In her new novel, The Ballad of Banjo Crossing, Tess Evans deals with what happens when a small town community is fractured by big business – when armchair critics become activists. Once a proud farming community, Banjo Crossing could become a mining town, their sweet water compromised, their fertile soil degraded, the food they produce, suspect. What are the ramifications when an issue like this has the power to divide even the most closely knit community?
In the general scheme of things, we all want to get on with our lives and entrust the ‘big picture’ stuff to our elected representatives. We mutter and grumble to our friends, but most of us don’t do much more than sign a few on-line petitions. Then an issue arises that pitches a community of like-minded people into action. It may be as local as a new school crossing, as pervasive as housing affordability or as universal as climate change, but most of us have a tipping point. It’s then that armchair critics become activists.
There are communities like the fictional Banjo Crossing all over Australia. I passed through some of them on a road trip in 2015. So many towns meet the traveller with signs (not just the traditional welcomes from the Lions or Rotary clubs) but bold signs proclaiming that this town says ‘no’ to coal seam gas.
Only today, I heard an interview with John Sinclair who suffered bankruptcy twice to save Fraser Island. Now he and his comrades are fighting a new threat, a coalmine with waste that will irreparably damage this World Heritage site through tide-borne toxins. Again, Felton, a small town on the Maranoa, successfully fought one coalmine and has set its sights on a second. There are Queensland farmers fighting the might of Adani’s juggernaut. So all through the country, there are real people fighting real battles to preserve our environment and food security.
The people of the fictional Banjo Crossing find themselves literally at the coalface when the Company comes to town. They are in the business of living ordinary lives with their fair share of joy and sorrow, boredom and excitement, love and loss. The mine will change their region forever. Once a proud farming community, Banjo Crossing would become a mining town, their sweet water compromised, their fertile soil degraded, the food they produce, suspect.
And what are they offered in return? For some it’s the possibility of jobs, for others financial security. In my travels, it was always over 90 but never 100% of the town’s population objecting. An issue like this has the power to divide the most closely knit community.
So in Banjo Crossing, there is a confluence of the local and the universal. I chose a small, interdependent community and tried to explore how they might act to a major disruption that will have local as well as much wider implications. Individual lives and livelihoods are at risk. And this is the core issue. Remember the politician who tabled a piece of coal in parliament? See how harmless it is? An inert rock is harmless, but the effects of its extraction and use can devastate a place like Banjo Crossing. Good people are tempted. Families are split. Parents fear for their children. It is a national problem, a world problem, but sometimes things are too big, too daunting for our imaginations. In Banjo Crossing the problem is dealt with on a very human scale.
Words: Tess Evans
The Ballad of Banjo Crossing by Tess Evans
is out now!
A tender, heartwarming and utterly appealing novel about the power of community, love, loss and second chances.
Jack McPhail is a man on the run from his past, a drifter who lands by accident in a sleepy outback Australian town called Banjo Crossing. Jack – almost despite himself – becomes slowly drawn into the town, its community, its characters and its concerns.
He’s on the brink of falling in love with Mardi, a young widow and owner of the local coffee shop, when the community is confronted and divided by an unexpected development. A coal mining company has come to town, intent on buying up the local properties to build an open cut mine. The town of Banjo Crossing rallies together to fight off the threat. Jack wants to help out his new friends, but if he does, he’s at risk of his past being exposed. Having his secret out there could change everything for him. Will he help them out, even if it costs him his second chance at happiness?
Posted on December 14, 2017 by Andrea
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