Max Scholefield has lost the faith he had in his farming business at Brymaroo near the town of Acland in Queensland’s Darling Downs. It's all because of the nearby New Acland Coal mine's proposed expansion and the feared impacts it will have on their cattle business.
A farmer for most of his life, Max and his wife Jane (pictured, above) owned a successful macadamia orchard until an accident that crushed 80 per cent of his arm forced them to sell the business in 1992.
“Although I am assessed by Centrelink as having an 80% disability, I have always worked either on my own or in paid employment … except for a brief period of a few months,” Max says.
Max and Jane searched for a new farm that was more manageable with Max’s disability and in 1999 they found ‘Coolabah South’ in the Darling Downs, home to some of the richest agricultural soils in the country .
“We had been looking for a property to purchase for two to three years, focusing on prime agricultural areas.
“We were very happy with the land we found.
“We purchased the property with the intention of retiring on it, but then the mine came along.”
The uncertainties of what impacts the 12-year New Acland Coal (NAC) project expansion, known as Stage 3, will have on the Scholefields' business has stopped them from making any decisions to increase their productions or make any plans for retirement.
“We are terrified that we will live in a property that we cannot sell and are required to close all the windows (because of coal dust) and live in air-conditioning,” Max says.
“This was a favourable area for people to live, but because of the mine and looming expansion it will never again be a favourable area for people to live due to increasing dust bowl characteristics.“It will never again support a community of people that it could have done into the next millennium.”
Amidst controversy, NAC proposes to extend the existing mine, destroying and downgrading some of Australia’s richest agricultural cropping land, putting residents’ health at risk, and robbing this close-knit community of a viable farming future.
Many from the local and broader community oppose the expansion, which will see an increase in the annual production of coal from 5.2 to 7.5 million tonnes for 12 years to 2029.
Max is a member of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance (OCAA), a group of nearly 100 locals, who alongside 30 other community objectors are opposing the state approvals of the project in Queensland’s Land Court. The hearing starts 7 March 2016 (read more about the case).
Max is chairman of the Acland ANZAC Day service, The Rotary Club of Oakey (now defunct), committee member of Jondaryan Hall and helps out at local events like the Brymaroo Rodeo - all a testament to the strong ties and love he has for his community.
“Acland was the first town to receive the Tidy Town Award; it was a great little town. There were a couple of churches and halls with people being self-sufficient. “A number of small business and business people in Acland used to serve the farming industry. It was typical small farming community but has been impacted greatly (by the mine).
“In the time I have spent in this district, the mine development has crept up on us.
“We started noticing people start packing up and leaving, and while this was happening, most people were unaware that the mine was purchasing these properties. ldquo;After some had sold and left, the impact was virtually like a stack of cards; once three or four started to topple everyone had to leave. Most felt like there was no option and the community folded.
”Acland, once a thriving town, has shrunk down to one stalwart permanent resident, Mr Glenn Beutel, known as ‘the last man standing’.
Max is not just concerned about the erosion of his community and impacts to their health. He is frightened the project will cause a potential drop in groundwater levels of up to 47 metres on the site and one metre or more across a 21 kilometre-wide area around the site.
“We are 100 per cent reliant on our bore as it is our only water supply; we do not have a dam as the country is porous (fractured basalt) and will not hold water,” Max says, adding: “New Acland Coal (NAC) have predicted that our bore will drop by 2 metres (with Stage 3).”
“If this drop was to occur we would not be able to obtain the supply of water we need for our property and business due to a substantial reduction in our supply.“On the return value per hectare of our business, the effect of the predicted drawdown will cause a decrease from a healthy return, to $0 per hectare. The property will be unsellable.”
Another key impact Max fears is the disturbance of over 1,361 hectares of strategic cropping land.
The strategic cropping land is part of the famous Darling Downs region, which contributes to one quarter of Queensland’s agricultural production and according to the Queensland Government has Australia’s largest deposit of rich agricultural soils . NAC says they will ‘rehabilitate’ the area into grazing land once the project finishes.
“New Acland Coal have simply taken prime agricultural land that could have supported families for generations and destroyed it for very short term gain.“It is depressing that the mine is drawing good farmers away from an area that should never have been mined in the first place."This expansion will further impact on people who live close to the mine in their lifestyle, their business and their water supply.”
 The Queensland State Government identifies strategic cropping land as “land that is, or is likely to be, highly suitable for cropping because of a combination of the land's soil, climate and landscape features”. Source: https://www.dnrm.qld.gov.au/land/accessing-using-land/strategic-cropping-land