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Byron Shire
January 18, 2022

The battle of Bentley and the art of political landscape

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The anti CSG movement has taken a massive and significant quantum leap in the last few weeks with the emergence of the Bentley blockade. Both the social canvas and the political landscape is being radically re-invented on a scale unseen in the history of the environmental movement in this country.

What began about a month ago with a small roadside camp of a few tents and tarpaulins and about 15 – 20 organisers and people on site has, in just a short space of time, become the largest, most well organised environmental action ever seen in this country.

The blockade site is in the rolling hills of Bentley, stretched out below the cloud-hung Mackellar Ranges just 10mins west of Lismore, directly adjacent to where Metgasco has announced plans to start drilling for tight sands gas (including fracking) at Rosella EOI. The community reaction has been unprecedented – monumental. In just over a month what was a large open stretch of undulating tussock paddock and field on the Kyogle Road has now become the scene of a massive encampment of tents, cars, caravans, banners and flags and people (environmental protectors), stretching back to Bungabee Creek from the road occupying a huge slice of the landscape. In a sense it has become virtually another town/village beyond Lismore itself, with its own road names, traffic police, communications and information centres, community kitchen, coffee shop, take away food stalls, onsite toilet block, parking, lighting and generators, vehicle rescue truck, water tanks and even a small sports field with soccer nets.

In the pre-dawn dark the last two Monday mornings, the red and orange alert system on social media and by text has been successful in summoning some 2-2500 people on site and to the property gates where Metgasco plan entry. The response both weekends has been phenomenal, as column upon column of headlights stream along Kyogle Road to the blockade gate in the early hours. The spirit of the blockade is unstoppable. What was just a small group of protectors has now become an army. To stand in the pre-dawn light surrounded by a sea of humanity with so many people that it spreads and silhouettes to the surrounding hilltops and cliffs is an experience that is indescribable. It is an energy that is wonderful and affirming that such a force of humanity, from all walks of life covering every demographic, can stand together, with torch lights bouncing in thunderous chant, is simply beyond words. The energy rocks the very ground under your feet.

If you have not been to Bentley, then you have not tasted the future – you have not met the vision. This is groundbreaking. Make no mistake, this is Australian history in the making. This is the Northern Rivers Green Eureka. To stand at Bentley is to dream and to gain, in a sense, a glimpse of The Great Vision.

The spirit of the blockade, its momentum and evolution, has caught everyone by surprise. There has just been an incredible amount of input and creativity and grass roots infrastructure happen, that even the cows that wander over to the paddock fence lines look amazed!

What is really quite ironic, even paradoxical, is that what began as a threat to our lands by an arrogant, invasive mining corporate without social licence, has created a radicalised, unified and informed community of people willing to take a stand and respond in no uncertain terms. The whole scenario and experience is incredibly empowering.

To put it simply, Metgasco has a problem… a very, very big problem on its hands. It did not factor in such a massive, well organised community opposition.

To this point, it’s a no show. It is now the third week and Metgasco has not made an appearance. Every Metgasco Free Day is a Community Victory Day. Last Monday morning the organisers of the blockade were informed that the police would not be coming for ‘health and safety reasons’ as over 2000 people stood and waited in the dawn dark outside the drilling site gates. It is a now becoming a game of cat and mouse / ‘show business’. The community is winning this conversation. As one placard read ‘ It is becoming a Metgasco Fiasco’.

To date there has been virtually nil input – not a whisper – from our local state MPs. They appear to have lost their voice and, by their silence, give tacit support to the mining interests. It appears history is outpacing them and will make them redundant. Democracy is being re-built and redefined on the fields of Bentley.

Liz Friend, Mullumbimby

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  1. Well said Liz – and I sincerely hope Metgasco’s shareholders are reading this too. The community will not allow its future to be put at risk for other people’s profit – though at nine cents a share there’s not much profit left for those who invested huge amounts of money when the shares were much higher in value. That’s what happens when you are willing to gamble with other people’s lives and livelihoods and you get held to task.

    The ‘Metgasco fiasco’ is sending a very loud and clear message to destructive – not productive – companies and their shareholders who still mistakenly believe that it’s ok to profit at the environment’s expense from industries like CSG. Those days are over and you are the dinosaurs.

    Just over ‘the ditch’ New Zealand is now running on 75% renewables, with the capacity to take it to 100%. I know what I’d be investing in.

  2. Truly Liz “The Green Eureka” What a metaphor, since the Eureka stockade was a revolt by miners against being overly taxed by the government.

    Liz you are living in a bubble as is evidenced by yesterday’s speech by industry minister Ian Macfarlane.

    This is what the current industry Federal Minister Ian Macfarlane said to 3000 plus delegates in Perth yesterday.

    “Tackling the sensitive topic of coal seam gas, Macfarlane managed to jab the O’Farrell government in New South Wales, the petroleum sector’s least favourite government by some distance, without creating awkward headlines.
    [Macfarlane] said, “New South Wales should look to the example of Queensland, where gas companies and farmers have been working together for a decade,” he said, pointing to 4,900 wells drilled north of the Tweed and 230 in O’Farrell’s territory. More importantly, he also pointed to an estimated 29,000 direct and indirect jobs created in Queensland versus 200 in NSW.”
    Climate Spectator “Energy policy plays second fiddle to Coalition politics”
    Keith Orchison 6 hours ago

  3. Christina
    Renewables over the ditch?
    So you want more dams for hydro? How many valleys and forests do you want to drown even if we had them to generated hydro? We can’t do much about geothermal can we?
    According to Wikipedia in New Zealand, approximately 37% of primary energy is from renewable energy sources [1] Approximately 72% of electricity comes from renewable energy, primarily hydropower and geothermal power. This is expected to increase over the next 20 years, with wind energy making up much of that increase.
    Main article: Renewable electricity in New Zealand
    Renewable electricity in New Zealand is primarily from hydropower. In 2011, 77% of the electricity generated in New Zealand came from renewable sources, a ratio that has been falling for decades while load growth has been met primarily by natural gas-fired power stations. In September 2007, former Prime Minister Helen Clark announced a national target of 90 percent renewable electricity by 2025, with wind energy to make up much of that increase.

  4. Divestment goes hand in hand with the protectors campaigns. Check your savings, supers, investments and banks accounts. Are they with ethical companies? There are some! Does your bank or investment or super company clearly explain what they invest in and what they avoid? You can write to them and they will reply. For more info check out FB Fossil Free Northern Rivers and 350.org/australia, Tweed Climate Action Now, Asset Owners Disclosure Project (http://aodproject.net/)

  5. That’s a great description from Liz Friend.
    I’d like to add that the blockade is like the tip of the campaign iceberg. The social movement has matured during 3-4 years… as we built an Alliance based on distributed leadership, involving the collaboration of more than 20 Action Groups in Gasfield Free Northern Rivers. This has provided a ‘soft infrastructure’ that enables rapid, creative problem-solving. These Action Groups have provided the grunt work over the years, developing Community, Media, Legal, Corporate, Political, & Nonviolent Direct Action strategies (including previous blockades at holding ponds, seismic survey, Glenugie and Doubtful Creek). So #BentleyBlockade is able to come together rapidly as the visible tip of this extraordinary cooperative network over years. We knew it was going to be bigger than Doubtful Creek, but this is really something!

    We’re experiencing mass-movement dynamics… a very unusual phenomenon…it’s an honour to experience this. It’s very moving, standing at dawn with people at the Gates of Protection.

    Metgasco & Dart cannot proceed in the face of this resolute opposition. On latest count we have 124 self-declared Gasfield Free Communities. The population is awake to the need to fight the gasfield invasion on the frontline, and they know this is #BentleyBlockade. From near and far they keep pouring in. This campaign is fuelled by LOVE – of what we hold dear. This what brings us, before light breaks each dawn, to the Gates of Protection.
    Thanks Liz for your evocative description of #BentleyBlockade

  6. Thank you for your article. It’s astounded me that something as historic as this is not on the news everywhere. Julia Gillard picking up knitting needles got a hundred times more excited airplay . . . and yet as you said – this is history in the making.

    It is so obvious to see how the wealth of the community is funneled into the pockets of a few. Anywhere that gas has been mined through with the coal seam gas or tight sand gas process, a few fat cats get rich while the community, farmers and the environment lose what they have worked so hard for over generations.

    This must be stopped.

  7. Wow Liz,
    the Eureka Stockade! A wonderful comparison, particularly with the Miners on the other side of the fence this time!
    I was at Bentley this morning to witness 2 high level policeman viewing what must have been 3000 people protecting our farmland. One policeman I think was a local & the other never seemed to smile once. I pity them having to make decisions on actions that will undoubtedly be against the wishes of over 90% of local North Coast residents. It must be difficult for them to personally justify using taxpayer supplied resources to act against peaceful taxpayers who are protecting their piece of paradise for the commercial interests of a few.
    We have seen sanity prevail with the politicians on previous occasions such as the logging debate. Hopefully the politicians will change their minds about pushing an unwanted industry into our beautiful area. The returns from Gas mining will be small compared to the losses of local industry: the University jobs lost due to students not being able to get reasonable priced accommodation, the tourism jobs lost because who would want to see an industrial wasteland, & the farming jobs lost due to the loss & contamination to our water supplies, and this all for an industry with a history of contamination issues, for an industrial life of perhaps 25 years?
    If this industry is such an economic bonanza for our farmers, where is the publicly accessible information on the safety and on the income the farmers derive from it in Queensland. It seems all the farmers are silenced by NDA’s (Non-Disclosure-Agreements). If this was a safe industry that farmers really wanted why would Gas companies want to hide this information?
    Finally, to answer the earlier letter on Renewable energy, there has been at least 3 studies done in Australia by recognised resources that say that Australia could be 100% renewable by 2020 using existing technology at an affordable cost. This includes ideas such as the Australian invention of the Solar to Molten salt that thanks to lack of support by Mr Howard is now being built in the US for the benefit of Americans. We cannot burn Dinosaurs for ever: we should be making the transition now. Our world will thank us for it.
    In the meantime, Gas mining needs to be put on hold until technology improves so the resource can be extracted safely. Mining is a necessary part of life if we wish to have cars & lightbulbs! Current unsafe extraction of the resources is not viable however. There must always be a balance between genuine need & safety. Sending valuable resources overseas at a pittance as unprocessed raw materials is not the answer. I remember being taught that in High School in the 1960s. Leave the resource in the ground for future generations please.

    regards Doug


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