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April 20, 2021

The gentle men of Bentley

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Eve Jeffery

Last night during Lismore’s deluge at the launch of the Environment Centre, a music video was premiered on the ceiling of the Transit Centre’s verandah featuring two local activist-artists and the Bentley Blockade.

In the clip, what became the anthem for hundreds at the proposed drilling site, the song Gently Bentley by singer/songwriter Luke Vassella, provides the backdrop for many of the memorable quotes from speeches made at the Bentley Blockade including Drew Hutton’s jubilant: ‘The Bentley blockade is the Eureka Stockade of our era.’

The video is a collaboration between two of the gentle men heroes of Bentley, Vassella and filmmaker David Lowe, both with unquestionable talent of epic proportions and hearts as big as Phar Lap.

Vassella, who made his way to the protest site four to five mornings a week, says the song was written one evening in early April after a ‘greet the dawn’ at Gate A, the stronghold of the blockade.

Screen shot of Luke Vassella from David Lowe's video clip 'Gentley Bentley'
Screen shot of Luke Vassella from David Lowe’s video clip ‘Gently Bentley’

‘I had been going to Bentley for about a week’, he says. ‘I wrote the song in the evening and took it along the next morning at 5am around the campfire and there was maybe a dozen people there.’

The song went on to be accompanied by the Winsome Gospel Choir to stir the troops as thousands gathered to sing with Luke in the last days of the blockade and the defeat of Metgasco at the site.

Luke says the idea for the song came from what he saw as the need for peace in what was becoming a heated issue.

‘Anger was not going to be any use’, he says. ‘Raging against the machine was going to be of no use. We needed unity, we needed peace, we needed calm and we needed solidarity and arm-in-arm friends. If there were going to be hotheads among us we needed something to cool them down.’

Vassella says that the song wasn’t only for the activists at gate A, it was also a reminder to think of those on the other side of the fence. ‘This was also for the police. It was always meant to be a sing-a-long. “Go Gently Bentley” was one of the signs at the protest, going gently was the only way we could go, the only way forward.’

Luke says the sentiments of Martin Luther King were in part at the core of the song. ‘If we were going to get angry at authority or the landholders then we were going to inherit that energy. We needed love.’

Luke also says that the song was intended as a prayer for peace; a mantra for unity and goodwill.

‘It is a simple, repetitive song with a clear melody that could be sung in a round, in the dark, in the rain, in the mud, without instruments if need be. And it was. The verse about the NSW police was originally sung “let’s share our peace…”, as we prepared for a confrontation that would involve thousands of distressed people.

Gently Bentley is not really a song. It’s a chant and it resonated. It’s an attitude. It’s a heart attitude.’

The only place to screen the premiere of the 'Gentley Bentley' clip was on the ceiling of the verandah of the Environment Centre in Lismore. Photo Tree Faerie.
The only place to screen the premiere of the ‘Gently Bentley’ clip was on the ceiling of the verandah of the Environment Centre in Lismore. Photo Tree Faerie.

Luke hopes that people will hear his contribution to the Bentley action and get to feel the real meaning behind the song.

‘Our country is so politically extreme. I feel like it’s time to dissolve those borders. The “gas fields free” movement is full of the whole spectrum of political, social and spiritual perspectives as well, I would like to think this song is about creating a sense of unity, to appreciate that we are one but we are not the same. We have to carry each other and love is the answer.’

Luke and David have both a strong, creative and friendship-based relationship. Luke considers the filmmaker ‘legendary’ and to many in the anti-mining movement he is – David and his camera are a constant presence at most of the actions and rallies in the people’s fight.

‘Philosophers might just ask, “If a tree falls in a forest and David Lowe is not there to film it, did it really fall?” Well it didn’t.’

But all jokes aside Luke says David is great motivator and an inspiration who constantly gives encouragement. ‘Apart from his brilliant work, he is a passionate man who cares, who respects the weight of history that is in our culture as well as being an encyclopaedia of music. He is hungry for knowledge about the way things are. I felt very naked in front of the camera, but I trust David and I think he captured the right attitude.’

Luke Vassella and David Lowe at the premiere of 'Gently Bentley' in Lismore. Photo Tree Faerie.
Luke Vassella and David Lowe at the premiere of ‘Gently Bentley’ in Lismore. Photo Tree Faerie.

David Lowe says he first got to know Luke when they were editing the trailer for the Rock the Gate! movie in 2012.

‘He  appeared at our door with his extraordinary song River, which summed up the first monster Lismore rally perfectly,’ says David. ‘We re-cut the trailer around Luke’s song and never looked back.’

David says that Luke’s music has been at the emotional centre of this movement all along.  ’It wasn’t surprising when he came up with this anthem for Bentley. It was wonderful to watch it evolve from a few tentative voices around the campfire before dawn to being sung by thousands.

‘The great thing about Luke’s music is the way it makes emotionally tangible the aspects of our movement that are most important but often unspoken, particularly the love of country and community.’

David says the evocative spirit in Luke’s work is the reason he has asked him to provide the soundtrack for Lowe’s films ranging from Undermining Australia to the new Cloudcatcher Media series: Voices from Gloucester.

‘We are planning to collaborate again on a major three-part series about the northern rivers’ fight to be gasfield free called Confusing Them With Our Joy. Details soon!’

David says that the main part of the clip was shot over a morning in Vassella’s laundry in just two takes, as Luke looked out across the sheets flapping in the backyard towards Bentley in the distance.

‘Everything just came together.’

Due to technical difficulties and the pouring rain, the only space for the premiere to screen was ceiling of the Transit Centre’s verandah.

No one minded a bit.

Gently Bentley has been released on the the Songs from the Bentley Blockade album which will have its official launch at Kulcha Jam, in Byron Bay on Friday December 19 from 7pm.

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