Thousands at Bentley as elders unite against CSG

IT WAS the opening salvo in the so-called Battle of Bentley yesterday when an estimated 2000 protesters massed outside the Rosella site entrance at dawn.

But with the expected heavy equipment a no-show, the crowd had dispersed by 9am, leaving a core of about 50 people on standby.

Where previous protests have felt more spontaneous and chaotic, Bentley comes across as a well-organised machine.

   PICTURES: The rally at Bentley




Three blockade structures stand between the property gates and the road; two are staffed by chained protesters - one sitting on a tripod, and others in concrete pipes, swapping shifts every six hours.

A jubilant mood permeates the atmosphere, with protesters seriously confident that continued, large turnouts will make it unviable for Metgasco to continue.

The main protester camp to the east of the blockade site has tripled in size over the weekend, with hundreds of tents and vehicles, and volunteers roaming the area. There's even a kids tent for families with young children attending.

Lismore Base Hospital nurse Adam Bruce-Allen said the atmosphere in the early morning gave him "goosebumps", recalling "complete silence" descending over the crowd when local Githabul man Jarmbi made a speech.

Bentley landowner Ross Joseph said the gathering served two purposes.

"To encourage more people to come, and to send a very clear message to the government and Metgasco that we are prepared to stand up and be counted," he said.

Lock the Gate spokesman Ian Gaillard said the turnout was "exponentially larger" than previous drilling protests.

He predicted a large police force would be called in to break the blockade, dubbing it "mining by martial law", and calling on Metgasco CEO Peter Henderson to be "fully transparent" about when operations would commence.

But Mr Henderson said the uncertainty over timing related to the availability of the drilling rig - which was currently on another job in Queensland.

Local police have refused to comment on rumours circulating that a large police presence from outside the region was building in the area.


POLICE will maintain a presence at Metgasco's Rosella test drilling site at Bentley to ensure safety, but won't disclose what resources will be available.

Lismore police Inspector Doug Conners said traffic became an issue at the site yesterday after hundreds of people gathered in anticipation of activity by Metgasco.

"At this stage police are trying to work with council and protesters to limit traffic problems at the site," he said.

"Reduced speed limits of 60 kmh are in place and increased signage has been put in place."

Insp Conners would not comment on the number of police resources allocated to ensure safety at Bentley.

"It's a fluid environment at Bentley and police will respond accordingly."

Githabul tribe elder Kevin 'Yillah' Boota.
Githabul tribe elder Kevin 'Yillah' Boota. Luke Mortimer


A HISTORIC meeting of Aboriginal elders from as far as the Clarence and Logan rivers has made it clear the Northern Rivers Aboriginal community does not welcome coal seam gas mining.

The meeting, held yesterday at Lismore Workers Club, was filled with passionate calls for the industry to reconsider mining on traditional Aboriginal land.

Githabul tribe elder Kevin 'Yillah' Boota said continued campaigns by companies such as Metgasco were an "insult" and would risk sacred sites and the indigenous community's spiritual connection with the land.

We've had mining companies make allegations that we, the tribal elders, have dialogued and given approval ... We know for a fact there was no dialogue, no consent.

He considered the push by Metgasco and its allowance by the NSW and Federal governments as another injustice thrust on Aboriginal communities since colonisation.

"We've endured so much and yet the government is saying 'we don't want your voice' in this country because it interferes with our agendas," he said.

"We've had mining companies make allegations that we, the tribal elders, have dialogued and given approval...We know for a fact there was no dialogue, no consent.

"Our presence here is to silence the allegations that we gave approval. We know we did not."

Githabul tribe elder Roy Williams said he believed the community was united in its rejection of CSG mining.

"They (Metgasco executives) need to come back and speak to the elders of the tribes," he said.

"I honestly believe if this gas comes through, it'll spoil all of our food chain, the whole environment, water, everything, the whole lot.

"Sacred sites will be affected by this gas mining, so the government has got to listen to us."

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell and Kyogle Mayor Danielle Mulholland agreed CSG mining would be a blight on the Northern Rivers and said they would do everything in their power to prevent the practice.

Federal MP Kevin Hogan said he shared the indigenous communities' concerns, inviting attendees to contact him personally.


LISMORE'S Goanna Cafe has adopted the "advance coffee" practice that rose to popularity last year as a way of letting people show support for protesters at Bentley.

In a statement, cafe owner Geoff Haycraft said he had been personally supporting the camp with donations of food and he and the cafe staff immediately got behind an idea, suggested by Rosebank resident Danielle Notara, that they set up a "pay it forward" scheme for coffees.

"I have to work during the week and wanted to find a way to say thanks to the people out there on the frontline protecting the land from CSG mining," Ms Notara said.

"I am sure there are other people out there working in Lismore or who have families and can't make it out.

"Paying for an extra coffee and donating this to a protector is a small way of giving thanks and contributing to the morale of people at the Bentley Camp." 

Mr Haycraft said people wanting to shout a 'protector' a coffee could go to the cafe and buy one for them. The coffee would then be provided to one of the protesters when they visited the cafe.

Topics:  bentley bundjalung coal seam gas csg metgasco

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