DRIVE ALONG THE Peak Downs Highway from Moranbah in Central Queensland to coastal Mackay, and you will almost certainly come across a train carrying highly prized cargo: lumps of hard, black gold. Each wagon carries at least $12,000 worth. By the time the 2.1 kilometre-long coal train has rumbled by, with its two extra engines at about the one kilometre mark, you will have seen over $1.5 million of exports pass by.
This black gold has brought at least seven thousand people over five years to the Bowen Basin. It stretches from Collinsville in the north – an old coal town with a long history of radicalism – through the relatively new towns of Moranbah, Dysart, Tieri and Middlemount, built in the 1970s and 1980s, through Blackwater and Moura to the mixed industry town of Biloela in the south-east, and westwards to the regional service town of Emerald. The mines exported 155 million tonnes of coal in 2007, and are expected to account for more than 200 million tonnes by 2009. The coal mines of Queensland, like the iron ore mines of the Pilbara in Western Australia, are part of a new folklore. We no longer ride on the sheep’s back, but in the coal wagon. Wages of $85,000 a year are common, six figures very attainable.
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