Monday, 7 January 2013

Dirty business on SBS : Part 1 : What a narrowly focussed dud!

First let me qualify what I am about to say about the heavily promoted SBS documentary, Dirty Business - How Mining Made Australia. SBS, as you can see below, is promoting this as a 'landmark documentary'.  Don't believe this for a minute.  I have been waiting for someone, somewhere, somehow, to do a balanced narrative of mining in Australia but I have to say that after watching Part 1 of this three party series, I am still waiting.

I am currently living in my third mining town.   I have lived in Mount Isa (silver, lead, zinc); Tennant Creek (gold, copper, bismuth); and am currently living in Ballarat (gold).  

I lived in Mount Isa at the time when Mary Kathleen (uranium) was still operational.  My husband worked there for a time.  I stood for the ALP in the seat of Kennedy in 1983 and 1984.  After the 1983 election there was a a redistribution of the electorate which then included a number of the coal mines of  Central Queensland in the electorate of Kennedy.  I worked for the Australian Workers Union as their first female organiser in northern Australia from 1986-1993.  The AWU is the major metalliferous mining union in Australia.  

With the background outlined above, you can see, Networkers, that I have a little more than a passing interest in mining.  The three mining towns in which I have lived have been wonderful places for me.  I have enjoyed them very, very much and continue to do so.  While Ballarat is no longer economically mining dependent, Tennant Creek and Mount Isa still are.  I remain interested in what goes on in and around these mining centres from an historic, economic, social and environmental point of view.  I was expecting something promoted as a 'landmark documentary' to provide a detailed and balanced view of these four aspects of mining in Australia.

Instead what we got was a rushed viewpoint with some nods to the social history of mining; little of any consequence about the social life of mining towns; nothing from the environmental point of view; and any comment on the economics of mining seemed to rest more on the "stock exchange" point of view.

The emphasis was heavily on gold - yet managed to ignore Tennant Creek, the site of what could be called the last gold rush in Australia.  This was where the famous Australian R.M. Williams made his fortune.  The program did mention Broken Hill and BHP without mentioning that silver was the main focus of mining there. The gold at Mount Morgan on which the multi-national corporation, British Petroleum (BP), was built didn't rate a mention.  Perhaps coal will be dealt with more thoroughly later because the Hunter region of NSW was by-passed but coal developments in Queensland got a mention. Kambalda and its nickle were mentioned while Greenvale in North Queensland with its processing plant, Queensland Nickle, at Yabulu just north of Townsville, didn't rate a mention at all. Thought it might have got a mention simply because its current owner, Clive Palmer, makes the news as did its once upon a long ago owner, Alan Bond. One could go on - where was zinc in Tasmania, for instance?

However, considering the program made it through to the second half of the 20th century, I find it amazing that World Wars 1 and 2 didn't rate a mention.  Perhaps programs two and three might enlighten us.  Geoffrey Bolton kept popping up but we could have seen and heard more of him.  We didn't have sight nor sound of historian Geoffrey Blainey who has quite a number of published mining histories under his belt:
Mines in the Spinifex
The Peaks of Lyell
The Rush that Never Ended
The Rise of Broken Hill
The Steel Master
to name a few.

And as I said - no mention of environmental issues whatsoever.

So much more could be said - and may yet be included in Parts 2 and 3.  However, Part 1 does not whet one's appetite. It merely frustrates it.

I am not anti-mining.  Mining has made its contributions to human history for  millennia across civilizations, across time, across the planet.  My personal experience of mining in Australia has been an enjoyable and significant part of my life.  

I am concerned about aspects of corporate governance among many of the major players in mining in Australia and I am concerned about governance and legislation of the industry within the parliaments of Australia.  I am concerned about environmental management.  I am concerned about FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) practices which do not build viable and unique communities as once mining companies did.  I believe that mining as an industry and the corporations and political representatives operating in Australia have to be held accountable by community scrutiny and transparent governance.  

Party 1 of a Dirty Business does not provide any enlightenment.  It provides, in the main, financial comment.  It does not inform modern generations in an intelligent manner of the history of mining in Australia.  It does not give balanced information on which Australians can form a view of the benefits and deficits of the mining industry and its contribution to Australian life and the Australian economy.

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