Frackman, directed by Richard Todd, is a documentary feature film about Dayne “The Frackman” Pratzky. He moves from Sydney to Tara, in central Queensland, and discovers firsthand the effects of coal seam gas on the land and its people. He’s nearing forty and all he wants to do is build his home and settle down, but then the gas company arrives and, much like in the quintessential Australian film, The Castle, it demands access to his land. Dayne is given a letter which dictates that they are going to give him a sum of money and start using his property for fracking. We see a close-up shot of the letter, the words highlighted and blown up to a size 78 font. The letter dictates that he has no choice – he must take the money and grant them access to his land. His response is, “They can get fucked.”, but they don’t, because they are a multimillion-dollar mining corporation, and soon they transform his home into a cesspool of heavy metal waste.
I found the start of the film a little difficult to understand, mostly because I knew so little about fracking. There are interviews with Dayne’s neighbours, who have also been forced to surrender their homes. One of them complains about how sick the water is making her children. She talks about how they have diarrhoea all the time. I must admit that when she said this I started laughing. Surely, I thought, the gas company isn’t doing that to you. Not in Australia. Not today. Naively, I had complete faith that the government would regulate firms to ensure that situations like this would never arise. It soon became apparent that I was wrong. One of the most sobering scenes takes place when Dayne wades into his river with a lighter and discovers that he can set the water on fire. He complains to the gas company that they have polluted the water on his property to such an extent that it is now flammable. They ‘investigate’ it and tell him that he’s incorrect. He goes back to the river with his lighter and notes that he is still in fact correct.
I really enjoyed Frackman. It’s a feel-good film driven very much by the charisma of Dayne Pratzky. Frackman is also a hopeful and loving portrayal of the residents of rural Australia. The way they, led by Dayne, decide to take on the gas companies is often very funny. There is a lot of swearing and a lot of shots of kangaroos. There are disturbing moments, such as when Dayne points out that this is the biggest environmental issue Australia has ever faced, but they are often relieved by a moment of bathos; Dayne then says, “I would drive four hours to speak to three people about this issue.” It’s funny because it’s just so Australian. Someone with little understanding of how isolated and sparsely populated rural Australia is would probably think such a statement was rather ridiculous. In reality, that’s what Dayne needs to do to make a difference.
Frackman is also a fairly exciting film. There is even a romantic subplot because Dayne meets an American women over the internet who is passionate about fracking in the US. Another favourite scene of mine is when he goes over to visit her. He is sitting at her dining room table with her mother and looks entirely out of place. Her mother says that Dayne is welcome into their family and Dayne replies in his broad Australian accent, “I just feel bad about taking your daughter away.”, despite the fact that her daughter is 35 years old.
By the end of the film I had so much affection for Dayne. He is one of the most endearing protagonists I have ever encountered. There is a great scene where he dresses in camouflage gear, the effectiveness of which is somewhat reduced by his bright blue backpack. He breaks into the secret place where the gas companies are dumping their waste and takes samples by sticking his hand into a vat of toxic waste. After splashing some on his face he notes, “This stuff is so deadly and here we are taking minimal precautions.” He puts the waste in old jars of instant coffee – Robert Timms and Nescafe Gold.
Another great scene is where Dayne and his mate Wayne, who owns a house with a front gate that features an emu and a kangaroo, decide to meet with representatives from the gas company. They film the meeting by hiding a video camera in an egg carton on the bench in the kitchen. Wayne offers up his evidence, “This is a 2002 internet photo. Why didn’t you follow up what you said you would do?” Their verve and tenacity is commendable.
I recommend Frackman. It is clearly a low-budget film. The scene where they explain the fracking process consists of them filming a laptop screen, where they zoom in on a range of pictures off Google Images. However, this amateur feel works, and effectively complements the subject matter – Dayne is an amateur activist and this adds to the authentic feel of his journey. Throughout the film, he learns how to agitate and to capture the attention of the media, but no one has taught him how to effectively lobby for change, so it’s wonderful watching him carve out an idiosyncratic way of doing it. He says, “I’m not afraid of them [the gas companies] and they know I’m not which puts me in an awfully strong position and them in an awfully weak position.” When he says this, we think, ‘Really?’ And yet, by the end of the film, Dayne has us not only convinced, but also inspired.