Sure, environmental documentaries aren’t very sexy, and coal seam gas development? Even less so. But Frackman is like nothing you’ve ever seen before – and every Australian needs to know about this film. Right now.
I don’t know about you but it’s been a good four years since I attended a protest rally to make a stand against government policy. Granted, I was overseas at the time and swept up in a sea of tear gas-induced riots in reaction to austerity measures in Europe. (The Greeks know how to make themselves heard, don’t you worry about that.)
Am I advocating that kind of anarchy? Er, no. But I can’t think of another, milder time in which I partook in a little dissent to rewrite the rulebooks. When instead of feeling unhappy about the way our country was conducting itself, and ultimately giving in, I actually stood up and demanded to be heard.
Luckily there are everyday people still fighting for the rights of the rest of us.
Dayne Pratzky’s one man versus the government battle represents an unfortunate quandary for everyday Aussies: what to do when the government fronts up to your house one day and says, we’re taking over your land to put in gas wells and there’s nothing you can do about it. Say “Righty-o then” and be on your merry way? Dayne and his neighbours have unwittingly become the centre of a massive industrial landscape – the business of coal seam gas development – and they have no legal right to stop mining on their land.
“When governments fail us,” screams the tagline on the movie’s poster, “ordinary people have to become heroes”.
Enter the Frackman.
Coal seem gas development – what is fraccing?
I don’t mind admitting I actually had no idea where the gas that turns my stovetop on ACTUALLY comes from. Zero. Is it manufactured like the gas that makes mineral water bubbly? If it’s natural, how do you catch it? Or look for it? How do you know where to find it if it’s invisible? So. Many. Questions. (It’s probably better if I just stop talking now.)
I went digging and found this handy explanation on the Australia Pacific LNG website:
Natural gas is found in coal deposits. The coal and gas are formed from plant matter under pressure over many millions of years. Coal seam gas is used in the same way as any other form of natural gas for cooking and heating as well as in industrial processes and electricity generation.
To extract it, more than 30,000 wells are being sunk in the state of Queensland to reach the gas that typically lies 200m to 1000m below surface. (How did they first find out it existed that deep? How?) But herein lies the problem. Many of these locations will require a controversial process known as “fraccing”, another term for hydraulic fracturing, whereby a fluid made of water, sand and chemical additives is pumped down the well to *flush* out the gas. (*Disclaimer: that is my layman’s definition. I can’t say I understand the process much beyond that.) Environmentalists are concerned this is polluting our waterways and wreaking havoc in general.
Don’t drift off. I want you to think about that for a second.
Why should we care about this documentary following some dude who lives out west, far from our towns and metropolitan backyards? Can all this mining extraction and whatnot really be affecting the entire country? You and me? And the answer is: this Queensland-filmed documentary isn’t just Dayne’s story, although that is how he became an accidental activist for the cause, unifying neighbours and politicians alike. (Can you think of another topic that would bring together the likes of Alan Jones and Bob Brown?)
No, the much bigger picture in this real-life Erin Brockovich meets The Castle situation is questioning how far we, the people, are willing to let governments and big business tear through our land, and our waterways, for profit. Because this isn’t just subsistence living we’re talking about.
In the case of Frackman, this is the story of Australia becoming the world’s biggest gas exporter. To other countries.
The Australia Pacific LNG site tells me that coal seem gas provides 90 per cent of Queensland’s gas needs and 15 per cent of the state’s electricity generation. What I haven’t yet found is a statistic that tells me how much of this makes up the overall picture: how much CSG are we making for home, and how much are we selling off overseas?
Sadly, Julia Brockovich Roberts is not part of Frackman. I doubt she’s ever heard of his name. If she had, perhaps the issue would be receiving a hell of a lot more attention than it is right now. But in a state facing the biggest environmental challenges of its 200-year-old colonised history (think the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef from rising sea levels and fertiliser run-off, the devastation of fishing in Gladstone, development and cruise ship terminal applications along the entire coastline, the list goes on…) “fraccing” seems to sit at the bottom of Queensland’s s*** list.
That’s why it’s important to celebrate the fact this story – five years in the making – has finally made its way to the big screen. Director Richard Todd follows Dayne on a journey that transformed the former conservative pig-shooter into a sophisticated global activist, protesting alongside everyday farmers, neighbours, activists and political conservatives. Along the way Dayne also encounters love, tragedy and triumph.
Frackman at the Gold Coast Film Festival
Winner of Best Film and Best Environmental Film at the 2015 Byron Bay International Film Festival, Frackman also screened at the Gold Coast Film Festival last month.
Cinemazzi reporter Renee Eaves and videographer Luke Richards were on hand to speak to the Frackman himself, as well as director Richard Todd and producer Trish Lake, to learn just what it took to get this project across the line. Watch our video below for excerpts and trailer footage.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this political hot potato. Our economy is enormously dependent on mining, and as a booming export industry, of course CSG has significant economic benefits for Australians – jobs growth being a massive part of that.
But at the very least we need to be better informed about what’s going on in our State. If this film gets people talking and researching important issues (or, just to pluck an example out of thin air, Googling the definition of natural gas) then Queenslanders are a step closer to being part of the decision-making process.
I’ll leave you with this final quote from the film’s website:
This is the New Politics, bringing together old and young, city and country, conservative and progressive in a shared effort to prevent an environmental catastrophe.
See it – or at least watch the trailer – and find out why.
Where you can watch Frackman
As one of seven Australian documentaries recently chosen for the inaugural Good Pitch Australia program, Frackman, which received Screen Queensland funding, is pioneering “hybrid” distribution, using a combination of Cinema on Demand, regular cinema screenings and digital distribution.