Activists who fought off coal seam gas exploration in the Northern Rivers are sharing their successful formula with communities across the globe facing their own environmental battles.
Activists Brendan Shoebridge, Simon Clough and Ian Gaillard will travel to the UK in May to provide training in non-violent protest planning and methods, and to screen the documentary The Bentley Effect.
The trio were leaders in the Bentley Blockade — the culmination of seven years of protests in the Northern Rivers region that resulted in thousands of people setting up camp on a cattle farm earmarked for gas exploration.
The blockade ended in May 2014 when the NSW Government suspended a gas exploration licence in the area.
In October 2015 the Government bought back a petroleum exploration licence covering more than 500,000 hectares across the region.
Mr Clough, the former deputy mayor of Lismore, said he always knew the Bentley movement could be replicated in other communities.
“I felt very strongly that the Northern Rivers had a lot of resources and skills which were not so evident in other communities and we almost had a responsibility to do the best we possibly could in order to inspire and be of use to other communities in Australia and overseas,” he said.
“Every drop of water that went into that campaign in terms of every person’s input was important.
“That involved our relationship with the police, the fact we were able to work with a broad section of the Northern Rivers community, people who had been and still were members of the National Party, people who were more on the environmental activist fringe, and everyone in between.”
The Bentley Effect
Mr Shoebridge, the filmmaker who began documenting the Northern Rivers anti-coal seam gas movement in 2011, is currently touring along the Australian east coast showing his documentary The Bentley Effect.
The film won an Impact DOCS Award in the US and received a standing ovation at its Byron Bay Film Festival premiere.
“What I would love is for people to see and meet the heroes that were on the front line giving blood for five, six, seven years making all those sacrifices so our basics and our life support systems can be preserved,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“The whole world needs to recreate what we saw at Bentley.
“There was a groove that happened and it was a phenomenal thing where an amazing tipping point occurred and that was just to save that one specific region, but the world has to get into that groove.
“I would hope the world sees it and starts to think ‘Well, how can I take a lead in this must-win battle?’”
UK Coal Seam Gas Movement
Mr Clough said they were being inundated with requests to share their knowledge and screen The Bentley Effect in communities across the world, particularly in the UK.
“Currently in the UK there are about 200 fracking site licences which allow unconventional gas exploration, including Sherwood Forest, and the people there are very strongly opposed to unconventional gas,” Mr Clough said.
“But the government and the police have been very strong in their support for the gas companies, so there’s a fairly major confrontation and we’re hoping we’re going to inspire those people who are trying to protect their land and their livelihoods.
“This is an international and global crisis, the whole unconventional gas drilling threatens everyone’s water and everyone’s air.
“It’s a global problem not just for the Northern Rivers and Australia.”