Thursday, 17 April 2008

Shifting mountains

On the front page of last weekend’s Weekend Australian was a picture that initially puzzled me. It showed what looked like a bright blue mountain with someone who looked a lot like a farmer climbing it (jeans, hat, boots, couldn’t see if he had hayseeds in his hair). Behind the figure and the mountain were the shapes of grain silos. I would link to the photo as it was a great shot, but I can’t track it down online and my copy did double duty lining the guinea pig cage this week. The enormous blue mountain was the stunningly huge autumn harvest of sorghum on the Darling Downs due west of here.

While it was a great photograph, the accompanying article answered a query of mine. Every time I have been on the Warrego Highway recently, I have noticed a greater than normal number of big trucks. I thought perhaps that I was just manifesting my dislike of heavy traffic. I don’t mind driving on the highway, which is after all the artery connecting the Rosewood Scrub to the greater world; an escape route if we so choose; and the reason we can live so far away from such things as employment and good Asian food. I even occasionally feel some pride that I now can differentiate between a “B double” truck and a truck and dog (prime mover with two semi-trailers versus a truck with a rigid trailer). See here for some nice explanatory diagrams.

But no, according to this article, during the drought, the Queensland government on-sold most of the grain companies’ rail slots to the mining industry, which mainly uses the railcars to transport coal. Since they don’t have adequate access to the railway, grain companies are running trucks full-time down the Warrego Highway in order to get their grain to the Port of Brisbane.

It’s an interesting transition for the transport industry. One of the main reasons the railway from Brisbane to points west was built was to transport coal and agricultural products. Originally wagon trains were used to transport produce and Grandchester and Laidley were important transport hubs. Then the wagons were used to transport produce to the railway. Now, local trains are a thing of the past and the line is a through-line for heavy transportation. The passenger rail line only goes out to Rosewood in spite of many campaigns to get the electric rail extended further west. If you stand on the main street in Rosewood you can see the massive coal trains (30 plus carriages) thundering down the line. At the same time, the local coalmine is running trucks through the same main street every few minutes. Passenger trains run from Rosewood only on the hour. Pedestrians just need to be wary.

Queensland was built on the agricultural industry, but it is extractive industries on which its recent prosperity is built. Internal migration to Queensland is at a high and all of these people use power and services. It’s always interesting to see whose needs are given priority at any given time. Right now, the grain industry is overwhelmed by the mining industry. Denied the trains, trucks take over the highway. Then the bumper stickers appear on cars: “I park on the Ipswich Motorway.” I’m waiting to see “I play dodgem trucks on the Warrego” or perhaps the more succinct “I wait on the Warrego.”

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