Coal-hungry Chinese buy out Australian pastoral clans

Farmers beset by onerous business conditions in Australia are selling their coal-rich pastoral estates – some of which have been in family hands for generations – to Chinese energy companies for unprecedented returns.

Newser reports that China's economic ascent has spurred a search by the resurgent super power for overseas sources of energy, with Australia one of the most appealing and convenient markets.

Shenhua Watermark Coal has approached farmers on the Liverpool Plains in the Australian state of New South Wales with offers to buy up their properties, as well as the mineral bounty they contain, for lucrative sums.

Despite reluctance to part with pastoral estates which have been family owned for generations, many farmers are accepting the generous offers due to the economic hardships of modern farming.

50-year old Tony Clift, whose pioneer ancestors first settled the Liverpool Plains in 1832, has decided to sell his 6,500 acres to Shenhua saying that "if someone offers you a whole heap of money, you've got to take it."

Shenhua Watermark, whose parent company is state-owned giant and the world's biggest coal miner China Shenhua Energy, has already spent over AUD$167 million for 43 farms covering 36,300 acres at prices which are reportedly several times market value.

In the 12,000 strong New South Wales town of Gunnedah the local China-backed coal boom has left residents divided, including members of the Clift family. Some have decided to cash in on Chinese largesse while others remain concerned about the environmental perils and potential impact upon traditional pastoral lifestyles.

Shenhua has attempted to reassure local residents, with spokeswoman Melanie Layton saying the land will return to farming following the end of the 30-year life of the mines.

Many, such as Tony Clift's 83-year old cousin George Clift, remain dour and hostile.

You're supposed to hand it down to the next generation, so if you're not going to do that, you shouldn't have been handed the land in the first place….I'm very, very sad to see how everything's turning out for the next generation; we've seen the best of Australia and I think it's only going to deteriorate from here on.