Story & photos Margie Cameron. Photo gallery (below) Jeff Dawson
Scrambling out of bed at 4am and sloshing up a muddy hill to stand in the dark is all about protecting Bentley.
At the Rosella 1 entrance Jarmbi’je arrived to smudge the site.
The Peace Angel landed on top of a tripod and went into repose.
The many ‘simmos’ made their way to the multiple lock-on devices; they needed to prepare their minds and bodies for what could be a gruelling day of being locked onto a hunk of metal buried into the ground.
Their buddies stood ready to support them and to protect them from police and pain. A simmo must always be ready to lock-on within seconds. History has shown the police can suddenly arrive to take control and prevent attachments.
In the Bentley case, there are more than ten devices in the Rosella driveway. Some are dragons. The thought of a dragon sends shivers down the spine: it means under the surface is a configuration of welded metal set in concrete. It acts as an anchor and the simmos lock deep down into it. When a dragon is in action everything stops. Overnight a new lock-on had been installed at the Rosella gate.
The drums were beating and the people chanted.
Everyone was expecting the police to arrive. All stood ready to go the distance of a day of peaceful protest.
As the filming lights reflected off Lock the Gate spokesman Ian Gaillard, he spoke into the loud hailer, ‘The police are not coming!’ The crowd held its breath. ‘Weather conditions,’ he said. In a deep and steady voice Ian went on to describe Metgasco’s mining rights as ‘martial law imposed onto the community’.
As the information took hold a wave of jubilation echoed across the farmlands. The calls of people power rang out and when the dawn light took hold all could see why. The hills were covered with 800 people standing side by side ready to defend Bentley.
A spontaneous party atmosphere broke out and people openly recommitted to attending future actions.
Daniele Voinet Sledge from Lillian Rock had given the last two weeks of her life to being lock-on ready for ‘the pod’ installation. At 67 and with 11 grandchildren Daniele was elated but cautious. ‘I’m inspired to see the many younger people. Metgasco has lost many days and it can’t even get its fence in. I want to believe in miracles. It’s possible we won’t have to have 200 cops here. The miracle is now.’
Don Durrant owner of a 160ha rainforest near Kyogle said, ‘We have pride in our Bentley and this is no time to stop. We bluffed them out a bit today but they’re coming. Henderson has chewed his knuckles down to the second joint but he’s still there. I feel immense pride with this turnout.
‘Metgasco should be worried about what we are doing.’
Jo Evans from Green Pidgeon had a message for Metgasco: ‘Go away, leave Australia and leave the planet. It’s over!’
Ruth Rosenhek, a deep-ecology activist, stood at the base of the tripod with a look of relief across her face.
‘Over the past day 2,000 people have come to this camp. Today is like setting the table for a dinner party and until they arrive you don’t know who will come. This is such a relief. I can feel the tears of joy. The people showed up! When I was lying awake at 2 o’clock this morning I had a glimmer of hope that the pure power of people would prevail.
It’s Bentley all the way for me. I want to see Bentley stopped in its tracks. We know we can go harder. This one is not over.’
Woodworker Paul Roguszka saw the day as a history-making event.
‘The sheer numbers! It’s probably the biggest rural demonstration in history.
‘Until its last cent is spent Metgasco probably still thinks it’s top dog. It isn’t and it will never be able to take this day away.’
Naomi Tarrant, spokesperson for FLAG (FrontLine Action Group) stood watching the scene. ‘Speechless, I’m speechless,’ she said. ‘This is so affirming, a joyful celebration, of a beautiful moment. Tomorrow, we do it again. I’m part of the crew that supports the installations and simmos. We’re going to person them to the hilt and will continue to mind the site. This is worth it! It’s pulled people together to communally channel the high level of angst that this gas mining is causing.’
Naomi’s message to Metgasco: ‘Don’t bother; go away!’
Longtime CSG-free campaigner and president of Northern Rivers Guardians Scott Sledge pushed his hat back from his head. With a wall of hearts and the infamous PROTECTED banner behind him he said, ‘We called them and they came’.
‘I’m disturbed to see taxpayer money going to Metgasco. How is this democratic? To be imposing the will of a private company against the people; that’s corporate greed over public will. We’ve still got to go on; Metgasco wants to come in. We need to be ready for when they come at us. Until they leave Bentley we can’t stop. We showed up – they didn’t. I think that’s called a forfeit.
‘I don’t believe that the state government should be involved in the corporate invasion of the northern rivers. How will the government be remembered? They have facilitated a damaging industry and are prepared to enforce it with the riot squad.
‘Why haven’t Richmond Valley Council implemented a traffic slow-down as promised? Do our lives mean nothing?’
The police did arrive later but only to advise people to move their cars off the Bentley Road.
Photo gallery by Jeff Dawson