Being there for Bylong

Almost a day’s drive each way to spend a day ‘being there for Bylong’ at the IPC sessions in Mudgee on Wednesday 7th November re the Kepco Bylong Coal project. Many other folk made efforts too – and definitely not the ‘rentacrowd’ that some pro-mine speakers scoffed at. I don’t even like café lattes, but he told us all to go back to the city for them.

Whichever way you enter the stunning Bylong valley, from the Muswellbrook or the Rylstone ends, it is guarded by the most impressive cliffs. You feel as if you have been allowed into somewhere special, like Shangri-La. Which is why I chose it and the Andrews family at Tarwyn Park (now owned by Kepco) as the Rich Land for the cover of my book, Rich Land, Wasteland.

With subsidences predicted of up to 3.3 metres from the proposed mines’ longwalls, I fear for the cliffs that edge Bylong. The dozens of major cliff collapses south of Lithgow, from far less subsidence, is sickening.

Photo from the Battle for Bylong Facebook page

At the rally outside, prior to the day’s official speakers to the panel, locals and people from all over gathered to voice their support for Bylong. For me, it was like being at a funeral, where you are sad, but glad to see familiar faces; here too many were from past rallies or PAC hearings, from battles long-fought but lost, such as Wollar and Bulga.

Photo Tina Phillips

Inside, with 61 registered to speak, it was full until lunchtime at least. I noted the difference here, with no operating mine involved, as the room was not dominated by the high-vis shirts of mine employees.

Nevertheless there plenty of Mudgee business owners – motel, car sales, estate developers etc – crying doom if the Bylong mine did not go ahead; some speakers from Kandos pleaded for the jobs.

One farmer from Bylong commented tellingly on these calls, saying something like ‘so with three large mines you are not managing; will one small extra one save your businesses– and for how long?’

He and other Bylong farmers, and water experts, also set the record straight re the over-allocation of water there; the reality of water available is not what is on paper, and water sharing is needed, of when to pump and how much. And that is without a water-hungry mine.

It was often pointed out that the Ulan, Moolarben and Wilpinjong promises, predictions and modelling bore no relation to what actually happened/ is happening re water, noise, air pollution, traffic and social impacts. All are far, far more.

Is there no lesson to be learnt here?

Another mine so close to create cumulative impacts, yet this is not being taken into account.

The general inadequacy of Kepco’s research, modelling and plan, in water and economics, was made clear.

I was spitting chips at many aspects being treated with so little respect, but as always, it is the heartbreak for the people of Bylong that is the great injustice. As I only had 5 minutes, I concentrated on the social impacts.
And now we bide our time for Bylong.

Note that until 14th November you can still put in a written submission and be part of being there for Bylong through the Lock the Gate website.

This is what I said to the IPC panel:

In 2012 my book, Rich Land, Wasteland, on the impacts nationally of the rapid expansion of the coal and gas industries was released. I’d undertaken the two-year project because I’d watched modern mining being allowed to overwhelm and pollute the Hunter around Singleton and Muswellbrook.

The adverse air, water and health impacts were and are serious, with the most unfair impacts on rural lives. I saw the strain of the assessment years as began the fracturing, decimation and eventually obliteration of communities and the farming regions they’d served.

Once operations began, there was the immediate removal of quiet dark nights by a noisy industrial invader, and/or an insidious and heartstopping Low Frequency one, there was the sense of frustration at complaints being ignored, at monitoring manipulated to advantage, not truth, all the cards being held by the company, sales made in fear and desperation, confidentiality gags applied… and a pervasive sense of the Planning Dept being on the side of the company, and of the EPA being toothless.

‘Clearing out the country’ was my chapter on what happened to the Ulan, Cumbo and Wollar communities, and it’s mirrored in many places, like Bulga, Wybong, Camberwell…

I wanted my Rich Land cover image to convey family and farming traditions, good agricultural land, natural beauty, community, sustainability for generations. These were the resources to be valued above the mineral resources that seemed to have taken over the very meaning of the word ‘resources’ and whose short-term extraction, for private profit, was being allowed to destroy those environmental, agricultural and social riches.

I chose the Andrews family at Tarwyn Park in Bylong, for where else is the idea of sustainability so embodied in the land than in this living Natural Sequence Farming demonstration, even more important with climate change?

Yet here we are, facing the prospect of my iconic Rich Land losing many of those values, perhaps finally becoming more a museum surrounded by a Wasteland, as this project has been allowed to keep advancing despite acknowledged risks and inadequacies and deceptive practices. They have been coached to this point, when areas mapped as BSAL and CIC … and Tarwyn Park!… ought to have been off limits to exploration at the start.

Bylong Valley Protection Alliance fought hard to stop Bylong becoming a bygone place, its name signifying only a mine, like Warkworth. Nevertheless Kepco now own most of the properties, including the shop — the hub of the village — and a dozen or so families have left the Valley. People break, sell, and leave, yet the confidentiality clauses deny them the comfort of sharing experiences, or of helping those remaining.
And I’ve seen too many places where ‘stringent conditions’ as in your report are ignored or modifed, with too-few compliance officers to check often and at random. Too much ‘residual uncertainty’ remains here. How can you leave it to Kepco to use ‘adaptive management’ in so many areas, or to act on the better side in taking ‘all reasonable and feasible steps’ in others?

‘Residual uncertainty’ ought to be like reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Elsewhere, despite all the conditions, cliffs have cracked and fallen away; water sources have drained and cannot be mended; make good promises are impractical and time-limited; the fight for recognition of LF impacts from Wilpinjong was hell for supposedly unimpactable residents; you do not mention blasts going wrong, sending orange nitrous oxide clouds over the valley, as happens too often in the Hunter or Maules Creek.
Our system has allowed Bylong’s social fabric to be broken; no matter how much you mandate Kepco’s community handouts they can’t replace things like the camaraderie of organising the Mouse Races to fund local needs.

The oral history you propose is no substitute for the ongoing life of a community. A village is more than its buildings; it is people and their connections, it holds the history of the surrounding rural region, of gatherings, of families with generations, of pasts remembered… and futures hoped for.

Economic benefit for the wider region is no excuse for sacrificing Bylong; there are other ways for the state to gather revenue, and other ways to create jobs in non-harmful industries with a future.

It is NOT Ok for Planning to just note it inevitable that large mining projects have significant social impacts. Rather they should consider such a project inappropriate in that area and say no early. What was the Gateway for?

What is the point of a SIMP now? To survey the damage, to tart up the corpse? Or as at Wollar will this IPC say the damage is so great Kepco may as well finish off the job? Is the MidWest to be even further littered with tales of pain and heartache?
Whatever happened to a fair go?

Our rural communities are an essential part of the fabric of Australia. Please don’t be responsible for Bylong becoming imore callous collateral damage from an industry that belongs to the past, before we knew how toxic it is to our world.

Communities are not just nuisances in the way of a coal project. Consider the moral rights, not only the mining rights, and say NO to this mine in an area that ought to have been off limits — and still should be.

Plotting the Nannalution!

Last weekend I attended the 4th conference of the Knitting Nannas Against Gas (and Greed), held at the picturesque Glenrock Scout Camp near Newcastle. Hosted by the Hunter, Central Coast and Mid Coast Loop, it was a talk and food fest as well as a knit-in.

I was privileged to be one of the speakers, as I had been at the inaugural conference in Lismore.

As it was on Awakabal land, we were welcomed to country and treated to a smoking ceremony and unusually interactive story dances, where Nannas turned into quite coy brolgas.

My camera decided to go on strike during this so all photos are by Dom Jacobs — thanks, Dom! — unless otherwise noted.

Nanna ’loops’ from all over the state came to talk and listen, network and knit, plot and plan more innovative ways to gain a better future ‘for the kiddies’.

While the KNAGs have been known for their creative yellow and black ‘uniforms’ and knitted items, since the Narrabri conference in 2017 they add red to show support for the Indigenous cause. Sunflowers remain a central theme since the successful Gloucester anti-CSG campaign.

Some Nannas’ outfits, like Tina’s tights, do more than catch attention; they demand it.

The Sydney Loop (above) used to support Gloucester by sitting and knitting outside AGL head office in North Sydney each week. Now they annoy Santos by doing the same in Martin Place. Honorary male Nannas like Bill, Colin and Peter join them.

The stalwart Santos watchers from the north-west came: Pat and Tania and ‘Nanna Wranglers’ Dan and ‘Pirate’, and Dan gave us an update on the situation in the Pilliga.

And quite a few of the Nannas from the Northern Rivers, where this elder disobedience all started, made the long train trip down. Louise of Chooks Against Gas, of course, came with chook attached.

The young FLAC activists who’d been bodily attaching themselves to coal trains and such the previous week gave us an update — and some even doubled as wait staff the following night at the grand Nanna dinner.

Read morePlotting the Nannalution!

Passion in the Pilliga

Last weekend about 300 people gathered from farflung parts of the east coast to show that they cared — about the unique Pilliga Forest and its flora and fauna, about the Great Artesian Basin, about the farmers of the North West — and about the Santos CSG Narrabri Project that threatens them all.

Most camped at Barkala, home to the deservedly famous Pilliga Pottery, a creative and conservation oasis built by Maria and her family over decades, on their beautiful Pilliga property, a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Photo by Jo Holden

From Friday evening onwards the cars rolled in from the dusty road, tents and signs popped up, and volunteers manned information and kitchen tents.

The 200 or so campers spent Saturday morning on walks and tours discovering the Pilliga. I opted for Maria’s Walk, to her special lookout, where we looked across one aspect of the vast 500,000 ha. of this largest temperate woodland west of the Great Dividing Range.

Maria pointed out to us and her small grandson the distant Warrumbungles, with the dome of Sidings Springs Observatory just visible. Their special Dark Sky status will be ruined if Santos proceed: science and tourism gone for gas.

The Pilliga is one of Australia’s biodiversity hotspots; at first passing glance it may look the same, but is actually most diverse and rich, with around 30 distinct ecosystems, home to over 1000 native plant species and 300 animals, including 15 threatened flora species and 35 threatened fauna species… at least so far as we know, since the Pilliga has not yet revealed all its mysteries.

Those we do know, like the Pilliga Mouse, the Black-striped Wallaby and the Koala– cannot survive in the maze of an industrial gas field.

On Barkala itself, we walked through the varying vegetation of forested gullies and ridges, with dry waterholes, sandstone caves and cliffs– from one of which a rather majestic feral billygoat warily surveyed us.

Workshops filled the afternoon, with planning forums and a fabulous indigenous dance performance into the twillight before dinner and music and song. And bed, as a 7a.m. start was planned for Sunday’s actions.

Amazingly, an early and bountiful breakfast awaited, plus snacks to take with us. A long convoy of vehicles drove for about an hour, up the Newell Highway and into Pilliga State Forest to dry sandy Bohena Creek, site of the human NO CSG sign we were there to make.

Many more met us there, locals and farmers, our numbers now being about 300 passionate Pilliga Protectors. The Pilliga region is so vast that even locals may have to drive several hours to get to another part, as today.

Several farmers spoke eloquently and movingly about the grave risk — guaranteed? — to the water sources on which they depend. The Pilliga is a critical recharge area for the GAB. Depletion and pollution of precious water — for an uneconomic and unnecessary gas resource?

Fire danger from the tall gas flares, permitted even on total fire ban days in this dry forest, was another huge concern.

The insanity of the Santos CSG project was made crystal clear; there are no good reasons for it, only obvious reasons why it must not proceed.

Marshalls directed us to the letters drawn in the sand; about 60 people per letter. All ages were here, from the elderly on sticks to kids and dogs of course a clutch of Knitting Nannas, from the Central Coast, Newcastle, Gloucester, the Manning and the Northern Rivers.

Photo from Protecting the Pilliga Facebook page

It was hot as we waited for the drone to adequately capture our message to Santos and the government, but the excitement was as high as the very vocal determination to stop this shortsighted vandalism of our land and our children’s future. I happened to be on the ’S’.

Many of us then followed the innovative Jo Holden and her two tiptrucks of bagged paper symbolic ‘toxic waste’ to the gates at the Leewood Facility, where they were piled up to the chant of ’We don’t want your toxic waste’, amongst others. Narrabri CSG will be SEVEN times as salty as that from the Queensland gasfields.

There is NO solution for dealing with the vast amounts of this toxic material: it is not ‘merely’ salt that comes up from the coal seams in the water that must be extracted to release the pressure and let the gas flow. Radioactive elements are just some of the naturally occurring contaminants.

(Note: fracking is not currently the proposed method of extraction here.)

This event was very well organised; herding cats is nothing to what they pulled off this weekend with such numbers.

The People from the Plains were grateful for the outside support shown here; farms are large and scattered over great distances. They need us to keep up the passion felt this weekend and the pressure to say NO to the Narrabri project, which would be just the first of the Santos PEL empire.

Santos, this is only the start of the uprising of sane people all over the country who know the CSG industry must not be allowed to get away in NSW as it did in Queensland. The risks to water and health are proven, they have no waste disposal solution… and we neither need nor want it!

Village on the verge

North of Mudgee, Wollar village is littered with evidence of the progress and prosperity that original owner Excel promised would come to the community once the Wilpinjong mine was under way.

Peabody, ’The Big American’, bought it, the mine began in 2006, and Wollar soon felt the impact indeed…

Noise, both audible and low frequency, air pollution from blasting, ‘dust’ and spontaneous combustion.

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Stage Two made the village almost unliveable and better houses in the village were bought by the mine and rented to mine employees, who can’t complain. People left, the community was decimated, and the surrounding farms lost their focus.

The one-stop shop offered less and less. The mine owns this church, and only a handful of kids still attend the school — for how long?

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The Queensland town of Acland was emptied in advance of a stage 3 approval. In the Rich Land, Wasteland chapter about this area –Cumbo Valley, Wollar, Ulan and Bylong – in 2012 I wrote, ‘Wollar is Acland-in-progress’. That chapter is all-too-aptly called ‘Clearing out the country’ and the truth in 2016 is heart-wrenching. 

Now, as the remaining villagers and outliers await Stage 3 here, Wollar is looking more and more like Acland.

Some homes have been demolished but many are being left to fall down, with the security signs the only new things around. Echoes of Wybong.

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Eerily, as at Acland, the grass verges are still mowed.

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The large Wollar Hall is still as hale as ever, but the community that once filled it for dances is not. 

Residents told of feeling nauseous of a morning from the spontaneous combustion from the mine, of the coal dust on everything, of the vibrations from the heavy coal trains, of the ‘hum’ waking them in the early hours of the morning, of the sadness as neighbours left, of all the work that has been put into their places over decades, of those memories created, of their still strong desire to remain. 

Those outliers who will be impacted — and left stranded without a village — told of the lack of any offers to be compensated or bought out.

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I went back up the Wollar/Ulan road to see how far the mine had come since my last visit. It has crept a lot closer to the village but it’s a hard mine to see from the road, as it’s flat country, and the coal deposits are near the surface, so the overburden heaps are not as high as in the Hunter. 

It’s very poor quality coal so the overburden heaps have coal visibly mixed in them, which is not usual. This coal is contracted for Bayswater Power Station, where it has to be mixed with better coal to be burnt.

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On the evening of Monday 28th November the few locals hosted a few supporters like me, Steve from Lock the Gate, the O’Laughlins from Bulga and the four fabulous ladies from East Maitland to the sort of country hospitality Wollar was known for. A BBQ, fresh salads and cakes — and many sad stories and wishes for Peabody to stop, to leave them and their remnant village be.

Wollar Progress association has been revived, to fight on for real progress, not Peabody’s.

For this community is not dead yet; it could be revived if Peabody is denied their expansion and made to minimise the existing noise impacts regardless of the cost.

Another 11 years of Peabody’s disregard for the community’s health is more than enough; if Peabody is bankrupt, and can’t afford to operate even within inadequate conditions, why consider allowing them to continue the actual harm longer?

When did Profit get to hold such sway in our Planning Dept.? When did People and Planet get to count for nothing?

To ‘Save Wollar’ is the aim of the villagers and supporters.

It is clearly not that of the state government, who sent the project to a PAC hearing last Tuesday, removing any public right of appeal to a decision. ICAC recommended these merits appeal rights be restored for coal mine approvals.
Who is listening?

Sick of this farce of a process, it was decided to boycott the PAC; to make written submissions but not to attend or speak. After all, what use is just five minutes to plead for survival?

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Boycott rallies were held in Mudgee, outside the hearing, and in Sydney.

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Justifiably, passions were high. The indomitable Bev Smiles, a Wollar area local, told us straight how the government now admit — in print — that they got it wrong about the social impacts that Wollar would suffer, but they reckon it’s irreversible, so Peabody may as well wipe put the rest.

Local Seamus Duffy tugged at our heartstrings as he sang a rewritten John Pryne song, originally about mountaintop mining. We joined in the chorus as a son asks to be taken back to Wilpinjong Valley, and the father replies,’Sorry my son, you’re too late in asking, for Peabody’s coal trains have hauled it away’.

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We heard speeches about the impacts on water, indigenous heritage and climate change, and songs from Mick Fetch, whose roots lie deep in Wollar, whose family lie in Wollar cemetery. Mick had tried to buy that church above, but they refused and sold it to the mine.

I avoid the coal-Hunter as much as I can; my heartsickness is too great.

After I spoke at Tarwyn Park’s last day I came back to the Manning via Lithgow and Sydney to avoid it. Ridiculous, I know.

This time I took the Golden Highway. 

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Jerry’s Plains, horse country, under threat.

Another village to be pushed to the verge of extinction?

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And off to the west towards Bulga and east towards Muswellbrook, glimpses of the all-too-familiar clean country air and picturesque overburden mountains of the coal-trashed Hunter.

And still Planning pushes for more…

Last post at Tarwyn Park

The coal train rumbled past behind Tarwyn Park, as it often does on its route to and from Newcastle’s coal port and the Western Coalfields, where the Ulan, Moolarben and Wilpinjong mines are busy trashing other valleys, other villages. But on this last day of July 2016, it seemed an unwarranted rubbing in of salt to the wound that has been inflicted here in the Bylong Valley. 

Kepco is the Korean coal company that has imposed its ambition for a coal mine onto a lush farming valley, in a natural setting as stunning as Gloucester’s. The Bylong Way is a renowned scenic drive or bike ride.

And, like Gloucester, it ought to have been unthinkable to propose a coalmine here.

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Kepco’s plans have harmed the hopes and histories of many Bylong families, but today we are here to celebrate, honour and mourn in particular Tarwyn Park, birthplace and home of Natural Sequence Farming — and of the Andrews family.

Peter Andrews developed his internationally respected system here, slowing the natural flows of water through this landscape so it became water retentive, as it would have been before Europeans cleared and interfered.

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Photo of Peter Andrews by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

His son Stuart, wife Megan, and their sons Hamish and Lachlan were living here when I chose it as the Rich Land of the cover of my book, Rich Land, Wasteland.

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Photo by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

After today they no longer will be in residence; Kepco will. The fact that Kepco had set up their headquarters right next door (once a farm) always struck me as intimidating, a constant red rag, a reminder to this stressed family that ’we are bigger; we will win in the end’.

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Many came to this Open Day, to see the place and hear how the system works, to sign the petitions to have Tarwyn Park heritage listed — visit the website here — to meet Peter Andrews, to show support, express sympathy…

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The old sheds and stables, where champions like Rainmaker were housed, reeked of history, as did the homestead. People came in from the paddocks to the homestead steps to hear Peter, Joanne McCarthy and myself speak.

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The extraordinarily persevering Craig Shaw, driver of BVPA, Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, a person for whom I have great affection, admiration (and concern), brought us up to speed on the heritage listing campaign.

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Photo of Sharyn Munro (left) by Eve Jeffery (Cloudcatcher media)

I saw many familar faces there, fellow fighters for a fair go, as these industries especially impact on rural areas like Bulga, and nearby Wollar. For example, perennial battler Bev Smiles from Wollar and some really dangerous extremists like Di O’Mara.

Di is holding a green ribbon; as we left we tied these to the row of olive trees outside the gate, to flutter in the breeze for the weeks to come and remind Kepco that we care, that we do not forget. How many rich lands must we lose to wastelands — for the dying industry of coal?

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It was an emotional day for many, as we felt for the Andrews family and railed at the injustice and stupidity of any government allowing this to happen.

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Please follow the ongoing battle and progress of negotiations for heritage listing on Facebook. 

River love

Young mum Nicky Coombes is passionate about her beautiful Bundook area, her Gloucester River, and her family’s right to clean air and water.

As AGL’s coal seam gas project at Gloucester threatens all of these, she instigated a Gasfield-free Community survey in her Bundook locality. The first in the Gloucester region, the results showed that the great majority of residents do NOT want to live in a gasfield.

Nicky has come a long way from the first tentative public talks that I heard her give, and I think she has become a most eloquent spokesperson on the issue.

When I heard her speak recently, I complimented her:  ‘It was very poetic’.

‘Well, I have actually written a poem about it’, Nicky replied.

And she read it to me.

So now I share Nicky’s river poem and her beautiful river photos with you.

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Ode to the River

If you sit quietly & listen
You can hear her call your name
She wants to know your whereabouts
Your part in the game

We all claim common ownership
Her responsibility is ours
She wants to remind you
It’s your land that she empowers

It’s with your silence that she suffers
The cause of so much angst and pain
She questions your priorities
As without her you’d complain

Within you is the courage
And the strength to be brave
She’s asking you to speak up
Without you she can’t be saved

When we all speak together
Like her waters we can roar
She needs us to be united
A voice that cannot be ignored 

If you sit quietly and listen
You can hear her call your name
Please take responsibility 
For your part in the game

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Here’s Nicky at the recent Gloucester town walk. AGL better believe that she means what her sign says; the reverse message is ‘We will prevail’!

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Photo of Nicky and me by Linda Gill, who also made the steering wheel cover sunflower for The Ground Beneath Our Hearts event in Gloucester.

Sunflowers rule in Gloucester

On six continents groups large and small gathered to creatively celebrate and soothe the earth that we have so grievously wounded by our gung-ho extractive industries.

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In Gloucester, the Knitting Nannas Against Gas had been making sunflowers of every hue and size for months. On the day, sunflowers sprouted all over town, even on the garbage bins.

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Mannequins were found in the most unusual places and positions.

People were extra colourfully dressed for the monthly Walk through town and the mood was more positive than ever.

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Children in golden wings danced about like butterflies but couldn’t bring a smille to Nora the Knitting Nanna’s face; she knows CSG is deadly serious.

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At midday we met again at the AGL frack site gates where so many anxious and sad early morning vigils had been held as the fracking went on behind that high green wall in the distance. 

Now the Halliburton crew and their rigs are gone, AGL still have to vent the gas into the local air and take out the CSG water — then truck all the way to Queensland as no facility in NSW will have it, due to the BTEX it contains.

Today those gates bloomed with sunflowers and people parked and picnicked on the verge where once we were forbidden to stop.

Sunflowers are so much prettier than security guards…

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The security camera watched it all but no burly, poker-faced guards appeared. Clearly sunflowers and Nannas are not considered threatening enough.

AGL should not be fooled.

The Gloucester KNAGS certainly aren’t planning on giving an inch – or a stitch – until AGL are gone from their beautiful valley.

Gloucester marches on

The NSW Gloucester Valley is stunningly beautiful. As I drove there on Saturday, I thought yet again how crazy it was to consider a gas field and a coal mine here.

Tourism is what Gloucester is about, for itself and as the gateway to Barrington Tops. Industrialisation and the attendant pollution is the last thing it needs. 

Which is why the chapter in my book, Rich Land, Wasteland on Gloucester and Margaret River is called ‘Allowing the unthinkable’.

The NSW government is blowing its trumpet for buying back PELs (Petroleum Exploration Licences). As in the Blue Mountains, and most recently in the Hunter, where the Broke/Fordwich vineyard area has fought AGL for years, and in Sydney suburbs where the 2km residential exclusion zone would make it impossible for AGL to expand there anyway. Many of the PELs are ones that have been found to offer little CSG.

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However, at Gloucester, because the AGL project there was already approved, albeit hastily and very misguidedly, the 2km exclusion zone was not applied.

Not because Gloucester folk are immune to the harmful health impacts of living in and near gas fields — especially so for children.

Apparently the state government just doesn’t care about them or their children when the interests of AGL dictate otherwise.

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The disastrous record of stuff-ups and cover-ups from AGL’s first four pilot wells at Waukivory here should have been enough to call an end to this project.

AGL would be wise to do that sooner rather than later, because the opposition to it and the bad PR is not going away.

If anything, it will increase, as folk who’ve been fighting to save their own patches from CSG can now focus on helping Gloucester — like Derek Finter (above), who’d left home in the Blue Mountains at 4 am to get here for this Walk.

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Every second Saturday, on the Growers’ Market Day, folk gather in Gloucester’s Billabong Park at 9am to walk peacefully through the streets, dressed in bright colours, especially the yellow and black of Lock the Gate and the Knitting Nannas Against Gas, and carrying placards, mostly handwritten and heartfelt.

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Kids in strollers, dogs on leads, babies in backpacks and the very elderly and not-so-able join in.

Afterwards we have a cuppa, cake and much conversation. This is a great community fighting for survival and healing, given the harm and disunity caused here by the AGL project.

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Usually we chant, but today we walked in silence, in memory of the clever and caring E. V. Phillips, founding member of the Barrington-Gloucester-Stroud-Preservation-Alliance.

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Many people wore tape with ‘Gas field free’ across their mouths, or — less painfully — on their clothing.

The silent walk was very powerful.

The next major event in Gloucester is the No CSG Summit on Saturday 25th July, hosted by Groundswell Gloucester and Manning Clean Water Action Group.

Find out the latest, become involved, contribute to the discussion and so much more. There will be a great line-up of speakers and lots of time for discussion.

Date: Saturday 25th July 2015

Time: 9.30am to 4pm

Place: Gloucester Uniting Church Hall, 7 Cowper Street, Gloucester

Cost: Free

Email enquiries here: 

Bring: Your lunch or purchase from one of Gloucester’s wonderful cafés.

* Morning/afternoon tea available with gold coin donation.

Beeps and bites

Last Sunday, April 19, hundreds of small groups of people parked their vehicles at staggered spots along 2000kms of the Newell and Pacific Highways.

They were forming the longest anti-CSG protest ever. Amazingly, it all came about in three short weeks of Facebook frenzy.

I had made a reconnaissance trip a few days earlier and found a spot just north of Taree, near Moorland, where we would be visible from traffic heading both north and south on this divided four lane highway.

It was also safe, as we could park on a local road just behind.

That’s my ute (above), with a sign painted on an old curtain by my grandchildren and a friend of theirs — all local and all dependent on the Manning water supply that AGL is risking, and already contaminating, with their CSG project at Gloucester.

The blue sign was lent to me by Richard, a fellow Upper Lansdowne resident; almost every gate out there bears a Lock the Gate No Trespass sign.

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It was raining when we started at 10 am, but fined up during the day until it ended with a mighty storm at 2 pm when were due to finish. So there was varying divesting of raincoats and ponchos and furling of brollies, then unfurling them or donning hats to cope with the sun as it set us all to stew and steam.

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About thirteen stalwarts joined me there for the duration, all good-humoured and keen. One very familiar face was Margaret, Knitting Nanna and member of Manning Clean Water Action Group (as were quite a few of the others). She seems to be at any event or action; a real trouper.

And may I add that not one of the thirteen was a ‘paid or professional protester’.

Everyone got a buzz from the huge number of supportive beeps and hoots and waves and thumbs-up from both sides of the road. Very few trucks sped past without blasting their horns. I was greatly enlightened as to the wide variety of horns, not to mention the ingenuity in patterns to be played on them.

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Teresa (left) and Nancy (right) were highly visible, although Teresa’s energetic antics would have attracted attention no matter what she was wearing! It was all part of the goodwill of the day.

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Elizabeth brought her two little dogs along to be part of the action, while Teresa’s partner Brian (left) supported with tea and coffee and biscuits from the rear.

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But it wasn’t just Teresa who was doing a bit of a dance; I hadn’t realised there were lots of small and very bitey ants in residence on this strip of grass.

I was in gum boots and Elizabeth did have closed boots, but others were on constant antwatch, jiggling and slapping and retreating to the road beyond for relief. Talk about suffering for the cause!

Knockout Knitting Nannas

Q. What’s black and yellow, clicks quietly and annoys politicians?
A. A Knitting Nanna Against Gas — a KNAG.

KNAGs also own to being Knitting Nannas Against Greed.

Never heard of the KNAGs? Well you’re about to be introduced, because I’ve just returned from the inaugural Internannanational Conference on the NSW north coast. 
My friend Christa from Kempsey also went, and took the following blog photos for me (except where noted otherwise). That’s Christa second from right, front line, in the group photo above, taken by Louise Somerville.

Imagine 80-odd women of a certain age and beyond, dressed to disarm and amuse, in a riot of Op-shop styles and shades of yellow, but nearly all wearing the trademark knitted KNAG beret, beanie or snood in yellow banded in black, or crocheted accessories like earrings and necklaces and hair or hat decorations.

To quote from their website, ‘KNAG draws on a broad history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism.’ 

…’We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities.’

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I was camping at Camp Liberty at Eltham courtesy of tireless and innovative anti-CSG warrior couple Judi and Gwilym Summers. Here the casual atmosphere, conversations, camp showers and loos, good food and river swimming brought such a great sense of Nanna camaraderie that I was glad I hadn’t chosen to be billeted.

I’d intended to take my own slide-on camper but it was too wet at home to get it on, so the Summers generously offered me their brillant mini-pod teardrop retro caravan that Gwilym had made: VIP accommodation indeed!

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We were bussed everywhere, carefree of getting lost or staying teetotal. The weekend started with dinner at the fabulous and friendly Eltham Pub, where the conference cake bearing the KNAG ‘coat of arms’ was cut.

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Here’s a trio of well-adorned Gloucester Nannas — Kate, Carol and Elizabeth — enjoying the night.

Then a full day Saturday at the Lismore Workers’ Club, where the programme was a well organised mix of facts and farce and KNAG history, as told by founding member Clare Twomey, in between three great speakers, whose presence I consider to be a mark of the respect in which the KNAGs are held.

Read moreKnockout Knitting Nannas

Good management at Gloucester

agl-1In mid-December last year, after AGL had fracked the four wells at their Waukivory Pilot CSG project at Gloucester, the Protectors Camp that I was visiting went into recess, but not before one intrepid protector followed the tankers carrying the contaminated wastewater to find out what they were doing with it, as AGL had not replied to questions about this. She followed them to Newcastle, where Hunter Water had forbidden AGL to bring the stuff.

Of course it wasn’t AGL’s fault that it got dumped in the Hunter sewerage system; it was the contractor’s.

Although Hunter Water had directed AGL not to even use a Hunter contractor…

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So began a lovely series of revelations as to how AGL run their show and how low is the standard of what this industry calls ‘world class regulation’.

I have often repeated what the industry admitted in 2011, that ‘good management could minimise the risks of water contamination, but never eliminate them’.

Here’s the latest run of reasons why Groundswell Gloucester’s 2014 pre-fracking 79-page advice to government, ‘Exposing the Risks’, ought to have been heeded. ‘Good management’ is NOT what has happened at Gloucester.

During the fracking, it was discovered that AGL was using a radioactive element, Caesium-137, to measure the density of fracturing fluid. This had not been part of the approval process. Trust us, we’re a gas company??

Then two fracking chemicals, Tolcide and Monoethanolamine, indicators of likely other chemicals, were found in groundwater.

AGL’s licence requires zero presence of these chemicals. AGL knew that zero limit was exceeded in November, yet they kept fracking and didn’t tell the EPA until Jan 15.

Professor Philip Pells has said all along that at Gloucester there is a high risk of an environmental disaster. He considered it likely that fracking would connect the coal seam’s polluted water with the beneficial shallow aquifers. ‘Adaptive management’ is what AGL was approved to use, to ‘suck it and see’; which always meant it would be too late to do anything after the disaster occurs, as it has.

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Then AGL admitted large fluctuations of groundwater levels at its monitoring bores; they don’t admit fracking is the fault but levels at one bore varied as much as 7.8 metres during the fracking and 3.5 metres after it.

Next they found toxic BTEX chemicals in flowback water at two of the wells and an above-ground storage tank. AGL discovered the chemicals on January 15, but only reported them to the EPA almost two weeks later.

Associate Professor Stuart Khan, from the University of NSW, says while the four main BTEX chemicals — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and three forms of xylene — occur naturally in coal seams no one wants them turning up in drinking water. Benzene is a known carcinogen and Australian drinking water guidelines restrict it to one part per billion. 

AGL denies using BTEX in its fracking. ‘The reported concentration of 555 [parts per billion of BTEX for one AGL sample] is very high and probably the highest concentration I have heard of in environmental water,” Dr Khan said.

After this avalanche of bad PR, AGL suspended the Waukivory Pilot Project, then the government did so too. Division of Resources and Energy investigators will inspect the four CSG wells with their counterparts from the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Just two months of world class management of four wells. Imagine 110, and then 330 wells?

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But don’t worry, there will be a ‘robust’ investigation and Minister Roberts has appointed Ms Lee Shearer to oversee it; Groundswell Gloucester doesn’t question her abilities, but her past role as a consultant to the mining industry, including ‘managing crisis situations’, does raise concerns about her total independence…

AGL’s new wastewater contractor was taking it to South Windsor; the Hawkesbury area was not too happy about it, and now that treatment plant will not accept AGL wastewater either. So what is their solution?

Local National Party candidate Stephen Bromhead has been saying that “If it is found that AGL cannot demonstrate that they can prevent BTEX escaping from the coal seam their license for the Gloucester Basin will be cancelled and no new applications will be approved.” 

Sadly people cannot hear such promises without looking for the post-election wriggle room. Who could forget O’Farrell’s ‘no ifs, no buts, a guarantee’ re mining in water catchments?

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I joined Gloucester folk on the first 2015 No Stopping Gloucester walk through town: we had about 100 there.

(These are held the second Saturday of each month to coincide with the local Growers’ Market; 9 am at Billabong Park.)

The next Tuesday I returned when Groundswell Gloucester publicly presented a new 600pp document, ‘Exposing the truth’, how AGL has failed to consult or report donations and has misled the community. It asks Minister Roberts to suspend AGL’s Licence and was delivered to him on 5th February.

AGL has now admitted what I was quoting BHP Petroleum as saying several years ago: there’s enough LPG in the Bass Strait reserves to avoid gas shortages in NSW. There goes the doomsday scenario justification for rushing to open up more risky unconventional gas fields for LNG. We don’t need to poison or dewater Gloucester and the Manning — or the Pilliga and the GAB, or anywhere.

AGL wants to start three test wells at Wards River south of Gloucester next. Gloucester Council has withdrawn from the dialogue with AGL and has asked the Minister to cancel its licence.

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Meanwhile, the new CEO of AGL has foreshadowed  a ‘comprehensive review’ of AGL’s upstream gas operations, and Citibank has warned that  ‘negative connotations’ around AGL’s Gloucester coal seam gas project risk harming the company’s brand, and says the company should consider ‘walking away’’ if public perception doesn’t improve.

Citibank said that while the introduction of a new CEO meant it was a ‘good time to try and change public’s perception’ of AGL and Gloucester, ‘given the strength of local opposition, this will be a very difficult task’.

Citibank is spot on there. Take a look at this latest in Groundswell Gloucester’s series of short films of Voices from Gloucester (by David Lowe).

Postcards from Gloucester

I’ve been going to Gloucester twice a week lately, reaching the camp in time for the daily camp meeting and to catch grand sunsets like this one, joining whatever action is decided for the next early morning, helping ‘man’ the vigil info site. 

Since the Halliburton fracking team snuck out at 4 am last week, having done their foul deed on the designated four wells, there’s been a change in tone and focus.

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Some token healing happened last Saturday. We get up early at camp, and the mood was high that day, as were the camp numbers, for the seventh Walk down Fairbairns Road to the frack site gates. That’s my slide-on Gypsy on the right, with her awning rolled up against the previous night’s wind.

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This Walk was different, as about 150 from the centre of the long chain of walkers simply climbed through a fence and reclaimed the site. A mass walk-on!

For once security and police were outnumbered and outstrategised. No harm, no damage, but it did our hearts good after the weeks of feeling helpless with the Halliburton heavies in charge.

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We had more people walking than ever before, of all ages; maybe the fact that actor Michael Caton (the tall one in the hat, towards the left) walked with us attracted some newcomers. Having a celebrity take up the cause is invaluable: thank you, Michael Caton!

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As the Gloucester Protectors camp — but not the campaign! — considers a recess and the next steps, this week we held a small vigil outside the AGL office in town. 

It’s opposite the Country Lodge Motel, where some of their workers have stayed, but there is no sign, front or back, on the AGL HQ to announce their presence. High fences and security warning signs is all. Are they ashamed of of what they are doing here?

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Well, there was one sign on its fence temporarily…

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We had our full array of signs, including a banner that identifies this place as  ‘AGL Fracking HQ’. Here are local longterm battlers, Ed Robinson, Rod Besier, Tina Robinson and Karen from the Herb Farm at the top of Fairbairns Rd. All deserve medals as local heroes – and for AGL to leave forever and let them go back to their lives. 

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But that day we also had a beautiful yellow winged creature in the form of the crinkle-caped Shaz, who I’m sure caught the attention of many in the on-the way to work or school vehicles that passed. 

One driver certainly noticed, as she took the time to open the window and scream abuse of the four-letter kind at us.

Despite this gorgeous addition to the scenery, apparently the owner of the motel was not happy about our silent stance across the road. I wonder why…

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