Glenugie protestors to fight on

FACE OFF: Police confront protestors at Glenugie, most of whom were local residents. The average age of the six people kept in custody overnight was 55. PHOTO: Jimmy Malecki
FACE OFF: Police confront protestors at Glenugie, most of whom were local residents. The average age of the six people kept in custody overnight was 55. PHOTO: Jimmy Malecki

Mick Daley was embedded with protestors at Glenugie on Monday, January 7, when police enforced the legal right of coal seam gas mining company Metgasco to commence drilling.

POLICE began arriving around 5.30am. Their numbers were to swell to around 60 but in the cool of the morning there was only an Inspector and around 20 uniforms.

Local police were armed with tasers and pistols and some wore body armour. In contrast around 150 protestors, in thongs and floppy hats, chatted and sipped coffee. Knitting Nannas quietly knitted. The hardcore were locking on to dragons (buried concrete and steel obstacles) or in tree-sits.

One sat atop a tripod of timber towering above the gate to the property, where a cement pad awaited a long-delayed Metgasco rig to commence drilling for coal seam gas.

The protest at Glenugie, 13 kilometres south of Grafton in the Coldstream wetlands had held out for 48 days, turning Metgasco trucks back twice and suffering only one arrest - that of local landholder Deb Whitley, in the process. The blockade was widely regarded as the front line in the campaign, spear- headed by the Lock The Gate organisation among others, to stop coal seam gas mining.

While most of the protestors on January 7 were locals, many had come from Lismore and Nimbin. The demographic was mostly mature-aged, and many had never been to a protest before.

Metgasco's shares had twice plummeted to all-time lows of below 15 cents during the siege, as locals vowed to defy NSW Resources Minister Brad Hazzard's ultimatum that CSG mining was coming whether people liked it or not.

The first arrest was at 8.07am, as Bob from Yamba was extracted and hustled away. Busloads of riot squad and tactical response police had arrived by then. Metgasco's share price rose 3% to 17.5 cents by 10am, by which time 12 arrests had been made.

By midday there had been 18, as in a staggering display of force, police with a hired cherry picker and electric tools sledgehammered and cut out lock-on 'bunnies' and dragged away non-compliant protestors.

By midday, as temperatures soared in NSW's record-breaking heatwave, the remaining protestors had been marched away and the Metgasco convoy began creeping in.

But resistance was not over. Activist Wanda Vaya Con Dios secured herself to a car in its path. It would be another hour before the drill rig was finally able to lumber through the gates.

By that time protestor's numbers had risen to over 200. Facebook was abuzz with indignation and a growing realisation that the incredible flammable water-tap stories from the movie Gasland and the dreadful warnings of scientists and farmers from gasfields in Queensland with sick families and worthless properties, were in danger of becoming realities in the Northern Rivers.

By next day, the media had come alive with reports of these remarkable events.

Six men had refused police bail conditions which would keep them away from future protests. Ian Gaillard, 61, of Keerong, who had been arrested for throwing a bottle of water to fellow protestor Benny Zable, had been kept sleepless overnight in a concrete police cell. Of his actions, he remarked,

"Any decent human being would do the same. I was treated fairly by the local police. I felt there were some of them who understood what we were doing and felt somewhat compromised by their official position."

Indeed I observed one young copper, standing over men and women old enough to be his grandparents, dash tears from his eyes and work hard at maintaining his tough guy composure.

The local area commander, Superintendent Mark Holahan, was to defend the actions of police.

However, while protestors claimed that some of the Sydney-based Public Order and Riot Squad were excessive in enforcing orders, the overall sentiment from protestors was disgust that police were enforcing the operations of a corporation hellbent on commencing a mining practice they fear is toxic, will turn their homes into an industrial wasteland and for which there is no scientific data to prop up the claims of industry - and complicit government departments - that it is safe.

Meanwhile the expansion of the industry is under threat from within the O'Farrell government, as Liberal MPs rebel against the industry operating in their electorates.

A groundswell of opposition is blooming across the State as residents fear threats to their health and property values. Oblivious to these reactions, the peak gas industry group APPEA is insisting on the environmental credentials of the CSG industry.

Northern Rivers residents, however, have made up their minds. John Wyborn, an iconic stalwart of the protest camp, has observed on Facebook that the protest by the Glenugie Action group is ongoing.

Aidan Ricketts, lecturer at the School Of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University in Lismore, has observed that Metgasco, having managed a half day of work in 48, with the assistance of a massive police presence, is exhibiting an unsustainable business model.

"What Metgasco now faces is a more determined, more experienced and more mobilized region than ever, determined to fight it site by site, community by community and well by well for as long as it takes."

Metgasco's CEO Peter Henderson has said that the company remains committed to extracting gas in the Northern Rivers and that protests won't impede their plans.

But to judge by the determined opposition of Northern Rivers residents, Metgasco's shareholders may be less sanguine.

Topics:  coal seam gas glenugie metgasco southern cross university

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