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Byron Shire
May 17, 2021

Bentley protectors settle in for a long battle

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Video Sharon Shostak, Story Chris Dobney, Photos Wayne Penn

Yesterday morning, when 2,000 people turned up at dawn at the Bentley site Metgasco plans to frack, Richmond Valley Council’s GM was taken by surprise.

John Walker told ABC radio the protectors had got out of bed early ‘for no good reason’, since the police, Metagasco and council staff had stayed away.

Whether their no-show was because of the protectors’ advance warning of their plans or whether they never really intended to start today hardly matters. The community has let them know just what to expect when the rigs finally do pull out of Metgasco’s Casino compound.

Entrance to the Bentley protectors' campsite on Bungabee Road. Photo Wayne Penn
Entrance to the Bentley protectors’ campsite on Bungabee Road. Photo Wayne Penn

Council are now busy erecting speed signs to slow down traffic in the area and 200 police are known to be in place, twiddling their thumbs in local motels on the people’s payroll. It can’t be long now.

Lismore City councillor Peter Graham has a pretty cattle stud in the valley, with a backdrop of Muckleewee Mountain Nature Reserve.

He has signed his land over to Metgasco for tight sands gas exploration and, perhaps, exploitation. Whether they are ‘successful’ or not, Mr Graham won’t have to deal with the consequences – he doesn’t live on the property.

His neighbours are not so well disposed to the idea of their green valley being turned into an industrialised gasfield: 84.5 per cent have registered their opposition to it.

His nextdoor neighbour has turned over part of his property to the protectors at no charge, so they are able oppose the operations at whatever hour of the day or night they start.

Looking back on the Bentley protectors' camp from Bungabee Road. Photo Wayne Penn
Looking back on the Bentley protectors’ camp from Bungabee Road. Photo Wayne Penn

Feeling like someone who arrived late for Woodstock, I turn into Bungabee Road around 8am.

Go here for Marie Cameron’s first-hand account of the dawn vigil and Jeff Dawson’s photo gallery.

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers’ dawn show of numbers has been an incredible success but by now dozens of vehicles are loaded up and streaming out of the campground.

Clearly many had come for the Gigs Not Rigs benefit on Sunday and stayed the night. After the planned confrontation failed to eventuate, they are returning to their daily lives.

No doubt many have already added their names to the phone-alert list, ready to act when the next call comes.

Once I’ve had a chance to look around I am impressed at the size and scope of the so-called ‘primitive’ campsite. Creative domes, tunnels and tipis alternate with caravans, camping trailers and two-man tents. Clearly people from all walks of life are here and many – 100 or more – are digging in for the long term. ‘As long as it takes,’ one person says to me.

There’s a festival atmosphere, and you could be forgiven for thinking that’s what you’d come to: with homemade music, jovial conversation, bulletin boards, a banner-painting workshop, kids’ play area and more.

Near the entrance, a well-muscled guy, stripped to the waist, is hauling a heavy wheelbarrow loaded with road base, helping the council out by fixing up the muddy road they’d obviously ignored.

On the roadside, people in fluoro vests are pointing out where to park and what to expect.

Nearby, the Knitting Nannas are doing their thing and people are opening up and airing out their tents as the sun emerged after a rainy night.

A fireman from a nearby brigade pulls up beside our car, drawn here by the irate tweets from mates at the Bentley RFS, whose fire station has been taken over as police command centre against their vote.

They were overruled by the organisation’s hierarchy despite the fact that the land on which the station stands was donated by the family of one of the local fireys, Craig Armstrong.

Craig stands to lose a lot if Metgasco poisons his aquifer as Santos did in the Pilliga. He’s a fish farmer, relying on a regular source of clean bore water for his aquaculture ponds.

At the information tent, a woman wearing a badge proclaiming ‘legal support’ tells me that each portaloo costs $60 a time to empty, ‘and they’re filling up very quickly at the moment,’ she says. I decide to double the contribution I was planning to slip into the donations box.

We walk along the side of Bentley Road (you have to) to approach the ‘A’ and ‘B’ gates, the most likely entrance routes for Metgasco’s trucks.

Northern Rivers Guardians’ Scott Sledge at the main entrance to Metgasco’s planned tight sands drill site at Bentley. Photo Wayne Penn
Northern Rivers Guardians’ Scott Sledge at the main entrance to Metgasco’s planned tight sands drill site at Bentley. Photo Wayne Penn

Scott Sledge, from Northern Rivers Guardians, tells me they are in fact the only approved entrances, based on the company’s environmental impact statement. Both already have substantial ‘lock-on’ presences in place, with willing volunteers chained in turns to large concrete blocks in the ground.

According to Sledge there are two more gates the company could use to access the site at a pinch.

One, known as ‘gate C’, is on the other side of a water-filled gully from the planned drill pad, so would require substantial, unapproved road-building works.

The other is the driveway to the homestead, which is on Bungabee Road, beyond the campsite.

So whatever time of day or night Metgasco’s trucks arrive, and whichever entrance they choose to use, they aren’t going to have an easy run of it.

The mood – both at the gates and the campsite – is high. People are keen, though, for us to stay around as long as we can, with one woman telling us that Metgasco will bide its time until numbers start to drop.

But Metgasco can’t wait forever, and neither can the 200-odd police summoned to help shepherd their equipment into its yet-to-be-constructed compound.

Just up Bungabee Road from the camp is Back Creek, shrouded in riparian rainforest. It’s not hard to imagine what could happen to this creek if a holding-pond accident such as happened in the Pilliga were to occur here.

A hundred metres further along, the old Casino to Murwillumbah railway line crosses the road. A future rail trail will need to take a substantial diversion to avoid running right past an ugly, industrialised stretch of wasteland if Metgasco gets its way.

Aerial video footage courtesy Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.

End of the line: the stretch of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line that runs behind Metgasco's planned drill site at Bentley. Photo Wayne Penn
End of the line: the stretch of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line that runs behind Metgasco’s planned drill site at Bentley. Photo Wayne Penn

The precipitous cliff opposite the main entrance to the Bentley gas-well site, hung with banners. Photo Wayne Penn
The precipitous cliff opposite the main entrance to the Bentley gas-well site, hung with banners. Photo Wayne Penn


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14 COMMENTS

  1. I cant disclose who I am because its too risky for me. But I know someone that supplies the chemicals to drilling operations. He told me that the chemicals supplied to Metgasco included a chemical called dihydrogen monoxide – see http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html.

    Just thought you should know.

  2. Great film. Thank you for helping to spread the message about how this community is standing up to money-hungry mining companies. The message is loud and clear to Metgasco: YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE!

  3. Great article – thank you! As one of those regularly going out to Bentley, I would like to thank everyone involved in protecting our area against invasive gasfields. Time and again I have been moved to tears by the commitment and contribution of these people, whether it’s the farmers who have donated the use of their land for the protectors’ camp, those who direct traffic and monitor safety, those who contribute food or clean and empty toilets, those who write letters to politicians and the press, those who get up early to join the protectors before going to work, those who are unemployed or retired, those who contribute their music to lift our spirits, those who have given hours or months of their time. This is a community effort, and we can each contribute something of value to protect our region.

    As I have encountered opposition to the Bentley blockade from some people who argue that Metgasco is exploring for conventional gas and who think that the protectors don’t know what they’re doing because many of them speak of the gas as being CSG, I would like to clarify the issue. The ‘conventional’ gas is likely to be held in tight sands, which in all probability would require fracking, as CSG does – therefore, it should rightly be referred to as ‘unconventional gas’. However, regardless of the nature of the gas and whether or not fracking is required to extract it, the point is that even just the drilling has the potential to release harmful ‘BTEX’ chemicals into the environment, and that the vast majority of the local population has clearly expressed its will that it doesn’t want this area to become a gasfield. Our politicians, supposedly representing us in parliament, should be noting and acting on that – but as they’re not, we have no option but to protect our country.

    Thank you for your obvious support.

  4. How is it that a company that is destroying our nation’s resources, gets to have police support ?
    The police are actually meant to be PUBLIC SERVANTS – i.e., to protect and to serve the PUBLIC.
    As is so obvious – our democratic rights and that of Australians across the nation are being ignored over money and pressure from wealthy moguls.

  5. Has anyone considered plan of action should Metgasco try and bring the rig in by air? Not sure what the size of these things are. or the logistics, but surely an option for Metgasco if access by road becomes too complicated/expensive?
    Jonathan.

  6. Great story Sharon Shostak, Chris Dobneyand. yes need more people out there. People power will win. See what happened for the whales. Text 0447399535 with your number to get on the red alert system

  7. Well, we know who not to vote for don’t we Peter Graham? Looks like you have just lost 90 percent of the vote.

  8. A story such as this will inspire people power for clean water, air, sustainable living for the seventh generation and then some.

  9. I went out on Sunday night and stayed till midday the next day. I arrived to stirring speeches by Aidan Ricketts and others emphasising the peaceful nature of the action. I noticed people from many tribes mixing together in perfect harmony and co-operating beautifully; all gathering for one specific purpose, the preservation of the environment. I had the opportunity to speak with a variety of folk that I doubt I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to meet, and be poorer for it. The place itself was beautiful especially with the morning mist. So, in addition to supporting an essential political push, it’s a unique experience to be there. Don’t miss out. This is a unique opportunity.

  10. Yet again Sharon Shostock tells the story elegantly and comprehensively. You work so hard to get it right, we love you Sharon! The only thing to add would be that some in the community have been confused by misinformation that we are protesting against conventional gas mining. The action is to protect the land from fracking which would pollute the water, air and land. More info at http://csgfreenorthernrivers.org/csg-risks/

  11. Great article ! Great response comments ! Great place to go out to Become Part Of History !!

    It was truly awe inspiring, to see the incredible infra-structure already set up out at both Liberty Camp and Gates A and B, along with their two Vigel Posts, with vantage point views.
    My Heartfelt Thanks go out to all of the up to 150 people who have contributed to the well organised plans and layouts !!

    This has had one year of planning, with all the local groups, working hand in hand.

    When you Do Go Out to Liberty Camp for a morning Dawn Vigel at Gate A or B, and wish to take something useful, one of the easiest ones is a bottle of Frozen Filtered Water. They are ideal to put in the Eskis, to preserve the Simmos, Buddies, and Support People’s daily supplies, and later in the heat of the day, provide an icy treat of Clean Pure Water ! Pre-Cooked healthy foods are always truly appreciated, as there can be many extra mouths, that may end up staying up on the frontline, longer than they had planned, and their Breaky and Brunch packs, don’t quite make it thru to lunch or dinner.

  12. A great story, but one small error. Peter Graham is no longer a Lismore Councillor, though he was when he signed up with Metgasco.

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