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.

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Tasmanians awake

I’m not a ‘good flyer’, but once the panic at takeoff subsides, I am always agog at the fantastic cloud landscapes we pass, like these escarpments and plains and scudding ‘sheep’.

I’m glad to be home but the Tassie tour was well worthwhile. My ‘Rich Land, Wasteland’ talks to audiences in Cygnet, Hobart, Burnie and Launceston, combined with screenings of the eye-opening ‘Bimblebox’ documentary, left me both concerned and encouraged. 

Concerned at the lack of awareness in the community, even amongst what were mainly environmentally aware people, that the resources rush was not confined to the mainland— or to the Tarkine here. 

For example, it was a shock for folk to learn that New Hope Coal, who calculatedly emptied and ‘erased’ the Queensland town of Acland in advance of their open cut coalmine expansion, plan a coal-to-liquids (CTL) process for the low quality coal at their Rosevale and York Plains exploration leases.  

Acland’s tragic demise is vividly shown in the film and depicted in my book, as is the Felton community’s fight against a similar dirty CTL petrochemical plant in their valley. They won, by the way.

Other larger companies, like the BG Group, (British Gas) have CSG interests here, and audiences were shocked at the map we displayed of Tasmania’s substantial CSG resources.

But I was encouraged that people took the information on board and could see that Tasmanians are well placed to use their people power to safeguard their regions before the juggernaut starts getting up momentum here. 

The Lockthegate Alliance and the planned CSG-Free (or whatever-free) Communities process are achieving great results in NSW against inappropriate mining and drilling. The Lockthegate site is full of very useful factsheets and links.

Victorians have woken up to the threats to their agriculture and tourism, their water sources and their lifestyles, and are rapidly forming groups.

I hope to see lots of yellow Lock the Gate triangles when I return to Tassie.

tasmania-tour-2I was based in Hobart, a stunningly located and perfectly-sized city, in my opinion, and spoke once more at the terrific Hobart Bookshop in Salamanca Place, where Chris Pearce continues the best traditions of small bookshops. Long may such treasures for booklovers remain.

Photo at Hobart Book Shop talk by Ralph Wessman of Walleah Press.

I did get to briefly see parts of Tasmania that I hadn’t on my quick 2010 trip. One was the beautiful Huon Valley, full of laden apple trees and proflifc waterways, when I went to the charming village of Cygnet.

And the north, past Devonport for the first time, when I drove up to Burnie to speak at the very modern University of Tasmania campus there. The Tasmanian Greens organised the talk (as they did several others), and Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson introduced me. Then and in our question time he spoke very well, realistic, level-headed and informed.

People here and in Launceston relate to much in my book and the film, having spent years fighting the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill. The battles against corporations and inappropriate and inadequately researched projects are sadly similar, with community divisions and personal health impacts. But they won that battle!


The joke used to be that Burnie was ‘Where the forests meet the sea – as woodchips’.  It was strange to see woodchip stockpiles and loaders on the docks rather than coal stockpiles.

Burnie reminded me of Wollongong and Port Kembla, with industry on a narrow strip between the sea and the high backing range.

From Burnie I took the old Penguin Road to head to Launceston for the Sawtooth Gallery’s Document://Bimblebox exhibition.


This road hugs the coast, closely shadowed by the rail line, and passes through the quaint town of Penguin. It’s gone a bit over the top with the fake penguins and penguin-linked shop names — even the rubbish bins are supported by ring-a-rosy penguins — but it did have a very cute church. Mind you, I wouldn’t have been suprised to see a penguin atop the steeple.

The route took me via Ulverstone and the rich farming lands beyond, where I was interested to see rolling paddocks of pyrethrum and learn of the poppy industry. There was a touch of Kiama and the NSW south coast here. It’s rich and productive and popular.

tasmania-tour-5Launceston was an unexpected treat, full of gracious old buildings and good restaurants. I met up with Queensland friend Liz Mahood, who was showing in the ‘Documentary://Bimblebox’ exhibition at the Sawtooth ARI Gallery here. Liz also wrote and recorded a moving song, titled (I think) ‘Waiting for the air to clear’, from her Bimblebox artists’ camp time, and it was being played in the Gallery when I was there.

Photo courtesy of Jill Sampson, one of the artists in the Document:// Bimblebox exhibition, at the Sawtooth Gallery in Launceston until 27th April.

Talking in Tasmania

I’m in Tasmania (my first visit) and I’ll be giving a talk — introduced by Dr Peter Hay — at the Hobart Bookshop, 22 Salamanca Square, Hobart, on Thursday 13th May at 5:30pm.

Hunter happenings

hunter-powerUnder the murky skies of the Hunter Valley, despite its dominance by coalmines and coal-fired power stations, some culture does exist!

Singleton talk

Next Thursday evening I’ll be speaking at Singleton Library about my book, Mountain Tails and some other matters — apart from my wild neighbours — that stir my passions at present. I’ll also read some extracts from Mountain Tails.

This library always does a great wine and cheese spread to sustain the literati audience, and it’s free!
You do need to book, though:

6-8pm,  Thursday 26th November

Singleton Library,  8-10 Queen St.

Phone (02) 6578 7500

Valley voices

While I’m talking Hunter happenings, I recently won the Prose Prize for a new anthology, People of the Valley, with my short story, ‘Greta Italiana’, about an Italian migrant’s experiences on his first night at the Greta camp, just after the war.

This is the latest anthology about the Hunter from Newcastle’s own Catchfire Press.

They have published Through the Valley, Beneath the Valley and now People of the Valley — Writings from the Hunter.

The book is an interesting mix of past and present, of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, with B & W photographs.

I understand the book is so far available at Hunt-a-book, Scone; Macleans, Hamilton and Toronto; and Angus & Robertson, Kotara.