How do you make city slickers realise that what happens in the country has a direct impact on them? With a whopping 80% of NSW now covered by mining licences and applications, you’d think they’d be awake to the fact that their food and water supplies are under threat. But they seem to be in mass denial, lost in a dollar daze, consumed by their mortgage repayments. So yesterday, in my role as the Sydney Campaign Coordinator with Lock the Gate Alliance I helped host the launch of a new campaign to shake them out of their complacency.
Our Land Our Water Our Future is calling for wholesale root and branch reform of how mining and gas is managed in this state. We need no-go zones put in place to protect farmland and rural industries, water resources, special wild places, and residential communities from these invasive and destructive industries. And we want the government to restore the community’s fundamental rights to say no to mining and to appeal against coal and gas projects that would damage their land, water and futures.
Lock The Gate is one of more than 75 groups from across NSW, representing tens of thousands of people who have joined forces to build a voice for the many communities across NSW standing up to protect the places they love from coal and gas. And many of those community leaders were out in force yesterday. We had friends from all over NSW – from the Riverina, the Northwest, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, from the Githabul mob up in the Northern Rivers region and from the Gomeroi in Gunnedah – friends whose precious land is now under threat from inappropriate coal and gas mining.
We brought the country to the city with bunches of sorghum from the Liverpool Plains, lucerne from the Hunter Valley, pumpkins and apples from the Southern Highlands, freshly shorn fleeces and big bunches of sunflowers. The historic Mint in Macquarie Street was transformed into a place where sister city and brother bush came together, one year out from the state election, to demand policy reform to secure our basic life essentials.
The event kicked off with a rousing song by three-time Golden Guitar Award winner Luke O’Shea who has lent his voice to the Movement Aussies Against Fracking and now to Our Land Our Water Our Future. Then Aunty Millie Ingram, a proud Wiradjuri woman and a respected elder of the inner city of Sydney area, gave an acknowledgement of country and spoke about the need to protect our mother Earth. Uncle Reg King and Aunty Dolly Talbott told us about what’s going on in their traditional lands, and how, with the rapid march of of these industries across the landscape, they can no longer find their ancestors’ footprints.
Everyone was transfixed by the mighty presence of Jarmbi of Githabul Ngarakwal who is living on his country near Lismore and speaking for it. His huge presence and leadership is being drawn upon by the hundreds of people manning the blockade at Bentley where Metgasco will attempt to muscle in on Monday with the support of 200 police and riot squad members. You could’ve heard a pin drop as he summoned up the wisdom of the elders to help us heal the sickness in our culture that has led to the destruction of sacred places through mining.
One of the shocking things about the rapid expansion of coal and gas across the state is that our agricultural land is being targeted for exploitation. Our food bowl is literally being undermined. And no-one knows the importance of food in our lives more than Margaret Fulton. She’s an Australian Living Treasure, a culinary pioneer, she transformed our eating habits through her many wonderful cookbooks and articles in magazines like Women’s Day. And as our guest speaker for the day, she sounded the alarm bells about the impacts of hydrolic fracturing (fracking) on our water resources. She spoke of flames coming out of taps and regaled the crowd by imagining what dangers a smoking bloke might encounter when going for a crap!
It really beggars belief to hear what is going on right now beyond the city limits. Farmers are being squeezed off land they’ve worked for generations by companies whose profits mostly go overseas. Nicky Chirlian grows native grasses for stock out near Quirindi in the North West of the state and practices regenerative agriculture. She’s basically had to drop everything and turn her attention from farming to activism in order to protect her livelihood. This amazing force of nature told us how the miners just rocked up to her home without even making an appointment and proceeded to sweet talk her about gaining access to her property for exploratory mining. Not even a phone call first. They have treated her and many of her neighbours with nothing but contempt.
Another incredible individual who’s had to go out of his way to protect the land he loves is John Krey. He’s been leading his community at Bulga in the Hunter Valley in its battle against Rio Tinto for four years. You might’ve heard how his community won its case against the mining giant and its plans to expand its Warkworth mine to within spitting distance of the town. But in a shocking move that made us all question whose side our elected leaders were on, the NSW state government stepped in to join Rio Tinto in a challenge to that decision.
John spoke passionately about the impact on communities from the mining takeover in this state, while just down the road in Parliament House, a bill was being debated to exclude CSG from the Special Areas of Sydney’s catchment – a bill that was to be later rejected by the Government. You’d think it would be a no brainer. Why would anyone want to jeopardise our priceless water supply by drilling for coal seam gas? We live on the driest inhabited continent on the planet and CSG pollutes our precious water supply. Coal mining also jeopardises our water resource – it cracks our river beds and drains our water courses and this is going on today in our most sensitive water catchments, which supply water to over 4 million people in the Sydney basin. It’s insanity.
Mike Campbell has 18 years experience in dealing with coal mining and water issues. Campaigning against the mine on the Central Coast that Premier Barry O’Farrell promised would never go ahead, his community is the latest to be engulfed in a mining corruption scandal, with a third former Mining Minister now being investigated by ICAC relating to coal mining.
Many of us have been working for a long time to fend off invasive coal and gas projects to protect our land and water so that we actually can have a future. But what is so often forgotten in the mix is the environment, our forests and voiceless creatures that are also reliant on clean air and water. One person who is constantly standing up for them and for the eco-systems they need to survive is Pepe Clarke, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council and Pepe spoke powerfully about how the hearts were being ripped out of state forests and habitats for iconic creatures like koalas were being levelled.
It would seem that nothing is sacred and nowhere is safe from these invasive industries – fertile farmlands in the Liverpool Plains, natural icons like the Pilliga and Leard State Forests, and tourist meccas like the Blue Mountains, Gloucester and the NSW North Coast are all in the crosshairs of coal and gas companies. But people are standing up to protect the country they love. We are witnessing what could very well prove to be the biggest social movement in our country’s history – a time when ordinary people become heroes.
Just last weekend, 500 people marched in Coonamble with a modern version of the Light Horse Brigade to demonstrate their opposition to unconventional gas in their communities. And protests like this are happening all over the state because frankly, the system is broken and governments are failing us.
It’s clear that the O’Farrell Government has broken its election promises to rule out agricultural areas and sensitive environmental areas from coal and gas development – effectively betraying farmers, rural communities and the wider NSW community. The coal and gas industry has too much influence over our Government and it is up to communities to stand up and fix it.
After the launch, a delegation of farmers from the north west headed down to Parliament House to present a petition of 10,000 signatures opposing gasfields in their region to the Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries, the Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson, the Member for the Upper Hunter George Souris, the Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall and the Member for Dubbo Troy Grant. The delegation members are now looking forward to working with their elected representatives to reform coal and gas laws in NSW starting with a commitment to coal and gas no-go zones to protect agricultural land, our bushland, and the water we rely on.
The task ahead is to transform the vision for our state from that of a barren quarry to a place that we’re proud to hand over to future generations.