Joel Fitzgibbon has been creating political mayhem by selling a false impression of the Hunter region. His high-profile focus on coal would lead you to believe the Hunter is populated by black-faced, hard hat-wearing underground miners straight out of the 19th century.
With this imagery, he seems to be holding the Labor Party’s climate change policy hostage, while ignoring the real interests and concerns of his constituency. There have to be better ways forward.
I am an Awabakal woman, a descendant of Mahrahkah, one of few known Indigenous ancestors of the region.
Like many non-Indigenous members of the Hunter community, I also have ties from early contact in the region that were formed due to the coal mining enterprises on our Awabakal country. My Scottish great-grandfather migrated from Glasgow to work as a coal miner when Cessnock was only a settlement, not even a town, in 1900. Members of my family have been employed in the coal mining industry in the Hunter for generations.
Families who have traditionally been part of the coal-mining industry in the Hunter have been and remain a close-knit group. We helped each other out with food during strikes or wept beside each other in church services after another father, husband or son was tragically killed down a mine.
That is how the communities of the Hunter used to be. And we still live by the same attitudes of rugged realism in the face of difficulty. We never perceive ourselves as entitled in that reckless, self-absorbed way that erodes trust and community spirit but are humbled by the earth in which we live and work.
Our forefathers made sacrifices by going down a pit for another back-breaking shift only so that the next generations could flourish. Now in 2021, those same values and sensibilities point to the need to close the coal mines, to help create a liveable Hunter for the next generations.