Hugs all round: protesters at the Bentley camp celebrate the drilling suspension. Photo: Martin Jacka “Happy”: Pharrell Williams’ song was was a popular anthem as the news sank in. Photo: Martin Jacka
Gas drilling suspended, sent to ICACMore NSW news
The people at the Bentley protest camp on the NSW north coast have been bracing themselves for a showdown with police.
But on Thursday, singing, cheers and group hugs were the order of the day as hundreds flocked to celebrate the suspension of gas drilling in the area.
“It’s only one well, but the ripples will spread around Australia and the world,” said protester Nan Nicholson, a 61-year-oldbotanist and active member of Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.
Lisa Alexander, a 57-year-old youth worker from Dunoon, has been a regular at the camp, sleeping in her car on site to be present at dawn in case the police and gas rig arrive.
“I’m ecstatic, euphoric, relieved, surprised,” she said. “This is a great example to humanity.”
“I’ll be having a drink with some of the locals tonight,” she said – although not at the camp, which remains drug- and alcohol-free.
Drummers and guitarists led singalongs to We Shall Not Be Moved and Pharrell Williams’s hit, Happy, as young and old, farmers, hippies and grandmothers enjoyed the victory.
Ms Nicholson says she had received a phone call from the Sydney delegation early in the morning, relaying the good news.
“About 30 of us were round the campfire, doing our dawn ceremony,” she said. “My phone rang, which was embarrassing. Then I put it on speaker phone. There was an eruption of shouting, laughing and disbelief. It was a magic moment.”
Ms Nicholson said the atmosphere was still euphoric.
Eshua Bolton, a 39-year-old “protector”, said he and his partner, Bec King, 32, had given up a holiday around Australia to spend the past six weeks at the camp. They had been ready to chain themselves to in-ground installations should the police arrive and Mr Bolton said he was relieved that the stress of being on 24-hour alert was over.
“We were willing to put our bodies on the line,” he said. “Now we want to spread the Bentley effect. The power of community is outstanding when all these different demographics come together.”
Doug Keogh, a 77-year-old retired farmer from Kyogle, said he had no regrets about becoming a protester at a mature age.
“I’ve worked in private enterprise all my life,” he said.
“Look at this area. Look around you. There’s more potential in farming and tourism here than there ever will be in mining. And we’re not fly-in, fly-out. We’re here to stay.”
By lunchtime, volunteers were serving bowls of vegetarian food, cake and coffee made by a camp barista, as protesters settled down in the four-month-old makeshift settlement of teepees, tents, tarpaulins and campfires, and tried to absorb the events of the day.
Josie Baker, a 39-year-old business owner and mother of two from Mullumbimby, described her mood as one of “cautious elation”.
“It’s a suspension, not a cancellation,” she said. “But it’s power to the people. We’ve stood up and said, ‘no means no’. I feel like we’ve had our voices heard.”
Lismore City councillor Simon Clough, a spokesman for Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, had spent a lot of time at the camp over the past few weeks and welcomed the news that there wouldn’t be a showdown with police on Monday.
“Police have been the meat in the sandwich in all this, and I congratulate Anthony Roberts on his decision,” Cr Clough said.
Cr Clough said the camp and vigils would continue until at least Monday, pending events in Sydney, and there would be a celebratory picnic for Saturday.
“But no drums after 8pm,” he warned.
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