Where the River Runs Red – a mining community caught between the past and a sustainable future


You’re lucky to live in Tasmania,
it’s got everything. You wait till we reach the west coast. What’s down there? That’s Queenstown. The town seemed to
grow just about overnight during the 1880s when gold and copper
were found at Mount Lyell. It was a magnet for miners and their families. This is great! Look at those trucks down there. They’re like toys from up here. I can’t hear you. Tasmania’s power to produce
and grow comes from its mountains. And today more than ever
before Tasmania is on the move. Thank you Mr deputy speaker. On the 11th December 2013, I informed the house
of the tragic deaths of two west coast locals
in a mining accident. It’s great sadness today that I again inform
the house of a third death at Mount Lyell mine. Operations at the mine have been temporarily suspended. It is estimated that over 350 jobs will be lost
as a result of these closures. So that’s the head of the Queen River and that’s mainly coming from these waste rock dumps so all the water that goes through those goes in clean and comes out acid. And that sulphuric acid eats away at other things in the rock so if there’s any copper or other metals, iron, aluminum in the rock, that gets dissolved
into the water as well. So you end up with what we call acid drainage. You can if you’ve got gumboots on. I wouldn’t leave your tripod
in there for too long. No, this is what it is,
this is one of the worst in Australia. It’s a lesson of how not to do things. You want to go up and around?
Up round there. Takes you around this block. It’s all the copper, all the different minerals …
it has been dumped in the river. Got it about three and a half months ago. Done a bit of work to it. Love it. Yeah, gets me from A to B
then back to C. No. Very bumpy ride, I tell you. I’ve been here 15 years this year but you’ve got to be here pretty much your entire life to become a local. Fifteen years is nothing. Pretty much call me a tourist still. Something that goes on all the time
about the mine opening. They said it when it first shut down,
it’s going to reopen. Then they say, no we’re going
to have to postpone it again. This same shit, different day. And the front door was right there. Yes, there, this is where we used
to play cricket on here. On this cement path here. They had all these chooks and these ducks
and these geese. These geese flew away one day from here,
heading towards that mountain. Never seen them again. You know I’m thinking about whether I wanted
to stay here for the rest … Whether I wanted to stay here
or whether I wanted to go somewhere else, really. I … Yeah, I’m a bit stumped there. Because of the acid rain and the acid drainage
and stuff like that, it’s got a very acidic pH. It’s a bit sad because I love
freshly grown tomatoes. They taste really good, don’t they? I think conservation
is a really important consideration and you’ve got to think
of your future generations. Can’t just spoil everything. That’s what I think anyway. How did this place get to be the way it is? Why aren’t we telling our kids about this stuff? But we’re not. We’re trying to hide behind our hands,
oh no we didn’t do that. We tend to believe that we came in here, destroyed the place for profit –
we’re doing this to survive. There were those locals that saw
the ultimate closure as our fault. I’ve always been called the guy who
turned the lights off. 22,000 files like that exist in this building. A lot of them never worked another day in their lives
and they were young men. This is Grumpy, he’s good. And I thought, well they’ll be good, they’ll keep me out of the picture because
I don’t want to get co-dependent and get on … I was a bit … here’s my mate, the other bird and so anyway they look after each other. But he’s already getting flying. Anyway there’s some more bottles in there. This is … I love Australian rules and I played
till I was 40, like I said, 39 actually. Well this is …
I’m very comfortable here, I’m comfortable. Yeah. There’s the mine disaster. No, nothing would be here. Queenstown wouldn’t even be there. Mining was number one. In here is Bob’s room,
this is the ghost room. Strangely enough, the only person
that slept in that bed was called Bob. That was my brother, I didn’t tell him
there was a ghost in here called Bob. That’s my daughter. That’s my son and that’s me. And I still feel like an outsider
in all that mob there. I don’t feel as if I should be there. It is a feeling, it’s only a feeling. He’s called Hungry Mel Tom,
he used to live under bridges. He said to me once, Pete … they call him Albus and he said, I don’t care if I die tomorrow because I’m so happy today. What? That’s true. It’s anyway maybe he was very … he died two days before he was going to get married. This one. Is Matt coming? Yeah, he might be back Thursday, I think. I know he definitely
said he wouldn’t be here tonight. Matt will be here late and then John rang me 20 minutes ago and said, Tobe, I’m having shit luck with cars, my ute’s now broken down so I’ve got to start fixing it. Six, do a couple of laps.
We’ll make round here. Good job boys, close it up. Bob, Bobby stormed it. If that goes in, it’s not a penalty Bobby. I think football wise, what happened in the town, everyone needed a place to sort of … I don’t know, sort of release sort of thing. That’s pretty much 2014 was all the mates were together because we lost three mates. Delicious. They’re supposed to put a new roof on it. It is a matter of concern that many
in Tasmania’s west coast mining community are currently facing uncertain times
and it is extremely important that the focus turns to pursuing sustainable opportunities that do include tourism and other service industries. Oh g’day, just doing my bit for Australia. Taking a great Aussie holiday. What do you mean I’m just lazing
about enjoying myself? It only looks like that but what I’m really doing see, I’m providing a valuable injection
into the Australian economy. That’s why a lot of people are working hard to make Tasmania a better place for tourists to come to. All aboard please, folks, all aboard. No, it’s the first day. I only started lunchtime today. I better get some water. Just get a lung full. This is world heritage, no question about it. We operate a business now
called RoamWild Tasmania and we started operating mine tours of all things. There’s a shaft in here so don’t … follow me. We might not go in this one, boys. Wrong time of year … if you want to get wet feet,
we can go in. The things we do in the name of journalism. There’s a nice cave spider up here,
he’s a beauty. There’s as close as I’m going to get bud. You don’t have to get far in to see what happens:
copper oozing from the walls already. The need for copper and things isn’t
gonna go away so maybe one day this
will be a functioning, productive mine. Until then, let’s make it a tourism asset, hey? The kids love this. The Mount Lyell mine reopening will have a big impact on the local economy, there’s no question about that
but it’s not going to be the big employment and economic driver
that mines were 25 years ago. If it’s not sustainable, forget it. That’s just a one way street
with a brick wall at the end. We’ve done that enough in the past,
haven’t we learned? I grew up in a time
when it was quite normal to carry the household rubbish to the nearest bridge
and drop it in the river. Some visitors describe Queenstown
as one of the ugliest towns in Tasmania. It’s not ugly, it’s beautiful. We’re not so really green
minded in Queenstown. They’re upsetting everything,
they’re interfering with our way of life. It will never die. The town? It will be like me, I won’t die either. Yeah, mate, yeah. I was the only one in here actually up
until about half an hour ago. Had the place all to myself. I was born here. Yeah, always going to leave but never did, yeah. Now this one is black B52. That’s us. Excuse me, it was rigged. They’re the things boys, keep the vibe up
and going today. Come on Mick. Big shot now boys. First quarter, we want 10-plus goals straight up. Ten-plus goals straight up, let’s go. Well done boys. Come on boys. I can shoot a goal. Have a kick. Nice. Thank you! That’s the end of the story. Yeah this will be given
a big cleanout before we restart. I crack the shits about this sort of stuff,
tape just left lying on the ground is a … is it to be used or is it not to be used. Yeah it is actually. Mining will always be with us
and it will be with us forever. We all need it and we simply can’t do without it. What’s the alternative? Even those that don’t agree with mining, they show their disagreement using iPhones
that have been produced from mining, you know? And that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yeah, nothing better to do
than put teabags on the roof. Now everybody wants us to reopen,
I don’t think there’s anybody that is … in fact I think everybody
would like to reopen tomorrow if we could, so I think my mission is to get
the people back in here again. Come on then, for a little bit longer, don’t tell mum. Hey what do you reckon? Singing: Rock-a-bye baby on the treetop,
when the wind blows, the cradle will rock. You be good for nanny, hey?
We love rock-a-bye baby, don’t we? I might go out and have a ciggie,
did you want to have a break? Yeah, let’s do that. I’d had 11 miscarriages
before I had my first daughter. And I do put it down to that mine,
I really, really do. You can’t even eat the fish out
of the bay sometimes. They had warnings, mercury, yeah. And I’m a mining girl, my dad was a miner
and kids’ dads are miners. Why don’t they like change? Change is a good thing, it really is
but they don’t seem to want it here. I think they might be. Good night? Yeah. Oh good. How did you go? Got seven votes. Well done! I didn’t win but I still got seven votes. Is that yours? I know, isn’t that wicked? The umpires, they vote for whoever was best on the court at that game. That’s fantastic. Whoa. I’m really wrapped. I’m so cold, my toes are so swollen. I’m just so proud. I’m so, so proud of you Ashley because I know you didn’t know
you were going to get votes.

26 thoughts on “Where the River Runs Red – a mining community caught between the past and a sustainable future

  1. Tears shed watching this. 💔😢
    Clean water is the basic means of survival. 😨
    Without it, you can have massive health and wildlife issues. 😢
    Digging for profit is so sad.
    The Earth can heal from this though. 🌏
    Us humans are responsible, but getting back to caring for nature is the key, just like these lovely folks do.
    They try hard with such little means.
    Big hearts in Queensland, Australia.
    Thank you Guardian for posting this.
    U2's song "Red Hill Mining Town" lyrics, I feel, are spot on for this town and massive area of land.
    Love from Michigan USA 💗
    Peace! ✌

  2. I went to Tasmania and saw Queenstown as a kid in 1979. The hills with all the soil removed were shocking. I still don't really understand how people could let that be done to a place where they lived. https://www.mindat.org/loc-5774.html …so radioactive minerals there too.

  3. The same story everywhere….go in, exploit the environment until it's no longer livable, refuse any alternate course of action
    This is why humans are the dumbest animal on earth

  4. The melancholy and kitsch of it all is breathtaking. It speaks so bluntly and honestly about the struggles of their mining region.

  5. So the miners had jobs that paid them a pittance compared to the wealth extracted.
    And they are left with the mess.
    Corporate capitalism at its worst.

  6. 20:30 "Even those that don't agree with mining, they show their disagreement using Phones that have been produced from mining"

  7. I spent 5 days in the area in 2016. This film is really focusing on the negative. They filmed in winter, on cloudy rainy days, ffs. They filmed when everything is closed. The place looks great in the sun, and it's the major hub for tourists in the area, which brings in money and activity. The West Coast Railway tour is a real gem. The town definitely has its problems, but it's not unrelenting misery like this film suggests.

  8. 6:19 she mentions acid rain. Now I get the acid drainage from the mine and the rainwater taht flows through the waste. But acid rain? where's that coming from? Certainly not cuased by the mine?

  9. this is a disgusting and slanderous attack on a beautiful and welcoming town. So many people are working hard to turn things around and create a wonderful place to visit and live. Where are their voices? Where are the positive stories? Where are all the nice houses in town? No just more of the same bleak landscape scarred by over 130 years of mining. Most of the environmental damage they talk about happened over 80 years ago and if you visit today, you will find that a lush green valley has replaced the infamous moonscape, healthy gardens and a diverse wildlife population. Get your act together Guardian and tell the real story of Queenstown

  10. A very very small price to pay for genocide. There is a more appropriate price now being paid for your ignorance…self destruction. Pity not the fool with selfish pride.

  11. Terrible slanted stuff …Why not mention some great stuff about Queenstown and the whole gorgeous West Coast … I live on the opposite side of Tasmania and know Queenie has done a lot of great things ..Tell that too ..

  12. Ok… let me straighten out a few things here, cause I dont think The Guardian knows what Queenstown is like at all
    First and foremost, I'm a life-long Queenstown resident (17 years since may) and even I found this film utterly appalling, they've made us seem like an uninhabitable, toxic wasteland… yes, our river is undeniably polluted, but the rest of it? The trees and wildlife? Is FLOURISHING. What happened to the river did indeed have a lasting effect, but in NO way is it "acid", its not clean, but it isnt going to melt your bloody tripod.
    Secondly, the housing. Majority of the bloody shots taken for this bloody film were taken in Gormanston (a separate town, located very very close to Queenstown, and is almost completely abandoned) and the shots that were taken of Queenstown homes, were either houses of those who are less fortunate or completely bloody destroyed (which there are few of). Though I understand that our houses may be below what might be considered the "standard". that certainly doesn't mean every building is abandoned and dilapidated.
    Thirdly, the people. The people shown in this film are NOT a representation of our population as a whole (2 or 3 of which are from Gormanston), the people shown in the film are less than a FRACTION of our population.
    Fourth, the mood. While Queenstown can (and has) see it's fair share in bad weather, that by no means means the place is as grey and cold as you've represented it, the place looks completely bloody dead, which it by no means is! This film strips the town of all colour and dimension that I assure anyone watching, it has. We have festivals and celebrations which make the town buzz (Namely the Unconformity) which, is held every 2 years and was in 2018.
    Even I, not being a great lover of the place myself, feel as though this film is nothing but slanderous and ignorant to our town, I IMPLORE The Guardian to reevaluate their view on our home and come back, instead showing what our town really has to offer, instead of decay and rot, which I assure, is NOT Queenstown and is NOT who we are.
    – K

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