On Oct. 13 last year, Helen Bender got a phone call that would turn her life upside down.
“My eldest brother rang me and he just said, ‘Dad is in hospital, we don’t know if he will make it through the evening,’” recalls Helen, who lives in Brisbane. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And he told me Dad had tried to take his own life.”
Helen, 38, rushed to the hospital where she nursed George Bender through the night. The next day, the father of five died. He was 68.
“He said, “I am so sorry, Helen. I shouldn’t have done that, my brain just snapped,” recalls Helen. “He died from a broken heart.”
George's death came while energy company Origin Energy were making moves to take control of George’s most cherished farmland for the mining of coal seam gas, a controversial process which farmers and environmental groups say damages the land.
For more than a decade, energy giants including Origin and QGC had been mining CSG on the land neighbouring George's farm in south-east Queensland, causing, he said, pollution of the pristine water, death of his prized livestock and a gradual destruction of the land he had nurtured for decades.
“No-one told Dad there were going to be vents that emit methane straight into the atmosphere,” says Helen. “No-one said there would be drains that would continuously leak salty brine water all over the land.”
(Origin spokeswoman Natasha Patterson tells WHO: “I am quite confident that we acted respectfully with George at all times.”)
Now, Helen is on a crusade to raise the curtain on the practice of mining CSG on farmland, in the hope of preventing any such tragedy again.
“I could just walk away, but I really do love Australia and I love the farmers,” says Helen. “I can guarantee you the nation doesn’t know the truth and I think they deserve the truth.”
For more, pick up a copy of this week’s WHO.
For help with depression, contact Lifeline: 131 114; lifeline.org.au