An aerial image of Saturday's anti-gas protest at Lismore, provided by Phil Foley via The Northern Star's Facebook page.
An aerial image of Saturday's anti-gas protest at Lismore, provided by Phil Foley via The Northern Star's Facebook page.

Northern Rivers "protected by community" from gasfields

IT WAS a carnival atmosphere, but the message was deadly serious and once again ahead of the game.

Before an estimated crowd of 5000 gathered at Lismore's Riverside Park, the Northern Rivers was resolutely declared gasfield free and "protected by community".

The declaration has no legal force, but the ceremony offered plenty of potent symbolism.

Speaker Annie Kia said the event was a "pivot point in our history" describing the movement against gasfields as having "three Acts".

"If Act One had a soundtrack it would be the ominous growl of a coming storm … the protagonists were the gas miners and a small bunch of determined people who raised the alarm," she said.

The Second Act, Ms Kia declared, was the building of a "genuine mass movement", from countless community surveys and letterbox drops to the big blockades at Glenugie, Doubtful Creek, and after a nine-month pause, Bentley.

"Genuine mass movements are rare in history, but you know you've got one when fencing contractors tell Metgasco they don't want their money, (RFS) volunteers tell police not to use their shed, local mayors scale the tripod, mums and dads set up family camps and artists flock to the phenomenon at Bentley.

"Now we open Act Three … when we push for victory, when the Government cancels the licenses."

Four signs with the message printed were handed out to groups from the south, east, north, and western parts of the region, to be erected at four entry points to the Northern Rivers.

There have been 142 gasfield free declarations so far, starting at The Channon in April 2012, and most recently at Bentley - but this was a first for the entire region.

Following the ceremonial declaration at Riverside Park, the carnival moved on to the streets of Lismore with a march through the CBD.

It was a peaceful affair with Richmond Local Area Command Inspector Bill McKenna praising the crowd as very well-behaved.

This was by far the biggest anti-gasfield gathering since the Lismore rally of 2012, eclipsing the numbers seen at Bentley during the big "greet the dawn" ceremonies.

Visible was a wide cross-section of the community, mums and dads with young children, teens, seniors, farmers, indigenous groups, health workers, environmentalists and veteran activists, to name a few.

Both NSW Greens and Labor candidates in the upcoming state election also turned out with their supporters in force. The incumbent Nationals MPs did not, although Lismore MP Thomas George's photo was a popular image on placards.

High school student Mira May-Jordan was one of those in the crowd who felt the event was about staying the course with "hope".

"If Bentley ended and nothing happened, then that would be the end. If we keep doing this, then we still have hope," she said. "And that hope is what will make change."

Bridget Crouch, of Lismore, said for every one person who came to the rally, there were hundreds more who supported the day.

"By the sheer numbers and the sheer enthusiasm of our message they must hear (us); this is a democracy," she said.



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