ONE of the first times Luke Vassella busked in Tamworth at the country music festival, he sold just two CDs – to entrepreneur Dick Smith and the mother of Golden Guitar winner Luke O’Shea.
Back then the self-confessed “mainstream kind of guy” would never have guessed that, a decade later, he would find both industry acclaim and a whole new audience through songs opposing coal seam gas extraction.
The in-between years saw the Lismore-based singer-songwriter carve out a successful career playing at weddings, parties, anything, and releasing his independent alt-country albums.
But the births of his three children and gnawing concerns over the mining industry’s influence on the country they would grow up in precipitated the writing, recording and release 18 months ago of a five-track EP, The Mighty Dollar.
The titular track earned him a prestigious Australian Songwriters’ Association award last year, and at this year’s country music festival his talents and messages were in high demand.
“Martin Luther King said there comes a time when silence is betrayal,” he said.
“And in my song The Mighty Dollar I have said, ‘How can I be silent, watching this go down?’”
Mr Vassella, 39, arrived neither quickly nor easily at the stance the coal seam gas industry poses an unacceptable risk to communities and the environment.
“I have friends and family that do work in the fossil fuel industry, so it’s an issue that tears at my heart,” he said.
“But, to the best of my research and understanding, it is unsafe, it involves corruption and it’s a dirty fossil fuel.”
Last week Mr Vassella toured the Pilliga, where he has long-standing family ties, to view progress on Santos’s controversial coal seam gas exploration project.
Hearing the concerns of farmers surrounding the site only reinforced the refrain expressed in The Might Dollar’s chorus: “Leave it in the ground.”
The video can be found here: youtu.be/gsQvtfo_Qh0