When Luke Henery usually tours around the country it is with his bass guitar and successful rock band Violent Soho. But this week he has been on a tour visiting farms and talking to residents on the Darling Downs to gain a better understanding of issues facing farmers and regional communities.
"I reckon our politicians need to get out, like these city visitors have done, and talk to us little people," said Ken Harrison (far left). Left to right former Acland residents Ken and Aileen Harrison, Glen Beutel, Violent Soho's Luke Henery and Annette Hutchins. (reporting ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
"It's confronting to meet people who have lived through a demise of a town," Luke said as he sits around the dining table of the last remaining resident of Acland.
"I'm not sure how to describe it. It's been quite an emotional trip," he said.
So how did a long haired musician come to spend several days standing in paddocks chatting to farmers about issues as wide ranging as coal seam gas to mining to water issues to the concept of 'community'.
"It was by chance really," Luke said.
"I saw a movie called Gasland [an American film focusing on natural gas drilling] and I had questions to see if similar things were happening in Australia. So that raised questions I put out on social media and a lot of friends came back telling stories of their parents and their properties."
Luke decided to visit small towns on the Darling Downs himself, to "form my own opinion rather than sitting on my couch at home."
Connecting the city and country
Luke travelled with Annette Hutchins who looks after a small not-for-profit group called Bridging the Divide.
"I'm pretty much a tour guide for connecting people," she said.
"I first started doing tours because I grew up in a rural area on a farm."
Annette says she has noticed stereotypes and cliches disappearing when 'city slickers' meet the country people.
"There's definitely not one-size-fits-all when it comes to people in the country or the city," she said.
"I've occasionally been called a greenie, but farmers will often say to me, 'oh, you understand what it's like for us'.
"Getting out of the city can be refreshing. You see things you wouldn't normally see and get to talk to people with different experiences."
Glen Beutel still lives in Acland, close to the Acland coal mine.
He says it is nice to have a rock star visitor sit in his home who wants to know what life is like in Acland.
"It's always heartening to sit and talk to people with empathy," he said.
"You realise you're not alone, and what this town has gone through has inspired quite a few artists."
Former Acland residents Aileen and Ken Harrison dropped in to the town while Luke and Annette were visiting.
"It is wonderful to meet all these interested people, and they have given me a lot of hope," she said.
The next step
So what is the plan for when the visitors return home?
"There are ways to help people out here. Connecting is the first step," Luke said.
"Talking to people I got the impression the community is still strong, but not in a visible way when you visit these towns, I saw a lot of work cars and high-vis shirts!
"For myself as a musician, there's a great group of people in the Brisbane music scene I believe will get behind myself and try and help these communities. Maybe we'll put on shows. It's all very fresh in my mind. I'm still coming up with ideas, but I think the first step for people is finding out what it's like here.
"I just want people in the country to know there are genuine people in the city, just like there are genuine and lovely people in the country, and everyone cares about the future and what we're leaving behind for our children."
While Luke was out touring around the Darling Downs and surrounding areas, he met with Dan Parker, living in Tara, 70 kilometres from Chinchilla. Here is what Luke wrote:
This is Dan he moved into his new home with is wife, Dianne 2 years ago on the edge of Tara in Queensland, there is a gas processing facility around 500m from his house. After a few months living there he started getting sick. If you look at the plastic container with the green lid on the floor that is his medication now. They had their rain water tested and found it is full of all sorts of horrible things. I was shown the tests and was shocked to see what was in it. They also showed me the samples of water from the tank that are frozen but some how the nasty "bug" as they put it was still growing in the bottom. The sediment from the tank was a thick black sludge. The rain water tanks were brand new. They put the problem down to "black rain" that is caused from the black smoke that comes from the "flaring" which is a burn off process. Dan now can't maintain his property or work. The gas company won't claim responsibility or help.
We need to get these people out of these places to a safe home. Dan and his wife, Dianne are just one of many stories just like this.
Some background from Annette Maybon-Hutchins - attached transcript from Today Tonight - Aussies Against Fracking 18 November 2013.
Dan Parker, 71, lives in the heart of Queensland's coal seam gas fields.
The countryside around Mr Parker's home has been industrialised, with a cocktail of toxic chemicals being pumped into the ground to break rock and release gas.
Mr Parker and the residents in the small town of Tara in western Queensland are scared sick, after experiencing a 'toxic rain' which began to fall about three months ago.
Mr Parker describes the rain as an oily substance, and believes it is the cause of many of the residents' health problems.
"As you can see, it also eats into the paint of my car. I'm being checked out by doctors now to find out why I'm coughing up blood," Mr Parker said.
Dr Geralyn McCarron has spent two years investigating the health problems of dozens of families living near gas fields across Queensland. Dr McCarron says action needs to be taken urgently.
"The companies themselves have released data to the National Pollution Inventory, which shows that thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals have been released into the environment where these people are living," Dr McCarron said.
Environmental Scientist Mark Taylor from Macquarie University analysed the results of independent laboratory testing of the tank water collected from the residents.
Residents have spent months demanding Origin Energy to do their own tests, but the company says any tests on tank water is unreliable because "rainwater tanks are an untreated raw source...the quality (of tank water) will vary greatly according to how it is collected and stored."
Origin wasn't able to collect enough residue of the 'toxic rain' from the cars to carry out scientific testing. However, the company claims to have found a similar residue on leaves and bark, caused by insects which secret substances which "foul surfaces" beneath trees.
Aussie rock legends, including former Angels frontman Doc Neeson, and songwriter Leo Sayer, are lending their voice to the fight.
The stars, like the residents, want to see the government to weigh-up the pros and cons of an industry, which can bring great economic benefits, but can also potentially cause serious social and environmental problems.
Mr Sayer says he feels very strongly about their cause.
"The plan is for the song and music video to be released in November to coincide with a visit to Australia by Yoko Ono. She knows this fight all too well, as she set up Artist Against Fracking in America," Mr Sayer said. For more information: The Sydney launch concert of Aussies Against Fracking will be held on 18th November at Bluebeat at Double Bay at 7:00pm. More detail and full list of entertainers at the Sydney launch concert - Aussies Against Fracking concert'
Water collected from rain water tank for testing.
The darker is the sediment from the tank, which is about 3yrs old. The frozen bottle is a bacteria that is growing, in the freezer...
The rain water tanks in this area have tested very high levels of lead, other heavy metals and hydrocarbons.— in Tara, Queensland.
Now tell me people how long must this continue on before someone takes responsibility for their actions, aids people like Dan and Dianne Parker in Tara - how long? How long before all this unconventional coal seam gas and fracking kills someone? In actual fact there are many people in the surrounds of Chinchilla, Tara, Dalby, Miles THAT ARE SICK and have to live and cope with this daily. This is causing incredible stress and pressure on all concerned, indeed depression is a huge problem in our area now as well.
We in Chinchilla have been fortunate to have had Senator Glenn Lazarus attend our Unity Action Alliance Symposium at Chinchilla on 28 February 2015. I would like your support to call on the Abbott Government to establish a Royal Commission into the Human Impact of CSG mining, if you agree we need to action this, please sign (details below) and pass on and on and on.
Communities affected by CSG mining are experiencing a range of chronic health problems directly traceable to contamination of their air, of their water wells/bores or of surface water. CSG mining companies are supposed to 'make good' to replace affected water supplies with potable water or water purification kits. Experts are of the view that underground water will never return to many areas across the country and if it ever does, it will be recontaminated because the chemicals used in the CSG extraction process take many years to break down, if ever. As a result, property owners can not sell their land.