“Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing,” wrote the lyricist John Wheeler in the 1950s in one of his somewhat self-consciously Aussiefied “Australian Carols”. Well, it rather depends which plains you are on. There are no brolgas, dancing or otherwise, on the wide volcanic plain of Moorabool Shire, west of Melbourne. Instead, platoons of skeletal albino monsters march across the landscape, metal arms raised as though to call down thunderbolts. In their forbiddingly gaunt form they are not unreminiscent of the Martian fighting machines in H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds.
This column appears in November’s Quadrant.
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When a radio dramatisation of that book by Orson Welles was broadcast in New York in 1938, so realistic was the presentation that panic-stricken listeners jammed police and other emergency switchboards. The same sort of reaction, but visual, might well be created today in an impressionable tourist driving across the Moorabool plain to enjoy what he had been led to believe was its unspoilt bucolic charm. At one point the road passes so close to the harmless-sounding “farm” over which the sinister giants stalk that you could believe they were able to reach down and clutch you up and hurl you into whatever fate Martians reserve for captive earthlings.
Unspoilt and pristine are favourite tourist brochure words but they expressed the exact truth about this wide landscape, veined by bushy creek beds and with hardly a trace of human habitation outside the couple of townships out of sight over the hills—until the two Moorabool “wind farms” were wished upon it by Victoria’s Green-dazzled socialist government. It is now a picture of comprehensive ruination. No motorways, battery farms, quarries or dark satanic mills—not even conventional power lines with their Meccano-set supports—could have done half the damage of these gaunt stick figures, their blades beating the air with an eerie suppressed but audible scream. There is no escaping them. From wherever you look there they are, close up or half-seen from miles away across the tops of hills and ranges. Turn down a sequestered lane and all at once they foist themselves on your view, peering above the trees like gigantic snooping devices. The intrusion is especially stark at this time of the year, when the sweet sounds and scents of spring and summer are no longer in harmony with the visual prospect.
Wind turbines are a worldwide problem and Moorabool is a microcosm of the effects and rationalisations of their imposition on a rural locality and its small community. The same lament for lost landscapes and polluted panoramas can be heard all over Australia and the developed world where wind turbines are despoiling the countryside as a sacrifice to Gaia in the zeal of climate obsessives to spare her the supposed injury she suffers from “fossil fuels”. Yet of all the places blighted by wind towers, there can be few that were once as unassumingly restful to the eye as this one was, where not all that far from but well out of sight of a metropolis the traveller could feel so alone, so silently at home with nature in a state of Wordsworthian empathy. If vandalism is the wanton defacement or destruction of beauty, the authorisers and implementers of these fundamentally absurd structures are vandals indeed, be they in government, in the cynical rent-seeking ranks of the “renewable” energy industry, or among the gullible and superstitious section of the public that has fallen for the big climate lie and sees wind turbines as a symbol of progress.
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Did I say sinister? Obviously not in the view of Goldwind, the owner of the towers, which tries, with all the persuasion of the PR at its well-subsidised disposal, to present the wind farms in a favourable light, even as a beauty spot and community asset. Well might Malcolm Muggeridge have defined public relations as “organised lying”. A chatty brochure distributed throughout the Moorabool Shire advertises an “Open Day” and rhapsodises on the “huge success” of a recent “Community Blade Viewing Event” where “signing one of the blades” was an attraction (“A big THANK YOU to everyone who visited and made the day a triumph”). Of more pernicious import was the presence of 200 local schoolchildren who were helpfully “provided with a Moorabool Wind Farms InfoPack” (an appellation giving new meaning to the phrase “pack of lies”); although this was possibly an act of supererogation on the part of Goldwind, since the recipients of the InfoPack are unlikely to need further indoctrination on “clean energy” if they attend the kind of school that would encourage their visiting a wind farm in the first place. (And of course it’s not “clean”. It decimates birds; already two wedge-tailed eagles are known to have fallen victim to the Moorabool monsters, and who knows how many more have been killed or fatally injured and then carted away as carrion by foxes?)
Bribery, or what amounts to it, can be an element in gaining community acceptance and Moorabool Wind Farms is very keen to be seen as a good corporate citizen. The company has a “Community Sponsorship Program” that, it boasts, has contributed to sundry worthy local causes. It’s helped pay for a renovated play area at a primary school, the replacement of kitchen flooring in a local hall, the reprinting of a book of local history and to the laying out of “a Mindfulness space”, whatever that is, in front of a kindergarten “so that Children can connect and meditate in this area”.
If these sound, on a very minor scale, like the sort of thing that China is developing a reputation for doing around the Pacific with its ports and road-building projects, it will come as no surprise that Goldwind is yet another tentacle in the long reach of the “Asian Kremlin” into other countries. The wind farms belong, like so much else in Australia, to the Chinese, who we are (probably unwisely) allowing to buy up much of our patrimony and impose their stamp on our environment, rural and urban, with structures ranging from these sinister albino monsters in green and pleasant country landscapes to office and apartment towers of asymmetrical hideousness in city centres to the pseudo-Baroque fantasy of gilded ersatz châteaux in opulent suburbs. Chinese interests have bought up a lot of land in Moorabool Shire, including a 2000-hectare sheep property that was for five generations in the same family. The adjacent Moorabool projects are wholly owned by Goldwind, the Australian subsidiary of the huge wind-turbine manufacturer whose headquarters are in Beijing.
The Moorabool brochure I read, though big on gossipy gooeyness about Goldwind’s munificence (a local “winter walk” “finished with a complimentary hearty meal of soup and bread sponsored by MWF”), is coy about stating how much energy will actually be produced. But “the on-site team have been working hard” and “over the coming weeks, you may see the blades … begin to rotate and generate clean electricity”. (Or not, if the wind doesn’t blow, as in blacked-out South Australia in 2016, an energy failure now the subject of a legal action by the energy regulator against four wind farm owners, and in Britain earlier this year—in both cases to the incalculable inconvenience not merely of those who are happy to rely on wind power but of everyone.)
The just under 100 wind farms in Australia are said to have generated 7.1 per cent of the nation’s total electricity demand last year, but next year the federal government’s “renewable energy target” requires more than three times as much, a figure of, according to the “Clean Energy Council”, at least 33,000 gigawatt hours. Two dozen more such projects, Moorabool among them, are in the course of construction, but elementary arithmetic shows that that won’t be nearly enough to achieve the Green dream of sending us back to the age of sailing ships.
The only practical way in present circumstances to halt this Wellsian invasion of the planet by metal armies of what look like upended helicopters would be to hang on to as many coal-consuming (and reliable) power stations as possible, but doing that would require the political courage to tell the climate-panic industry to back off. Is it too much to hope that our supposedly conservative federal government might find this courage before the sight of green valleys and rolling plains that are not sprouting with slowly spinning turbine towers becomes a rarity? Sad to say, almost certainly.
Christopher Akehurst, a regular contributor, lives in Melbourne.