Fees, FIFO, scum? How we got regional Australia wrong.
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“I am work.”
— Essington Lewis, founder of BHP
Days after I left Bowen, the Stop Adani protests began in earnest, people locking on along the rail line path, occupations in Townsville, where the council had laid off dozens of staff, to shoot Adani a $15 million free airstrip. It was difficult to know how much more bad news could come. But had it been announced that the real purpose of the Carmichael mine was to store the corpses of children drained for their nourishing blood products, there would be those in town who would mutter “jobs”, and continue on. Jobs jobs jobs. The mantra has become religious, the reason for the decades-long gulf unexamined, the belief that a few big projects could substitute for the vanishing of a whole way of life, fervent.
Queensland, for more than a century, was work; slavery-work, peonage-work, forced-labour, day-rate wage-slavery, then for a while, and after much struggle, good wages, good jobs. Now it was going, the change a product of vaster forces, and only path for survival and flourishing was beyond the religion of work, of the brute and relentless transformation of the landscape.
The white Bowenites — though white was a cultural division here; the place is one of the genuinely mixed populations in Australia, Islander freckle swirls and soft hair on the white kids, craggy Germanic features among the Islanders; all of this Barbary Coast admixing a source of immense white anxiety, of course — prided themselves on being work, painted their walls with the efforts made to build, distinguished themselves from those they had colonised, by their rationality and application.
In pursuit of the return of such, the position had become entirely reversed. As Indigenous groups forged ahead with ideas for hybrid economies, white Bowenites had become given over to a cult of extraction. The great god Adani would descend, the iron snake would move across the landscape and replenish the sea people of the Big Mango totem — so long as the sacrifices, the public money-fires, kept coming.