Story & photos Marie Cameron
Narelle and Scott Collins at the Tara property front gate
Living in an industrial gas zone is not everyone’s idea of fun but that is how life is for those who live in the Queensland region of Tara. Coal Seam Gas is the buzz industry. The company logos of QGC and Origin jump from company vehicles and road signs to clearly mark their territory. CSG businesses are valued in the billions of dollars with infrastructure portfolios that can only dazzle the senses. The local lingo is flooded with gas language: gas hubs, field compression stations, central processing plants, high point venters, holding ponds, fracking, pipe lines and fly-in fly-out workers. Everywhere, the gas industry asserts its dominance.
The land is flat and red. Short hardwood trees with names like Budgeroo, Hairy Oak and Bulloak dot the landscape. During summer the temperature can stay at 40 degrees for weeks on end. Some years back vast tracts of land were subdivided to attract smaller landowners and bring in a new population. Many moved families and hopes with the dream of a better life.
Industrialisation of the land
Narelle and Scott Collins left their bank employment, picked up their three kids and moved to a three bedroom home on 106 acres. Ten years ago they thought they had found their utopia only to have their dreams crash when the gas rush hit Tara.
Today the kids have left home and their waking moments are consumed with phone calls, research, networking and spontaneous actions. Both have skin rashes on their chests, nothing makes it go away; scratching, headaches and nausea are a part of the day.
Tara has become an industrial zone disguised as rural blocks and farm lands.
The British Gas group giant QGC has taken over Tara. Narelle and Scott’s lives have been swept into the massive QGC operation known as the Kenya Gas Hub. The roads are consumed by QGC utes with flashing lights and ‘vizzy’ dressed workers, trucks carrying pipes and heavy earth equipment barrel down on all before them, water trucks spray holding pond fluid over the dirt roads in the name of keeping the dust down.
Everywhere the bush is bulldozed to make way for pipeline connections from QGC’s 2,000 drill rigs and compressor stations to the central processing plant. From there it travels another 540km pipeline to Gladstone and into QGC’s billion dollar Curtis Island liquefaction plant. Once converted into LNG QGC provides 20 per cent of Queensland’s gas demands and 10 million tonnes a year will be loaded onto ships and sent out through the Great Barrier Reef to the world gas market including China, Japan and Chile.
Narelle and Scott did not join the new industry and everyday they pay a heavy price. With a need to survive they combined forces with other affected locals including Brian Monk and Marion and George Palmer. Their neighbour, Dayne Pratzky, has developed his 147 acre property into an environmental defenders camp. Over the past four years the locals have done all they can to take their plight to broader Australia and invite people to support their resistance.
The operation begins
Two weeks ago, activists from around Australia converged at Dayne’s for Operation Tara Surge. The NSW Knitting Nanas arrived in force; the group Bridging the Divide provided Brisbane people with a gas field bus tour; Dan ‘Stop CSG Tara’ brought his iPad and made ready to upload action shots to the web. People from the Glenugie and Doubtful Creek blockades arrived in large numbers and committed Queenslanders returned to take the fight to a new level.
At 4.30am on May 20 the group commenced a week of rolling actions. The aim was to prevent workers from leaving their camps, to blockade the gates, roads and buses and to delay, for a long as possible, their arrival at their work sites. The overall goal was to cost QGC real money and challenge their image. Earth defenders targeted multiple sites at the same time. Each team would roll out of vehicles into the pre-dawn darkness to stand in front of the traffic and bring it to a halt.
Very quickly long queues of utes banked up. The QGC security team would survey the situation and phone the police. For as long as it took for the police to arrive the blockade stayed in place. When the police arrived they would tell people to get off the road and the traffic would flow again. In one day up to 10 actions could go down and by day two police patience was wearing thin. Police started asking for identification and warned protesters to keep their bodies and vehicles off the road.
On Friday 24 the action hit QGC’s Kumbarilla State Forest development where massive earth works were in progress. The spaghetti grid of pipelines is serviced by a large and complex work force. The activists set up seven roadblocks at once and brought the field to a standstill. For the 90 minutes it took police to arrive, activists kept the roads shut down. At one stage gunshots rang out but nothing moved the blockades.
On the Ducklo-Gulera Road a truck driver decided to push his luck and force the blockade to open. With his bull bar pressed against the Knitting Nanas he revved his engine only to be offered a coffee and biscuit and be entertained by two women dancing in the headlights. When the Nanas were ready they let him pass: they knew he would be stopped again at the next blockade.
Dan ‘Stop CSG Tara’ used the Operation Tara Surge Facebook page to post live and uncensored blockade shots. In doing so he established new media boundaries and made redundant, the activists’ traditional need for media attendance.
When the police arrived the word passed to each blockade and together the activists pulled back. On nearby private land owned by the Morrisons they regrouped for a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, leaving the police to drive around looking for them.
The Morrisons’ story
The Morrisons had owned their land for 20 years and built their own home on it. In the beginning QGC did approach them to buy their land. Luigi told them in clear terms to get out and never come back. A neighbour six kilometres away did sell and the Morrison’s gas nightmare began.
QGC built a depot, wells, and all sorts of infrastructure along their road. High-speed trucks passed their gate all day, every day. Trucks carrying fluid from the nearby holding pond constantly dumped it onto the road. At one stage June become so distressed she held a one-woman blockade to make things stay quiet and still for just a few moments in time.
It soon became clear that Luigi was ill and in a few weeks he was scheduled to undergo major surgery. The group did what they could to help by collecting firewood and stacking it into the shed. June wanted to take a photo of the group at her home to send to the local mayor. After years of hoping for support from the council, June felt some satisfaction when she sent a shot of the group displaying full protest paraphernalia to the mayor.
Operation Tara Surge came to a close on Saturday May 25. The protest took its final moments to the front gate of QGC’s Kenya office on Vanrenes Road. The police closed a section of the road and allowed the group of 60 to show QGC their faces and to let them know they will be back.
With Dayne’s Party set to attract visitors to Tara on July 13 the Tara CSG resistance is gaining momentum.
When asked if Operation Tara Surge was successful Dayne Pratzky said, ‘We can move and shake as much as we want because QGC is vulnerable. QGC has infrastructure everywhere and it is not possible for them to secure their every piece of equipment in the field.’
Asked why he doesn’t just sell up and move he said, ‘I don’t want their money. Who in their right mind would want to live here? I’ve been paid by meeting amazing people and if I have to fight on my own I will. I would rather take a smack in the head than give in to them. If George and Marion Palmer and Narelle and Scott Collins can’t go, than I’m not going. I lost a girlfriend; I didn’t get to see my grandfather die. It’s cost me all of my savings, all my money and they’ve cost me my life. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.’
Has QGC found their match? Dayne Pratzky says they have found more than a match. ‘I lit a fire and it grew and they can’t control it. They can put a match out but they can’t put this fire out. Now, we decide what we are going to burn.’
For Narelle and Scott Collins, their gas nightmare is about to double. In one direction they have the Kenya fields; in another is Origin Energy. Origin is building its new Ironbark gas hub only a few kilometres from their front door. With its planned 600 wells, two gas plants, supporting infrastructure, 200 strong workforces and associated road movements Ironbark wants to be operational in 2015 and plans to produce for 40 years.
When asked why they didn’t just sell Scott said, ‘we have never been offered a buy out and if they did where could we buy for the same amount of money? Where do we go? Mining is happening everywhere. This is our life now and I’ll be damned if I’ll go down without a fight. This is my family and my family’s future I’m talking about.’
Knitting Nana Anne Thompson
Dayne Pratzky during a blockade
QGC gas installation on Ducklo-Gulera Rd Kumbarilla
QGC Kenya Processing Plant & Compressor stations Photo by Dayne Pratzky
Environmental defenders camp at Dayne Pratzky Tara property