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DUNGOG FILM FESTIVAL 2009 – DR NIKKI WILLIAMS OPENING NIGHT SPEECH

Excerpts from the opening night speech by Dr Nikki Williams, CEO, NSW Minerals Council, Presenting Sponsor of the Festival.

I stand here before you, the best storytellers in the business, valiantly armed with a story of my own. It’s a story which starts with ‘dark deeds’ and ‘daring do’. Just as Star Wars has reached legend status, perceptions about the mining industry’s enormous powers of destruction have reached epic proportions. We stand accused of rape, plunder, and ruination. We are deemed to be evil. We are depicted, indeed, as an EVIL EMPIRE!

It makes for a terrific script and it makes great headlines. It also makes for some Walkley Award winning lines (and the Walkleys, of course, are Oscars for ambitious journos) - slogans like ‘the big polluters’, ‘the coal profiteers’, ‘environmental vandals’ - and my personal favourite, ‘BIG CARBON’.

Well hello – I’m it – I am ‘big carbon’. Because I work in the NSW minerals industry I am quintessentially Darth Vader – the ‘MOTHER OF EVIL’. Actually, I am a mother (of a sometimes slightly evil 14-year old boy) and I am a local who lives in a small Hunter village. I’m also one of the 250,000 people in this State who directly and indirectly make up the mining industry.

So why is mining so often pegged as the EVIL EMPIRE? I think one reason is that the process of mining goes largely unobserved and is little understood. Not unlike filmmaking, actually. Who really knows what happens behind the scenes to produce a first-rate film? Or equally, what’s involved in extracting minerals to produce our everyday essential products and services, not to mention our toys?

Through the lens of people outside looking in, there is immediately a sense of the unknown. After all, no-one can just pop down their local mineshaft for a squiz during their lunch break. The ‘unknown’, of course, can raise curiosity - not to mention suspicion and fear – all elements of a good plot. But just like Darth Vader, EVIL is not always as it seems.

As you can see, I’m not shy about frocking up, but I also love getting down and dirty! I’ve climbed 2km wrapped around a ventilation shaft in a Polish coal mine. Working in the former Soviet Union, I once helped a group of Siberian miners drag a frozen dead horse off a coal train; and I was one of the first women to work on the oil rigs in the Bass Strait. My waist-length hair and the army fatigues I sported in those days earned me the nickname ‘Che Guevara’.

I also have a PhD in international terrorism, so I can spot a good conspiracy when I see one, and BIG CARBON is a cracker. Your average miner is about as evil as your next-door neighbour’s pooch. Some people have expressed surprise that mining is backing the Dungog Film Festival. Well, who wouldn’t want to be part of all this! It would be evil not to support such a fantastic event. NSW Mining does have a vested interest in Dungog, because we have a vested interest in the communities, towns and regions in which this industry operates.

"My Board and other industry leaders are hooked on the Dungog Film Festival"

Supporting the Festival as Principal Presenting Sponsor is a special way to invest in the future of Dungog and the Hunter. There’s no conspiracy in ensuring that the Hunter community has a thriving arts and cultural scene: it’s a barometer of the strength of the region. This Film Festival not only addresses the current imbalance of major cultural events in regional Australia, it provides a platform for business opportunities in film, related creative industries, tourism and a range of expanded services.

This region, for centuries, has been underpinned by primary production - a strong mix of agriculture and mining – and the mining industry represents and supports many of the people who work and live in those communities.

So who are these people? If we ‘roll the credits’, so to speak, they’re the caterers, cleaners, electricians, environmental scientists, explosives experts, fitters and machiners, the geoscientists, HR professionals, health and safety managers, plant and diesel mechanics, metal fabricators, drillers, equipment operators, field assistants, lab assistants, the labourers, lawyers, surveyors and specialist truck drivers. They’re the accountants, the community liaison people, the economists, the communicators, of course there’s the men (and women) in suits, and then there’s the more than 10 types of specialist engineers – civil, structural, electrical, environmental, electronics, geological, mechanical, metallurgical, chemical, process and ‘plain old’ mining engineers.

My Board and other industry leaders are hooked on the Dungog Film Festival. Why? Because these men in dark suits called the ‘captains of industry’ - who obviously can look beyond a spreadsheet - know a good risk when they see one. Their unique skill is long-range forecasting to identify potential ‘gold mines’. And they know that the Dungog Film Festival is destined to be a world-class venture.

I think Dungog is on the road to stardom. Through this non-competitive, all-embracing Festival we’ve already blown apart perceptions of a stunted Aussie film industry by showcasing the amazing work and talent of our filmmakers. The Festival has lifted the standard and reputation of this creative export to the point where Dungog, itself, is turning into its own novel Australian story.

Published June 1, 2009

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Festival Advisor and filmmaker Peter Duncan with Dr Nikki Williams, CEO of Presenting Sponsor, NSW Mining

Photo by Enzo Amato

3rd Dungog Film Festival
May 28 – 31, 2009

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