High Speed Rail – It’s not all good but I want it anyway.

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I’ve been reading the letters section of our local newspaper with interest since the argument for High Speed Rail vs the Airport was proposed then countered a few weeks ago. ¬†I don’t want to chime in on that particular argument as the people involved are more than capable¬†enough to fight their own battles without me confusing things but what I do want to do is share the thoughts that were triggered within me.

The idea of a super fast train making its way through some of the most densely populated parts of Australialand fills me with joy if I’m completely honest. I am a train lover and have lived very close to railway lines twice in my life – now and between the ages of 5 and 8 (I actually lived in that same house until I was 14 but the¬†railway track was ripped out when I was about 8 leaving a lovely long stretch of cycle way but no trains….).

What my own personal experience has shown me is that trains are not quiet. ¬†Occasionally the creaking and screeching of breaks and engine wakes me from my sleep as the coal wagons chug past at an ungodly hour. ¬†Living in the Blue Mountains this is par for the course with many homes hugging either the train line or the highway or both (often both as the lines do run parallel mainly). ¬†As a consequence it can sometimes be noisier at my house than in the leafy streets of Sydney’s Chippendale, Glebe or Annandale.

Noise is one of the reasons people don’t want an airport out west but it isn’t the only one. ¬†The exchange of letters above included comment along the lines of ¬†‘ you do know that high-speed rail is noisy don’t you?’ or words to that effect. ¬†I want to shout ‘the idea that trains travelling at super high-speed would be somehow eerily silent never crossed my probing¬†mind’…..

The next big truth bomb that detractors sometimes throw like a hand grenade into a glitter rainbow party is one that highlights the amount of land that will need to be reclaimed and dug up for this project. ¬†Again I’m left wondering why this completely obvious state of affairs is worth pointing out and I am left feeling slightly sad by the reality that some people might indeed hold the view that high-speed rail greenies are imagining the train to either hover like a butterfly or shrink to fit the space already given over to road or rail. ¬† Of course it will take up space and so it should! ¬†It’s a key piece of infrastructure that deserves all the space it needs to get done.

And so we go on.

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I think it is fair to say that plonking a high-speed rail line between Brisvegas -Sydney – Canberra and Melbourne is going to churn up some of the brown stuff and may even have to cut through some ecologically sensitive areas. ¬†Hopefully these risks will be mitigated with the usual level of care and attention (Ahem) but nevertheless it will indeed be a case of ‘you can’t please everybody all the time’.

But for a greeny type (I’m not even sure I am a greeny type but let’s just go with it) like me this project is different.

All of my life I’ve had to watch as fields get churned up and replaced by crappo eco-inconsiderate housing estates and by-passes that solve nothing much. ¬†Sat in road cone restricted motorways as they widen and expand further and further. ¬†Had to concede defeat as the second and third runways get built to take more and more people on CO2 guzzling trips ‘for their convenience’ and in the name of progress when real progress would have been a conference via SKYPE or a once-in-a-lifetime long tour rather than an 8 hour shopping spree in Paris before coming home for Corrie and dinner (something that would happen when I lived in England). High speed rail is not like that, high-speed rail is visionary.

The prospect of being able to travel up and down this huge land by train is, for me, one of the most exciting prospects ever to have entered my consciousness. ¬†It would allow me to take my bike out into those little country areas, to shop in Melbourne or go see my friends in Brissie or take an international flight out of Canberra while leaving the car at home! ¬†It would also allow for people living in rural areas such as Shepparton or Grafton to get into a capital city and work if they wanted to. ¬†Australia can finally spread out and enjoy its self instead of cramming everyone into the kitchen sink we call Sydney! What’s more it COULD allow me to do all of this without expending a CO2 cent thanks to technology that exists today – ZERO emissions trains run from solar power thanks to advances in solar technology. ¬†Sure the reality might be a little less idealistic and it is also possible that at least in the first few years the power might come from a mix of solar and coal but the exciting thing is that this could, with the right will and enthusiasm, happen now and be something amazing!

As for the money and people side, the ‘we can’t afford it’ and ‘we don’t have the population for it’ then I would finish on this. ¬†Value capture is a concept that could work and is one that has been touted by the very people who are all for Badgery’s Creek. ¬†The government could raise money that way. ¬† In terms of population if the current government gets its way we are set to swell in numbers at a rapid rate so planning this on current population is all a bit silly and anyway, it’s not just about population numbers it is about the travelling population, where they are going and what they are doing and little old Australia has proved her worth in that regard with the Sydney to Melbourne air commute coming in at number 4 in the WORLD!!!! ¬†Sydney to Brisbane¬†is number 10!

The last thing I’m going to say on this is if I was Kerry Mather (MD and CEO of Sydney Airport) and co I’d be looking at how I can get my investment dollars into this high-speed rail thing as that’s the future – not another airport. Sure planes are becoming lighter, more fuel efficient, bigger and even quieter but they are a long way away from being able to run on zero emissions and fuel security in terms of future stocks and prices is a very real issue.

So yes,  high speed rail may well be noisy and will probably run right through some rare flower and bird habitat and might even take my house but I still want it because to have it would make me really, really proud to be Australian.

Amanda

PS: just coming back to the noise issue once again, while the noise from a train line can reverberate through a valley it is usually concentrated along and around the area surrounding the tracks. ¬†The trouble with planes is their intrusiveness into wilderness areas. Wilderness is a valuable asset for Australia and will become an even bigger draw card for tourists looking to escape and explore ‘the middle of nowhere’. ¬†A fast rail could secure our airspace and thus ensure our wilderness hikes are not rudely interrupted by a Boeing 747….

PPS: Here is a government report into HSR completed in 2011. It looks like they thought it was a pretty good idea too!

We should all just accept that there will be an airport at Badgerys Creek.

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As 2016 came to an end the Australian Government ticked the last in a series of boxes that are required to make the building of Badgerys Creek airport legally possible.  With that final tick came the end of a long and drawn out process of on-again-off-again process and debate.  The only thing missing now, as we hit our 2017 stride is the cash.

Who will pay?

no-airport

But that small, insignificant job of raising the several billion needed to make this thing fly so to speak is outside of our (layman’s) control. ¬†What we can control is how we feel about the whole thing and what we do next.

Predictably, what ‘we’ feel at this moment is becoming increasingly interesting.

This is cranking up to be a shit fight.

So for the last year the major voices we’ve heard on this issue have been as follows:

  • Australian Liberal Government. ¬†Love it, can’t get enough of it, do it and do it 24/7 over Blaxlands house.
  • Australian Labor Government (the opposition). ¬†HQ loves it, can’t get enough of it but then they remember they are labor and labor is the people’s party and decide that they are all for it as long as it’s not all over Blaxlands house.
  • Australian Labor Party, Western Sydney Division AKA those lucky buggers who will be living with it 24/7 and especially those who just got elected to the job or received an increase in support. ¬†OK so not all hate it but the cheerleading is more ‘groan’ than ‘yippee’. ¬†Why can’t we have a curfew? ¬†Why not high speed rail? What do you mean we have to cop the pollution? ¬†Why not throw in a massive F**K me incinerator too! ¬†Show me the detail? ¬†Excuse me for being more than a little suspicious over the fact that a bunch of Mosman and Beach living city slickers know what’s best for us. ¬†Do you even know where Badgerys Creek is people?
  • Australian Liberal Party Representatives Blue Mountains pre-election – Not really liking the idea that the current EIS promotes thank you very much. Mucho concerning and not 100% convinced on the ‘what’s in it for us’ package on offer. Post election – OK so two have now decided that we should just embrace the awesomeness that is the BC airport much to the bemusement of the rest of council (allegedly).
  • Local residents group RAWSA. ¬†A heady mix between NO AIRPORT, ¬†NO 24/7 Airport, ¬†NOT THIS AIRPORT and NO IDEA WHY WE CAN’T HAVE HIGH SPEED RAIL INSTEAD?
  • Interested local residents against the airport. ¬†Read, think about it, act then get on with life.
  • Interested local residents for the airport. ¬†Get with the program people, this is an amazing opportunity and I want it written in as many places as possible.

It’s fair to say that the majority of residents local to me here in the Blue Mountains have taken a somewhat less active interest in the whole debacle over the last 14 months and I can’t really blame them – there is only so much any one of us can do. But now, as I said things have changed.

The anti has been upped.

And some of the people who were quiet before, including elected councillors have decided to speak up and what they are saying is that this airport is going to be GREAT.

I wonder if this is a bit like the Trump victory where lots of people want to say ‘I’m voting for HIM’ but felt somehow unable to do so. ¬†On the other hand I wonder if, like the Trump victory the supporters are still in a minority when it comes to the popular vote but that again like Trump they might win anyway (as the Government is on their side after all….). ¬†Whatever way this plays out the ‘for it’ camp are starting to sing out and I for one feel that is a good thing. ¬†We have to air it and share it is my motto (well, one of them).

So what are they saying?

Well one thing that is coming across loud and clear is the notion that we should just accept this airport as a done deal and make the best of it.

While this risks making me come over all over-reactive and hysterical I do find that attitude most perplexing given this is an entirely man-made project that can ONLY go ahead with popular support and money (potentially OUR money) and that we live in a democratic country where (supposedly) our voices and opinions all count. ¬† I mean sure I can understand that ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude when some other country just invaded you and will kill you if you try to resist but this isn’t a siege, it’s a minor domestic economic situation.

Also in my head I liken that attitude to the mindset of someone who has been groomed for something against their wishes. Be it a hostage or a victim of domestic violence or abuse the air of surrender just leaves me cold.  As my blog says the only choice we have is how to respond so why not respond with your whole heart be that for or against?

From where I’m sitting I would say this, Goliath doesn’t need the extra¬†support thank you. ¬†He seems to be bigger, better resourced¬†and has the power of the law (he makes them), the media (he controls them) and the people (both major parties officially support this) on his side. ¬†To turn now just because apparently ‘it’s happening anyway and we might miss out if we keep sulking’ ¬†would be the ultimate sheeple thing to do unless of course we had ‘seen the same light’ that the other true supporters have.

But let’s pretend we did do that, we did just go with it.

What would the Blue Mountains Council do next?

Well I for one would want answers to the following questions based on the following assumptions upon which our support is now resting:

The Future is Rosy Scenario.

The Badgerys Creek airport will drive more tourists to the district, increase house prices, make the place more desirable to live in, give local businesses more customers and generally make the area more prosperous.

BUT:

  • How are the thousands of tourists who fly into Badgerys Creek planning to get up to the Blue Mountains being as though there is no direct train link planned between the airport and Penrith and that the current line servicing the mountains is practically fully utilised?
  • If there is no train link between the new airport and the mountains how are the roads going to cope with what would have to be a dramatic increase in traffic to produce enough income to deliver these benefits and off-set the costs (peace, potential change to UNESCO status etc)?
  • As the area becomes more desirable and the population of Western Sydney grows how will the Blue Mountains balance¬†the increased pressure to provide for a growing population with bush fire risk and the desire to maintain the Unique ambience of mountain living (why people come here)?
  • How can we best promote the Blue Mountains as a destination for longer term stays and environmental appreciation and protection rather than as a one-day drive through that takes from the mountains more than it gives back? ¬†Do we really want to encourage thousands of day trippers over weekenders and honeymooners?
  • Why do people come here anyway? ¬†If it has anything to do with wilderness, nature, peace, clean air, space, quaint village life and independent retailers and cafes how are we going to protect that?

That’s enough for starters.

So we have a pretty much believable and credible scenario of an opportunity for growth and prosperity if only we just get on board. But most people can see that while building an airport might create some opportunities, fully realising and integrating those into our Blue Mountains community requires further investment and work.

This is where the psychology gets interesting.

I wonder if the people¬†urging us to support this are¬†worried¬†that we might miss out if we don’t get on board? ¬†If we’ll be punished, given the cold shoulder for not playing ball.

Interesting thought.

In addition there are murmurings that we are at risk of missing out on our chair at the negotiating table by being like this.

That may be true I guess but if we are just going along with it because we are scared of missing out and can only go if we agree to swallow our opposition and sit on our hands ¬†I’m not sure¬†its at all worth it.

What would happen if we just continue to oppose this (if that’s what we collectively believe)?

I really do think that there is a FEAR brewing that we really will be punished by being starved of funds, infrastructure and attention if we pursue with this obstinance¬†of airport opposition but it makes no sense for the government to even do that and in any case, it won’t be just the government invested in this.

Why cut off your nose to spite your face?

There is just too much money, time and political energy at stake here to risk that type of behaviour Рif the airport is going to be built, and the rhetoric about jobs and growth and tourism is true the Blue Mountains just HAS to receive attention regardless of whether we voted yes or no for the airport thing.  The pressure from the Australian Tourism Board, the airport operators and the international market would be much more powerful than that of a few hundred angry or enthusiastic residents shouting yes or no into cyberspace.

Just imagine the global embarrassment that is an airport 70km from the iconic and heavily publicised Three Sisters that is IMPOSSIBLE to get to in under two hours due to the slowness of the train, the congestion on the roads and the cost of the Uber driver. ¬†It only takes 2 hours from Sydney by train now AND it only costs $5.81 each way. ¬†You can even drive it in 90 minutes which is only 30 minutes more than the current BC-K Town estimates. ¬†Better for tourists? ¬†I’m not so sure…..

In some ways I see this airport as a Trogan horse that bashes the door down to allow for mass immigration, population growth, high-density living and the commodification of nature. ¬†Think this is too far-fetched? ¬†Then look at the predicted usage figures that justify Badgers Crack and also look at all the housing development that’s going in around the base of the mountains already! ¬†Anyone would think we’re looking to re-house the whole of Syria out here and then invite each family to have 10 children each!

But I digress.

The questions that I’ve got in my head are just as relevant for me to have answers to (as a no airport supporter) as I believe they are for people who are all for it. ¬†It makes no sense financially to spend billions on a project that won’t actually deliver on what it claims to promise and if the new airport isn’t promising greater wealth opportunities for the Blue Mountains and beyond and more convenient travel then why do it? ¬†Overseas visitors don’t give a shit if this thing has been on again and off again for 50 or more years, they only care if it makes sense and makes their holiday or business trip easier and comfortable.

Anyway….

I do accept that in any situation where there are conflicting points of view that one side will lose out and¬†that there does come a time when one does have to make a decision to either get on with it or leave but that time and that decision is not for now. This thing isn’t built and open yet.

For now I think it is pertinent for all sides to acknowledge that there are big, important questions yet to be answered and a shit fight of name calling, shutting down, bullying and shaming is not helpful.

The worst that can happen at the moment is that neither side likes, trusts or respects each others point of view. ¬†I do feel that is starting to happen and one place that can’t happen is with our leaders on council (thankfully it hasn’t yet).

This airport has the power and support to go ahead whether the Blue Mountains support it or not.

This airport deal also has the potential to be shelved whether the Blue Mountains supports it or not.

At the end of the day it is, and always has been outside of our jurisdiction and budgetary control.

What matters is that the Blue Mountains City Council create space for each and every person interested in getting involved to do so.  That all residents and councillors are listened to and that their views are acknowledged, addressed and represented moving forward.

If we don’t manage to do that¬†we have wasted our time and achieved nothing.

And as for the amount of money spent then I say this. What is spent is spent and has been spent with council approval.  Going forward it is important we re-evaluate our position and what we are prepared to spend to back that up.  I believe that is exactly what the council proposes to do at the next meeting which is to be held on 31st January. I will be there.


My final thought for today on this is as follows,  I believe it is time that our collective argument against this airport moves beyond just NO.

I also believe that it is time that our collective support moves deeper than just ‘yes’.

It’s time to talk and more importantly, it is time for everyone to listen, really listen.

It’s starting to feel like the Daily Telegraph will cry if this bloody airport isn’t built. Now why is that????

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So I used googles ‘news’ tab and googled ‘Badgerys Creek’ today and came up with this (yes I’m talking about the airport again):

Now I did make it one of my new year’s resolutions not to ‘consume’ too much junk media ‘news’ but I can’t help but have one last Hoorah binge with this lot of lovelies, not least because it does confirm to me that the Tele really does love Badgerys Creek and will not stop singing its praises (and criticising its opponents) until the bloody thing gets built (if indeed it does).

I really don’t like the Telegraph. It reminds me of the UK’s Daily Mail which became fascinated to the point of Manic Obsession with Princess Diana in the 90’s, in fact it became nauseatingly worrying, as if it was building to a big climax, which it did, with her death in 1997 (not that that was the papers fault but you could clearly feel some weird energy brewing even without the benefit of hindsight). ¬†Not that that’s relevant but it does feel like the same type of mania is driving these column inches ¬†– a mania that is about something other than plain old ‘news’.

Before I go on I do think it is worth mentioning that while I detest the Telegraph newspaper lots of people seem to like it or at least read it. In fact it is getting more, rather than less popular (and I’ll not speculate as to why). ¬†If the Telegraph is to be believed their readership climbed 0.8% over 2016 to 998,000 per day which is 13.22% of the NSW Population (this is a NSW paper) according to this article. ¬† However, I am not sure if those figures are right given the Australian Bureau of Circulation claims the figure to be closer to 998,000 annually rather than daily. ¬†An innocent little typo maybe? ¬†Or maybe I’m reading the figures incorrectly? ¬†Anyway, if we take the circulation figures from ABC we actually see a drop in daily readership to around 233,837 which is still more than double its nearest rival, the Australian followed closely by the Herald Sun.

The Daily Telegraph is owned by News Corp. The same group also owns The Australian (which has a circulation according to ABC of around 400,000 pa) which is their more highbrow paper. ¬† The group is owned by Rupert Murdoch and they also happen to own lots of local newspapers across NSW including all of these – I’ve highlighted the ones that lie in the Badgery’s Creek drop zone just so you know who’s singing to them:

 (from WIKIPEDIA) Cumberland/Courier (NSW) newspapers

  • Blacktown Advocate
  • Canterbury-Bankstown Express
  • Central
  • Central Coast Express Advocate
  • Fairfield Advance
  • Hills Shire Times
  • Hornsby and Upper North Shore Advocate
  • Inner West Courier
  • Liverpool Leader
  • Macarthur Chronicle
  • Mt Druitt-St Marys Standard
  • NINETOFIVE
  • North Shore Times
  • Northern District Times
  • NORTHSIDE
  • Parramatta Advertiser
  • Penrith Press
  • Rouse Hill Times
  • Southern Courier
  • The Manly Daily
  • The Mosman Daily
  • Village Voice Balmain
  • Wentworth Courier

So now that we know that we can see what they have been saying. I’ve summarised it here with my own interpretation, you can check out the original articles for yourself using the headlines in the pictures with the dates. ¬†I’m sure it will be fascinating!

From first page to last we have the following:

  • Telegraph Speculation of what the airport will be called because we all know by now, thanks to the Telegraph that this is a done deal and all we have left to do is name the baby. ¬†Cute.
  • Telegraph final call to get on board. ¬†OK so this thing is so amazingly awesome according to the Telegraph that this once-in-a-lifetime deal MUST be taken up IMMEDIATELY WITHOUT DELAY to secure your future wealth and happiness. ¬†This article comes on the back of Sydney Airport Corp playing hard ball and requesting a bit more time to do their math but of course that’s un-Australian and if they don’t pull their finger out the government will take up this amazing offer themselves because they are not pussies.
  • Telegraph –¬†Albo slams critics of the airport. ¬† So in July 2016 Australia went to the polls and throughout Western Sydney – the airport bonanza heartland – the Liberals were rolled in favour of the Labor party. ¬†OK it wasn’t all about the airport but there is a strong contingent of Labor people who are quite vocal about opposing the current EIS and the way this ‘thing’ has come about. ¬†In spite of people voting for these local members the Labor party central now see’s fit to criticise Badgery’s Haters (yes, even though they are in the same party). ¬†Nice one mate. Albo, do you want to come clean about what you’ve been telling your local electorate about Badgerys? ¬†The locals that currently get more than their fair share of noise from Mascott?
  • Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). ¬†At last, an article that gives facts rather than opinion. ¬†This relates to the fact that Paul Fletcher Transport Minister issued a notice of intention to Sydney Airport Corp who subsequently questioned the detail, asked for more time to consider the proposal and scratched their heads over a way to make the thing financially viable. ¬†Refreshing.
  • Sydney Morning Herald. Airport gets green light. ¬†Again a mainly factual explanation of what is actually going on. A few concerns raised (rail ready vs rail implemented?) plus a general air of relief that it is finally moving forward.
  • The Australian. ¬†Sydney airport run Badgery’s Creek The best option. ¬† Basically again trying to push the narrative that this is piece of infrastructure is the best thing for Australia and that any delay is pure folly. ¬†The language is less direct than with the Telegraph but there is no questioning the sentiments behind the piece.
  • The Australian – Mascot airport owner cannot halt Badgerys Creek development. ¬†Well you can now see they are getting scared but are trying to re-assure us all that this airport we’ve all come to know and love will go ahead anyway by hook or by crook….
  • The Australian. Badgerys Creek airport deal doesn’t stack up – At last a Murdoch rag article that is on the (truth) money. ¬† The reality that developing a green field site and waiting 20 plus years for a return on your investment while your current investment has to support and share the income with its baby brother¬†has hit home. ¬†The only way this is going to happen is if the government helps pay for it and by the government we mean YOU (me/ us/ Australians).
  • The Australian. Badgerys Creek Landowners in line for a windfall. ¬†A feel good story based on three regular Aussie families who are set to cash in big time when their land is turned into an airport. Everyones a winner baby…. Yes but what they don’t tell you is that the major land owners out that way are not your average, loveable ¬†Aussie battlers.
  • The Telegraph. ALP in air farce dogfight over Badgerys Creek. ¬†OK so this was interesting. The Tele once again turned its attention on the recently elected Labor politicians that have questioned the Badgerys Creek proposal and what it will mean for their constituents. ¬†Apparently standing up for your local community and demanding facts rather than fiction gets you beat up in the ‘news’ papers these days. Slammed for standing in the way of jobs, progress, common sense and anything else they can throw at them these politicians. They really did get a serve.

8 articles for Murdoch and 2 for Fairfax.

Only one of the above Murdoch articles could be classified as  more news than opinion in my humble opinion. The Fairfax paper did seem to get the balance right without being blatantly for or against the proposal.

In addition to the articles above there were another 20 articles before I stopped searching (on page 3)

Of these 14 were from the Murdoch stable and included the Gold Coast Bulletin having a go at Western Sydney MP Ed Husic, ¬†News.Com website focusing on the property price bonanza that is Badgerys Creek and Melbourne’s Herald Sun putting the word out in Melbourne that Badgerys Creek will be rail ready (because the Melbourne audience have already seen what a glowing success two airports with no rail link can be – Avalon lame duck and Tullamarine – missed my plane because I’m stuck in traffic (true story, cost $400 to get home).

So that’s 30 articles ¬†reviewed in total of which 22 ¬†or 73% were what I’d classify as a Murdoch based Love fest. I’m not going to go on any more as it will start to feel like I’m some whack job weirdo with nothing better to do but make shit up. ¬†Maybe I should apply for a job at the Telegraph…..

Anyway, like that famous rapadelic song once said ‘I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger but she ‘ain’t hanging with no broke, broke, broke….’

And I’m also thinking of that Meme between Putin and Trump.

Airport ‘news’ feels a bit like that. Yeh.

And the Telegraph is starting to sound a bit too….. desperate.

It’s sad really.

PS: ¬†If you don’t believe me just ask the Telegraph about that Pemulwuy Prize awarded earlier this year and while you are there ask them if it is all going to plan?

Dear Government of Australia, I really don’t think you understand my type.

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I’m not known for being irrational and emotional. In fact while growing up my dad used to tell me that I was un-emotional, that I was able to detach my emotions too easily maybe. I saw that as a compliment, as a useful trait for someone who toyed with the idea of becoming a spy in the army – I can endure torture well enough and am good at sucking up and distilling information¬†– but who ended up as a chemist. ¬†At least I didn’t choose ‘psychopath’ as a career…..

Anyway.

This whole year I’ve experienced various shakes in my mental health thanks to the way the government and it’s PR department – The Daily Telegraph – have chosen (and yes, I do feel they chose this) to undermine me and people like me.

Now I get that the government and its people sometimes disagree, that they have access to information I don’t, that I could be completely wrong or that the timing is simply not right but putting all of that aside I can’t accept that there is ever a good ¬†(or SMART) time for a government to systematically attempt to undermine and close down reasonable debate, to hide what doesn’t suit their agenda and to use the media to create an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ reality.

Now maybe I was expecting too much in thinking that reality, as in stuff that actually happens, how people actually feel, might get at least some un-opinionated airing in the debate but in my experience that didn’t happen and every government led information program became a show pony carrying an injection of their alternative truth serum which was liberally distributed along with the mantra of ‘this is progress, this is jobs and growth, this is amazing, this is the only viable option’. ¬† It was sucked up to a point.

I am, of course talking about the Badgery’s Creek airport here. ¬†The airport and the merry bunch of fat cats that are rubbing their hands together with glee, including I might add the Greater Sydney Commissioner Lucy Turnbull who just happens to be the P.M’s wife – nothing to see here, perfectly normal behaviour, the PM running the country and the PM’s wife getting to divide Sydney up into Hunger Games like districts, taking out quite a few legitimately elected representatives before replacing them with her tribe. Oh and thrown in for good measure is her ability to over-rule any local opposition to her commissions plan like some kind of planning police (which of course they say they are not. Heaven forbid!!! Sounds like a dystopian film plot which would be mildly entertaining if I didn’t live in it.

Anyone reading the media or listening to Malcolm Turnbull would take home the impression that the whole West of Sydney is busting with excitement¬†over this airport and the job opportunities it will bring. ¬†Of course there are some that are but there is a lot that don’t believe it, a fact that was reflected in the way Western Sydney turned Red (Labor) at this years federal election. ¬†While the Labor party do officially support Badgery’s Creek I again feel that has more to do with Anthony Albanese’s electorate being the one next to Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney – I bet $10 that he told his people who this airport would take the load off them – what a lie if that were the case. ¬†As if that would ever happen. Then there is Plibers (Tanya Plibersek) who also shares an inner city electorate and who famously told a local gathering of business women in the Blue Mountains that ‘we would get used to it’ when quizzed about noise. ¬†But what about the pollution and catastrophic global warming Tanya? ¬†Your electorate will drown first and we won’t be reserving you any land up here to save you with that attitude thank you very much. So to sum up that little diversion, to many at the election this year Labor were at offering at least something (curfew of sorts) whereas the Liberals were just not listening and were voted out.

And so it has gone on.

Post election and the momentum for this airport gathered. I raised my concerns with others, conducted research, wrote papers , articles and letters, requested meetings, attended events and filled out questionnaires only to be met with responses like this one from Paul Fletcher, Transport Minister:

20th October 2016

Dear Ms Foxon-Hill

Thank you for your email dated 14 September 2016 about the community’s views on the proposed Western Sydney Airport. I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond.

In the research, the Blue Mountains and Blacktown local government areas were included in the North West region as defined by the New South Wales Department of Planning and Infrastructure (now the Department of Planning and Environment). The online survey found that 61 per cent of residents in the North West region were in favour of the proposed airport, compared with 57 per cent of residents from the whole representative sample.

So what?  Because 61% of people in the North West region (of the 499 people surveyed) said they were in favour of the proposed airport me and the rest should just shut up?

The North West region is outlined here. 

But it isn’t just that 61% of people are for the airport, that 61% amounts to a fair and reasonable majority that is to be respected and that’s why the government and it’s process has lost me.

  • How fair are the results of a poll when the public have been groomed for the year leading up to it that this will bring only good things?
  • How fair are the results of a poll when anti-airport protests are questioned as being NIMBYISM?
  • How fair are the results of a poll whose questions are bias towards a particular outcome?
  • How fair are the results of a poll of people who have been starved of investment for their whole lives because of this bloody proposal of an airport?

Again this is politics and some might say this is how BREXIT or TRUMP happened and I’d agree that yes, there are similarities but not the similarities that some might jump upon first up. ¬†You see Australia is not a world leader and in many ways is naive enough to not see that where they differ is that the USA and the UK were sold media lies and agendas for years before it came to this. ¬†That the BREXIT and Trump victories were the inevitable consequence of what happens when the ‘natural’ leaders of a country let that natural leadership go to their heads, create their own reality then live in a bubble while keeping reality at arm’s length. ¬†Australia will of course eventually arrive at this same place as these other countries – Cory Bernardi can already smell his victory and who can blame him? ¬†The writing is on the wall. ¬†Australia is going through a time of post-truth politics, soon to be followed by a kick in the teeth to the establishment followed (possibly) by an even grimmer reality before we all either die from global warming or come to our senses which quite possibly reside slap bang in the boring middle zone where left and right wings form a body and can fly.

I digress.

There’s detail, fact, counter-fact, alternative propositions, amended propositions and on and on but none of that is worth anything when your will is dead and believe me, the will of this government is as dead as a Dodo and that worries me because I care about this country.

And that is where I’m coming from when I say in the beginning that the Government of Australia doesn’t understand my type.

I want progress.

I want investment.

I want development.

I want jobs for the West.

I Like and believe in Aviation and it’s role in developing and sustaining the economy.

I am even OK with more people in Australia as long as we have the infrastructure (including water security, jobs, homes and transport links) sorted before they all arive.

I don’t even mind a bit of this in my back yard – the Blue Mountains isn’t a museum after all and the West of Sydney does need and deserve some attention.

But most of all I’m for sustainability and putting a second airport in the Sydney basin when the first airport spends a good deal of its time and capacity ferrying people the 1 hour by plane to Melbourne or Brisbane is not any of the above and to say it is is bullshit.

Watching Australia slip backwards while its politicians tell us ‘it has never been a more exciting time to be here’ has been mentally draining and left me feeling extremely sad at times because there are plenty of us out here that are ready to back good, honest change and growth when we see it,¬†¬†but sadly the pickings are slim and those good guys that we did pick at the last election just got blasted by the Daily Telegraph that I’ve spoke to highly of today. ¬†Don’t they know that we elected them? ¬†Disrespect them and they disrespect us as voters.

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So, as each stage of this airport development is signed off and moved on I think to myself ‘you, government, will rue the day you ignored this minority group while lying to the majority. ¬†The truth always comes out and when it does you had better be ready because your Point Piper houses will be the first to feel the full force of sea level rises which of course many of you don’t believe in but you try not believing when your Italian leather shoes are all wet’.

Meanwhile I have decided to forget all notions that the government are interested in consultation and discussion, are open minded, searching for the best outcome and generous and have instead adopted the mindset that if we are to achieve anything that resembles real sustainable progress in our lifetime we need to do it ourself and forget this government as they are from a time that has passed and watching them slowly poison themselves and us is not how I want to spend my life.

Onwards and upwards.

The future’s looking bright because these guys will no longer be here.

Blue Mountains: What is our unique lifestyle anyway?

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I hear this said a lot lately. ¬†Especially in circles objecting to the Western Sydney Airport, a cause that has absorbed a huge chunk of the last 12 months of my life. ¬†The shout is that we must ‘protect our unique lifestyle’. ¬†Playing devils advocate I want to say ‘and what is that exactly?’

Lifestyle: The way in which a person lives.

How do we live up here?

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I have my own thing going on as I’m sure you do too, a ‘thing’ that isn’t always mirrored by my local friends and neighbours – people who have gravitated up here for what seems to me to be a myriad of reasons. ¬†I personally came up here because I loved it from the time I first visited as a backpacker in the 1990’s. By the time we emigrated the mountains offered us somewhere that was still close enough to family but far enough from the city to give us the ready access to mountain bike trails, big gardens and walks we desired. We really did come here for fun! My relationship with the mountain has deepened and matured somewhat over the last 13 years.

I observe that some of my friends¬†have come from what I call the ‘flatlands’ of Riverstone, St Mary’s, Penrith and Emu Plains. ¬† I know that for some of these it was the bigger lot size of houses and gardens paired with affordable price-tags, the family friendly atmosphere, good schools and safe community feel that attracted them. ¬†For others who have come from the city it was the lure of fresh air, bush walks and a slower pace of life – somewhere to bring up the kids! ¬†Others have been sort-of pushed up here (and most are OK with that) after suburb after suburb became either more and more expensive or less and less desirable. The Blue Mountains have often seemed like a drive-too-far for most suburban Sydneysider’s, too close to flammable bushland, snake-infested and lacking in Westfield shopping centres to boot until now. ¬†Now ¬†we have the Greater Sydney Commission ramming down our throats a mantra of ‘high density housing, shopping centres and gardens replaced by green open community spaces for all’. Everything we are not, thank you. As a consequence, we are now starting to attract more people looking for that sort of thing, the airport proposal even seems to be encouraging it. Also, we are no longer seeming so far, far away, the city and more than that, that city mentality, ¬†is coming to us.

That makes me feel uneasy on many fronts.

But why?

I’ll ask again, what is this lifestyle we talk about?

What is MY lifestyle?

Why did I feel physically sick when I saw the way a block of new low-rise apartments was being advertised in my local paper, ¬†apartments in an area of Springwood town centre that I’m actually OK with being developed in this way. ¬†It wasn’t the development I convulsed against, it was the language used to pitch them. ¬†The values being projected, values that just don’t resonate with me.

It was while I was out bushwalking this morning that it came to me. ¬†I bush walk as often as I can, it’s my oxygen, my sanity. ¬†I need the smells as much as the sights, the sound as much as the crispness of the air I taste. ¬†I am it and it is me.

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The connection I felt with the mountains today epitomised what my lifestyle is – a great respect and a maternal love for this place, a place at the centre of all I do and am. I don’t want to use the word ‘environment’ to describe the mountains here even though that clearly and technically is what it is because I feel that word has become tainted with politics and what I feel is beyond political stripes, beyond the ‘it’ and ‘me’.

The Blue Mountains pulls people like me (I think) because of this powerful longing for connection, for family, for one-ness. ¬†Again, conscious of becoming too ‘hippy trippy’ (although I feel there is nothing inherently wrong with that) ¬†it’s as if we have come home and just like when we are in our worldly homes we have our responsibilities and duty of care. We must remain vigilant and care for this place, we can’t just switch off or brazenly try to capitalise¬†off it¬†in a one-way transactional relationship. It would feel like selling our mother!

So to answer my own question I have come to the belief (at least for now) that the Blue Mountains lifestyle that I talk about (and I understand that not everyone will share the same view)  is centred on the philosophy of connection to land in a way that is deep and emotional.  I see this as a monoculture of sorts, one that, wherever we travelled from, whatever other worldly beliefs we hold pulls us together in our love and respect for the mountains and its role in our life.

And this isn’t just some romantic fling that we indulge ourselves in on high days and holidays. This is serious, this is us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

We are reminded of our environment every spring when the magpies come out and defend themselves from our bike culture.

Are alert to the bush-fire danger that each hot windy, dry day brings and yes, our houses do burn down and many of us have smelt the fear while hosing down our gutters.

Struggle to hear the radio over the clicking of cicada or the ribbit of frogs after a downfall.

Manage our wild, sloped and wooded blocks from wild winds, rain and termites.

Take care to shake out our shoes for Blue Mountains funnel-web.

Shoo lizards out of our lounge rooms

Watch water-butts for snakes

And stand in awe at each and every perfect sunrise and sunset over hectares and hectares of trees and bush and wilderness, longing for the next free weekend that we can get out there and camp.

But¬†when I hear mention of ‘our unique lifestyle’ I want to say no, our lifestyle is not unique, Australia’s first people have been trying to model this way to us for as long as ‘we’ set foot in this country well, at least as far as I can gather not being an expert in these things.

However,¬†¬†unique or not we are distinct. We are not like Penrith or St Mary’s or Blacktown or Castle Hill or Newtown or Marrickville or Glebe or Windsor. ¬†These places have their own cultural identity, their own brand if you like! ¬†Why try to mould us, make us something we are not?

People don’t just come here to¬†live IN the Blue Mountains, they live here and BECOME the Blue Mountains and to let the Blue Mountains run through their veins. That feeling is contagious and is part of what draws¬†in tourists from all over the world. ¬†Tourists that take a bit of that connection and identity home with them in the art, music, photography and hand-made products they invest their dollars in.

To put it in neoliberal terms our lifestyle is valuable, has value and should be invested in, protected,  developed, marketed.  And it is but in a world obsessed by sound-bites and instant-gratification we simply cannot sell this enough.

So that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

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Yes we do have a lifestyle.

Yes that lifestyle is unique in terms of the Sydney and surrounds suburbs.

But that lifestyle is rooted in a deep human calling of the wild.

What we feel up here is timeless.

Infinite.

And sadly that feeling is becoming quite rare.

And time is running out.

Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Environment and Energy – I wrote you a letter….

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Josh is the guy that gets to sign off on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Western Sydney Airport.  If the rumour mill is correct that date is coming up thick and fast, November probably or just over a year since this whole thing hit the fan again.

If you are for the airport that’s great, good on you.

I’m not for it. I think it’s a terrible idea for lots of reasons but this time I hit Josh up with this one.

I am trying to be the best citizen I can be and this airport won’t help me or families like mine¬†in achieving that goal.2015-04-24 07.22.04.jpg

In his first speech to parliament in 2010 Josh said he wants to see an Australia where each citizen has the opportunity to be the best they can be so I thought this was a valid place to start a discussion.

See I’ve just completed a carbon audit for myself and my family. ¬†I run a business, a small but profitable one and one that has me serving a variety of customers all over Australia and beyond. ¬†Travelling to see these customers is something that I do limit and that is mainly because I am worried about my carbon footprint.

Being a small business (only me at the moment) every day I’m on the road is a day that I’m not directly making money. ¬†Therefore taking the train (10-14 hours) or driving (8-12 hours) to Melbourne or Brisbane on a regular basis would lose me 2 productive days each trip – well, I guess I could write my blog posts on the train or even do some research but still, it’s a big chunk out of my week. ¬†It’s just not practical really so I try not to do it. When I do do it I mostly fly unless I can rope someone else in to sharing the driving (reducing the chances of me actually dying at work thanks to fatigue).

The Badgery’s Creek airport will not make it any easier for me to see my Melbourne or Brisbane customers without racking up a big carbon bill. ¬† Fast rail could allow me to do these trips in the same time it currently takes to get a flight and for practically zero carbon depending on how the electricity for the trains is generated. ¬†Attractive? ¬†You bet!

Aside from all of the other reasons why I think the Badgery’s Creek (or Western Sydney Airport) is a bad idea this one is pretty important to me. ¬†I am gutted that there is no fast rail in this country – a country so huge that it is bordering on physically impossible to get between major centres in one business day. ¬†To ‘invest’ in a future that just gives us more of the same reminds me of the classic Henry Ford comment that you can have any colour you want as long as it is black.

Air travel is essential, especially in a country as far away from everywhere else as Australia – our nearest foreign neighbours are at least 3 hours flight away whereas in Europe I could be overseas in what seemed like no time at all – by car or by plane. ¬†So I’m not saying that we should ban air travel and nor am I saying that air travel can’t become more sustainable. ¬†Indeed, it was only last week that the aviation industry agreed to try to curb Co2 emissions so progress is possible, but in a time when zero emission transport ALREADY EXISTS it¬†seems mightily irresponsible to ignore it, especially when high-speed rail is a proven and safe alternative with broad public support.

So, I wrote to Josh Frydenberg today in the hope that he would see some benefit in helping me and other people like me to become the best citizens we can be AND to grow our businesses in the meantime. ¬†Surely that’s a win, win for Australialand?

Interested in putting your ideas across to Josh?  There is a public meeting being held on 15th October in Glenbrook, Blue Mountains. Please do consider coming along. Click on the image below for a link to the event on Facebook.

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Amanda x

PS: If you are reading this and thinking ‘yes but High Speed Rail is so expensive’ I’d answer that by asking if you have really factored in the cost of global warming. ¬†If global warming isn’t something you subscribe to please leave me alone. I have no energy to argue with that in this day and age. My approach to Global Warming is this ‘if we can do better, we should do better for no reason other than the fact we should and we can’.

 

Why ‘no’ campaigns pain the mind. Nothing is scarier than something.

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‘No Airport’

As in ‘it is ridiculous to build a second Sydney airport at the base of a national park out in the populated (and soon to be super-populated) ‘burbs’.’

I shout it, wave signs saying it and don a T-Shirt with the same message but somewhere inside me I feel uncomfortable because I am well aware that for humans the idea of nothing is nearly always scarier than something.

Death – endless minutes, hours, days, months, years of nothing. Imagine that? ¬†No thank you….. Why else to we imagine a heaven full of all the lovely things and people we miss in the ‘real world’.

Darkness – feeling alone, vulnerable, chilled, disoriented, anxious.

Nothing = All.Of.The.Above.

A ‘No’ campaign is good to a point but there becomes a point when people go home and say ‘well, what DO we want?’ ¬†This is especially true when the ‘Yes’ movement is offering enticements.

In the case of the Western Sydney Airport (Badgery’s Creek) the good fellows at spin HQ have been smart enough to package deal the airport as the key to unlock an economic bonanza for the west of Sydney, an area that has been sorely neglected for pretty much ever really. ¬†The western outskirts were where the ‘poor’ and ‘undesirables’ were pushed in the rush to gentrification of the inner suburbs. ¬†New migrants also gravitated ‘out there’ thanks to the cheap housing and larger blocks of land (making some level of self-sufficiency possible).

I can see how the inner city elite might feel that the west must be gazing on with wide eyes, looking up to their inner city ‘betters’ and wishing that they too could be like them. ¬†I feel that this attitude is epitomised by the Greater Sydney Commission headed up by Lucy ‘where are we talking about?’ Turnbull’ et al. ¬†After all, why wouldn’t they feel that way being as though ‘they’ kicked ‘us’ out and for the most part they are stinking rich in a world that thinks that’s all that matters. ¬†The have’s vs the have-nots. ¬†Only when you look closely that isn’t what happened ‘out there’. ¬†We are not in need of charity and neither do we want what ‘they’ value. ¬†I say ‘we’ because although I’m not a flat-land westie (I’m a mountains girl) , to those in the capital (and I’m channeling my hunger-games Katniss here) WE are just pawns in Their game and as long as we are compliant we are rewarded (within reason).

So our reward this time is an airport. An airport with jobs. We need jobs, so many of us commute out of our ‘burbs to earn a living because ‘their’ ¬†imaginations haven’t been able to stretch the 50 plus KM from Sussex Street to create or stimulate the creation of local jobs ‘out here’ over much of the last 80 years but we are supposed to forget about that. About how they have not given a shit for years. But now, now they plan to solve that for us with a 24/7 polluting Aerotropolis. ¬†Nice touch.

So when we say ‘No’ to an airport we are, ¬†by default (and though no fault of our own) saying no to jobs and growth, to government investment and to rewards.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

Let’s think about power and control.

Master and Servant.

Bondage vs Democracy.

Nothing is scarier than something.

I’m taking you down this path of thinking because what the pro-airport lobby has done is neatly enslaved ‘us’. ¬†Be a good servant (let the airport happen) and we will give you a reward (investment and jobs).

They have groomed ‘us’ into this with years of underinvestment and¬†interest. They have abused our trust.

As far as ‘we’ go, when ‘we’ know our¬†place we can become good at it. Become good¬†citizens / slaves, better than someone else maybe. We feel part of something again, we stand a chance of being rewarded, of winning one of the jobs and benefiting from some of the cash splash, the new roads and the shiny new parklands that were once covered in bush. ¬†We can even frame our¬†efforts as making a sacrifice for the greater good if we so feel. It’s all less mentally taxing than just saying No and then being left hanging and far more rewarding in the short-term no doubt.

And that is what they want of course. ¬†The master wants to maintain paternalistic control and what’s more he wants you to do his bidding for him, to ‘remind’ people ¬†of the ‘fact’ that ‘it ¬†(the airport) is a done deal’ and that ‘if we don’t go along with it we will be left out’¬†¬†because it is messy work trying to convince all those people who this is the right course of action to take because people have their own varied minds about these things and some of them might not like it.

Anyway, that’s by the by. ¬†I see this happening, I don’t assume that everyone going along with the airport feels enslaved and neither do I feel that everyone supporting the airport is deluded – there are many benefits that airports can bring to a region and I’m not denying that.

I personally feel somewhat immune to that master and servant game having come from a background of privilege, education and money (sort of).  I feel strong and unthreatened by the establishment Рfuck them, I have other options (even other passports if it came to that).  I am dangerous that way. Not because I want to undermine the authority of the government in an anarchic way РI work within the rules Рbut because I am secure in my ability to access and utilise the full power of the law to defend my rights to say no and stand strong in that.  I am legally entitled to say no and protest. But I am aware of the delicate psychology that is behind this game and I want to shine a light on that, not least because it is this very thing the government is trying to barge on past.

So how do we shift the power in this game?

Turn a negative into a positive, you catch more flies with honey as the pro-airport lobby know all too well…..

The No Airport campaign has, to date been about educating the public at large on the facts surrounding the EIS proposal, an EIS that came out in October last year. ¬†Education was and is needed as some councils (thanks Penrith) decided NOT to inform / educate their communities. ¬†The facts do speak for themselves, no spin, mis-representation or sensationalising of what is in the EIS is necessary to convince many people of the flaws in this proposal. Now whether these flaws lead to people adopting a ‘no airport’ or ‘no 24 hour airport’ or ‘please explain’ is up to the individual but you get the picture.

In my mind the time for the next step is NOW.

We (out West) can’t afford to be held ransom like this, to have our values or our economic value misappropriated, we have to make a counter proposal.

Fast rail is a good alternative to the airport but it isn’t enough, not least because for us in the Blue Mountains the fast rail hub will never be under our jurisdiction. ¬†Fast rail is, however, the proposal that could bring the west together and be jointly and wholeheartedly supported across the councils as part of the solution. But beyond that we are still left with a vacuum, not least for us up in the mountains.

The Mountains Рfocusing on what we can directly control. 

The Blue Mountains stands to lose much in the way of tranquility and unique character if the city limits are allowed to encroach on the National Park. ¬†Pressure on existing roads will grow if we really are to get more tourists pumping dollars into our economy¬†(and why shouldn’t we?) so we really should be asking ourselves, what type of tourist are we trying to attract? How will they get here, where will they stay and what are we selling them? ¬†While at the same time asking ‘what can we do to grow our local economy?’, “what skills do we have” and “what does the environment lend its self to that can boost our economic value?’

It is clear that¬†the government is looking to the west to fill gaps in its budget projections. This is not new to me, corporates do this to their sales teams all the time – the corporation needs a 20% increase in sales when the market is in recession – don’t argue about it JUST DO IT OR LOSE YOUR JOB OR CREDIBILITY. ¬†Of course, the government, as in corporate will have to face whatever reality is real and if aspirational targets are not met they are not met but what isn’t tolerated¬†in corporate or¬†government is a lack of effort, a lack of a plan.

So can the Blue Mountains increase its revenue (and thus the money it returns to treasury) by 5%, 10%, 20%, 40%, 100% whatever AND maintain its identity and clean air? ¬†I am not sure but surely THAT is the conversation we¬†need to be having outside of government – a conversation we can have between friends and families, neighbours and council representatives. There is much here to value and as the world gets crazier¬†we all wish we could retreat to the hills……

But retreat is not enough.

 

So when nothing is scarier than something we stay empowered by presenting SOMETHING.

I believe the key to achieving a just outcome in this situation is to state our values and our value firmly, factually and in economic rather than emotional terms (as it is clear from how the government treats us that emotional value is lost on them).

Which begs the questions ‘what is our value and how can we best work the assets we have in our region?’

What kind of community do we want to encourage? What economic activities could be promoted up here?  Who do we want to attract and why?

I was at an art exhibition opening yesterday Рthree local artists, much talent, expensive paintings some inspired by the local landscape, sell-out crowed.  We have the capacity to generate wealth up here, on our own terms, celebrating what we value WHILE we value and protect the environment.

And there is not ‘just’ talented painters up here, we have film makers, ceramic artists, musicians, singers and actors drawing inspiration from these surrounds. ¬†And not just that, there are our towns full of unique and independent retailers, our coffee shops, restaurants, co-operatives and community hubs. We have education providers, tourist attractions, historical buildings, song lines, ¬†flora and fauna, stories, festivals autumn leaves and winter snow!

So what are we waiting for? ¬†Let’s spell out our potential and show them that it isn’t us that’s scared of change and ‘progress’ it’s them that’s scared of us. ¬†We are far more powerful and valuable than they can possibly imagine especially when, instead of presenting¬†nothing we can present something far, far more attractive than an airport.

I believe that nothing is what they are offering, not us. That they just happened to put it into a shiny gold-painted box and used a loud-mouthed sales man with no imagination to shove it into our stunned hands.

Well I think it’s time we presented a box of our own only our box will be full of something and not nothing.

Because nothing is scarier than something and we¬†know we have something good up here don’t we?