The #protectgloucester camp: @coolmccool reports


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The Protect Gloucester camp is now open and ready for business. Situated among breath-taking scenery close to AGL’s fracking site, the camp is manned by a team of dedicated locals, who have put in many hours of hard work to get the camp ready. Built to meet very stringent regulations demanded by the local council authorities, the camp has scores of neatly laid out and spacious drive-in/drive-out plots which would put many a paid caravan park to shame. Visitors are welcomed at the gate by volunteers and informed of the camp rules, briefed on the facilities available, and are made to feel very welcome.

Some of the plots are already occupied, and one, dominated by a huge bank of solar panels, is home to Peter, who came down from Coffs Harbour to lend his support. Peter’s reasons for being at the camp are both global and local. The threat, he says, comes from the AGL CSG project and from the expansion of coal mining, which would destroy this rich and beautiful farmland and pollute the precious water supply for Gloucester and for all the communities downstream.

“From the global aspect of climate change, scientists tell us we don’t need any more fossil fuel… and from the local viewpoint of Gloucester, they certainly don’t need any more coal mines.”

Ed, the no-nonsense local farmer who supplies the land for the camp, is worried about the effect that fracking for CSG will have on his water.

“My main concern is water. I ask ‘what is going to happen to my surface water?’ – and the answer I get from government officials is that they simply don’t know.”

With fracking planned on land right next to his farm, Ed is concerned about his future.

“I told AGL that my superannuation is tied up with this farm. I told them that if you mess with my back pocket, I’m going to fight.”

Other locals involved in the protest keep a vigil on the main road into Gloucester. Colin, a retired public servant, who has a BSc in Resource and Environmental Management, explains that locals have been bitterly disappointed by the reaction of government officials and AGL when they presented their concerns.

“We had reports from miners, geologists, hydrologists… When these reports were presented, they were simply ignored. We’re worried that AGL can’t frack safely here. We tried to use reason; we tried to use good sense. It was a great shock to people to see how a rational approach was ignored. Some people became very depressed when we were branded as ‘the usual feral lot’. ”

Colin is a member of a local church and a garden group. He sees a need for moral leadership.

“Politicians say one thing and do something else. We have tried to behave within the law… but corrupt politicians make bad laws.”

Roger, one of locals on the gate at the protest camp, explains:

“If the politicians had listened, if there hadn’t been so much corruption in the planning process… the people could have faith that things would be okay.”

Roger is part of the team who have worked enormously hard to try and make the camp as comfortable as possible. He wants visitors from other areas to come and see what’s happening in Gloucester for themselves.

“People outside the area are not aware of the pressure locals are under from coal and CSG. The threat is real.”

Rosie and Trish, two other local volunteers at the camp, are also keen to welcome visitors.

“Come along and get involved. The people who are here are just ordinary people trying to stop an extraordinary attack on their freedom. It’s getting harder to protest.”

‘No stopping’ signs have been erected on the road outside the camp, and right down to the frack site. People are worried that their rights to protest peacefully are being eroded. They will continue to protest however, because they believe so passionately in the preservation of their community and their landscape.

Gloucester sells itself as the ‘basecamp’ for the Barrington Tops World Heritage National Park. It’s an area of incredible natural beauty and according to Colin, it will be destroyed if AGL gets its way.

“It’s really just an excuse to clear the whole area. Take a look at aerial shots of Darling Downs or Chinchilla in Queensland. If AGL are successful with their plans to expand to 330 wells here, it’ll destroy our whole lifestyle.”

Janine, a retired teacher who is a volunteer at the roadside vigil, says she can’t believe what AGL wants to do to the countryside.

“It’s really stressful here now. Hearing the stories of the people living close to the wells really makes you sad. If you drive down to Forbesdale you’ll cry for those people. AGL wants to push it through no matter what the cost.”

Janine takes comfort from the community spirit at the roadside vigil, with its key themes of peaceful protest and respect. She has learnt a lot about mining processes and about the district and has got to know some great people, people like Rod. Rod is a lively presence both at the vigil and down the road at the camp.

“They want to put a CSG well just 400m away from our house. The 2km exclusion zones don’t apply here. We’ve been fighting this for six years while they tried to tell us that everything was alright. AGL is just spin and bullshit and their ‘local jobs’ argument is a nonsense. When the field is up and running it will provide just 12 jobs – and they’ll be tech expert jobs.”

The facts on the ground appear to agree with Rod. The mining trucks in the area all have Queensland plates. And the security guards AGL has brought in are apparently also from outside the area.

Rod says he has given up writing letters to politicians.

“This battle will be won by people power, political will and in AGL’s boardroom.”

Protestors in Gloucester are keen to get support from outside the area, and for people to stop at the vigil, stay at the camp. Roger explains that they know that not everyone feels like getting involved in direct action, but people can come along and support them in many other ways. They can help out at the protest camp, join in the workshops that are planned, or just drop in and say hello at the vigil.

This support is important to volunteers like Janine.

“When we do feel down, people coming up from Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane… it means so much to us. It lifts your spirits that people care enough to stop and say ‘we’re thinking about you’. Not everyone is thinking about the dollar and what they can take.”



Twitter:  #protectgloucester

Camp Details with map:

Risks of CSG in Gloucester



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