WHEN the State Government announced on a Thursday morning in May 2014 they were suspending Metgasco's licence to drill for gas at Bentley, the combined tension of thousands of protesters was released with an almighty shindig.

On the scene as the celebrations unfolded, The Northern Star reported that local Jarrah Keenan had got wind of the news via radio while half-asleep in his car.

When he roamed around excitedly telling his fellow camp members, at first they couldn't believe it.

GALLERY: Bentley celebrates

 

Moods were high at the Bentley Protest Camp just outside of Lismore after the NSW government announced a suspension of Metgasco's exploratory licence. Campers and visitors danced to music, listened to speeches and celebrated early in the morning. Some campers still maintained their resolve to stay at the camp until the issue is resolved. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Moods were high at the Bentley Protest Camp just outside of Lismore after the NSW government announced a suspension of Metgasco's exploratory licence. Campers and visitors danced to music, listened to speeches and celebrated early in the morning. Some campers still maintained their resolve to stay at the camp until the issue is resolved. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

 

"Then there was jubilant celebration and cheering broke out across the camp," he said.

Drums played, protesters embraced, and group sing-alongs took place.

Moods were high at the Bentley Protest Camp just outside of Lismore after the NSW government announced a suspension of Metgasco's exploratory licence. Campers and visitors danced to music, listened to speeches and celebrated early in the morning. Some campers still maintained their resolve to stay at the camp until the issue is resolved. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Moods were high at the Bentley Protest Camp just outside of Lismore after the NSW government announced a suspension of Metgasco's exploratory licence. Campers and visitors danced to music, listened to speeches and celebrated early in the morning. Some campers still maintained their resolve to stay at the camp until the issue is resolved. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

The spontaneous party was the culmination of more than two years of snowballing protest against Metgasco and the CSG industry.

What started with a murmur in 2010 with a few people had reached fever pitch by the time the company announced its plans to drill an exploration well at an old dairy property at Bentley, 15km west of Lismore.

GALLERY: Bentley protest's final dawn

Locals and protestors listen to speeches and reflections on Bentley, CSG and the future of the protest at the final
Locals and protestors listen to speeches and reflections on Bentley, CSG and the future of the protest at the final "greet the Dawn' service. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

Bentley would become the third major blockade against Metgasco's exploration program after Glenugie, north of Grafton, and Doubtful Creek, west of Kyogle.

Protestors drew up sophisticated plans, setting up camp on a neighbouring property to the planned drill site several weeks before the scheduled drilling operation.

Locals and protestors walk up to Gate A at the Bentley Blockade at the final
Locals and protestors walk up to Gate A at the Bentley Blockade at the final "Greet the Dawn" service at 4.30 in the morning. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

"Camp Liberty", as it became known, became a hive of activity as "D-day" in May approached.

Local musicians and elected councillors, and national protest leaders and filmmakers turned out to pay their respects to the anti-gas cause and inspire the masses, and document history.

Protestors wait for the sun to rise at the Bentley Blockade. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star
Protestors wait for the sun to rise at the Bentley Blockade. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star Marc Stapelberg

By the time May rolled around, thousands of people from Kyogle to Byron Bay put their time aside to show up. What began as a protest had become an iconic social movement. A slice of history in the making.

Arguably because the protest movement showed such strength and conviction, the government was forced to pull back from the brink after originally intending to deploy a police force of up to 800 officers.

PHOTO GALLERY: Life on the Bentley blockade

Over 2000 people at the Bentley protest site on Monday morning await the arrival of the Metgaso's drilling rig. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star
Over 2000 people at the Bentley protest site on Monday morning await the arrival of the Metgaso's drilling rig. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star Doug Eaton

It was unprecedented stuff.

Of course officially the Minister for Resources Anthony Roberts denied "people power" was a factor in the last minute decision.

One of the food tents at the Bentley CSG protest on Monday. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star
One of the food tents at the Bentley CSG protest on Monday. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star Doug Eaton

But it seemed obvious to those on the ground the government couldn't afford the scandal of spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours of police time clamping down on a democratic protest, not to mention the potential risk to public safety.

PHOTO GALLERY: A morning on the blockade

 

Monday morning at the Bentley Blockade. Photo : Mireille Merlet-Shaw/The Northern Star
Monday morning at the Bentley Blockade. Photo : Mireille Merlet-Shaw/The Northern Star Mireille Merlet-Shaw

 

Better to lose a court case as they ultimately did by suspending Metgasco's license unlawfully for "inadequate community consultation".

Time will tell if Bentley was the defining battle in the fight against the CSG industry, but whatever the outcome it has already become a landmark feature of Northern Rivers history.



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