Academic journal article Rural Society

"The Beast Does't Stop": The Resource Boom and Changes in the Social Space of the Darling Downs

Academic journal article Rural Society

"The Beast Does't Stop": The Resource Boom and Changes in the Social Space of the Darling Downs

Article excerpt

Introduction

In traditionally agricultural regions of Southern Queensland, expanding coal mining and new coal seam gas (CSG) projects have created a resource boom and prompted strong opposition from affected rural communities (De Rijke, 2013;Lloyd,Luke,&Boyd,2013). Although mining is not new in this region, until recently, the few energy extraction operations supplying domestic powergeneration needs had limited impact on the local economy, the landscape and the social order. However, from 2005, it has become feasible to exploit the sub-surface coal and gas reserves in what is called the Surat Basin, with mining projects on a much bigger scale and new techniques for CSG extraction. This poses a threat to traditional communities in economic, social and cultural respects.

Considerable academic literature addresses the subject of the socio-environmental impacts of the resource boom in such areas (see, for example, Albrecht et al., 2007; Duus, 2013; Morrison, Wilson, & Bell, 2012; Petrova & Marinova, 2013; Rolfe, 2013). This reports social and psychological impacts including pressure on service provision, infrastructure and housing availability; socioeconomic wellbeing in the affected communities; the effects of transient populations on the local social landscape; disturbance to familiar rural lifestyles; and effects of changing landscapes on emotional health labelled solastalgia (Albrecht et al., 2007).

However, the implications of such impacts with respect to changing relations of power and social status among various local social groups have not been a focus of research attention. After more than a century of agricultural hegemony, the advent of the mining and resource sectors opens new forms of competition over resources such as land, ecological services, infrastructure and labour, and also over the use of public space where much of this competition is played out. We argue that this competition over control of different resources represents a previously unfamiliar struggle within these agricultural communities and, in particular, it represents changes in power relations at the local level. Although agricultural producers are accustomed to competing among themselves for irrigation water, labour and markets, the main example of previous experience of competition from a newly arrived social group with a different production system was when Aboriginal people were dispossessed by white settlers (French, 1997).

To explore these issues of competition over resources, local power relations and changing social structures, we will apply some of the analytical concepts of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who characterizes those in a community as possessing different forms of capital and occupying relative positions in social space in terms of the volume and composition of capital they own. This offers an appropriate framework to understand this phenomenon, because it encourages the investigation of the way in which these different resources, or forms of capital, interplay to determine outcomes that relate to power and identity. Bourdieu's framework has recently been applied in rural research to natural resource governance in Central Asia (Eichholz, Van Assche, Oberkircher, & Hornidge, 2103) and North America (Caine, 2013).

The site of contestation we will consider is the Darling Downs region of southern Queensland, Australia, which overlaps an area of extensive underground deposits of coal and CSG called the Surat Basin. Specifically, this paper focuses on two Darling Downs local government areas: Toowoomba and Western Downs. Previously, agriculture accounted for the largest proportion of their local economy, but now it is the resource industry which makes the main contribution to the regional economy. In the case of the Western Downs, it comprised 23% of the Gross Regional Product in 2011-12, almost twice the share of agriculture, forestry and fishing at 12.2% (Western Downs Regional Council, 2013). …

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