By Iris Ray Nunn – Pilliga reporter
‘Big rig arrives to begin work’ heralded the local Narrabri paper, The Courier, last week.
The paper proudly reported that Santos had resumed exploratory drilling in the Pilliga and went on to state that ‘the last meeting of Narrabri Shire Council heard an overview of Santos’ plans and progress which paints a picture of a major industry on Narrabri’s doorstep’.
Driving through the Narrabri region on the same day the paper hit the newsstands, one would assume there was little or no resistance to plans to industrialise the local landscape.
Santos rents a shiny shop frontage in the main street that is staffed by friendly locals. Their paraphernalia about CSG being ‘a natural gas: clean, abundant and offering great benefits to Australia’ is readily available in town.
The tell-tale signs of a community opposed to CSG, such as ‘Lock the Gate’ signs, are absent and Santos’ local sponsorship program, which funds craft fairs and football clubs, appears to be keeping the locals satisfied that Santos have the community’s best interest at heart.
The Courier article highlighted that ‘the economic implications for Narrabri and the district are huge if the gas project goes the way Santos anticipates’.
So – are locals in the Narrabri and Pilliga region supportive of Santos and content with the prospect of living in a gas field?
“Not so, the word is spreading,” said one farmer, who spoke at a meeting of concerned locals on Thursday.
“But many people are scared to speak up. They’re worried about what people will think.”
Being concerned about ‘rocking the boat’ in a small rural community is a reality that perhaps the local council, state government and Santos themselves are banking on.
And perhaps to make absolutely certain that there would be little or no active on-the-ground resistance to the company resuming work in the Pilliga, Santos started work during harvest time.
“That was deliberate,” said local beef and sheep grazier Megan Kuhn. “Santos knew we would be tied up on the farm at this time of year.”
When asked if she intended to protest when harvest time was over, Megan said with a smile: “We prefer the word ‘protect’. We are the Pilliga Protectors.”
Megan belongs to SOS Liverpool Plains, one of 30 affiliated groups opposing CSG in the region, and is the co-ordinator of the Lock the Gate gas field free strategy in the north-west.
“We are planning peaceful actions,” she said.
“That’s what the locals opposing CSG want to affirm. We are steering away from the term non-violent direct action.”
(Non-violent direct action (NVA) is the current term preferred by environmental activists.)
Megan is one of a growing group of brave hearts who refuse to be apathetic about what state and federal governments have planned for the Pilliga.
“If we don’t do something now to stop the gas, we’re going to regret it later,” she said.
Others attending Thursday’s meeting admitted they had been cautious about how to make a stand, but realised that now was the time to take action.
The meeting was also attended by visitors who had participated in the Doubtful Creek blockade in NSW earlier this year.
They boosted the confidence of locals, by offering direction about the next step to take in their campaign to save the Pilliga.
Two of the visitors were Jarmbi Githabul and Don Durrant, who were key players in successfully stopping another CSG mining company, Metgasco, from drilling on private land on Githabul Country (Doubtful Creek).
“It’s natural to get a little bit scared of police,” said Don, a 75-year-old farmer from Afterlee, near Doubtful Creek.
“No-one who was arrested at Doubtful got a criminal record and almost all of them weren’t even fined!
“During one action a protestor got a small injury in a tussle with police and I took her to the doctor in Casino.”
Don said the doctor had ‘made his own enquiries’ about CSG and supported the campaign to stop CSG mining in the area.
And that is exactly what Megan and the rest of the group encouraged their neighbours to do: make their own inquiries into the dangers of CSG*.
They won’t have to look too far past the corporate sponsorships and promises of ‘jobs jobs jobs’ to discover large bodies of information about the impacts on the lives of locals living near a gas field, people whose landscape and lives are forever changed.
A reserved local at the meeting quietly added his voice at the end of the meeting: “Once local people start seeing what’s really going on and see that we are active, they’ll follow behind.”
* CSG IN TARA, QLD
ABC news Brian Monk
RECENT LOCAL NEWSPAPER STORIES ABOUT CSG : THE COURIER
Exploration resumes in the Pilliga
Santos pleads guilty to breaches
Councillor welcomes Santos if they play by the rules
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