Benefits for Manilla – Fact or Fiction?

The Namoi River Community Group Inc. have grave concerns over the history of the Strathfield developers. Photo courtesy Flopp (Matthew) Fletcher.

The Namoi River Community Group Inc. have grave concerns over the future of this beautiful river, given the history of the Strathfield developers. Photo courtesy Flopp (Matthew) Fletcher.

 A historical fiction writer must study historical facts; and research is a big part of my life. Many months, even years, are spent delving into the period setting of a book, including the news of the day; what people wore, ate, talked about, believed; how they lived, spoke, dressed, went about in society and conducted their business.

HF authors are, by necessity, investigative: you can find out a lot about people by the way they behave in their dealings with others.

It is easy to see clearly, in hindsight, the mistakes of the past; to pinpoint the exact set of circumstances that caused something to go wrong. So much ends in tragedy that could, so easily, have been avoided.

As a member of the Namoi River Community Group Inc. and faced with the ‘pros and cons’ dilemma of the huge proposed development on Strathfield, I decided to research it as I would a novel. But plotting the future is much more difficult than the past.

In trying to sift the facts from the miasma of rumour, contradictory statements, misinformation and apparent games of ‘smoke and mirrors’, my research has thrown up some disquieting questions. The group has already compiled a disturbing list of facts about the track record of the developers. You will find it here.

Believe me, I don’t want to have to write an unhappy ending!

So, if you think it may be worth sacrificing the health, safety and comfort of all the citizens of Manilla for perceived benefits to the business end of town, I would beg you to think again:

About questions such as the viability of having to wait a full 180 days for payments for goods and services (having outlayed in advance for them); and the wisdom of signing contracts that bind one party hand and foot, but allow the other to escape on a legal technicality. (Including ones you’d never dream of!)

Then there’s the question of employment: a succulent carrot for any small town. “600 jobs,” proclaimed our mayor.

Great for Tamworth! But what about Manilla, Mr Mayor?

Before you make up your mind about the truth of this statement, take a look at this and ask yourself: Who will get the jobs?

Do the words of Deputy Mayor Webb add credence to the, as yet, unconfirmed reports of Tamworth houses fitted out with bunk-style accommodation for imported workers?

And, while I’m about it: Here’s a question I would like to ask our mayor on behalf of all the citizens of my town:

Councillor Murray, would you approve a development of this type and magnitude in a sensitive catchment area above the Tamworth water supply?

The people of Manilla await your answer.

A Warning From History

Migrating Geese. Wild birds must be kept away from chicken farms. Strathfield is a haven for wild birds. Photo courtesy of

Migrating Geese. Wild birds must be kept away from chicken farms. Strathfield is a haven for wild birds. Photo courtesy of

In plants, it is called monoculture; in animals: intensive production. In humans it has many names including overpopulation, overcrowding, high density and/or tenement living.

History has proven that where there is a large population of genetically similar individuals, the potential for destruction of that population by pathogens is a terrifying reality. A time bomb, ticking away.

Many times through history, food crops have been wiped out by disease. In 1845-6, a fungal blight destroyed the entire potato crop in Ireland, resulting in starvation of the population. Many died, others were forced into mass migration to survive.

In the overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions of 14th Century Europe, the Black Death cut a swathe through the population greater than any other known epidemic or disaster. The depraved murderer was a germ Pasteurella pestis spread by the fleas on rats.

Bird Flu is probably the greatest threat to our chickens farmed in Australia. It has a number of strains, some of which are capable of passing from birds to humans. Fortunately, the latest outbreak was not one of them. The closer the bird populations are to each other, and to wild bird populations, the more the risk of infection.

This calls to mind the proposal of putting a huge, intensive chicken operation (70 sheds, almost 3 million birds) on Strathfield, one of Manilla’s most iconic and productive irrigation properties. Being on the river, it is a haven for bird life.

There is an old saying about the foolishness of putting all your eggs in one basket; and another about your chickens coming home to roost. Sadly, in this case, I fear the consequences will be felt by many more than the proponents of this lunacy.

When the developers find that our beautiful Strathfield is unsuitable for their proposed intensive development(as we have been trying to tell them), they could do no better than to learn from these historic examples and seek advice from the intensive farming families of our district.

I commend these families for their excellence and best practice in their attention to:

–         animal welfare

–         biosecurity

–         environmental responsibility

–          and consideration for their community.

One family has gone to the expense of building their own road so as not to inconvenience the townspeople. This speaks for itself: Compare it to the disregard shown to our community by the ‘big business’ proponents of this hideous Strathfield development. These families are an asset to our district and valued members of our community. They should not be made to suffer for the wrong judgements of others, when they themselves are more than doing the right thing.

History has shown the unwisdom of having large populations in one location. Would it not be smarter to spread the farms around the district (on the abattoir side of town; and NOT in a sensitive catchment area): perhaps in the care of separate farming families who have a vested interest in the safety of our community; and thus minimise the health risks to the populations involved, both bird and human? It might have an added benefit of security of income for those on smaller properties in these difficult times.

My plea to the would-be Strathfield developers is this:

Heed this warning from history and don’t put all your chickens in one area. Because they won’t just come home to roost on your doorstep: It will be on mine and that of every other citizen in our community! And yours, too, Councillor Murray.