The Bentley Blockade: from Cassandra, disbelieved prophetess

In mid-2011, a speaker’s agent rang me to say he had an invitation for a good speaking engagement.

 

“It’s with APPEA,” he said, “And you can talk about community engagement.”

 

APPEA. Hmmm. I rang off and logged on.

 

APPEA: Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is the peak national body representing Australia’s oil and gas exploration and production industry. They call themselves “the voice of Australia’s oil and gas industry”.

 

See: https://www.appea.com.au/about-appea/

 

 

“Do you know who they are?” I exclaimed an hour later.

 

“No, but they pay well” was his response.

 

“They`re the peak industry body for the coal seam gas industry,” I moaned. “How can I speak to them?”

 

“I’ll leave that up to you,” was his reply.

 

In the end, I made the speech. I sought advice from politicians, academics environmentalists and activists far and wide, sharing part of my fee.

 

I spoke to APPEA’s Environmental conference in November 2011 in Coolum, Queensland. To a marquee full of young miners. I told them what I could see coming if they persisted with their plans to mine for gas in the Northern Rivers.

 

Most stared at me as though I’d come from Mars. The young ones shrugged it off”¦ But the older ones – men my age – they listened and asked lots of questions.


111109 APPEA Environment Conference, Coolum.



Not surprisingly, once I’d given them a serve, they did not ask me to speak to another APPEA conference.

 

My observations


Now, looking back, I feel like poor Cassandra. Doomed to see the future but not to be believed.

 

My observations in my speech amounted to something like this: If you continue the way you’re going (like bully-boy cowboys), your approaches will not lead to successful outcomes. Your reductionist and coarse utilitarianism will be seen for what it is: ethically and politically suspect. There will be strong suspicions of corruption.

 

Ten stages

 I can imagine what will happen. It will happen in ten stages.

 

Stage 1

 

The young companies, acting like cowboys, standover merchants and bully-boys (the Wild West) will take over from the regulation-oriented companies that are trying to do things properly. Eclipsed will be the wise, older and more experienced operators who know how to consult and build and maintain trust.

 

Stage 2

 

Local politicians and activists will try to uncover what’s really happening.

Meetings will be held and approaches made to local politicians. There will be press coverage, especially letters to the editor.

 

Stage 3

 

As things hot up, there will be an increase in anxiety and conspiracy theories.

Local action will intensify: committees, petitions, letters to the editor and politicians, more meetings, plans for non-violent direct action”¦ Neighbours will be pitted against neighbours in a climate of fear and intimidation. Press coverage fans the flames in an atmosphere of fear, confusion, distrust and anger, fuelled by `cowboy’ tactics, especially secrecy and bullying.

 

Stage 4

 

A neighbour opens his or her gate. He’s short of cash, can’t pay his rates, his rego is due … whatever”¦ He signs an agreement. There will be trucks, equipment, activity, noise, lights”¦ Drilling begins (or will soon).

 

 

Stage 5

 

People are galvanized into action. Activist campaigns are extended and strengthened. New organisations form, with signs, websites, social media”¦

 

Stage 6

 

Citizens engage in direct action.

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Stage 7

 

The industry (acting like Grabbit and Runn Pty Ltd) follows the Canadian example and begins a massive public relations campaign: We Love CSG. Locals are left with David and Goliath comparisons. Local politicians and activists organise but feel lied to, kept in the dark, intimidated and steamrolled.

 

Ordinary people feel they have no voice. “The big end of town is against us. We are treated like ignorant country hicks.”

 

Stage 8

 

New alliances form. Activists and politicians form (often previously unheard-of) alliances. Politicians, farmers, hippies, experienced activists, young people, environmentalists, townsfolk”¦ old and young, city and country, Left and Right, rich and poor”¦ I told them about the warnings of Dr Wayne Somerville, a consulting psychologist in Lismore: Now another storm of upheaval and protest is brewing. And Australia might be in for an even more terrible time than the Vietnam War.

 

Stage 9

 

The press has a field day. Politicians and activists now capture media interest. Bad news overwhelms the industry’s “good news” stories. This is not good for the oil and gas business.

 

Stage 10

 

Finally, I told them, your industry is on the back foot. Now science is argued in public. The industry has no control over the quality or accuracy of information. Nobody loves the miners except those who opened their gates. Many of their neighbours are now not speaking to them. The industry’s media campaigns backfire.

 

That’s what I suggested. It did not turn out that way – exactly – but a lot of it is similar to what has occurred at Bentley.

 

I told the miners:

 

“The economic forces you understand well “¦ and manipulate well “¦will work to your advantage. But not totally and not forever. And If you don’t find a way to engage with communities — an authentic way that’s going to work – you will have a community that engages with you.”

 

And you will have the biggest protest that Australia has ever seen.”

 

At the end of my 2011 talk, I asked a rhetorical question: “How will this end?”

 

My reply: “In tears. This will make Terania Creek look tiny.”

 

I looked out at my audience. Blank, young, confident faces everywhere.

 

I gasped: “Does anyone know what happened at Terania Creek?”

 

Nada.

 

Then the Chair of my session, also the Chairman of the organisation (and close to my age), spoke up.

 

Wendy-APPEA-CONF-2011-4970_

“I remember,” he said.

 

He remembered the non-violent direct action at Terania Creek. Premier Neville Wran called it his proudest moment when he banned rainforest logging in NSW. He only wished he’d done it earlier.

 

What’s needed?

 

What’s needed, I said, was a good engagement process. It has three criteria: representativeness, influence and community education. I explained how to do it. Simple rules that required authenticity, honesty, accountability and transparency. Above all, I warned them, “avoid conflicts that involve the police.”

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                          * * *

 

I think we’ve all seen what an appalling community engagement process looks like.

 

For me, I wish I’d been wrong. I feel like Cassandra: the prophetess who wasn’t believed.

 

Now we can see what communities can and will do. What resourcefulness and resilience look like.

 

What they sound like.

Believe me, Metgasco

 

Believe me, Metgasco, this is just the beginning. There is much more where this came from.

 

Best you start listening now.

 

And best you read your environmental history.

 

New South Wales — and especially the Northern Rivers (what on Earth were you thinking?) — are not for the taking.

 

Postscript 18 May: See this great article in the Green Left Weekly: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/56473

 

 

The Bentley Blockade: Weeping for the Earth

The text!

 

It would have looked better if I were digging out the composting toilet or planting organic veggies. But the truth is I was half-way into an egg and sausage McMuffin in Casino when the text came from Bentley.

 

I had to ring Yollana to make sure I had it right.

 

We’d won at Bentley.

 

Or at least, a major victory had occurred. (I’m too old for complete acceptance that “all is now well.” The Bentley Blockade had succeeded. Metgasco’s license was suspended and they were referred to ICAC.

 

But, you know, your body speaks its mind and in a second I was weeping.

 

I was weeping in Maccas in Casino.

 

It took me a while before I realised how much I love this country. How much I love this Earth. Since I migrated to Australia in 1968, I’ve had a few `falling-in-love-with-the-Earth” moments. Deep Ecology rituals specialise in helping that response emerge in reluctant humans.

 

Tall Tree Country

 

Nevertheless, having grown up

in “tall tree country” in Canada, I spent a long time coming to love this part of our Earth. It’s not what I was used to.

 

Tall Tree Country

Tall Tree Country

 

 

 

 

 



A year living alone in the bush at Humpty Doo helped a lot and generated a PhD thesis on caring for Nature: https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/289/

 

 

 

Humpty Doo 1992

Humpty Doo 1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




And fog in the valley in Nimbin can do it.

 

https://sarkissian.com.au/wendys-blog/posts-from-the-bush/fog-in-the-valley/

 

 


But this weeping in Maccas?

 

Something else altogether.

 

  • Weeping for gratitude to many protectors who braved discomfort and hardship to keep the vigil at Bentley for so many weeks.
  • Gratitude to the canny politicians and wise negotiators who kept seeking a political solution when many thought that was impossible.
  • Blessings on the parents who brought children to the dawn gatherings on the hill when warm beds beckoned.
  • Gratitude to a brave landowner who made his property available to the protectors.
  • Close friends of mine who put their lives on hold to give all they could.

 

Yollana had another insight into why I was weeping in Maccas.

Community consultation

 

All of the press reports – and the Bentley Alert text – identified inadequate community consultation as the key factor it the Government’s decision.

 

OMG!

 

Yollana writes me:

 

Facebook post by David Filipczyk“Ž, Lock the Gate Alliance Inc.

Let it be known and remembered loudly and clearly:

Bentley was won,
Not because a politician stepped in!
Not because of a loop hole in the law!
Not because a dirty industry found a conscience!

The official reason for the cancellation of the drilling license is:

Insufficient community consultation!

In other words,  
Bentley was won because the people stood up, protested and refused to back down!

 

Does anybody really care about that? Community engagement has been my life’s work. I’ve written eight books about it.

 

I often feel like a boring old fart. Banging on about community engagement.

 

Who cares?

 

Well — yesterday morning — someone cared about community consultation.

 

That’s

enough to keep me banging on for another 25 years.

 

Go Bentley!

 

 

 

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 (https://northernriversguardians.org/).

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

Chorus:


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.

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“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


Embracing

Embracing



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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjT8ka5Ekzk

 

The Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/CsgFreeNorthernRivers