SYDNEY (NYTIMES) - The battle over plans for a gargantuan coal mine in central Australia turned violent on Sunday (April 28), when a man on a horse rode into a crowd of protesters, knocking a woman unconscious before speeding away while yelling "woo-hoo" and waving his hat.
The 41-year-old horseman, whose name has not been released, has been charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle - namely the horse - after injuring a 61-year-old woman who was visiting Clermont, a small town near the proposed Adani Carmichael mine, to rally against the project with a convoy of protesters.
"This rider has ignored the shared expectation for an environment of mutual respect," said the regional mayor, Ms Anne Baker. "I expect they will face the full force of the law for their actions and the injury caused."
The debate over the mine has been raging for years, ever since an Indian conglomerate, the Adani Group, laid out its plans to make Australia's Galilee Basin one of the world's largest coal producers.
Outraged environmentalists have mobilised with the support of major global players like Greenpeace, but with Australia's election planned for May 18, the forces for and against Adani have become more local, visible and intense.
About 400 anti-Adani protesters arrived in Clermont on Saturday, led by Mr Bob Brown, an environmentalist and former senator with the Australian Greens Party.
They had already travelled to other parts of Australia, from Tasmania to Queensland's highlands, but in Clermont - the closest major town to the proposed mine - they were greeted by pro-coal activists holding signs that said "Start Adani" and "Greenies go home".
"It's a pretty emotive issue up there," said Mr Brian Sporne, a cattle farmer who recently moved away from Clermont.
The town of about 3,000 people is remote - an 11-hour drive from Brisbane - and struggling with a lack of employment opportunities, with farmer suicides, with an intense desire for something to go its way.
Clermont has also long been a hub for coal mines in the region, but a recent downturn in the industry has left many in the town desperate and without work. As of a few years ago, around 100 houses were empty and left abandoned.
Adani has promised that the mine would produce thousands of jobs, and conservative politicians in particular have amplified that argument, even as environmentalists say such promises are exaggerated in a time of increased mine automation.
Mr Sporne said all that matters to many people in Clermont is that the mine could help turn things around.
"Adani is definitely going to be a big plus for Clermont," Mr Sporne said. "There are going be a lot of locals who get work."
The mine has already received federal environmental approval from the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It is awaiting approval from Queensland state.
If it goes forward, the Adani mine could produce up to 2.3 billion tonnes of coal over the next 60 years.
It would more than double coal output in Australia, which already produces more coal than every nation except China, the United States and India.