“The basic duty of the creative group
is to make revolutionary films of high artistic value,
which make an effective contribution to arming the People
fully within the party’s monolithic ideology,
and imbue the whole of society
with the great Juche idea.” - KIM JONG IL
The ‘Great Juche Idea’ is North Korea’s take on socialism. That is, Man or Woman is an independent and self-reliant warrior, who must do everything s/he can to fight the capitalist/imperialist enemy, and to work for the good of the socialist revolution.
For an outsider, it seems a bit ironic: North Koreans may be taught from birth to see themselves as ‘independent and self-reliant’, but they are also spectacularly good at marching, cheering and dancing in perfect unison.
I guess, from a Juche point of view, the idea is that everyone has decided, independently but at exactly the same time, to be an anonymous cog inside the same vast machine.
What’s relevant here is the enemy. Every North Korean propaganda film must have one, because you cannot make an uplifting film about the socialist struggle without one.
Living in materialistic Sydney, I had a wealth of capitalist enemies to chose from for my North Korean short, The Gardener. New MacDonald’s were being built in public hospitals. Fig Trees were being ripped down by Rose Bay bankers to enhance their million dollar harbour views. A developer was about to build twenty-four story tower blocks for five thousand new residents, in the little industrial estate behind my house. Everywhere I looked, the citizen oppressing, capitalist greed that Kim Jong Il railed against, was running rampant.
But none of these enemies were evil enough for the revolutionary call to action I had in mind for The Gardener. Then, one day, around about the same time I started reading Kim Jong Il’s Manifesto about how to make the perfect propaganda film, a local community group discovered that the NSW Premier had quietly given a permit to a company called DART Energy, to test for coal seam gas under Sydney Park.
Sydney Park is a ten-minute walk from my house, and five hundred meters from my daughter’s school. She spends her weekends playing in its playgrounds, and chasing dogs from its ponds. Two rare black swans had been brave enough to build a nest in the middle of the prettiest pond. They had just hatched five adorable cygnets. I was damned if DART Energy was going to stick its methane-belching needles in our park.
The ponds of Sydney Park
I wasn’t impressed by what I learned about the Coal Seam Gas Industry, when I first joined hundreds of other shocked residents to stop the Dart Energy mine. To me, CSG is one of the most destructive examples of vulture-capitalism operating today. It is our generation’s nuclear. And it is the perfect enemy for a Kim Jong Il-style propaganda short.
CSG markets itself as ‘environmentally harmless’ by cashing in on a powerful illusion: gas wells are small. They can be concealed by trees, and often occupy a surface space no larger than a tennis court. The damage they do is invisible: the methane leaking up from the pipes cannot be seen by the naked eye; and underground, the snaking network of vertical and horizontal drills can span a radius of ten kilometres. Fly above a gas field, and its neat round wellheads pockmark the landscape like acne.
Luckily, one thing the CSG lobbyists have failed to spin into something more pleasant is the deliciously named process of ‘Fracking’. This word has been gleefully parsed by protesters in every possible form, from Get Fracked and Frack Off, to No Fracking Way and Stop the Fracking Frackwits.
To extract the gas from coal seams inside harder rock formations like shale, miners ‘frack’ the rock: which means they explode it, then pump in a cocktail of sand, water, guar gum and chemicals to make the gas flow back up through the pipes.
Up in Queensland, the CSG industry is already riding rough shod over farmers and the pristine water sources they’ve relied on for generations, using the Australian law that states that everything sitting five centimetres below the topsoil is the property of the state. One farmer, who’d watched the bulldozers barge through his neighbour’s fence and sink drills deep under his paddocks, puts it best in AIM HIGH!: “it’s like a bullet hole. One tiny mark, but all the damage is done underneath.” Here’s a list of chemicals that may be used in the fracking process.
The fact that the nuclear-loving French have banned coal seam gas altogether from their belles provences is proof of the peculiar ugliness of fracking. But a quick search through the web reveals its true horror. Fracking has caused mini-earthquakes in Britain, and in the USA, children living near gas fields are suffering migraines, nosebleeds, joint pain, skin rashes and epilepsy – although the industry has repeatedly pointed out that the link between these symptoms and CSG has yet to be proved.
Meanwhile, many American farmers, whose water bores have been either too polluted or too depleted by the industry’s voracious use of water, now rely on bottled water, delivered to them by the same companies who drill beneath them. The state of Wyoming, once a thriving producer of cattle and corn, is being transformed into a dust bowl, its fields spiked with the multiplying pipes of an industry run wild. In the proudly pro-CSG Texan city of Fort Worth, the first urban centre to embrace gas mines, citizens now share their backyards with drill rigs – and greet their days surrounded by industry-friendly billboards, proclaiming, without irony, that ‘Everybody Loves that New Rig Smell’.
To know more about what CSG has done to the US, watch Josh Fox’s Gasland (1 +2).
Unlike in the US, Australia has yet to be fully invaded by gas fields. But with the support of the government, the CSG juggernaut has started rolling south, from its Queensland stronghold. Its lobbyists are pressuring politicians to exempt drilling from legislation that protects aquifers, farms and native forests. They are doing this on the grounds that CSG is a ‘green transition’ fuel that will enable the nation to shed its reliance on dirty coal. They also argue that unless gas reserves are exploited now, Australians will be forced to pay too much for gas in the future.
But as ecologist and CSG activist Jacinta Green points out in AIM HIGH!, Australia already has enough natural gas to meet local demand for the next fifty years. She believes the CSG industry is lobbying hard to get coal seam, or ‘unconventional’ gas out of the ground, chiefly because it stands to make a killing on the export market.
Before and during the making AIM HIGH!, I worked with Jacinta and the residents of Stop CSG Sydney to leaflet the neighbourhood. We yelled at rallies outside Parliament. We handed out brown ‘frack fluid’ in Evian bottles to passers-by. We lined our kids up in gas masks in front of the politicians, as they hurried out of Parliament. My cast and crew worked with the protesters to organize a huge sign, spelled out by a thousand people in Sydney Park. This footage became the climax of the Villagers’ struggle in The Gardener. We felt like David fighting Goliath.
Scene from ‘The Gardener’: The 1000 strong human sign in Sydney Park
I should point out I am not an ecologist, a geologist, or a CSG mining engineer. I am just an ordinary voter. To see what experts on both sides of the debate have to say, check out the information sources below.
Dr. Marion Carey’s peer-reviewed article on B-Tex chemicals and other hazards of CSG:
Sydney Morning Herald article about the ‘economic con’ of CSG:
Facts about horizontal drilling and the CSG mining process:
An example of what can happen when a CSG drill leaks (The Pilliga State Forest is home to one of Australia’s few remaining Koala colonies):
For the other side of the argument go to A.P.P.E.A Australia’s official CSG representative:
If you are really fired up and want to get involved, anti-Coal Seam Gas groups now operate all over the world.
Two main ones in Sydney are: