Drilling rig trucks crushed Akubra hats into the dirt on Saturday morning in the Kerry Valley as Arrow Energy sought to end a 10-day standoff with angry landholders in the Scenic Rim, SE Queensland.
A 10-day blockade of the site organised by ‘Keep the Scenic Rim Scenic’ rapidly gained momentum as Arrow conducted exploratory drilling within a heavily policed enclosure. Arrow announced that exploration is complete, but protesters suspect that it was terminated early to avoid mounting pressure.
With the rig ready to depart, Kerry Valley farmer Rod Anderson, Akubra hat in hand, gave a stirring address that can be viewed in its entirety the video above.
In the traditional rural gesture of challenge he threw his Akubra hat, and those of friends who he said were too scared to attend because of the intimidatory tactics of the company, into the roadway.
‘Drive over that’ Anderson yelled at the rig, followed by fellow protestors placing their hats in the roadway. ‘I’m not touching ’em,’ one police officer was overheard to say.
What followed may well be a watershed in the battle between farmers and the coal-seam gas companies. Two semitrailers drove over the Akubras, crushing them into the gravel. The symbolism was astounding. In the aftermath, farmers were visibly shaken, police struggled to contain their emotion.
Michael McNamara, Tweed Valley-based anti-CSG campaigner and member of the management committee of Lock the Gate Alliance, told Echonetdaily, ‘Arrow had numerous opportunities to engage in a positive way with the community and to start rebuilding the bridges with that community but they have thrown away every single opportunity.
‘Northern Rivers residents who came to Kerry to support this community are outraged at the actions of Arrow Energy.
‘I, and many others who came, live closer to Kerry than to Tweed Heads so it is very much of concern to us and we stand solidly beside our neighbours.
‘Arrow Energy demonstrated their true colours in the way they have ridden roughshod over the local community, refused to communicate in good faith and thumbed their corporate nose at the requirements of the state laws under which they carried out the drilling.’
Arrow Energy is owned 50/50 by PetroChina and Royal Dutch Shell.
As these symbolic images of Arrow’s contempt for farmers spread nationwide, many will ask what happened in the lead-up to this watershed moment. What was it that gave Arrow employees the arrogance to ride roughshod? What is it that has given the farming community, traditionally so conservative, the will to stand up in public protest? Will Arrow attempt to distance itself from the incident? How will other farming communities respond?
Already the battle is moving on, with more than 100 farmers gathering in Rock Valley on Saturday to voice their protest against similar plans for their area.
‘The Kerry Valley farmers are so grateful for the support that came from outside our area, including the Northern Rivers,’ said blockade co-organiser Innes Larkin. ‘We’ve found the courage to protest. Now we’re ready to answer the call from the next CSG-threatened community’