Six years in a dust storm: life near a coal mine Aileen Harrison reports

Dust heading our way (Photo Aileen Harrison)

Dust from the open cut coal mine heading their way (Photo: Aileen Harrison)

By Aileen Harrison*

In April 1998 we moved into our dream home at Highland Plains, near Acland, Queensland, starting a tourist attraction with bus loads of tourists arriving to see our alpacas, as well as our craft and memorabilia display.

Alas for us, the Acland open cut coal mine started up in August 2002.

We were told at the start there would no dust, noise, lights or any other disruptions to our everyday life.

For the first two years, life next to the mine was not pleasant but it was liveable.

Then Stage 2 started.

We were located about 1.5 kilometres away from the actual mining, yet the lights were so bright we could easily walk  over our property at night without the aid of a torch at night  and the house was so brightly lit that even with thick curtains drawn, it was like sleeping in daylight.

The noise sounded like we were living inside a demolition site – trucks being loaded with rocks, jackhammers breaking up rocks, reversing beepers and revving engines.

Noise levels tested at 76dB outside our bedroom window.

Many, many nights we endured a continual drone.  It was so noisy that it was difficult to sleep in a well insulated house with all doors and windows closed.

The vibrations from the noise rattled up through our pillows – often I couldn’t bear to stay in bed, and would have to go and sit in another room to get relief from the noise.

For years, I spent hours on the phone trying to get the light and noise reduced so that we could get a night’s sleep.

We lived under dust storms for days and weeks at a time.  The dust was so bad that we didn’t open our house for six years, except for the occasional Christmas Day when the mine wasn’t working.

Even with the doors and windows closed, however, very fine dust still came in and every morning I would wipe significant amounts from the window sills.  Most of the time we wore dust masks when we worked outside due to the dust from the mine and some members of the family slept in masks as well.

Coloured dust clouds from the mines’ blasts, mostly orange, would drift over our house. Family members suffered burning nose, throat and chest pains up to for days after blasting.

Our tourist business came to an end after the mine started, as there were often asthmatics on the buses – after a few minutes in our attraction they would get back on the bus and request the driver to take them away.  The buses stopped coming – ending our tourist business.

We were never compensated for this.

The doctors told us that our family were asthmatics . . . strange, because we have now been gone 28 months and we are no longer asthmatics (and we weren’t before the mining commenced).

All the respiratory problems our cattle, horses and alpacas suffered while living near the mine have gone, and the health of our herd has improved dramatically since leaving the mine area.

Towards the end of our time at Highland Plains, we sustained increasing mortality rates in our herds. In our last year near the mine, only 10% of our newborn calves survived, many apparently having some brain problems.

In contrast, we haven’t lost any in the last 12 months, living away from the mine.

Not everyone who has left the district is happy but many are prohibited from speaking out due to confidentiality agreements people were forced to sign as part of the sale of their property to the mine.  Not everyone got ‘inflated prices’, as popularly believed. Some settled for much less than independent valuations, because proximity to the mine deterred potential buyers, reducing land prices and leaving only the mine to buy. This didn’t put people in a good position to negotiate.

Many people had to borrow money to relocate to another house similar to what they had. Many still couldn’t afford to purchase in the local area. Most farmers had to move further out where land was cheaper .  Those who stayed close for work moved into smaller, poorer quality homes and properties. Some still keep their belongings in shipping containers.

The ‘rehabilitated’ land may now run some cattle.  However, it will NEVER be able to be used for cropping as before.

* Aileen Harrison has been campaigning against coal seam gas mining in south-east Queensland because she believes people in the region will suffer the same problems she endured with the open cut coal mine at Acland – and worse.

“The dust was so bad that we didn’t open our house for six years.”
Aileen Harrison

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Our life in the dust (Photo: Aileen Harrison)

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  1. This sort of thing is just wrong, Isn’t it? Those of us who are not affected may not think about it for long BUT. It could happen to you. Why is MINING the holy grail? When the profits are made it is often people overseas and the developmental stage is the main time a bit of employment is available. AFTER mining is finished the place is never restored. The minerals are taken and that can only be done ONCE. Pollution and damage remain for a long time. If you speak out against this sort of vandalism you are opposing progress and profit ( for a few). Let’s get REAL about the balance here, and realise most of the COAL must be left where it is for the sake of us all.

  2. Seems a bit like the lady who complained a frog killed her husband by keeping them awake…..

    • Katherine Marchment says

      Skeptic, please read this article more closely and look at the accompanying photos and at the evidence she presented that can be supported by published scientific papers on pollutants and particulate matter from coal mining. What frog croaks at 76db? Seems a bit like “there’s none so blind as those who will not see”…..

    • Christine Powell says

      So Skeptic says: obviously not your real name, who are you? Where do you live? Have you experienced living near a coal mine or GAS FIELDS? Have you had your property grossly devalued and received less than you paid for it due to something you did not want or ask for? Have you ever experienced the noise, dust, traffic, explosions living near a coal mine or heard compressor stations 24/7 and drilling & flaring near gas fields. If you have any idea you would be saying that as a minimum people should be compensated for the true value of their properties prior to the coal mine approval not after approved and no one wants to buy. Are you really that naïve to make such a ridiculous, idiotic statement without so much as any facts to base your comments on. Like listening to Climate Change Deniers with their rants and raves about how 97% or scientists say it is real, have proven peer review reports by over 600 specialists, yet sceptics still choose to deny. How about you get off your soap box and prove with peer reviewed reports that your ranting have any scientific or factual basis which we all know you cant.

  3. Go live there Skeptic and keep us informed of what your experience is like….

  4. BTW – we were always taught that skeptic stood for Someone Knowing Everything Possible To Impede Consonance.

  5. Sceptic, I have been inside houses at Jondaryam, near the Acland coal dump. No matter how often they clean, everything is coated in dust. In one house their rainwater tanks had 14x the safe levels of lead (from the coal). Every cup of tea they drink is laced with lead. One woman has to pay to keep her horses elsewhere because they become ill, and snort black snot. These people are inhaling fine particles every breath they take. We know coal dust causes respiratory and heart disease. Is this just? Is this happening in our country?

  6. Aileen Harrison says

    I would like to see all the government members live in one of the many empty houses around the mine for at least six months. Do you think I would have given up my dream house that we built to spend the rest of our retirement in, for dongas, with most of our belongings are in containers unless the dust had not caused so much sickness.

  7. Peter Kennedy says

    No different here in Muswellbrook !! , getting worse by the day as the mine dumps get higher in fact.

    • Aileen Harrison says

      Yes Peter Kennedy the open cut and CSG companies have had the governments siding with them for to long. Hopefully with more people against mining. The cities are complaining now about all the coal trains going past their homes to the sea ports, things we hope will change in the future.