At this very moment, in a small town called Bentley, bulldozers are poised on the brink of destruction. Destruction of clean, safe drinking water, destruction of the local flora, fauna and ecosystem, destruction of the health and well being of the local residents and the destruction of the civil rights of all Australians.
This quiet, little community, just twelve kilometres outside Lismore, is facing the end of civilisation as they know it.
This may seem melodramatic; no holocaust will ensue, no army waits on their doorstep, no blood will be shed. But picture for a moment a life in which your eyes constantly burn, you and your family develop severe asthma, your skin reddens and rashes, you cannot bathe in, let alone drink, the water from your taps, your land and livestock whither and die. Controversial symptoms, and ones that global corporations and governments, all with significant vested interests, deny emphatically, but these have become the devastating truth the world over for people living with CSG. And we could be next.
I, like many others, have seen Gaslands, the footage of tap water being set alight, the spiderwebs of roads and infrastructure perforating the diseased landscape and toxic water systems and river ways littered with the corpses of their former aquatic residents. It broke my heart of course, seeing such needless pollution and destruction. I felt for the citizens dealing with Coal Seam Gas wells in their back yards. I’ve signed petitions, joined marches and spoken out against CSG and, complacently, I thought we’d got somewhere.
But sh*t just got real – CSG is here.
Despite an overwhelming majority opposing CSG drilling in the region and across Australia, our ‘democratic’ government has decided to turn a deaf ear to our cries. Thousands of people have rallied, Bentley residents, regional citizens and activists from around the country are camping out on the front line and an unwavering human blockade is defying the advancement of the heavy machinery. We question what we can do, we ask where we should send letters of opposition, we wave the flags, sport the bumper stickers and add our signatures to the lists of the tens of thousands opposing CSG. But, it would seem, that all counts for nothing. Fifty years on, we are back to the 1960s – people power, standing, fighting, laying our bodies on the line for what is just and right and sane, these are our only remaining weapons. Our voices have been silenced, but our spirit will never die.
Local musician Ash Grunwald has been an outspoken activist against the onslaught of Coal Seam Gas mining for several years, using his voice through music and the captive audiences of his gigs to raise awareness and opposition to this toxic industry. He has visited communities in central Australia, seen the bubbling, toxic ponds and spoken to people whose health and livelihoods have been wrecked by CSG.
“To me, it’s so uncomplicated, so obviously f***ed.” Ash candidly expresses. “When I went up to Tara (four hours inland from Brisbane) to interview people and do some filming to show at my gig I was so shell-shocked, I just couldn’t believe it.
“When you see these poor people who can’t move away, they paid twenty grand for their block of land ten years ago, they built their family home, they don’t have any money to do anything else, they’ve got six kids, all with health defects, they can’t go outside, their eyes burn…how can that be true? We’ve become so apathetic.”
This is a reality that we all face and no amount of petition-signing or Facebook ‘liking’ is going to change it. With a government about as democratic and conservative as a certain little Eastern European country in around 1939, we cannot trust that our leaders will listen to the voice of their people or of reason.
“You wonder with the current government whether you’re just fighting a losing battle,” he admits. “It’s an important message, but what can we do about it now?”
Making ourselves heard no longer seems to work. It is time to make ourselves seen, to stand as an impenetrable wall of opposition and defiance. This is no longer about personal views, differences of opinion or conflicts of interest. This is our future, our health, our lives and those of generations to come.
“Sometimes I’ve thought to myself, ‘people don’t want to know my view'”, muses Ash, “but I wish I had done more earlier, because you’ve got a special platform there [as a musician] to connect with people. You’ve just got to trust your judgement that your view is a worthy one. I guess that’s why I am so full-on about the Coal Seam Gas mining thing, because I just can’t believe that it’s happening. I feel that this message goes beyond whether people want to hear my opinion or not. I actually started to feel, for the first time, that if someone told me to shut up I would actually stand up and tell them to get out of my gig.”
When even the mayor of Lismore, Jenny Dowell, is vehemently against the impending threat of CSG – as well as many local and regional councillors – but still this travesty of justice ensues, it is abundantly evident that the corruption runs deep.
So, whoever you may be, this is your call, this is the reason, this is the message you have been waiting for. F*** your politeness, your complacency, your trust in the government or the belief that ‘this couldn’t possibly happen in my back yard’. It IS happening in our back yard, and it must be stopped. We are being killed by a government whose only language exists in $$$.
Stop whispering, start shouting. March, scream, beat down the doors of Parliament House and demand, ‘we will not suffer to line your pockets.’ Pack a picnic, a tent, and the kids into the car and spend as long as you can at Bentley – a couple of hours or a couple of weeks, it all counts.
“Maybe we can stop things. The direct actions of people protesting seem to hold off the progress. When the people get something done, that’s true democracy.”
The time is now.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Will you show up? To be on the red alert list, text your number to 0447 399 535
Visit csgfreenorthernrivers.org for up-to-date info and to help fight CSG
Like and share www.facebook.com/CsgFreeNorthernRivers
Spread the word. Tell everyone you meet that the entire Northern Rivers region is under threat. If they get into Bentley there will be no stopping them.
Visit Bentley. Pre-prepared food, ice, toilet paper, frozen milk, water and constant vigil are needed. But if you take nothing and stay for an hour your support will be greatly appreciated. Even the smallest things can make a difference.
All photos: Kirra Pendergast
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Apr 7, 2014
All Photos: ©Kirra Pendergast