Christmas Bells

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Paradise and, Waratah Rivulet and Peabody

A week ago, I went to the Joadja Vineyard for a musical performance, which had a few surprises for me. The group called "The Songcatchers" performed a mix of country and Bluegrass music. I know Bob McInnes, a Robertson "local", and I have seen John Hall performing at various Folk Music events around Robertson before.
I was blown away by this particular song:

When I was a child, my family would travel
To western Kentucky, where my parents were born
And there's a backward old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn

  • And daddy won't you take me back to Mulenberg county
  • Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay
  • Well I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in askin'
  • Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

Well sometimes we'd float right down the Green River
To an abandoned old prison down by Atry Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill


Then the coal company came, with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken

Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man


When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am


And here is the first reason why I was so moved by this song.

I grew up in Victoria, and I remember visiting the town of Yallourn. It was built by the State Electricity Commission (it was a "company town" quite literally). The town was built to service the local coal mine. Eventually the original mine ran out of supplies, and the SEC expanded the mine, literally "devouring" the town.

The people were moved to nearby towns of Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.

So this song had real resonance with me. I know a town where this actually happened.

And here is the second reason why I was so moved by this song.
This is the Waratah Rivulet, cracked and killed by the Metropolitan Mine (near Helensburgh on the Woronora Plateau, north from Wollongong.). The river was cracked by subsidence (technically they call this "upsidence"). It was caused by the river having been undermined by Longwall Mining. The Metropolitan mine is owned by Peabody. Yes, the very same company which started out in America, and which is immortalised in that song lyric.

Then the coal company came, with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

and this:

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay
Well I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in askin'
Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

Clearly Peabody Energy has not changed its ways since the bad old days, back in Kentucky, USA.
This damage is current.

Ironically, the NSW Minerals Council gave Peabody's an Environment Award late in 2008 - for their work on the Waratah Rivulet. "PEABODY’S Metropolitan Colliery has taken out first prize in the environment category at the 2008 Environment and Community Excellence Awards, held by the NSW Minerals Council (NSWMC) on 18 November 2008." Can you believe their gall, their total cynicism, their hypocrisy?

No wonder I was nearly moved to tears by listening, unexpectedly, to that song lyric.

Footnote: Some artistic licence was involved in the song-writing - but not too much. It is close enough to the truth. Town gone, to facilitate coal mining.

Wikipedia says:
  • Paradise was a small town in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, United States. The town was located 10.5 miles east-north-east of Greenville and was formerly called Stum's Landing. It was once a trading post along the Green River, but it no longer exists. It was torn down in 1967 by the Tennessee Valley Authority to make room for a coal-burning electric plant.
  • A song about Paradise, Kentucky, called "Paradise", was written and made famous by singer/songwriter John Prine. The lyrics attribute the destruction of Paradise to the Peabody company, and allude to the fact that the town was a site for strip mining. In reality, the town was flooded by the waters of the Green River in 1969, when a dam was erected to facilitate barge traffic to and from the coal fields.
  • Source: Wikipedia:,_Kentucky

    Gouldiae said...

    G'day Denis,
    Indeed a serendipitous visit to that music festival for you.
    Your reference to Yallourn triggered memories for me. Glen and I taught in Latrobe Valley Tech schools just after we were married. Our first home was in Hernes Oak, adjacent to Yallourn. This was just around the time you speak of, when Yallourn, (and Hernes Oak) were 'devoured'.
    At night we could hear the dredges chewing into the coal face very clearly. Eventually we had to move to Morwell, just as you indicated. Yallourn and Hernes Oak do not exist now.
    Incidentally, recently a part of the Yallourn open cut collapsed and the nearby Latrobe River flooded into it!
    The Morwell River by the way has just been diverted for the second time.

    Tyto Tony said...

    Don't get between a miner and anything of value in the ground!!!

    Reading the chorus, I hear Bob Dylan's accusatory social justice voice. Was Prine channelling Bob in the form he chose for his lyrics?

    Denis Wilson said...

    Hi Gouldiae and Tony
    Well, Gouldiae knows the feeling, then, eh?
    Interesting to strike a chord there.
    Tony, yes, the Mining Companies are extraordinarily single-minded, when it comes to "impacts" as they call them.
    Dylan? It was 1971. Prine is country/blue grass, but everybody was listening to Dylan back then.

    Duncan said...

    Gall, total cynicism, hypocrisy, well chosen words Denis. That picture is incredible.

    Denis Wilson said...

    Thanks Duncan
    Stronger words came to mind, but were edited out, for legal reasons.
    I was content with "Gall, total cynicism, hypocrisy".
    You obviously realised that the thing which looks like a road, is of course, a totally dry (drained) former River Bed.
    Its amazing.
    And Peabodys got an Environment Award from the Minerals Council!

    Snail said...

    Gouldiae, Tony and Duncan have already said much of what I was going to say, so I won't say it again.

    What amazes ne (and not in a good way) is the extent to which governments will allow mining companies to wreak havoc ... and not even for jobs, which might be understandable, but for the mere prospect of jobs.

    Denis Wilson said...

    Thanks Snail
    And I didnt even spell out that this is in Sydney's Catchment. So they are trading off 20 years of jobs and profits for multinational companies, against permanent loss of water. That's why they are spending 3 billion to build a Desalination Plant at Kurnell (Botany Bay).
    So, offset royalties received from coal companies against that, and it is a total economic nonsense.
    Don't get me started!
    Thanks for the support, folks.

    sharyn cullis said...

    Hey Denis
    What a great piece of work, so thank you, now I know the story in a far more complete and accurate sense! It is also just so appalling that coal has, and continues, to blight the lives of so many. What is worse is that it is simply accepted!

    Denis Wilson said...

    Thanks Sharyn
    Great thing about the Internet. Something one wrote ages ago is still there, and is still current.
    Thanks for following my link from Facebook.
    Peabody is a disgrace, but I vividly remember their spokesman commenting to the Southern Coalfields Inquiry that the Subsidence was predicted to occur, and yet it was approved (by Dept of Planning.
    Point was - why blame us?
    The Government approved it.
    And he is 100% right - in that comment.