The crowd at the indigenous welcome to country event, during the Bob Brown led Anti Adani Convoy, Clermont show grounds, on Sunday April 28, 2019. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner
The crowd at the indigenous welcome to country event, during the Bob Brown led Anti Adani Convoy, Clermont show grounds, on Sunday April 28, 2019. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

Up against the coalface of unrest

AROUND 10.30am at a pro-Adani coal mine rally on a rainy Saturday morning in the city of Mackay it suddenly becomes clear, with all the deep, calm clarity of a spiritual epiphany, that Australian politics has gone insane.

The Bob Brown Foundation's Stop Adani Convoy has rolled into town and with it that strange new political potpourri which has taken all the old certainties and thrown them into a stew so thick no one could hope to know where the ingredients ever originated.

The pro-mine tribe are camped on one side of the city council grounds, the anti-mine tribe on the other.

 

Amid the pro-mine tribe are hundreds of miners and their families, salt-of-the-earth heirs to an ancient political pedigree with the purity of a religious parable - "Labour's honest, coal-blackened face pitted against Capital's fat, greedy jowls".

And into their circle of solidarity strolls billionaire mining tsar Clive Palmer, needing only a cigar and waist coat to mirror a cartoon caricature of a 19th Century capitalist.

Palmer, with his rolling walk and hearty, corpulent cheeriness, is not being booed and hissed like a pantomime villain but welcomed with warmth and wide grins and the 21st Century equivalent of autograph request - "the selfie''.

Clive Palmer before the Pro-Adani protest in Jubilee Park, Mackay on Saturday April 27, 2019. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner
Clive Palmer before the Pro-Adani protest in Jubilee Park, Mackay on Saturday April 27, 2019. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

And that's not the worst or strangest of it. On this rainy Saturday old-style National Party businessmen align with hard-line unionists while rum-toting "Country Party'' graziers align with coffee-sipping Greens who align with Aborigines who fear Adani's impact on the Honey Bee Dreaming.

The Òwirdi binbiÓ dance group preform during the welcome to country at the Clermont end of the Anti Adani Convoy, Clermont show grounds, on Sunday, April 28, 2019. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner
The Òwirdi binbiÓ dance group preform during the welcome to country at the Clermont end of the Anti Adani Convoy, Clermont show grounds, on Sunday, April 28, 2019. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

In Clermont 300km to the southwest the urbane, right-wing, Rockhampton-based LNP Senator Matt Canavan speaks and CMMFEU members listen with foot-stomping yelps of approvals.

A car with a giant image of Pauline Hanson bolted to its roof circles the streets to waves of applause, while pro-mine protesters shout obscenities at elderly anti-Adani Greens, many of whom may well have devoted much of their political lives to improving the lot of the working class.

Australian Labor Party Labor candidates, who once represented that very same working class, gaze on from the fringes with that "wallaby-caught-in-your-headlights'' stare which sometimes falls across Bill Shorten's face when Adani is mentioned, businesses forgo sorely needed revenue and refuse to serve customers who are against Adani ,and men in Mack trucks jam CB radio air waves with angry slurs about that slow-moving, self-righteous, Greenie convoy.

Amid the chaos and confusion of this strange weekend one man remains steadfastly lucid - Marty Bella.

Towering over the Mackay pro-Adani crowd from the tray of a four-wheel-drive, the former rugby league international-turned-Mackay City Councillor handles the issue in the same forthright manner he and fellow forward Sam Backo handled the 1988 Interstate Series - that is to say, with brutal aggression.

Bella is from a highly respected agricultural family but last year he had a very un-Bella-family-like brush with the law when he was pulled up by police for wearing a green shirt into a Queensland Government gathering in Mackay. That green shirt represents opposition to Queensland's vegetation management rule changes but, like a French yellow vest, it means so much more.

Rugby league international-turned-Mackay City Councillor Martin Bella on his property about 70km south of Mackay.
Rugby league international-turned-Mackay City Councillor Martin Bella on his property about 70km south of Mackay.

Fusing his tertiary educated mind (he's a physiotherapist) with the aggression of a prop forward, Bella leaps gleefully onto the tray of the 4WD and opens up with the heavy artillery.

The anti-Adani crowd, Bella clearly believes, represent just one tentacle of a giant, existential Box Jellyfish threat hovering over regional Queensland.

If not confronted, this lethal menace will destroy regional Queensland and banish its inhabitants to capital cities slums.

"We have seen it again and again and again,'' Bella bellows. "Attacks on agriculture, attacks on commercial fishing, attacks on coal.

He sneers at Green insistence that vast job opportunities and wealth await workers in a renewable energy world.

"Amid all their trite statements that we can do this and we can do that there is not one consideration for real economic concerns, not one consideration for the fact that we need to make a living, that we need to feed our families.

"And we want to live here!

"We don't want to have to move to Brisbane to do some other job and become an under class, because that is what will happen!''

The crowd loves him. Hideous visions of enslavement as a barista in a West End cafe with man buns and inked up forearms materialise simultaneously in 700 feverish minds, and they roar their approval of their saviour.

And no more whining about politicians, yells Bella, now in full revolutionary "workers of the world unite'' mode.

"Politicians are actually 'us,'' he declares.

"So get engaged now people, because the fight starts now and it's gonna be long and it's gonna be hard!''

Five hours later in Clermont a skirmish in that long hard fight gets underway.

The Greens convoy which also held a meeting in Mackay has wound its way along the Peak Downs Highway, headed up by two Tesla cars, and is entering Clermont intent on making it to the show grounds to camp.

The Bob Brown led Anti Adani Convoy, heading for Clermont, on Saturday, April 27, 2019 Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner
The Bob Brown led Anti Adani Convoy, heading for Clermont, on Saturday, April 27, 2019 Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

But a crowd of several hundred has formed and, as cars negotiate their way down Herschel St through the human bottle neck, pale anxious faces peer through windscreens as they're subjected to vicious verbal abuse, their cars slapped by angry hands.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan and the LNP Member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, who have earlier addressed the crowd, will have none of it, quite sensibly keeping back from the melee which has gone beyond the realms of civilised protest.

A pro-coal activist taunts the Bob Brown led anti-Adani convoy on Herschel St, Clermont, on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Picture: Steve Pohlner
A pro-coal activist taunts the Bob Brown led anti-Adani convoy on Herschel St, Clermont, on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Picture: Steve Pohlner

Later some stones are thrown, fire crackers are let off and someone in the Green camp calls police just before midnight to report a gun shot (it was the fire crackers).

Sunday morning dawns and the eternally tranquil visage of Australia's Green Grandee, Bob Brown, remains unravaged.

Brown is smiling benevolently at reporters who have gathered at the Clermont showgrounds for a press conference, invigorated by ceremonial greetings from Adrian Burragubba and the Wangan and Jagalingou people and gloriously dismissive of rocks and fire crackers and swear words, backing up police who have not arrested anyone.

Burragubba explains his people are "People of Bee,'' and they must see (literally see) kangaroo and emu and other totems for their spiritual and physical survival.

He fears the Adani Mine will suck aquifers dry and turn central Queensland into a desert void of life, a fear shared by some farmers in central Queensland who back the Green's anti-Adani stance.

Brown appeals to the metaphysical: "There is respect for 'munginjurra,' the spirit world, the dream world of this land, which you cannot have if you are going to support Adani,'' he says.

An independent candidate for the seat of Capricornia, Ken Murray, materialises. One of the few non-Green political candidates willing to be seen with the Green convoy, Murray stands under a fig tree delivering a fascinating dissertation on the medicinal powers of the Gumby Gumby tree used by Aboriginals for healing.

Highly articulate, presumably fearless of the potentially negative impacts his presence will have on the May 18 vote, Murray says he won 5 per cent of the vote in the last election.

Sportsbet have him as a 12/1 chance of winning this time and, in the hot sun and chaos of this political landscape, an odd thought pops into the mind that this rather intriguing man might actually win Capricornia.

Ken Murray, independent candidate for Capricornia. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner
Ken Murray, independent candidate for Capricornia. Picture: AAP/Steve Pohlner

But then a country yokel gallops a horse into the show grounds, knocks down a middle-aged woman, and the "crazy'' gets ratcheted up one more notch.

Bob Brown, a qualified doctor, and a highly credentialed Melbourne anaesthetist who happens to be driving one of the Teslas, sprints to her aid.

Murray, a part time pastor, lends a hand while sending up a prayer to a Christian God, even if he is on Wangan and Jagalingou land, and the woman who at first appears seriously hurt (she is still recovering from non life threatening injuries) is settled as an ambulance is called.

The woman who was injured during a Stop Adani Convoy event in Clermont. A man on horseback has been arrested after he allegedly knocked the woman over while riding a horse/ Picture: AAP/Matthew Newton/Bob Brown Foundation
The woman who was injured during a Stop Adani Convoy event in Clermont. A man on horseback has been arrested after he allegedly knocked the woman over while riding a horse/ Picture: AAP/Matthew Newton/Bob Brown Foundation

 

The weekend ends up in one of saddest places on Earth - a Monday morning Magistrates Court sitting.

Mackay Magistrate Athol Kennedy spends a portion of the morning staring silently at a callow youth who drove a car into a pole after drinking half a dozen apple ciders and one quarter of a bottle of rum.

Kennedy, expression oscillating between horrified bewilderment and vague curiosity about the impact of such an extraordinary alcohol reading on the human body, struggles to comprehend all the lineaments of such a reckless act.

"Nearly five times the legal limit, five times the legal limit ... how did you even get the key into the ignition?''

Shortly after 12.30pm 41-year-old Clinton McDonald walks into the glassed off dock and sits silent in his two-tone green jumper facing the serious offence of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle (namely a horse).

Clinton M Donald riding a horse through Anti Adani protesters at the Clermont Showgrounds.
Clinton M Donald riding a horse through Anti Adani protesters at the Clermont Showgrounds.

A coal truck driver with experience in manual trades and, obviously, some equestrian skill, he's regarded around the Clermont district not so much as a brain surgeon but just a good ol' boy from a respectable family.

Kennedy allows bail but warns McDonald to stay away from the showgrounds and make no contact with the Greens, and McDonald, rather endearingly, begins to cry.

"I don't even want to go into town,'' he says tearfully, suggesting he is so ashamed of his behaviour he doesn't want to show his face in his own community.

Kennedy's tone softens ever so slightly and McDonald, not required to enter a plea, is remanded to appear in Clermont Magistrates Court for mention in August.

In Clermont, the Green convoy rolls on and out of town, unwelcome, unbeaten, unbowed, heading for a Canberra "rally for climate'' scheduled for tomorrow, and this strange carnival is over.