sue callanan

Sue Callanan

member of the Williams River Valley Artists’ Project

lives and works in Sydney


work in the exhibition:

You Cooked Yet?  2016

found commercial hair dryers, paint, sound

dimensions variable

catalogue text:

Rich Black Coal: dark matter – it’s about the breath, or the denial of the breath; the threat of death through poisoned air.

Children and people with respiratory problems are like the canary in the coal mine. They send warnings of things that the rest of us cannot perceive. In Singleton, Dr Tuan Au, a GP, is collaborating with agricultural scientist Dr John Drinen, to do research and collate results on the increasing incidents of respiratory problems in the area and write letters to governments. So far these letters have fallen on deaf ears.

In November 2013, David Watson and I drove to Muswellbrook for an ABC radio interview, and on our return journey called into various libraries to drop off copies of our Stuttering Frog newspaper. We called in to see Dr Tuan Au, and also to the local library which housed, in its foyer, an exhibition on coal sponsored by “Coal and Allied”. The Singleton librarians, in contrast to some of the other towns, were wary of our newsletter and could not accept it without seeking “council approval”. The power of the coal mines in the area was palpable. The shop opposite what used to be my father’s pharmacy is now occupied by Rio Tinto. I looked up their website and discovered they were making any number of donations to the many community groups in the town ($13m since 1999).

Singleton has always been a town of engaged community groups. The mines have been around for a long time so no doubt it was a soft sell for the groups to be accepting the donations. As a kid growing up in this country town, the mines were part of everyday life. The difference between then and now is the scale of the operations and the expansion of the mines from underground to open cut, and in this process of expansion, the destruction of surrounding villages – Bulga, Camberwell, Warkworth, Jerry’s Plains. It’s not just the loss of place – of landscape (from green to grey, Aboriginal heritage, the acclaimed biodiversity of the area around Bulga) – it’s also the loss of a way of life, of people working together and pitching in, in times of crisis, that creates this sense of solastasia.

A long time later, and also through this fieldwork, I learn of the tricks, the deceptions and the impossibility of trusting that our governments, not withstanding the efforts of individuals politicians, will protect our community and environment.

What is at stake here is our need to act.

Sue Callanan

Sydney 2016