Notes to ‘The Touchstone’, a poem by John Salter

The Hunter Valley lies just north of Sydney, and immediately west of the city of Newcastle, Australia. The valley’s natural beauty, and the sustainability of its ecological systems, are constantly under threat from very large mining corporations who fail to see the damage they do through their insatiable quest to extract as much coal as possible from the region. Brief details of the Valley can be found at Wikipedia The poem alludes to other more profound issues of which all this is merely a sign.

The Liddel power station, mentioned in the poem, is iconic in the environmental history of Sydney for it replaced two older coal-fired power stations that operated from within the Sydney inner city area. Thus, the Liddel station, it was believed, not only ‘solved’ Sydney’s energy problems but also the pollution problem that the older power stations created. Liddel is almost an icon of the ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ thinking of modern western consumerism. So the Liddel site itself is something like the workshop that operates unseen behind the façade of the big city (Sydney). In more ways than one, it is what keeps the bright lights of the façade twinkling away. When in an area like the Hunter Valley one really feels the need to find a touchstone for reality.