10 years ago, ordinary people fought against gas mining – and won

The group met under the shelter at the Bentley Rail trail car park.

Susanna Freymark

Ten years ago, a strong bond was formed between the people who protested against the Metgasco attempt to open gasfields in the region.

The 44th well was planned for Bentley. A unified, non-violent protest over five years culminated in a blockade at Bentley.

The Northern Rivers remains gasfield-free and today, Wednesday, May 15, about 50 of those involved met at the Bentley end of the Casino-Bentley rail trail car park.

Stories were shared, and acknowledgements made to those who stopped gas mining in Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Lismore LGAs.

Reconnecting with friends from the Bentley Blockade campaign.

Annie Kia was one of the protesters.

“We had a mass movement in the entire region,” Annie said.

“It was non-violent and that was a huge achievement.”

Annie led the campaign to have Lock the Gate signs in every community.
In the five years of the protest, the bright yellow signs could be seen everywhere.

A survey was carried out in each small community and once the results were collated, a sign was put up saying what percentage of residents wanted gasfield communities.

Annie Kia led the yellow sign campaign which was successful in raising awareness across the region.

“We had 147 gasfield-free communities,” she said.

The criteria for a sign was that every door was knocked on to gather residents’ opinions on gas mining in the Northern Rivers.

The campaign started in early 2010 when Kyogle residents realised the Lions Road was going to be the main route for the gas company.

“They had Lock the Gate signs all along Lions Road,” Annie said.

Twenty action groups formed the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.

Annie had a photo she took of CSG mining in Darling Downs in Queensland.

This is an aerial view of the Darling Downs where gas wells went ahead.

This is what the Northern Rivers paddocks could have looked like, she said.

Aidan Ricketts spoke to the group about his enormous gratitude to campaigners.

“We knew we had community support,” he said.

Aidan shared a story about how people working in cafes would send alerts if police were on the way.

“Once they told us 150 egg and bacon rolls had been ordered so we knew how many police were coming.”

The coming together of farmers, hippies, Indigenous peoples, and business owners is what gave the protest its legacy, he said.

“It’s an amazing story in the history of protests in Australia.”

Aidan Ricketts had plenty of stories to tell about the campaign.

Don Durrant from Ironpot Creek who has the largest private native rainforest in NSW on his property said he was “proud of what we did together.”

Anne Thompson organised the anniversary. She read out a letter from Jenny Dowell who was mayor at the time of the protest.

“Ten years ago, ordinary people put their lives on hold to show that people power made history,” Jenny said in the letter.

“The protection of our region was an immense victory then, now and in the future.”

Anne Thompson organised the anniversary gathering.

Lismore councillor Adam Guise said the campaign got national attention.

“This is one for the history books and one to carry in our hearts,” he said.

The US film Gasland sparked wide interest in gas mining.

Adam Guise spoke to the group.

Linda Brooks, aka Bowerbird Pell, said the threat of gas mining brought everyone together.

“In 2010, I saw my farm under threat. They came to Dobies Bight, they came to Doubtful Creek,” she said,

She decided if she didn’t like what was happening, she had to make a stand.

Linda Brooks spoke about her experience.

There were stories of standing up to police peacefully – even chanting NSW Police, we love you – a moment that was captured in the documentary The Bentley Effect.

There was nostalgia for the days when a purpose was forged fighting an enemy that none of these people wanted to see in their backyard.  

Their actions preserved the land and today, as the group met again and reconnected with friends in a low-key celebration – it was as if the soft, green hills of Bentley leaned in to hear more about the region’s most famous protest campaign.

Photos: Susanna Freymark

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