The Bentley CSG Blockade: Something Changes in Me

 First reflections on the Bentley CSG Blockade  
21 April 2014



A song has been going round in my head today, after greeting the dawn at the Bentley Blockade (

This is a blockade to prevent Metgasco from drilling for unconventional gas in farmland near Bentley, NSW.

bentley demonstration



It’s Holly Near’s “Change of Heart”:

Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage
They may not know I’m watching, I may not let them know that
Something changes in me that will last me for a life time
To fill me when I’m empty, and rock me when I’m low

Something changes in me anytime there’s someone singing

All the songs I’ve never forgotten, let our voices sing them strong
Something changes in me anytime there’s someone standing
For the right to

be completely all the good things that we are


There’s a

change of heart
Anytime there’s someone counting
All the lives that won’t be thrown away”¦

Gathered in the glorious misty dawn around a campfire outside the Bentley property targeted for unconventional gas drilling, several hundred of us bent forward to hear the wise ones offer guidance about Non-Violent Direction Action (NVDA). Our hosts are the Northern Rivers Guardians.



“Look into their eyes,” begged veteran activist and therapist, Ruth Rosenhek.

“We are here for peace, not violence.”


Ruth Rosenhek
Ruth Rosenhek

And then the role plays and practice began.

My mind flew away. No longer a mere 40 kms from home, I was transported across the Pacific to another time and place where environmental devastation was planned in the guise of “clean energy”. That time it was nuclear power.

As I leaned back in my chair, I remembered how my heart broke open the first time I encountered NVDA. It was early August, 1978. With Australian activist, Peter Hayes, I’d driven from Berkeley down the central California coast to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor in San Luis Obispo. For two days Peter facilitated and I observed the Abalone Alliance NVDA training. Like a dance.


The police, we were told, would receive the same training.

Those who agreed to climb the fence and enter the reactor property received special attention, guidance and counselling. They role-played the experience of going over the fence: playing themselves, the police, and the reactor personnel. They simulated getting arrested, going to jail. They spoke softly about how it would feel – how to handle yourself. Importantly, how to be peaceful when threatened.

Abalone Alliance NVDA training, 1978
Abalone Alliance NVDA training, 1978

I’d never seen anything like it!

The rest of us – camped on the beach beside the nyclear reactor – would bear high witness to their actions. We’d stay on the beach and support those who chose to go over the fence.

Observing the training, I learned a lot about NVDA and the Abalone Alliance, established the previous year and operating until 1985. It was a nonviolent civil disobedience group formed to shut down the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PGE)  (known fondly Pigs, Goats and Elephants) Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Amazingly, it was sited on an earthquake fault. They modelled their affinity group-based organisational structure after the Clamshell Alliance, then protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in coastal New Hampshire.

The group’s name, “Abalone Alliance”, honoured tens of thousands of wild California Red Abalone killed in 1974 in Diablo Cove when the Plant’s plumbing had its first hot flush.

This was their second blockade. The really big

one, with over 20,000 participants, was

the following year. But I was elsewhere that August — running a feminist summer school in Colorado.

They were busy, activist times.

Stop Diablo Canyon poster

For me, at 35, the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor blockade was a life-changing experience. Over 5,000 people gathered on the sun-drenched beach on a weekend summer day. It was California in the seventies but there was an air of anticipation and anxiety among the otherwise festive participants.

diablo canyon proxemics2_crop




I remembered the instruction: “Look into others’ eyes”.

I photographed these two women as they prepared to go over the fence. They’d been trained to look into others’ eyes but when they did so – with each other –and when they embraced – I felt my heartstrings tug.

I was photographing courage.

diablo canyon trust proxemics firstcrop_2 copy


Holly Near

My heroine in those days – and still today – is American feminist and activist singer-songwriter, Holly Near. About the time we were assembling on the beach, she was writing “Change of Heart”:

Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage”¦

My dawn visit today to the Bentley Blockade did not change

my heart. Not exactly.

It reminded my heart.

It reminded me what courage feels like.

It feels like the Bentley Blockade against unconventional gas mining.


It looks like my neighbours.

And it tastes like hope.

Postscript: As we prepare for another

week protecting the Northern Rivers at the #BentleyBlockade, have a look at what happened there on Anzac Day in this moving new short film:


The Facebook page is at:



  1. Dear Phil:

    I took your concern to Cr Simon Clough, who had this to say:

    The protector camp at Bentley has been approved under s68 Local Government Act as a primitive camp.

    It has been inspected on numerous occasions by the staff of Richmond Valley Council.

    There is an approved toilet, grey water and fresh water system.

    The garbage and recycling goes to registered sites.

    The camp apart from minor issues has passed all the Council’s requirements.

    Cr Simon Clough
    Lismore City Council

    National Chair – Lock the Gate Alliance

  2. Phil,
    That is a terrible exaggeration and even if true, which it isn’t, it is nothing compared to the filth strewn landscape that unconventional gas exploitation leaves behind. By tracking metgasco’s and eastern star/santos’s sludge pits, (which they call evaporation ponds) over the years i can testify with photo imagery they are foul stinking bodies of fluid that resemble a carcinogenic pus from the wounds they have inflicted on the Earth Mother and the poison they have injected into her. Wildlife falls in and dies, the walls of built earth collapse releasing 1000s of megalitres into the surrounding land that is rendered barren, not an ant or a blade of grass in sight. Don’t get me started on the air pollution, the cases of children’s nosebleeds and searing chronic headache and lung illness reported from the “sensitive receptors” (industry speak) who have no where else to go but to live in their houses near gas fields. Even if a row of compost loos were tipped into a creek (which is not even remotely likely) it’s nothing in comparison to the Northern Rivers being overrun by gas fields. If you perceive shortcomings in blockade camps then understand what that means about you and your role in helping determine a better, more just and fair future for those who are still to be born and live on Earth.

    Compassion and cooperation of people from all walks of life gathered at Bentley are infinitely stronger traits of human kindness than digital dollar deals for gas export.

  3. Beautiful. The community support that upholds this protest is the thing that has really blown me away. The melting pot of people from every walk. The stream of donations over what must be nearly 3 months now. The farmers who opened up their land (and the ones who queued up when it looked like a new home might be needed). The sports Club with their lighted sign supporting it. The thunderous response to a ‘shout out for Bentley’ from 10,000 at the main stage of Bluesfest. The whispered stories of how many people are ‘looking out’ for the protectors. And the eye contact. You walk through camp and people who would never meet otherwise seek each others eyes and smile.

  4. Phil, are you actually stupid enough to believe the lies? Oh my. What’s a good guess that your a shareholder!
    We are peacefully protecting our LAND for future generations, if you are too selfish to help protect our waters then leave. Your invalid and untrue report just makes it harder for those of us trying to protect and protest peacefully

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