It was mid-morning Friday before I finally left Sydney for Armidale. There was a reunion of my old class at TAS. Driving up the expressway, I decided to take an old route that I used to drive many years before. Swinging left, I took the Peats Ridge Road.
Years ago before the opening of Waterfall Way, I used the Wollombi-Broke road as a short cut between Armidale and Sydney. There were long stretches of dirt and the road was very rough. I didn't mind driving on gravel although it was rough on the car. The country was pretty and the route saved up to an hour in busy times on on the main highway.
Initially, the route takes you along George Downes Drive and then onto the historic convict built Great North Road. The country was just as pretty as I remembered it, although the road was better and there were far more signs of development.
I stopped briefly at the historic Wollombi village. I had been planning to visit Wollombi properly, but this was impulse, so I got a coke at the store and just walked around in the sun looking at the buildings.
Both here and in Broke, I was struck by the growth of the vineyards and the wine trails. These did not exist when I last drove this route. I knew that they were there, I have written a little about them, but I hadn't actually seen them.
Driving on on what had been a dirt road, I suddenly had a shock. I have written on the mine developments in the Upper Hunter and on the protest movements. At spots along the Wollombi-Broke road, the anti-mining or coal seam gas protest signs were to be seen every hundred metres or so. Now I struck the first of the big mines with the new roads and overpasses.
Driving on towards Singleton, I almost got lost. I was driving a road that I had known very well indeed, but where was I? I knew in geographic terms from the shape of the hills, but nothing else was familiar.
Getting through Singleton was a bit of a nightmare. The traffic was horrendous on narrow roads with every second vehicle a mine vehicle. I am not anti-mining, far from it, but you can see why people get so upset.
The scale of development has been just so big, the contrast between that and alternative industries and life styles so great, the stress on local infrastructure great, that you can see why people get so upset, Some of the protests may not be rational, but they are understandable.
Going further north, you can see why mining industry representatives have been trying to reassure Liverpool Plains residents that the same thing would not happen there. You can also see why they don't believe it since they drive through the Hunter to get to Sydney.
Things would have been easier if Sydney had diverted some of the royalty stream to local development. But this was too much to ask of a cash-strapped Sydney Government presented with golden royalties.
The problem we have now is that, in a way, the golden goose has bolted. Yes, I know that is a dreadful English mixture, but it captures the problem. Local demands and resentments continue, new infrastructure and services are needed, but the boil has come off mining with coal prices well down. There just isn't the cash to meet needs.
To put the problem at a very micro level, road traffic on the New England Highway north of the mining belt appears well down. Who would go this route now because of the delays? Easier to go another route if you can. That affects incomes.
Some of this could have been avoided with more creative thinking, But that's difficult to achieve in the present system. Meantime, the clashes go on. The protestors aren't irrational, although some of their arguments may be. You can see their point.