• The last man in Acland: How mining turned a booming community into a ghost town
What would you do if you lived in a booming country town and then all of a sudden everyone else left?
By
Nick McDougall

Source:
The Feed
15 May 2014 - 9:26 PM  UPDATED 17 Dec 2014 - 2:09 PM

Five years ago, Acland was a small but growing township, home to a few hundred farmers, shop keepers and families. Today its population has shrunk to one.

"It was a special village sort of atmosphere," says Glen Beutel, Acland's last remaining citizen. "I think the greening of Acland and the tree planting, and the publicity from being Queensland's first tidiest town... raised attention for people who wanted a quiet country lifestyle."

"When the new mine came they bought out all the local farmers and townspeople... so that just changed all of that."

These days Mr Beutel's closest neighbour is a large hole in the ground, filled with coal.

"When this company began stage one... most people thought it was a small mine and made most people think it was going to be good for the district," says Mr Beutel. "Really it didn't turn out in that particular way."

Gradually the mine grew to engulf much of Acland be much bigger than expected and eventually many people in the town decided to leave.

"It's just like a big cancer," says Mr Beutel. "It's the beginning of a big sore."

Mr Beutel even says that local families were intimidated by the mining company to force them to sell up and leave.

In a media release a spokesperson for the New Hope Group which operates the mine near Acland said that negotiations with landholders had been conducted in good faith.

"We actually had landowners coming to us, happy to sell their properties because they were finding it hard to make a living from their farms in this area."

The New Hope Group says the mine "contributes $300 million annually into the south-east Queensland economy and $110 million each year to the Darling Downs."

And the company also says that it's a large employer in the region employing "300 local people directly, providing a further 160 full-time contractor jobs and thousands of indirect jobs."

However Mr Beutel says the mine is not really interested in the local community.

"The whole outcome of this process is horrifying," says Mr Beutel. "They have a deliberate agenda of removing all signs of life from Acland and they always have had."

But this isn't a story about a town's death; this is a story about a town coming back to life.

One day each year, early in the morning, a couple of people turn off the highway and drive into Acland.

Then a couple more. And a couple more. Until suddenly there are hundreds.

They come for just one day. Anzac day.

"I just wanted to see it for the last time," said one former local.

"It's always good to see that people want to commemorate Anzac Day in Acland," says Mr Beutel. "It's concern about the future and remembering the past and it's a gathering of the troops in itself."

"I'm just appreciative that they've bothered to come."

Each year, the people come to Acland, claiming it will be the last time. That next year the laws will change, the mine will grow, and the town will disappear.

They've done this for the past four years and chances are they'll be back next year too saying the same goodbyes.

But on Anzac Day at least they are pledging to not forget in a town that has already been forgotten.

 

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