Who are the people likely to be affected by Metgasco’s gas drilling at Bentley, just outside Lismore?
Despite recent name-calling by energy and resources minister Anthony Roberts, there is nothing extreme about Jim Hewitt who runs the last dairy farm in Bentley.
Typical of many people who work on the land, Jim starts his day well before dawn and continues until well after dusk to produce milk from 260 cows.
Jim is a hard-working man, who spends a lot of time on his own. He is a man of few words – he already feels he has said too much before he opens his mouth – but he is speaking up now to save his land and his livelihood.
For over 50 years, Jim has farmed and raised his family at ‘Bentley central’ and has seen other small dairies fold, mainly owing to deregulation, he says. On the outskirts of town, just a few kilometres east, is Camp Liberty and the Bentley Blockade.
‘I am frightened the gas will get into the water’, says Jim. ‘It means our farms won’t be worth any money. I think everybody is trying to do something to stop this.’
Resident Ted has a small acreage nearby and he says there are a lot of potential issues in regards to property values. ‘To me that is just one of the issues’, he says. ‘If one well goes ahead and they strike the sweet spot, then there could be a gas field rapidly expanding. The minister talks about imported green extremists. We live here. We are residents and we consider Lismore people who are downstream, 45,000 people, they are locals too. Their water supply could be impacted on. There are a lot of consequences from this.’
Robert is a beef producing farmer of long standing. Robert is publicly involved in the anti-CSG movement. ‘It has been too easy for people like Anthony Roberts to call us extremists and to say the protesters are a rent-a-crowd.’
‘A friend and I took it upon ourselves to canvass conservative people in this community.’ He says figures among the conservatives were almost identical to what gasfield-free volunteers found with their polling of Lismore and surrounding towns: most people don’t want it.
Robert says the fossil fuel industry treats the area like terra nullius and there has been no consultation with the people who have been producing off the land since the 1860s.
‘It’s not fair that someone else can plunder our assets.’
Resident Annie and her husband and daughters have lived on two and half acres of beautiful Bentley land for 17 years.
Her fear is living in a gasfield. ‘It’s not why we wanted to live out here. We wanted to live somewhere peaceful and safe and I don’t think living in a gas field will be like that.’
Annie worries that there will be chemicals in the air and other health issues and she won’t subject her family to the risks. ‘I have heard reports of people who feel unwell when they live in a gasfield. Also hazy air that settles and causes respiratory issues. I wouldn’t stay if my children are going to get sick.’
Annie participates in vigils looking out for any mining activity and she attends greet-the-dawn at Gate A at the blockade. She doesn’t consider herself an extremist. ‘I never thought I’d be sitting in a car keeping an eye out for convoys of police or drill rigs, or watching to see what is happening.’ She doesn’t see those actions as extreme. ‘I think they are necessary.’
Though family and life commitments will stop Ted, Robert and Annie from locking-on, they support and are very grateful for those that do.
What is ironic is that the government and Metgasco may turn these people into extremists.
Jim has taken significant personal steps to hamper the efforts of the invasion and is prepared to go to extreme lengths, to the point of putting his 75-year-old body on the line by locking himself on at Bentley, in the hope of protecting his land.
It is rumoured that large numbers of police plan to establish a camp of their own at Bentley’s doorstep as early as Tuesday.
North coast Nationals MPs Geoff Provest (Tweed), Don Page (Ballina) and Thomas George (Lismore) have yet to publicly state if they support the residents or Metgasco.
I asked Jim who will look after his farm if he locks-on. ‘That is looking after my farm’, he said.