valley. Photo: David Hancock/ AFP/ Getty Images

It was such a weird decision, she replies. Yes, the mine could go ahead, but And the but was me.

This straightforward act of refusal to be implemented Bowmans years of activism against mining in the Hunter Valley, for which she has been awarded a Goldman environmental trophy for grassroots advocacy. The so-called dark-green Nobel recognises six men each year one from each of the worlds geographic regions with a one-off payment of US $175,000.

Speaking before her deviation for the US to accept the prize, Bowman replies she still regards the bestow, offered in a phone call four months ago, with a mixture of bemusement, distrust and panic. There was all this applauding in the background. I anticipated, Theyre having me on. It all became obvious what it was and, since then, its frightened the fatality out of me. If “youre thinking about” all the people in New South Wales, in Queensland, who are fighting for the environmental issues I necessitate, why me?

Her principal objection to the proposed mine expansion is because it risked polluting Glennies creek, its significant tributary of the Hunter river and a liquid generator for most of “the farmers ” in the area.

She suffered the devastating effects of this herself in the late 1980 s. After her husbands sudden death in 1984, Bowman widowed at 50 took over running their sizeable dairy farm, Ashton, alone.

By then, mining corporations had started making their mark on the country. The all-night interference and daylight, the pervasive blanket of dust Bowman paints an apocalyptic picture of those first raids into coal. The smashes were just horrendou, she remembers.

When a coalmine tunnelled under a nearby creek, it polluted the liquid “the farmers ” relied on for irrigation, causing her lucerne crops to fail. For a 12 -day stretch in the stink hot summer of January 1991, she remembers, the liquid was unusable.

That same time she founded the Minewatch NSW group to support landowners under pressure to sell. Farmers with financial difficulties or “whos” otherwise vulnerable would be made offers they couldnt refuse that came with gag orders.

This divide and defeat, as we call it dividing households, dividing communities is not the right way to treat people There were partners and wives violate apart, fathers and sons didnt speak.

It was the dust from construction of a brand-new mine nearby that dealt the final blow to Bowmans Ashton property, contaminating the vats in which the milk was stored.

She managed to convince Rixs Creek mine to buy it from her but would continue to be the historical homestead of Granbalang her marital residence since 1958 until 2005, when she was given six weeks notice to leave.

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Bowman has scaled back her farms functionings, retaining a flock of Droughtmaster kine. Photo: David Fanner

Bowman then settled in Rosedale, another family belonging vacated by a tenant, where she has remained obstinately since.

With the profitability of the Ashton mine expansion dependent on her country, Bowman was a key plaintiff in the general interest example against it in the NSW country and environmental issues court.

At the time, Justice Nicola Pains ruling in December 2014 that the expansion could only plow ahead if she agreed to sell caused Bowman real anxiety. I stopped remembering, Why would you do that? It left me dangling in the air, left them dangling in the air.

Now she guesses of it as a strategic move: had Pain refused the expansion outright, Yancoal could have taken its case to the high court.( Pain and the country and environmental issues court did not respond to requests for provide comments on this story .)

As it is, they cant do a thing, replies Bowman. Afterwards, I thought it was probably a very clever thing to do but it did frighten me for a long while, because I didnt was aware that she was getting at I only please I was 50 years old and not what I am that Id live a lot longer, and stay here.

In June 2013 Bowman received an Order of Australia medal in recognition of her oppose to safeguard local communities and farmland from mining.

Energetic and steely with a keen, amused sense of the ridiculous, Bowman has three adult daughters and six grandchildren. Each wall of her kitchen carries a framed collage of snapshots from journeys she has taken, some lately, to Madagascar, Mauritius, Runion, Canada, Iceland and Greenland.

But on a daily basis its her belonging that holds her, maintains her interested and active and especially the animals that also call it residence. She talks with evident amusement and evocative detail about the lizard( my friend Bluey) that lives under the steps; the butcherbirds that visit her daily; the odd echidna that rolls into the garden; even the cockatoos that have ravaged her olive tree.

The farms functionings have been scaled back significantly but she holds a flock of caramel-coloured Droughtmaster kine that she gazes after with a staff members of two.

Bowmans property is an expanse of dark-green bordered by excavations. Were surrounded, she replies. Coalminings mark on the environmental issues is glaring; an influence on folks health is more insidious. The fine grey dust that blankets her belonging thats what everybodys breathing, replies Bowman, who replies a CT scan showed she had lost 20% of her lung function.

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Without liquid, theres no life. Photo: David Fanner

A local GPs independent examine of Singleton school children aged eight years and over suggested one in six had limited lung capacity, compared with one in 20 nationwide.

If Im puffed going up a mound, it doesnt affair at my age, but what effect is it going to have on these little children? The government replies when its a very dusty period, fathers only should keep them inside the house and closed the doors and windows.

Should children have to live like that? No, its all wrong.

Over the decades, Bowmans farms have been ravaged by deluges, droughts, disease all the spanners that nature can throw. Balancing the demands of the environmental issues and agriculture is delicate enough without mining thrown into the mix.

Without water, theres no life, she replies. The pollution thats happening is affecting human beings and animals I dont believe this unbelievable greed for fund in a hurry is worth entirely only wrecking the country and the liquid for generations to come.

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