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Special N.02 – Poets speak up to Adani

Coal Mines

by Caroline Williamson

from Cap Coch




What a miner knows is in the air around him.

Its movement. Its fresh or stale. And in the rock

which creaks and settles overhead, which cracks


and falls from the coal face at the miner’s feet.

Where water runs, or not. Sounds, smells.

The flare of a lantern. Methane, invisible,


leaking from who knows where. Water that’s flooded

another working, dammed for decades, pressing

behind the coal face. You need to be able to read


the interruptions underground. An ancient

river bed where the accumulated

peat once washed out to sea. A fault in the rock


from a prehistoric earthquake. Always beyond

the barren rock the coal keeps going. One

old man will tell a grandchild about the darkness,


when he was twelve years old: your lamp goes out

and you can’t see your own hand. And how when you cut

under the coal face it comes away clean, sometimes,


smooth as a mirror, and on that shiny surface

a fern, each frond clear as the day it fell,

gleams in the light of your lamp, almost like new.




Where’s everybody gone? On the stony track

with unpredictable breezes swirling around

the minibus, we perch in our badly fitting


bright yellow safety helmets high

above the black chasm of the mine.

Impossible depth, impossible distances,


not a human being in sight. On the far side,

kilometres away, clanking and clumsy

as some ancient monster struggling onto land,


one big machine prods at the side of the pit.

Coal dust hovers around it. If that gets close,

the guide tells us, we’re out of here. You wouldn’t


want that in your face. Fields run to the edge

of the open cut: a miniature tree clings on

to its final months of life. There’s just one bloke


sitting in the cab down there in air-conditioned

comfort. Pretty much soundproof. That thing cuts

more coal in a day than a thousand men. The breeze


picks up. The cloud of coal dust eddies, rises,

begins to move towards us. Helmets off,

we scramble for seats. The bus grinds into gear.

Published: August 2022
Caroline Williamson

grew up in the UK, has worked in London, Beijing and Melbourne as English teacher and editor, and now lives in Brunswick.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.