Thousands stood firm against the threat of 800 riot police. They vowed never to bow to the miner.
And it was that community solidarity which won the ‘Battle of Bentley’ a year ago.
To celebrate, Gasfield Free Northern Rivers is organising a reunion this weekend at the Bentley Hall to mark the historic event, and to show that the resolve to stop unconventional gas mining in the region remains undiminished.
Gasfield Gree Northern Rivers regional coordinator Elly Bird said the gathering was timely given the recent overturn of the suspension of Metgasco’s licence to drill at Bentley, and statements from the company chief executive Peter Henderson.
Mr Henderson has said the company remains committed to drilling at the Bentley site, and he told Sydney media that he expected police to protect the company’s rights.
Ms Bird said it was important to remind the government and Metgasco that any attempt to drill at Bentley, or elsewhere in the region, would be met with stiff opposition.
‘A year ago people came from all over the northern rivers and showed beyond doubt their determination to protect our home from industrial gas fields,’ she said.
‘One year on, and people are still completely committed to ensuring the northern rivers remains gasfield free.’
Ms Bird said the gathering at the Bentley Hall would celebrate the achievements of the blockade, and would feature many of the musicians who turned up in support.
They include Luke Vassella, Tim Stokes, Davey Bob Ramsey and the Fuelers, Blackboi, Steve Manoa, Holley Sommerville Knott, Peter Lehner and the Winsome Gospel Choir, along with inspiring speakers and other entertainers.
Hot food will be available and the celebrations will begin at 2pm and end at 6pm.
Meanwhile, northern rivers landholders have called on the NSW National Party to change party policy and support a ban on coal seam gas (CSG) operations in the region at its party conference in Pokolbin this weekend.
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesperson Dean Draper said National Party members had recently indicated the party would heed the overwhelming message sent in the northern rivers at the recent state election and adopt a policy to deliver a gasfield free northern rivers, citing comments by MLC Ben Franklin and member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis.
‘The National Party have been strongly criticised by farmers in the northern rivers and in other regions like the Hunter Valley and North West for failing to protect our local land and agricultural water from mining,’ Mr Draper said.
‘The Party Congress at the weekend is a prime opportunity for them to listen and act on community concerns with a ban on coal seam gas in the northern rivers of NSW.
“The northern rivers community has fought against the damaging impacts of unconventional gas for the past four years. A change in National Party policy would go a long way to ease that pressure and reassure local farmers and landholders that the party still represents their grassroots interests.
‘Unconventional gas is not right for the northern rivers region. We rely on our tourism and agricultural industries and coal seam gas is a large threat to both,” he said.
Bentley cattle farmer Meg Nielsen wants the National Party to recognise that coal seam gas is not as important as the essentials of life such as food and water.
‘There is a deep concern in the community that coal seam gas will destroy precious water, prime farming land and impact on the community’s health,’ she said.
‘The northern rivers region and Australia as a whole simply can’t afford the destruction of prime farm land and agricultural production for coal seam gas.
‘The food security of Australia is at stake. Once this land and water is damaged or lost, it’s spoilt for many generations to come.
‘We call on the National Party to commit to their promise and use their party conference to ensure the northern rivers remains a gasfield free region,’ Ms Nielsen said.