Coal seam gas has brought together the most unlikely of allies. Die hard greenies and right-wing talk show hosts have literally linked arms and stood side-by-side to rally against the unfettered expansion of coal seam gas across Australia.
One of the unlikely figureheads of the anti coal seam gas movement is a humble construction worker who went to school here on the Gold Coast.
Dayne Pratzky is the star of Frackman which will have its Queensland premier at the Gold Coast Film Festival on 12 April. It’s a documentary which explores the intrusion of coal seam gas on Dayne’s life and his journey to dig below the surface to find out why the industry is flourishing in the face of such voracious public opposition. Samantha Morris spoke to Dayne between insane media commitments, TV appearances and election campaigning to end the practice.
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Dayne’s journey into activism was accidental – and he still won’t call himself an activist.
“I’m a realist. I’m going about reality – I’m not going about saying “let’s end fossil fuels”. This is a reality. This is what we have to do. If every scientist is saying we have to do it, it makes sense,” Dayne said.
He doesn’t live at Tara anymore, instead calling Forster NSW home. He says he originally moved to Tara to develop and sell a block of land and then get back to the coast.
“I had a three year plan and obviously it didn’t quite work out that way,” he said. “I got injured at work in an industrial accident in the Lane Cove Tunnel. Instead of just laying down – instead of just giving up, I bought a block of land.”
Dayne said he was initially embarrassed when he started learning more about coal seam gas and its impact on people and communities.
“There was so much going on and I was so devoid from caring about things that are important to this world and this country,” he said. “But I still don’t call myself an activist.”
“We cannot continue to dig big holes in the ground. We cannot continue to sink gas wells in our aquifers. The days of cheap energy are finished. The days of easy accessible energy are finished.”
“The only thing that’s ever going to change is us,” Dayne said.
“I’m just somebody who sees things with a bit of common sense,” he said. “The problem with pigeonholing the activist space, is that people assume we all eat tofu and wear sandals.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love tofu,” Dayne said, “wrapped in bacon.”
The film Frackman has been a long time coming. Five years, to be exact. And it started with very humble beginnings.
“I saw the film Gasland,” Dayne told me, “and I saw the shaky footage and I thought, I can do that. So I buy a camera and go out to be a film maker. But I’m a dreamer. I have no idea what I was doing.”
“Then I met Richard Todd who was already thinking about being in that space. He sent a cameraman to film a rally in Sydney and I met that guy and got his details. We went to ABC and got some development money.”
But the real gold happened when producers Simon Nasht and Trish Lake came onto the scene.
“They’re some of Australia’s best producers,” Dayne said. “Very well known. They saw the product and what we had. They didn’t care about CSG, they’re film makers.”
“So we ended up with a huge budget and a feature length film that’s playing in cinemas.”
“If you’d asked me, I would have bet you ever possession I ever owned that I’d never be in this situation,” he said.
“I was on the front page of the paper when I was eight because I picked up a new billy cart and the wheel broke. And then the next time I went out, I was on 60 minutes. It escalated pretty quickly,” he laughed.
“The whole thing was accidental. Now I think a lot about how I can continue on the journey and continue to make a difference. I just think bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Since premiering in NSW, nearly every single screening has been a sell-out. I asked Dayne why he thought people were so compelled to come and watch and he says simply, that it’s because it’s a really good film.
“It’s not just a documentary. People really enjoy it. They come out of there moved. That comes from experience in film making.”
“I wanted this facts and figures documentary – then the producer came up and turned it 180 degrees around and said it’s going to be a film about you and the thing is, that the industry can’t attack me personally. I don’t make any claims.”
“That’s why they’re really struggling.”
And struggling they are too. Dayne has a shadow that basically follows him everywhere he goes. He’s had Australian mining companies appear during overseas trips that he’s made and one man in particular Steve Wright from the Energy Resource Information Centre appears everywhere Dayne does.
“He follows me around everywhere – it’s hilarious. It’s great. I’m good with them spending their money chasing me around. I don’t feel bad about that at all,” Dayne laughed.
“The way the industry is trying to combat me is a powerful sign. They don’t want their side of the story told. Most people in this country – we want a fair go for everyone – it’s what the country’s built on. And these people aren’t like that. When people find out they’re not being fair, they get angry.”
“They’ve tried to personally attack me via Twitter and social media and on Lateline – you should have seen the advertising campaign going on from all the energy companies. There were sponsored tweets – they were everywhere on social media.”
“It’s great – they’re throwing me more food – spending hundreds of thousands of dollars – I feed off that. I’m good with that. The more you attack me, the more you mention my name, the more you put me in the AFR, the more people go to watch the film,” Dayne said.
“We are winning hands down and they don’t know what to do about it.”
I asked Dayne what his end goal is. Is it to end coal seam gas exploration altogether? End our reliance on fossil fuels? What’s the point where he says “yes, we did it!” He says it’s actually much more than that now.
“It’s actually to fix the broken political system,” he said, “the way we live and the way we conduct ourselves.”
“For me, I’ve been on a huge journey from being a homophobic racist to caring about Indigenous issues – caring about everybody. The refugee situation? I never gave it a second though. I’m embarrassed about that. But I’m not too proud to say it”
“This has turned me into a better person – to grow personally and to act in such a strong way for people who don’t get a fair go. Indigenous, refugees, the gay community – they don’t get a fair go,” he said. “The downtrodden don’t get a fair go when the top end of town don’t pay tax and people who own a second property get tax breaks,” Dayne said.
Dayne mentions a few times in our conversation about being courted by politicians and others trying to find ways to use his profile. He also comments regularly about the political process and the NSW election – just days away. I asked him whether a move into politics is on the cards.
“I’m not saying no,” he said. “People are definitely approaching me and I’m not ruling out anything.”
It’s no accident that Frackman premiered in NSW and has many screenings in regional towns in the lead up to that State’s election. And Dayne believes the film is already having a political impact.
“We had to actually work hard to get this ready for rollout in the month before the NSW election,” he said and notes that if a snap election hadn’t been called in Queensland they would have aimed for the same here.
“We can see the Government now cancelling licenses,” he said. “Do we have a lot to do with that? I think we do: them watching the film and the sellout crowds, I think they’re saying “oh, hang on, this is a problem”.
“It’s something that was a very strategic move that seems to be working. And if it weren’t working I wouldn’t have been on Lateline, Sunrise, the Project,” he said.
“I think what we’re all achieving is amazing,” he said, speaking about the entire movement to stop coal seam gas. “We’re only able to function because of everybody else. If we all think outside that box a little bit and continue to have passion and to fight for what’s right (and that doesn’t mean profitable), we can make the changes that we want in this country and this world.”
“I was a roo shooting, pig hunting kind of bloke. I’m the most unlikely environmentalist in the world,” Dayne said.“But when they force their way onto your land and destroy your community, you have no choice but to fight back.”
“It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s our problem. We are part of the problem and we are 100% the solution.”
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The Gold Coast hosts an exclusive screening of this explosive new documentary, Frackman, as part of the Gold Coast Film Festival at The Arts Centre from 6:00pm, 12 April. More at frackmanthemovie.com/screenings.
Blank has five double passes to give away to the premiere of Frackman. Competition closes midday Saturday 11 April. To enter visit www.blankgc.com.au/competitions.