As the mining boom ramps up and down in Regional South Australia, small communities, particularly the Opal Towns have found themselves lobbying for their very existence – or taking advantage of what’s on offer.
These purpose built communities evolved in the harshest part of the desert for the occupation of opal mining, particularly after the war and the Great Depression. This existence became a way of life and has been pretty much out of sight and out of mind to both State and Federal governments – until recently! In line with “general trends” at present, remote towns built by the hands of pioneers and volunteers are being surrepticiously coveted, invaded and pushed by government departments to abandon their wonderful communities and lifestyles as the lust for minerals and convenient infrastructures increase.
More recently it appears that these small, hand built communities are finding themselves defending their territory in what appears another form of land and town grabbing or as some have suggested, by stealth. ie: creeping acquisitions. While politicians echo “Yo Regional SA”, Regional SA is saying, “then lift us out of the third world for that which we have established and wish to continue offering”.
Safe oasis’ in the desert are not to be underestimated particularly by travellers. But is the outback really evolving as a tourist destination? It would appear NOT. Regional SA is about to be quarried along with these communities slowly being reeled in with small appeasing gifts – for the moment. It appears as though the outback is for sale to any bidder. Some can only hope that those bankrolling the demise of the only water left in the country, have a residence in some of these areas and are able to vote in the next election.
Mintabie residents have continually lobbied politicians and members from all sectors since Minister Paul Holloway signed off on them and didn’t look back and Minister Jay Weatherill announced an unsignable lease agreement to the Mintabie residents. Interestingly those who hold portfolios in the appropriate areas had not bothered to reply to the Mintabie resident’s letters in order to give clues as to why this may be happening, despite it being glaringly obvious to many. One such politician recently commented on the situation of this threatened town full of families, many of whom have known no other home, ”Oh, isn’t Mintabie all done and dusted?” With help from the controversial WesleyCare organisation, this could have become a reality for the wrong reasons with the convenient do-gooders having wreaked havoc and paper warfare upon the township in order to clean out decent families for reasons other than stated. The Mintabie residents had not known they were sitting on top of Officer Oil Basin, surrounded by petroleum leases and only oil-shale at that. Unfortunately for Mintabie their town is also handy to the Darwin rail.
Like the Leigh Creek residents who were also excised out of South Australia in earlier days, Mintabie residents aren’t quite sure if they are in fact still in South Australia, since Premier Don Dunstan rather nonsensically chose to incorporate an existing, gazetted opal mining field and town by altering boundaries to put it into the APY Lands. Since it is generally acknowledged that this was in fact a stupid idea, then it would seem that if it can put there with the thoughtless swipe of an idealist pen, then it should be put back where it was, by having a series of thoughtful meetings and conferences on the subject. However, let not gain for strangers be the reason, nor sacrifice the lengthy existence of a whole community for what we have just seen as a major gamble on the stock exchange. Money which will never reach hungry pensioners unless to stimulate the economy.
The disappointing factor is that where many politicians say they support Regional South Australians, only one has come directly forward to bat for this community of people who may soon be inconvenient casualties of perhaps a longer term plan, now taking them by surprise.
In other words, Mintabie, your boiled frog is nearly ready - will you want fries with that?
Whilst it is greatly appreciated it seems a great shame that although Mr. Gunn is very familiar with this situation, the Honorable Graham Gunn MP is the member for Stuart. Mintabie is not in Stuart. Where are the members for the people of Giles and Grey? It appears that they are sitting back silently or addressing less relevent issues closer to their own homes, with Mintabie and remote areas still out of sight and being dealt with impersonally, by a remote control or not at all. Or if perchance their party is elected to power in 2010 then the dirty work has already been done in the name of “progress” and drawing funds for extravagant government spending and other less worthy causes and experiments.
In the meantime everyone from border to border in Regional South Australia should read the new “Country Plan” for their once beautiful state. Read the fine print and in between the lines. It’s only several hundred highly intellectual pages. It is unlikely that the Anangu will ever read the Country Plan for SA and it is just as unlikely the many multicultural residents in the outback towns will be able to read it either. If you can read the shorter version littered with catching historical photos, then note the choice of words which could distract you from what really may be happening in your back yard together with the air you may soon be breathing as your homes are filled with regular dust storms blowing across the upturned earth. You are invited to comment on this plan, then in December it is likely you will be told how it will be.
Don’t you even wonder why anyone would consider downgrading the only hospital in the middle of the desert with huge mining operations about to commence in the same area? Perhaps the downgrading of the hospital in Coober Pedy was simply another way of evacuating residents from their hand built town. After all South Australia has an ageing poplulation. Shove them all off. Our unsaleable shanty homes and caves were then increased in price, ”in line with current trends” – like Andamooka, who have now discovered that the main gold ore body extending from Olympic Dam is in fact under the Andamooka township!!
A Mintabie Resident writes:
THREE CHEERS FOR HON GRAHAM GUNN MP
Member for Stuart, the Hon Graham Gunn strongly defended the hard working residents of Mintabie in State Parliament on 23rd September 2008. The following is Hon Graham Gunn, quoted from an excerpt of SA Hansard:
“There is another matter about which I am concerned. Like most members I have had representation from the Mintabie opal miners. I know a little bit about Mintabie. I was a member at the time the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act was passed. I say now what I said then: I think they were very badly treated.
Those people have been there a long time and they have worked hard, and in some cases it is the only residence they have had. If anyone thinks that they will stop illegal activities and grog running by preventing people having a few bottles of beer in their home at Mintabie they are deluding themselves. What about the grog that comes in from Curtin Springs? Where else does it come from? It comes in from Alice Springs and Yulara. Unfortunately, there are people who want to break the law. We cannot just blame the people at Mintabie.
I know there are one or two scoundrels there but, unfortunately, we have them throughout the community. It is a small number of people, but that is not a reason to put unreasonable restrictions on these people.
What are the benefits to the Aboriginal community? Most of them who have gone there have done a lot of noodling on the dumps and been fairly rewarded for it. They like going there. Because of the poor management of the Pitjantjatjara lands, we cannot blame them for wanting to go where there is more activity and something constructive for them to do. I will not be supporting any legislation which will make life unreasonable for them.”
To the architects of the proposed Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (Mintabie) Amendment Bill 2008 (and related Amendments to the Opal Mining Act 1995) listen to the words of an intelligent and just man, learn from his experience and wisdom.
HON GRAHAM GUNN MP for Premier!
Reprinted from: Coober Pedy Regional Times