At The Coal Face - NFDS 2018

NFDS 2018: At The Coalface

amclellan, 26th September 2018

The story of a billboard, a coal mine, and a rural community split in two.

Nikola Van de Wetering returns to her hometown to dig-up the controversy sitting close to the surface in At The Coalface.

Produced by Nikola Van de Wetering of 4ZZZ, Brisbane.
Supervising production by Stephen Stockwell.
Broadcasting this on your station? Email CRN on this address for audio and cue sheets.

MORE MINES, MORE JOBS, MORE FUTURE isn’t just a billboard slogan.

Nobody could tell me when they first saw the billboard.

You’d think a landmark that big and that bold, sitting alongside a highway in rural Queensland, would lodge into your memory. But regardless, it soon became an accepted part of the local scenery.

National Features and Documentary Series

IMAGE: Nikola Van de Wetering with the billboard on the D’Aguilar Highway, at Barker’s Creek Flats (QLD).

  “You really like that sign, don’t you?”

Every interview I conducted in-and-around Kingaroy, investigating local mining interests in the area, I asked about the billboard. But there was no simple answer. I was met with a wild and wonderful array of theories to it’s origins. One lady I spoke to swore on her life the mining mogul Gina Reinhardt herself had paid for it, given her association with the local Christmas Light Competition (and for a moment I almost believed her).

National Features and Documentary SeriesIMAGE: anti-coal mine placard 500 m east of Kingaroy on the D’Aguilar Highway (QLD).

Whilst this documentary was at heart about mining prospects in the region, and it’s sordid connections with past notorious environmental failures, it soon grew into a snap-shot of the community I grew up in. A place steeped in small-town rumors and suspicions.

A community fractured not only by it’s mistrust of mining operators, but also of each other.

I shouldn’t have been surprised the production of this documentary followed me long after I completed my interviews in the community, with cold-calls from strangers asking me why ‘anyone in living in Brisbane would care’ about a development in this rural Queensland town. It’s a testament to the tensions of this region, and the heady paranoia of it’s residents.

IMAGE: remains of an anti-UCG placard approx. 1 km east of the Bjelke-Petersen homestead ‘Bethany’ (QLD).

But the battle of the black and yellow signs had been waging long before I returned home to produce this documentary. If you know where to look, you can even find some of the placards from some ten years ago, back when Cougar Energy’s UCG pilot was in development.

These decaying signs stand as evidence of the first fractures that formed within this rural community, and of the story I ultimately wanted to share in At the Coalface. 

- Nikola Van de Wetering


This piece was made for the CBAA's National Features & Documentary Series 2018, a showcase of work by new and emerging Australian community radio producers, with training and mentoring provided by the Community and Media Training Organisation. The opinions expressed in National Features & Documentary Series content are those of the individual producers or their interviewees, and not necessarily shared by the CBAA or CMTO.

Produced with the assistance of the Department of Communications and the Arts via the Community Broadcasting Foundation.

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