Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death in the dust

(Advertiser image of a dust storm last week coming in over Coober Pedy from the western desert or Maralinga lands. Photo: Peter Rowe, the Outback Mailman)

Dust storms are a way of life for outback South Australians.

They come rolling across the paddocks and open country like giant red tsunamis, as though God was kneading a huge lump of red dough and the outer edge was coming right at you.

When they hit, it’s choking time. It’s in your eyes, your hair, all over your teeth.

You can’t drive, or you do so at your peril.

If you’re inside, you just sit it out, all the time watching fine particles settling on each piece of furniture despite the locked windows and the door snakes.

If you’ve got sheep, and it’s in between shearing times, you can sometimes lose quite big numbers to dust and sand storms. The sand gets in the wool, the sheep get tired and heavy with the weight and collapse into little miniature sand hills, and then can’t get up again to feed or get to water. You can try and lift them and get them walking, but it doesn’t do much good. Those that get to the overflow around a tank are so heavy that they can’t get themselves out of being bogged. They die and then you have to rope them to a ute and try to drag them far enough away so that they don’t foul the area. If you’re slow and steady with the pulling, the whole carcass comes out pretty cleanly. If you’re not, or the decomposition has set in…..

There have been some big dust storms around Coober Pedy, the Flinders Ranges and the APY Lands lately.

(Photo, above, from Nigel Carney at Copley in the Flinders Ranges, showing last week's dust storm)
If the wind heads south, Adelaide and the coastal regions get the dust. If the winds head east, South Aussie dust has been known to get as far as New Zealand.

All of which raises some pretty interesting questions with the Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs set to change from an underground operation to a three kilometer long and one kilometer deep open cut mine, the largest in the world (see David Bradbury's excellent short introduction to Olympic Dam, All That Glitters, in the clip below).

SA Premier Mike Rann has told the SA Parliament that the expanded Olympic Dam mine will be moving 1.5 million of tones of rock a day. You wont even need the special atmospherics of a major outback dust storm to get radioactive particles and radon gas swirling around the mine site on a daily basis with that much rock being moved in that dry, arid location.

However, when one of these dust storms passes of the mine and sucks this material up into a cloud that might deposit its radioactive content in any direction over hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers, the we have a problem.

Mine owner BHP $Billion has not yet said how it will address this problem. In fact, as reported in a previous post, it’s too busy trying to sweet-talk the Rann government into changing the state’s asbestos diseases Act so that it does not have to pay compensation to asbestos victims who worked for it in the Whyalla shipyards.

The expansion of Olympic Dam tramples on the rights of indigenous owners of the land which contains it; will accelerate the depletion of the waters of the Great Artesian Basin; will require a desalination plant at the top of Spencers Gulf where there will be brine discharge problems that will impact on fish breeding grounds.

And then there’s the dust.

You’ve just gotta love Bloody Hungry Profiteers!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The existence of dust storms "are a way of life for Australians " as with the degeneration of the river system is directly connected to "the way of life" that is the capitalist mode of making a living in capitalist farming and grazing in Australia . That is for short term profits at the expense of the soil ,the depletion of the artesian water supply ,the river systems and the wholesale exploitation of the environment generally ,and not just the by the mining industry.

What I am talking about here ,is that this resigned attitude to dust storms "as a way of life ", this resigned attitude of acceptance as something to be lived with ,is actually an acceptance of the results of predatory capitalist farming and grazing ,as if it was normal ,inevitable and something to simply live with if short term profit is to be got.

This is the capitalist 'way of life" the victory of capitalist farming ,its mode of production
and its resultant everyday exploitative mentality in the countryside. Rather than something in country people to be admired it is a stoical mentality produced by capitalism that needs to be exposed as very harmful to the environment.

Now only a very few Australians can and do make a living in farming and grazing ,as the banks as the main landlords and usurious suppliers of machinery claim their rents and interest as their share of the profits, as if they were ,as the ultimate owners standing over the indebted farmers the owners by right of capital of the wealth producing productivity of the earth itself.

So, the farmers now sometimes only have left as incomes a pittance that is left to them by the capital investing banks and often may be forced to turn to soil depletion in hard times in order to survive adding to the dust storms .

The small farmers are attempting to keep "their way of life " but their sons and daughters ,the next generation have often already moved on to the city.

The mining industry as described here , simply adds to the main problems of capitalist farming and grazing and the resulting dust storms that began with the conversion of masses of Austrlian land into a continental wide overgrazed sheep walk with its massive depletion of the soils for the short term profits and benefit of British manufacturing industry .

That is the period when wars for sheep grazing 'ate " the native people in Australia , as Thomas Moore might have put it if he were writing about the conditions in early Australia , rather than of the conditions in England in his day ,when vast numbers of English peasants people were thrown off the land for the development of capitalist wool
farming as a way of life at the service of developing capitalist

These problems of dust storms and soil depletion as "a way of life " began with colonial capitalist farming method in Australia and will only be really controlled and ended by socialism ,by socializing the ownership of land ,when the burden of rents as a first claim on the productivity of the soil by the banks as the landlords can be lifted .

These monopoly rents as profits extracted by the capitalist banks as effectively landlords and investors in capitalist farming add vastly to the prices that must be paid for produce and are paid for by both the farmers long hours as enforced cheap extra unpaid for labour value by independent farmers converted into effectively sharecropper Peons of the banks and finance capital and in the end by the ordinary consumers as a tribute by all in society to capital extracting land rents .

Socialisation of the land would then be in the economic interest of the small farmers and the working people and could create with a less exploitative attitude to land and the environment ,as well an increased and real oportunity for The first nations peoples to maintain their nations connection to their own land.