"You'll have to run that past me again; I'm in a very noisy machine," he recalls saying. "I heard him first up, but I just couldn't believe my ears."
He adds: "If I lived two or three lifetimes there, I would never see a farmer come along and want to buy it at that price."
Once word got around that he had sold, others who had once greeted him with a friendly "G'day" stopped acknowledging him.
"If I was in their shoes, I'd be exactly the same way, I guess," says Smyth, who has retired at 57 and moved to a 3-acre property near the coast.
Those who remain are in limbo.
Shenhua has completed exploratory drilling after paying New South Wales state AU$300 million for exploration rights, but it won't be able to mine unless it wins state environmental approval for what would be three open-cut pits.
With the future uncertain, farmers don't want to invest in improving their farms, and no one wants to buy them. The affected include those who chose not to sell and others who were never given the choice, because they live on the periphery of the actual coal mining zone.
"I've got 1,000 hectares of land that's irrigated from underneath," says Andrew Pursehouse, whose farm lies outside the zone but under ridges that Shenhua plans to excavate. "If something happens to that water resource, my land is going to be worth only a third of what it is now."
Layton, the Shenhua spokeswoman, says the company may buy more farms in the years ahead if they are affected by dust and noise. The company plans to mine the ridges and leave the soil untouched and plant trees for those it destroys.
Smyth misses the Liverpool Plains, but he doesn't believe that farming and mining can coexist.
"I think that's just a pie in the sky pretty picture that they paint," he says. "I think it should be left alone. I feel guilty in lots of ways because I was one of the ones that weakened and got out of there."
EDITOR'S NOTE _ This story is part of "China's Reach," a project tracking China's influence on its trading partners over three decades and exploring how that is changing business, politics and daily life. Keep up with AP's reporting on China's Reach, and join the conversation about it, using #APChinaReach on Twitter.
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