by Clarity Greenwood (pka Jen Hunt)
I sat on a single bed base suspended from a tree 12 metres above the ground in the Pilliga State Forest and watched the dawn break on 25 January 2016 while Climate Angels leant their presence below. There were birds, trees and insects, but not the biodiversity expected in a healthy environment. Tree sits, a form of peaceful direct action developed in Tasmania, stop loggers from cutting down trees, but I was trying to save the Great Artesian Basin from Santos’ coal seam gas project. Ropes suspending the platform were tied off across Old Mill Road, preventing vehicle access to their Leewood water treatment facility or water wasting and poisoning facility as I refers to it.
When the police came they closed the road to peaceful activists but not to Santos workers and subcontractors. The person in charge was Sergeant Grant Bell from Narrabri Police. He was told by my police liaison that if he touched the ropes across the road she would fall and was reminded of his duty of care as a police officer. He accepted that duty.
This is the story …………
I want it to be clear that the reason I am reporting this assault in public is because Australian environmentalists and activists from this island continent have been experiencing brutality for 228 years and bravely continuing to protect country despite this. So while this is my story, it is only an example of what almost always happens to humans peacefully protecting air, water, ground, creatures, plants or biodiversity.
Also I repeat our calling to the Federal Government:
- Stop the Narrabri Gas Field
- Renewables Now
- Repair the planet using Natural Farming & River Repair
- Reform legislation, regulation & organisation to Put People before Polluters
The reason I repeat this call is that my trusted researchers show that if Santos’ wells become operational, they will “disappear” more water every year from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) than actually goes into the GAB through this recharge zone. That’s right! Astounding isn’t it. Let’s make this simple: if I have a tumbler and I put some water into it and then I take out more water than I put in, how much water is left in the glass? “Less than nothing” you say? That’s right. That is what our governing bodies and police are supporting Santos to do! “Can’t be true!” I hear you say. Well: maybe, maybe not.
Then let’s take the story a little further. The GAB is the ancient natural water storage system (aquifer) which feeds almost all of the springs, bores, streams, creeks and rivers of Australia. So if we have an empty water storage system feeding our rivers, that would make a desert I imagine: just like “Mad Max” the movie, but here and now. That can’t be good! So that’s why I was sitting. To emphasize this message to my first cousin Greg Hunt. I do like to climb and I love trees and being up high so this was a spectacular opportunity which I am so very grateful for. But honestly I have better things to do with my time than sit for 12 hours while being abused, threatened & assaulted.
Anyways I am grateful to the brutal police man who has made it very easy for me to understand the commitment, courage and perseverance of environmentalists who have gone before. I am grateful as he showed me clearly, the triad of corporations, thugs & government and how this maintains the mining industry. I am grateful as this experience gives me the opportunity to tell a true story to my privileged and loving friends. This is a story which has happened again and again and again.
When the police came they removed all my friends from the area but Grant allowed a Santos contractor to stay with him. I believe this person’s name is Michael Cooke, but when asked his name, he said “It does not matter,” and “Jamie”. So I will call him Jamie for this report.’
Jamie had been threatening me and other peaceful activists on and off for weeks. He had used bolt cutters to cut D locks off the necks of knitting nannas. In contravention of WHS regulations, he directed three massive construction vehicles to start work while two quite vulnerable people were locked on inside the facility.
After the other environmentalists, including my police liaison, were sent away, I was isolated. I became frightened and hid beneath the tarp (peeking out as I was emotionally able). I was afraid I might respond in an unhelpful manner. I suffered trauma in childhood and in stressful situations sometimes I dissociate and have trouble seeing and hearing. Due to long term personal work and the support of some very good people, I have become able to access clear memories of traumatic situations.
Shortly after my friends were removed, Grant said to me, ‘We don’t give a f*k*n sh*t about you, we are going to cut that rope and we are going to leave you hanging there’. He threatened me in a bunch of different ways. He told me it was going to cost $6,000 if the police rescue had to come. He also said, ‘It’s personal for me. I’m going to enjoy getting you down and locking you up.’ I said, ‘What do you mean it’s personal?’ He said, ‘Its personal now, I’m going to enjoy it, we’re going to spend the night together. You are going to be in the lockup. You are a criminal now. Come on down you’ve had your fun.’ And ‘You’re playing with your life now.’ All this was said in a lurid, disgusting way.
Around mid-morning I watched Grant and Jamie look very intently at the ropes. They were close to one but I couldn’t see what they were actually doing because of the way they had positioned themselves. Shortly after that the tree sit fell. It felt like it fell about two or three metres but later I found out it was only one. It bounced on the mistletoe on the tree and it was pointing down at an angle of about 70 degrees. There was 15 litres of water and a green shopping bag full of food on the downhill side of the bed base and me on the other end. There was a very long moment of perhaps half a second to assess the situation. The water and food would slide further towards the end, the sit base would become nearly vertical, I’d hang on dangling and banging into the tree, the food and water would slip off and then the sit base would bounce back up with more banging and possibly injury. With my climbing & balancing experience (bless the Women’s Circus), I decided it was better to do a controlled move and give the food and water a tiny nudge off the sit base. This gave me the opportunity to stay longer on the tree sit, bringing more attention to Santos’ and the Government’s destruction of the GAB and Australia’s river systems.
I asked Grant, ‘What happened to the thing I was sitting on?’ and he replied that he didn’t know. He seemed a little shocked. I verbalised what they had learned: “It’s for real this tree sit!”. It was getting close to the middle of the day and I now had only one litre of water to last all day in The Pilliga summer heat.
I’d made it very clear that I wasn’t going to resist arrest and that I would not assist them in any way. When the Police Rescue came they used a cherry picker, which was hired by Santos and driven by a Santos worker who would not show me his ticket (he was a young, softly spoken family man). Grant Bell stated repeatedly that he had seen the ticket and that he would not charge me when I came down. When the cherry picker was alongside the sit base I noticed it had a load limit of 200kg and I asked the Santos worker and the police rescue man how much they weighed and between them they weighed 160kg. I wasn’t sure how much I weighed but I knew it was either 51kg on a good day, or 62kg on a bad day. I was able to negotiate for the Police Rescue man to wait on the ground and under duress went down with only the Santos worker in the cherry picker.
I was arrested around 5pm. I was given iced water from the Santos water container that Grant and Jamie had been drinking from during the day. Even though I had said I would cooperate, pain compliance was applied when I was put in metal handcuffs then into the wagon. I was told the air conditioning would start soon but no cold air came into the back of the wagon for the 22km trip to Narrabri.
I repeatedly asked for food and was denied it. Despite pointing out in the literature that I had been given, that reasonable refreshments were part of the deal in police custody. “You’re in our house now” I was told quite threateningly, by another police person.
The severe pain in my head, neck and back may have been caused by the fall as well as dehydration: on a scale of 1-10, I would put this at an 11. Also I had a bruise about 15cm by 8cm on my leg and another under my right shoulder. There was significant bruising on my right arm from when the police grabbed me and put the metal handcuffs on me. The police called the ambulance which attended me after we had arrived at the police station. They gave me a Nurofen and Panadol but that didn’t work. The ambulance attendants said I was only mildly dehydrated. Later, an experienced local bushie tested my skin flexibility and suggested I was severely dehydrated.
Grant Bell wrote up the paperwork and around this time he told me about the death of his 22 year old son, three months earlier. A successful jockey on the ‘Singapore Scene’, he was believed to have locked himself out of his 12th floor apartment in Singapore and fell when he was trying to get in. I expressed my condolences, remembering how it had felt when we lost my brother at about the same age. It’s not the kind of thing a father recovers from quickly, if ever.
After four hours and police poking pieces of paper in front of me to sign, I signed the bail application. By that stage I was in so much pain and couldn’t see, hear or think properly. I was so disassociated it was really hard to know what was hurting.
I was back at the camp by ten o’clock, supported by my dear friends who had waited in solidarity the full day. The pain in my head, neck and on either side of the back bone continued for at least two days. My kidneys were very sore. My eye balls felt like they were burning. I have been dehydrated before and there was definitely dehydration. I was blessed with four massages over that time from respected colleagues and the pain abated as we treated the dehydration.
The level of trauma I experienced meant that it was very difficult for my friends to assist me afterward. Back at camp I found out that one of my friends had gone back to check on me and had seen that the tree sit and ropes were not in the right position. My police liaison then asked Grant if he had done anything to the rope and he said that he hadn’t touched the rope and that I had kicked the water and food off in protest. My friends told me the rope was definitely cut. So the Police had lied.
I tried to lodge a complaint about Grant Bell’s behaviour and more importantly, report a crime but Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Moree Police Stations were unable to assist as was the 131 444 number. I put an online complaint into the NSW police force and I don’t expect anything will come of that, but it would be nice if it did. I put an online request to the police ombudsman and police commissioner and at the time of writing this have not heard back yet. I also called the police minister’s office, Troy Grant, at Dubbo, and they said “It’s a police matter, we only take Dubbo matters here” so they gave me another phone number. I’ve had the run around from everybody (just one of the methods of corruption I have encountered). I’m waiting for a message from Troy about when I can meet with him. I also expect nothing to come from this. I would like an apology from the police minister to environmentalists and amends for the years of brutality. But that’s probably just pie in the sky. Perhaps I will try Mark Coulton MP, the minister for Parkes, after all that is where I live. I expect no respect their either, but maybe he will call me.
As a victim of childhood sexual abuse in a ritualistic manner at an early age at Woodleigh School Junior Campus (this is a matter of public record), the impacts of any further trauma are different from somebody who has not had trauma. Since the brutality I have had flashbacks to the other figures of authority who abused me, and have found it difficult to continue with everyday activities. I have not been able to sleep very well. I was completely disassociated (out of my body) for about five days and not able to interact normally with other people during that period of time and for some time afterward. I have very little memory of that time. Now I am able to see what happened to me psychologically and also to see the gentle efforts my friends made to assist. For that I am grateful.
From oral and written history, I know that there are many peaceful activists who are traumatised by the police brutality we experience. I have now seen the impact just one such event can have on one person and their friends. I guess this is just one of the ways that “the system” disempowers agents of change.
From my discussions with Narrabri police people, I know they see clearly that enforcing matters concerning corporations is not their job. I wonder who or what has the job of enforcing corporate matters? And don’t say ICAC, or you will make me laugh. Santos has not completed all the required procedures to give appropriate permissions for building their Leewood facility and yet no governmental body or subsidiary is enforcing this (it seems a bit like emissions targets). It is up to environmental activists. There seems to be a hole in our governmental organisation where policing corporations should be.
I know that my brothers and sisters who have stood up repeatedly over many years for the planet and her mob have experienced far greater discomfort than I have. I am in awe of these peaceful activists. I know that fear of reprisal keeps others away who might otherwise wish to stand in integrity and take part in history. I hope this small story can assist change as Peaceful Direct Action continues to move in the hearts, minds, corporations and governments of this island continent and we learn to Put People before Polluters.
Jen Hunt, (aka Clarity Greenwood)
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Lock on follows action of 300 people at the Leewood CSG site yesterday
Total charged at Santos Pilliga protests in the last 6 weeks is now at 29
These protests come days after Santos wrote off the value of the project
Two men are risking arrest as part of a relentless community campaign against Santos’ coal seam gas project in the Pilliga forest in North West NSW. One of the men is a Gamilaraaly traditional owner of the Pilliga and the other man is a traditional owner of Yuin country on the South Coast. At the same time around 20 people have blocked access to the main access road into the site.
The community is calling on the State Government to cancel all CSG exploration licences across the North West region.
Paul Spearim is a 54 year old Gamilaraay man who is currently locked on: “It’s about the protection of my traditional connection to Biliga and the Gamilaraay nation.
“With Santos coal seam gas its about the destruction of our Gali (water). We have an obligation to protect the waterways and aquifers of the Gamilaraay nation. We have ancient cultural knowledge of the groundwater aquifers, including the Great Artesian Basin and the seven rivers that lie beneth.”
Lyle Davis/Andy (Brierley/Biety) is a 58 year old Yuin man also locked on: “I’m up here, black duck from Moruyo, supporting the emu, Gamilaraay, because we’ve got the same issues and problems in my Yuin country. The elders keep saying ‘leave it in the ground’ and it’s the same issues across the land – the pilliaging and plundering of our natural resources – and we do not see any benefits.”
Paul Spearim ended: “Hopefully more Gamilaraay people, other first nations people and other supporters will join our efforts to protect Gamilaraay sacred lands.”
Yesterday over 300 people defied a police road block to rally at the gates of the Leewood facility and around 80 people breached the fence to occupy the construction site. One man was arrested.
Over 300 people have defied a police roadblock to protest the construction of Santos’ controversial coal seam gas waste water treatment facility. The protest is calling on Santos to pull out of unconventional gas in North West NSW two days after Santos wrote down its assets in the region to zero.
On Friday, Santos released its full year results, announcing a $2.7 billion loss and writing down its Gunnedah Basin assets to zero. Santos also reclassified its Gunnedah Basin reserves from ‘probable’ to ‘contingent.’
Three hundred people have this morning gathered to protest at Santos’ construction site in the Pilliga, calling on the company to pull out of their unconventional gas projects in the region.
Sally Hunter from Harparary is at the protest and said, “The gas beneath us is now worth nothing to Santos, but for all of us, the Pilliga, the farmland of the North West and the groundwater of the Great Artesian Basin are priceless.
“We’ve got businesses, farms and lives to live out here. We’re here today to tell Santos to do the right thing by the community and withdraw from all unconventional gas in the New South Wales North West.”
David Quince, a farmer from the Liverpool Plains, said, “With Santos posting a $2.7 billion loss last year, the business case for unconventional gas in eastern Australia is looking as risky and dangerous as its environmental and social impacts.”
The construction of Santos’ Leewood coal seam gas waste water treatment facility has been plagued by protests for the last eight weeks, with local farmers and Traditional Owners joined by people from as far afield as Adelaide and North Queensland to support the protests.
A local community group, People for the Plains is current taking court action against the Government’s approval of the facility under gas exploration regulation on the grounds that it should have required a full environmental assessment and development consent. But neither Santos nor the Government has taken any action to halt construction until the case is heard in April.
If you can, please BYO chair, plate and cup plus $10/day to help cover costs.
If you want to bring anything to contribute further, some ideas are: fresh produce, cakes and slices, meat, or solar lights for the paths!
It would also help to BYO drinking water.
If you’re gluten free, it would help to BYO bread etc.
Today in the Pilliga a contingent of health care workers are peacefully protesting Santos’ 850 well Narrabri Gas Project proposal and the current construction of the Leewood CSG wastewater facility.
Nurses and midwives at the protest are joined and supported by the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association. In 2014 the NSWNMA passed a resolution to support the actions of members protesting this dangerous industry in their pursuit of health for all. The protesters call on the NSW Government to ban all CSG activity in NSW.
Nurses and midwives at the site say as health carers they felt a responsibility to stand up for the health of the environment as its direct human health impacts. They are concerned about the impacts to the Great Artesian Basin, the release of toxins and known carcinogens into the environment, the harm to communities created by gas companies who cause conflict and division, the health risks to workers and the social impact on their families, the impact on farming and food production and the long term risks to the health of future generations.
Union delegate Angie Gittus from Murwillumbah says, “It’s our obligation as health care workers to protect health and prevent harm and as health carers we feel a responsibility to address climate change which we know to be the biggest public health risk we are facing. “
Heather Dunn is a midwife at Lismore Base Hospital and also a union delegate. “As a midwife and a mother I am here to stand up to protect today’s children and those yet to be born. Studies show that the risks to small and unborn children from CSG are far greater than the risks to adults.
“With mounting evidence on the impacts of CSG on human health it is becoming clear that this industry must be halted in NSW before it gains a foothold.
“Peaceful protest is increasing in the Pilliga as the nation becomes aware of the many different impacts this industry will have on human life. Health is just one of those impacts” finished Heather.
On Tuesday five women aged between 50 and 75 were arrested whilst dressed as ‘climate angels’ at the Santos Leewood site. These arrests bring the total number of protestors charged at the site to 27 over the past month.
Today five middle aged and elderly women dressed as “Climate Guardian Angels” were dragged away and arrested whilst blocking the road into Santos’ Leewood CSG wastewater treatment plant. They’ve taken this action as part of the escalating campaign against Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga.
The Angels blocked access to the Santos Leewood facility and interrupted construction works there by standing together and holding red fabric across the road. The group also attended the Paris Climate Talks in December 2015 where they led a march holding the red line of fabric.
Great grandmother June Norman from Brisbane is one of the heavenly host that graced the frontline with their presence today. “The red line we held today symbolises a boundary that cannot be crossed, a planetary boundary, a climatic boundary. The red line symbolises the urgency of keeping fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming.
“We have held the red line at the Pilliga frontline to symbolise the end of coal seam gas in NSW.
“I am a great grandmother who is concerned about the future and what I am leaving or my grandchildren. Australia is a beautiful, safe country that I have enjoyed. It is my duty to do whatever I can to protect it for future generations. If it takes civil disobedience to protect our natural world then this is what I am prepared to do.”
The opposition to the Santos Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga is escalating with 24 arrested, a total of 27 people charged, and numerous infringements. In addition another 11 people have risked arrest through locking on to machinery or gates but have avoided charges.
Since AGL’s announcement last Thursday that it’s abandoning its Gloucester Gas Field and its expansion at Camden, Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project is the last remaining CSG proposal in NSW and is the central target for anti-CSG protestors in NSW.
Leewood CSG plant is the subject of a legal challenge regarding the legality of its approval. Narrabri group People for the Plains and the EDO will argue its assessment should require public consultation and an EIS. The case is set for hearing on the 6th and 8th April.
The five women aged between 50 and 75 are currently in custody at the Narrabri Police Station.
Farmers call for Government to suspend Santos’ operations while court case is heard
Protests resume after pepper spray incident
A 73 year-old sixth generation farmer from the Coonamble area has this morning become the latest person to block access to the construction site of Santos’ Leewood CSG waste water facility in the Pilliga forest in North West NSW.
Neil Kennedy has locked himself by the neck to the front gate of the construction site, and is joined this morning by local and regional supporters.
Mr Kennedy said, “I don’t think it’s right that Santos can build this waste water treatment plant, with all the risks involved, while a court case is still underway to sort out whether its approval without a proper environmental assessment was lawful or not.
“The fact that Santos is pushing on with construction while the Leewood facility’s approval is the subject of a pending court case suggests the company is overly confident of an ultimate approval. Why can’t they wait for due process before they press on in the face of so much opposition and legal uncertainty?”
“I’m willing to risk getting arrested here today because the Government and Santos don’t seem to respect how high the stakes are for us out here when it comes to groundwater. If an old farmer is chaining himself to someone else’s gate, maybe that will show them how much our artesian water means to us, and how seriously we will fight to protect it, if the Government won’t.
Sarah Ciesiolka, a potato and peanut farmer from Wee Waa joined Mr Kennedy at the protest today. Ms Ciesiolka said, “Our local community group has challenged the legality of the Government’s approval for this waste water plant, which will process up to a million litres a day of CSG water, produce huge volumes of brine that will need to be disposed of somehow, and conduct an experimental irrigation program.
“With all the spills and problems that coal seam gas has already had here in the Pilliga, we expected the Government to be on the public’s side and require Santos to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement for a risky and large scale development like this. It’s not too much to ask for them to stop work while our court case is heard. We will keep protesting until the Government asks Santos to stop work here.”
The past month has seen 16 people arrested at protests at Leewood and hundreds of people participating. Yesterday a grandmother from South Australia was pepper sprayed whilst vulnerable and locked on to machinery at the site.
A directions hearing for the People for the Plains court challenge to the approval of the Leewood facility will be held at the Land and Environment Court in Macquarie Street, Sydney, on Friday
New CEO Kevin Gallagher faces community push on first day
Two women from Santos’ home state risk arrest and halt work
Two women from gas company Santos’ home state of South Australia have locked onto an excavtor and halted all construction work at the company’s controversial Leewood CSG wastewater treatment facility in North West NSW, on the first day at work for the company’s new CEO, Kevin Gallagher.
The women have taken action as part of a growing community campaign against the Leewood facility and the broader Narrabri Gas Project in North West NSW. Over the past month, 14 people have been arrested as part of the protests, with hundreds taking part.
Cyd Fenwick, 46 from the Adelaide Hills, said, “We grew up with the idea that Santos is a great South Australian company, but out here in the Pilliga, they’re damaging the Australia and their reputation, and they’ve got to be stopped.
“We want the new CEO of Santos, Kevin Gallagher to know that the Narrabri Gas Project in the Pilliga will be opposed at every turn. The project is a liability and Santos should cut its losses and get out before it loses out further.”
Kerri Tonkin, 47 from the Eyre Peninsula, said “I’m here for the water, this is not just a local issue, it affects us all. This 850 well coal seam gas project threatens the recharge function of the Great Artesian Basin and is an issue of national significance.”
“Santos is doing serious damage to its reputation by persisting with this trouble plagued project in the Pilliga. The project has a terrible environmental record and no social license with the community.”
The Leewood CSG facility is designed to treat up to 1 million litres of toxic CSG water per day and to irrigate crops on site with the treated waste. Already there have been over 20 spills and leaks of toxic CSG water during exploration alone.
The Leewood facility is the subject of a court case by local group People for the Plains that will question the legality of its approval and argue its assessment should involve a full Environmental Impact Statement and public consultation. A directions hearing will be held on Friday in Sydney.