FORMER locals, Sandra Bamberry and husband, Nathan Kenny had staked a dream on a 30 acre country block of their own at the Tara, Queensland, to raise their daughters and begin a fat lamb enterprise.
Sandra now feels those dreams are shattered after the Queensland Gas Company (QGC) encroached close to their land with their nearby coal seam gas (CSG) operations. As far as the couple is concerned, QGC has contaminated their water, their air and their health.
Nathan is still in Tara, looking after the property and shearing, and Sandra has moved with her two children back to a weatherboard cottage in Bundarra.
The couple moved to South Australia four years ago when Nathan’s work as a professional shearer dried up.
He took a job on a SA station, and escalated within two years to overseer, putting away a sum of money to buy a place of their own.
Sandra said they chose Tara because it was affordable and she said many lower-income buyers were doing the same.
She said they were both aware the QGC infrastructure lay five to six kilometres from their home.
“We knew it was there, but we didn’t realise the implications. We went 18 months without an issue. Not one bloody problem,” she said.
Then, seven months ago, the wells moved within less than two kilometres from their home and their lives changed.
Isabel, aged four and Abby, nearly three, began to experience a litany of chronic bad health. The children were plagued by headaches, vomiting, mouth sores, nose bleeds, conjunctivitis, skin irritation and more.
Brisbane GP, Dr Geralyn McCarron, researched the health impacts of CSG and published a detailed field survey of the Tara estates in April of 2013. The report sustained symptoms experienced by Sandra’s family, and stated: “The rural residential estates near Tara are the most densely settled area in Australia to have seen intensive CSG development”.
Sandra confirmed that QGC expanded into the blocks all around the residential area.
“And each one’s got vents, and that’s a major problem,” she said, speaking of the outlets for gases seeping out from underground. The night skies are bright orange with the flares burning off chemical and gas.
The couple have joined forces with many neighbours in a similar bind; stuck with unsellable properties they feel are toxic to live upon. At this point, they refuse to sell the land to QGC and put their neighbours in jeopardy or sell to another family. Sandra said the best outcome is for the company to purchase all the properties at market value.
The final straw for the Nathan and Sandra came at the end of November last year. Their dam had a brilliant orange sheen across it, and workers for QGC came to test the water.
“And they tuned the tap on which was the tank water running through the pipes that the dam had been used on, but we hadn’t had a problem up to then,” Sandra said.
She said the odour of the water was noxious. Sandra and Nathan told the workers they couldn’t use the pipes, not knowing what was contaminating them
“And QGC water tester said, ‘Don’t drink that water. Don’t use that water’,” Sandra said.
The day care bathed the children that night, and the adults went without, stocking up bottled water. The next day, Sandra found Abby washing her hands in the bathroom sink and panicked.
“(I said), ‘No, no, no, no! Don’t touch the water! Don’t touch the water!’ and I went and got the phone and rang mum up and said, ‘Can you meet us half-way? We’ve got to get out of here’.”
Since their return to the area, Sandra said she has been photographing her girls daily to track the positive changes.
“For starters, Abby’s eyes. I mean, they were black down to here, even though she slept 10 hours a night,” she said.
“The other is, the colour. They were pale. It’s starting to go and they’re just starting to pick up a little colour in their cheeks. They’re both starting to fill out. Isabel’s eating well. Abby’s still picky. Abby hasn’t got her diet back yet.”
Until the Tara property situation is resolved, the family is split apart. Meanwhile, she wants to launch a local movement to encourage local councils such as Gwydir, Inverell and Uralla and Armidale Dumaresq toward a standing moratorium on CSG operations, similar to the model of Moree Plains Council and Northern Rivers.
“That’s what I’m going to try to do here, even if there’s no licenses over the place. The whole area, and I’ll just keep going from shire to shire to shire until I can get the whole of Australia to turn around and say, ‘No CSG, thank you,” she said.
“There’s people that have put up with what we have for four years. No one listened to them. No one believed them. I’m not going to leave them behind either, now, ‘cause they don’t deserve it.”