Dayne ‘Frackman’ Pratzky, activist

To say that the industry underestimated us would probably be the most accurate description of the situation ...

Dayne ‘Frackman’ Pratzky never set out to be an environmental campaigner, rather he dreamt of a quiet life in the country, of building a home, of starting a family. Until one day his dreams went up in flames, with a visit from a coal seam gas company. The company, he was told, planned to sink a well in his property and mine for gas. And so began a six-year battle between Dayne and the mining company, a crusade that has become the subject of a new documentary, Frackman. Dayne caught up with The Weekend Edition Gold Coast prior to the screening of Frackman at the Gold Coast Film Festival on April 12.

Can you take us back to the beginning, how did you become the Frackman?
The media gave me the name after I gave Anna Bligh a very public serving at the community cabinet meeting in Roma, when I told her she was a disgrace to the state. It ended up across the front page of nine newspapers and from then on they called me the Frackman. It just stuck, it’s like that nickname that you don’t want at school but once you’ve got it, you’ve always got it.

You’ve been hailed an accidental activist and a hero. How do you feel about these accolades?
I think hero is a bit strong but accidental activist, definitely. I never set out to do anything like this ever in my entire life. I was not hanging off a crane or sitting outside a nuclear power plant singing ‘Kumbaya’ by any means. It landed on my doorstep and I just grabbed it and ran with it because to be honest, I had no choice. I am still not completely comfortable with the word ‘activist’, but if I didn’t stand up and do something that was it, it was all over. So I fought and it led me to being a so-called activist. It wasn’t until it came to my doorstep that I realised the issues, but once I started fighting for my little piece of dirt I quickly realised that a lot of people were going to be facing the same thing and it just took on a life of its own. To say that the industry underestimated us would probably be the most accurate description of the situation. They came to me thinking they could just push this guy around and obviously it hasn’t gone too well for them so far.

Were you always as passionate about the environment?
Most definitely not. I was like everyone else, I recycled, I knew that we should do better and we shouldn’t be cutting down trees and all the rest of it. I was the normal average Australian, I was pretty environmentally aware but I didn’t do anything about it, it was just something I was aware of. Now I find myself looking into ocean conservation, the Great Barrier Reef and the dangers that are facing it, and the wild brumbies in the Snowy Mountains and the damage they are doing there, so it has really been a very strong awakening for me and I’m a different person today than I was six years ago.

How has this ordeal changed you as a person?
Immensely. I don’t like to say selfish but like everybody, I’ve gone from caring about myself and my family and my wellbeing to having this greater appreciation for us as a community and us as a group of people in this country that have to do better to ensure it’s good enough to hand on to others. It’s been enlightening, it’s been good. I’ve actually enjoyed it to be honest with you. I’ve become quite passionate about it.

For those who aren’t familiar with fracking, can you tell us a bit about how the gas is mined?
To get the coal seam gas, they drill a well that is between four to 1100-metres deep and they suck the water that is holding the coal away to release the gas. If the gas stops flowing, which a lot of the times it does quite quickly, they use a process called hydraulic fracturing where they ram water, sand and chemicals down the gas well to fracture the coal seam and produce more gas. It’s quite technical and hard to explain to be honest.

What were some of your personal experiences with the effects of coal seam gas mining?
One of the biggest things I found was the depression and physical effects in humans, there were kids up the road that were sick, there were lots of rashes and bleeding noses. I saw lots of dogs that were ill, the female dogs always seemed to get cancer in their teats. And then there was the mental side of things that comes with not knowing what’s going to happen. Are you next, are you the one that’s going to take on the brunt of the industry, are they coming to your doorstep? That was one of the biggest issues that people didn’t understand until it came to them.

In your experience, what do you believe were some of the visible environmental effects of the mining?
When you put 40,000 wells across a landscape it’s like a pincushion. From the air, it’s quite disturbing to see how big it is. You’ve got the large ponds that are used to store the water and the waste, compressor stations and reverse osmosis plants as well as pipes and vents everywhere, it goes from a rural setting into an industrial zone. What we also found was that the water tables were being sucked dry which meant there was no water left for the farmers. The farmers then had to prove to the gas companies that they had damaged their water table to make them drill them a new water bore. That’s one of the biggest issues that is coming across now is water for the farmers, they’re really in a lot of trouble.

You have been quoted as saying you’re the worst environmental activist the world has ever seen, what did you mean by that?
Well I used to drive a diesel four-wheel drive, I was shooting kangaroos, I was cutting down trees for fence posts and you know, I had a boat. I flew to Indonesia ten years in a row to go surfing. There’s no environmentalism in that! It was said once and it just kind of stuck. I’m trying to improve, I really am!

What keeps you motivated to continue the fight?
We can win. I believe we are winning. I believe New South Wales has listened to what happened to us and learnt from it and now they are taking note and trying to stop it from happening there. It’s also really important that Queenslanders realise that they haven’t lost either. It’s a temporary issue that will have long-term effects but the people of Queensland need to continue fighting the Queensland Government. I have no doubt that they will win in the end. Queensland is a recovery mission at the moment.

In 2014 you sold your Tara property. How hard was it to come to that decision?
Pretty easy in the end to be honest. Well it was hard to say that’s it, I’ve got to go, but the relief that I felt once I had decided I was going to sell and move on was amazing. Once I actually got out and back to the coast, it’s given me the energy to continue on, otherwise I was just going to stop. I couldn’t keep on going, it was too much. It had taken too much of a toll on me over the years and if I continued on I was going to have another mental breakdown. As hard as it was to leave, once I did actually leave I was really invigorated again to fight and I feel good not to wake up with that stress.

There is currently 437-million hectares of Australian land that is covered by coal seam gas licenses or applications. What do you believe that means for Australians?
Things are in trouble. It really means that the mining industry has infiltrated the government to the point that there is a real ‘go anywhere’ attitude and that’s not acceptable. We need to protect our underground water resources, we need to protect our farmland, it’s not okay to have a mining industry coming over the top of normal Australians and saying, “Hey, for our profits, we’re going to destroy your land and your life and there is nothing you can do about it”. That is not fair, that should not happen in this country but that’s what is happening now. We’re going on the back side of the mining boom, it’s over and it’s not going to come back, so why are we continuing to flog a dead horse when we should be moving into more sustainable industries? We need to allow our famers to continue on farming, which has been a sustainable industry for a very long time and a very important industry supplying us with food and fibre. The resource industry is pumping the profits offshore and pumping the resources offshore and what are we actually getting out of it? Nothing. About 87% of the profits go offshore, that’s not acceptable and we’re left with the bill to fix it up in years to come. We’ve got people like Martin Ferguson who helped get these projects approved now working for the mining industry, so we know how all this came about. We’re not safe just because the projects are approved and people are saying it’s okay, the only people saying that are the ones that are making money from it. The industry comes out and says there are 5000 landholders that are happy, well about 4900 of them are under confidentiality agreements and not allowed to speak. That’s how they pull that con. They’re conning us and they’ve conned Australians every day and it’s because the people aren’t allowed to speak about it. All of my friends that left the same time as I did are under confidentiality agreements.

Are you under a confidentiality agreement?
Sorry, I can’t talk about that.

If you had your wish, what would you like to see happen?
Pack up the coal seam gas industry. Have the industry held accountable for what they are doing and what they’ve done. What the government has done is given them the premise that they are right and we are wrong, but we have to prove that we’re right. In fact, it should be the other way around, so I would like the industry to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they are right and it’s pretty clear with some of the effects we’re seeing now and from the early days that what they’ve told us is not true. Once again they’ve conned us. This is the biggest con that has been perpetrated on the Australian people since the asbestos disaster. It is. We are going to look back in years to come and think wow, why did we go down this terribly dangerous road? Why are we not adhering to the precautionary principle and putting the brakes on this until we get some clearly independent science? That’s not what we are getting at the moment.

How can people get involved or support your cause?
They can get involved with their local Lock the Gate alliance or I’ve just started a campaign off to move $100 million away from the financiers of this industry – the four big banks, superannuation and power companies. You can go to and see how your money is really being spent. Our money from our superannuation, the profits off our bank loans, the profits off our power are being used to fund these very projects that I’m fighting against. I’ve started from the ground fighting them in the trenches and now I’m going to the top end of town and I’m going to take their money away. This year my goal is to take $100 million away from the coal seam gas industry and I’ve got backers to do it. I’ve got superannuation backers on board, I’ve got Powershop on board, I’ve got these big companies that are coming on board and helping me make a difference. John Hewson, the ex-Liberal leader, has also come on board. We’ve got a lot of people. And I am going to stop it. I won’t give up until I’m done.


Sign up for our weekly enews & receive more articles like this: