Bridging the Divide tours build a bridge for rural issues
WHEN the bass guitarist from Brisbane band Violent Soho, Luke Henery, decided to watch a movie one day, he had no idea the kind of path such a simple and normal act would lead him on.
The movie Henery watched was Gasland, an American documentary about natural gas in the US and the landholders opposed to it.
"After watching the doco I thought to myself, 'Doesn't Australia have a gas industry that is growing really fast?'" he said.
After a lot of asking around, Henery came upon the not-for-profit organisation Bridging the Divide, a group that ran tours out to the Western Downs to try and connect people from the city to landholders and farmers.
The group, founded and run by the country-born, Brisbane-based Annette Hutchins, was created to kick-start communication and avenues of support between people who lived in the city and their country counterparts.
"I have been doing these trips in conjunction with landholders for about three years," Ms Hutchins said.
"It began from just myself and a friend going out to visit landholders at their invitation."
Ms Hutchins said a big part of Bridging the Divide's mission was to advocate the issues that affect people in rural Australia that are often in critical need of funding, help or awareness but don't get the attention they deserve.
Among the many issues Bridging the Divide tries to shine a light on are health, drought assistance, isolation, education, and the thing Henery was most concerned about, coal seam gas and its affect on landholders.
"On the first day I spoke to a number of different landholders and some of the stories made me really mad, just the blatant disrespect from the gas companies of their lives and their land," he said.
"But it was the stories from the residents that lived close to the processing plants that really broke my heart.
"Stories of kids whose noses bleed for hours or farmers who can't farm their land any more and even when they ride around their property they come back covered in a film and get terrible migraines.
"Looking through people's independent tests on their water tanks that show the water is so contaminated that if they let it out onto their land the council could fine them."
Henery said he became so affected by the stories and so attached to the people he met, he was crying himself to sleep through anger and sadness for them.
"It made me wonder what this country will be like when my kids are my age," he said.
"This industry is so young yet the damage it has already caused is staggering.
"I don't want to be an old man and my children come to me and say, 'Dad, you knew about what was going on and you did nothing to stop it and now we have to clean up the mess that your generation left for us.'"
Tomorrow, a Bridging the Divide tour will leave Brisbane destined for the Western Downs, with plans to visit landholders and farmers in Chinchilla, Wandoan, Cameby, Acland, Cecil Plains, Dalby, Tara, Taroom and Hopeland.
Ms Hutchins said the group will be made up of a diverse range of people, with individuals ranging from students, musicians and backpackers through to journalists and politicians - including Shadow Environment Minister Stephen Bennett.
"The Knitting Nanas (Against Gas) make for an interesting trip," she added.
Henery said he loved the Western Downs during his short visit and was moved by the people he met and how welcoming they were towards him and others.
"When I got out to the Darling Downs the first thing that hit me was that I was surrounded by such a beautiful landscape of rich farming land," Henery said.
"The Western Downs is an amazing place and it's so sad to see it being overrun by blind greed."