The documentary Black Hole tells a story of passion, abuse and corporate lawlessness in operation in Australia today. Really it’s an account of community, not just one, but three interlinked groups and their painful wrestling match with another community, that of Whitehaven, a coal extraction company in the northern region of New South Wales. Over two hours long, the documentary was conceived by someone with a love of people in their environment, and with their complex humanity on show. I couldn’t look away, despite my deep dread for what has overtaken this place.
The Gomeroi people, the Aboriginal community who perform ceremony on the land, a state reserve called the Leard State Forest, are revealed to be powerless in the face of the coal mining company’s desire to clear the environment and blast another ‘black hole’ in the ground. Further to this, they are mocked by security guards and employees of the mine, and are destabilised as Whitehaven seeks Aboriginal approval for their work from outside country.
The rural town and surrounding farmlands of the Maules Creek mine are also presented as powerless in the face of the coal company’s desire to transport black profits through the town, day and night. Coal trains are not required by law to be covered and dust from the loot, as well as light pollution, noise and disappearing river systems have irrevocably changed the landscape of the region. For example, people in town can no longer drink their tank water as soot settles like a fine, dark sheath across roofs and houses. The people are disregarded and their wellbeing of little consequence when it comes to the ‘black hole.’
The final community is protestors, who are a disparate group of environmental activists that work hard to raise awareness and also disrupt, non-violently, the earthworks of the coal mining company. Some are rough-looking, many are young, passionate hippy-types, others appear to be conservative, middle-class citizens, there are some older people as well, those who have lived through wars. As they camp near the mine, to witness and blockade, they are also powerless in the face of the coal mining company’s right to bulldoze the forest gums. And further they are publically vilified and intimidated by local police and security agencies who do the bidding of Whitehaven.
While I’ve presented them as three separate communities, they are not. Each is vulnerable and interlinked with the others. Each has their own focus, but as a collective, there are many layers to their stories, many reasons to fight the mine. The beautiful thing about this film is that the different groups reveal each other’s strength in face of overwhelming loss. The only community voice missing here is that of the mining company. Unyielding silence is what comes across from Whitehaven, and yet, their actions speak so loudly.
What I’m left with after watching Black Hole is sadness and questions of personal meaning. The Gomeroi, farming people and protestors exhibited their hearts and were willing to take risks to protect the land, yet ultimately were unsuccessful this time. The soft tissue of their humanity was on show in the face of abuse from this multi-national company. Whereas the administrators of the coal mining corporation, including security, police, executives, bankers and even politicians showed their hearts to be much like the coal that comes out the earth – stony and hard.
This is a religious motif which says to be a spiritual person one’s being (or heart) should gradually become soft and sinuous as opposed to a stony type of life, which is characterised by ruthlessness. What is my heart made of? Black Hole challenges the viewer to reflect upon community as a site of great power and also powerlessness. And to ask ourselves deep questions about the roles we inhabit in this world system. Can we turn away from this cycle of destruction, individually and as a collective? Can we soften into a compassionate, even spiritual, relationship with the planet? What risks, for the pursuit of good, will we take amid evidence of greed and corruption? Now is the time to find our answers.
Highly recommended viewing.