IT WAS a celebration, it was a festival, and it was an anti-coal seam gas mining rally that circled the CBD block. The Rock the Gate rally and concert last Saturday (May 12) brought a crowd of 7000 people from Clarence Valley to Tweed Heads into the Lismore CBD where they marched, danced and called out in unison "no fracking way".
The town was a sea of yellow-and-black Lock the Gate signs as the huge crowd snaked through the streets, almost meeting end to end in the biggest and noisiest rally Lismore has ever seen. Grandparents stood side by side with girls against gas and dancing water fairies in a show of unanimous community support against what many see as the biggest threat to their health and lives they have ever encountered.
As community members clustered together on the hill at Riverside Park holding aloft hundreds of signs with the names of the streets and towns they came from, they created a map of the widespread opposition to CSG mining in the Northern Rivers region. For event organisers Amanda Doran and Amanda Shoebridge, the huge turnout surpassed all expectations.
"This day is bigger than all of us," Amanda Doran said. "It has brought people from all walks of life together and united strangers. It has let people get to know their community and I hope it inspires people to do more and get involved as CSG mining will affect our health and our homes."
After the rally, the sun shone down on the crowd as they listened to speakers and comedians and danced to the sounds of bands like OKA, Renee Simone and Dubmarine. A surprise appearance by Xavier Rudd hushed the amazed crowd and touched everyone's heart as he sang songs about connection to the land. Indigenous elders also held a smoking ceremony and declared their opposition to CSG mining.
Queensland farmer Brian Monk's moving story about his experience of living in a CSG zone in Queensland had the whole rally screaming in support of his impassioned plea for all to stand up against the mining companies. As he told the gathered thousands how his grandchild had been hospitalised twice in the last couple of weeks with neurological problems, he broke down crying and left the stage.
"These are the symptoms associated with exposure to CSG mining," he said.
Lock the Gate Alliance regional co-ordinator Ian Gaillard urged people to keep the pressure on the NSW government to stop CSG exploration and mining.
"It's up to us to make them listen and revoke the licences and get them out of the Northern Rivers catchments," he said. "Contrary to what our local member (Thomas George) says, the government can pass an act of parliament and only pay a small amount of compensation to mining companies if we give them the political willpower.
"We are fighting to protect the health and water in our community. I value my health and we will be breathing whatever comes out of those gas flares. Let's not let it get to that - lock up your roads."
When asked if the 7000-strong anti-CSG rally had made an impression on him, Minister for the North Coast Don Page said a gathering of such a large number of people was "a form of feedback" and the government would take it on board.
"The government has a draft policy (about CSG mining) at the moment that needs amendments to deal with issues around access, mapping and protection of aquifers… and we are interested in feedback," Mr Page said.
"While it's not a written submission, it's a statement by a lot of people about how they feel and I'll be passing the information on to cabinet and government. I appreciate there are people in the community concerned about CSG. For the last 15 months we've been trying to grapple with a complex issue and basically have put a moratorium on fracking. We've inherited an issue and are trying to deal with it."
Lock the Gate Alliance, Ian Gaillard
We are fighting to protect the health and water in our community.