CSG activist Dayne “The Frackman” Pratzky is starting a new life in the Great Lakes after enduring and escaping the gas fields of Queensland. When he rejected the prospect of having a mining company explore for coal seam gas on his land, the roo and pig shooter quickly became a thorn in the side of Queensland Gas Company [QGC] and the Queensland government with his radical guerrilla-style tactics.
Roger Marmion had a chat with Dayne just before the sold out screening of Frackman the Movie in Taree to find out how he became the “accidental” activist.
So Dayne, you’re not a Queenslander?
No. I’m a Snowy Mountains boy born in Cooma Hospital. We moved around NSW a bit when I was growing up -the Central West, Goulburn and Bathurst. Then at 17 I moved to Sydney and got a job as an apprentice spray painter on the Northern Beaches.
It was a pretty full on life in Sydney. I spent about 13 years there between the Northern Beaches and Newtown. I finished up working as a construction worker on the Lane Cove Tunnel.
What made you move to Queensland?
When I got injured I couldn’t afford to live in Sydney any more. I’d bought a 247 acre lifestyle block in the Tara Estate between Tara and Chinchilla, a place where you could afford to own some land, build a house and enjoy the bush lifestyle with my dogs.
I decided to move out there to develop the block. It was a bit of a tree change and I got to get back to what I was doing as a teenager – hunting and ground myself a bit more. The plan was to eventually sell the block and I’d have the option of moving back to the coast – not Sydney, but somewhere like Coffs Harbour or Forster.
But then the coal seam gas industry came over the top of me and that option was taken away. They could come onto my land to drill for gas, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it! I got pretty angry in the end, because I didn’t think that was the Australian way!
I was brought up in a country where everyone had the right to a fair go. And when my fair go was taken away, twice – once when I was injured; I went from a six-figure income working on a major infrastructure project to earning $21,000 a year. But I copped that on the chin. Then when the mining company said, “We’re gonna screw you too”, I thought, “Enough’s enough” and that’s when I fought!
Those blocks out in the Tara Estate are lifestyle blocks – some marginal grazing land at best, but there’s also some of the best black-soil cropping and grazing country, and you don’t expect your lifestyle to be taken away by a mining company.
People who’ve seen the aerial photos and videos of gas wells, produced water ponds and pipelines perhaps don’t fully appreciate the impact that CSG production has. What was the worst thing for you about living in a gas field?
The fact that there’s no one there to help you. The fact that all your concerns are pushed aside by government and industry. It’s designed to break you and make you submit. You submit to whatever they want to do and just take it on the chin. That’s the worst thing, put aside the health effects – it’s the fact that there’s no one with authority to actually look after you! And that’s when you have to start looking after yourself. That’s what we did.
When you make a complaint to the industry and the industry colludes with the government over your complaint to no longer make their activity illegal; for instance, the noise for me was a problem for many years. So instead of the government making the industry quieten down their operations at night, they increased the level of noise they were allowed to make, by law. Now that’s not fair and it’s un-Australian!
I grew up in this country believing a person meant something and a person’s land meant something and my peaceful enjoyment of my land was mine. To have that taken away and have nobody try and help us and actually have the government collude with the industry is horrendous!
What about Queensland Health, who investigated residents’ health concerns?
Yeah, Queensland Health released a report and said everything’s AOK out there. I was part of that health study. Some people came out to my place and took two litres of water out of my water tank and collected some air samples for a couple of hours in a canister. That was QGC who did that – the actual company I was complaining about! QGC analysed these samples and sent the results to Queensland Health and they released the study. I didn’t see a doctor and not once was examined by a doctor.
With all of the documented claims of adverse effects, how did the government respond?
The alarm bells should have gone off for the government a long time ago. When you have people making complaints left, right and centre about their water quality and the fact that their water is disappearing: the fact that people have health issues and the fact that people are being bullied by the company – that should have been enough to get the State and Federal Governments to do something, but instead they rolled out the red carpet for the industry.
After a long fight I eventually sold my house and land, because I didn’t want to put up with the gas industry, their bullying tactics and the pressures and stresses that go with it. You have to make a sacrifice, take a step backwards in order to get ahead. Some people want to stay there and others don’t have a choice. Now I’ve got an 1100 m² block at Smiths Lakes and I’m renting in Forster.
What attracted you to the Great Lakes?
The beauty of the area. What the Great Lakes has is an amazing ability to attract tourists for the simple beauty of the area – our beautiful clean beaches, our fishing, our surfing, our clean lifestyle. That’s what we have to offer to people.
I know what’s happening out at Gloucester and what the people of the Great Lakes actually have is an obligation to not only ensure that our town is kept clean, but that our district is kept clean. AGL have no right to be doing what they are out at Gloucester. It is not fair what our fellow community members are being subjected to. AGL should be respecting what our area represents and not ruin what our community believes should be protected.
If AGL go ahead, pretty soon people will start moving away and we’ll be tarred with the same brush as Tara and Chinchilla. We’ll then have to kiss our clean, green brand name and lifestyle goodbye. It’s all at risk!
It’ll be an inter-generational recovery mission to get our reputation back if the Gloucester valley part of our water catchment is synonymous with CSG and open-cut coal mines. You won’t get it back in my lifetime. If we love our area we better stand up and fight for it!
What impact has the gas industry had on Queensland communities?
In Chinchilla the people bought the spin of the mining company about jobs, and mining took over the town. I saw houses on the market for $600,000 and people bought them. They were told the boom would last for 10 years or more, and it was over in three. People are now moving out, businesses are going belly up and the jobs are not there and they realise that the promises of the industry and the government were just snake oil.
How did you meet your partner, Wendy?
I met Wendy online. She was in Pennsylvania and she understood what I was going through. Pennsylvania has also been drilled and every well gets fracked, unlike here. It’s a disaster zone over there. It’s become a community sacrifice zone with everything just dumped in the rivers.
That’s the reason why we came to this area. I couldn’t take her to live at Tara – who wants to live somewhere with a reputation for being toxic.
You’ve been criss-crossing the state with the Frackman the Movie tour. How are you coping with that?
It’s been tough and I just want to go home, but I’m doing it for a reason. I feel obligated to my fellow countrymen to travel to other regions around Australia to help them understand what’s happening and what’s on the way. I just have to wear the tiredness, the attacks from the industry and a gruelling schedule. There’s a couple more months to go.
How successful has the anti-CSG campaign been?
The anti-CSG movement is the fastest-growing social movement this country has seen and the people in it are often branded by the media as greenie, hippie tree-huggers, who are anti-development and anti-fossil fuels but there’s more to it than that. There are farmers, doctors, nurses, business people, tourist operators and organic food growers. The movement is crossing the divide and growing at such a rate that it’s taken the industry and the government by surprise.
It’s not about radical activism; it’s about standing up! The people who came before us fought in two major wars but now we have to be prepared to protect this country from a foreign invader who has been let in the back door by our own governments.
If you love this country, it’s time to fight for it whether you are young or old, whether you are a farmer or a hippie, whether you vote Green or Labor or Liberal whatever political affiliation now is the time. And if it gets away from us, we will have lost something that’s irretrievable. We will never get it back!
Thanks Dayne, welcome to the Great Lakes and I hope you get a chance to enjoy your new life soon.
Details of the Frackman the Movie screening dates are available online at www.frackmanthemovie.com