Five climate guardian angels were arrested by police on February 9 while blockading the road to Santos' Leewood wastewater facility in the Pilliga forest near Narrabri in north-west New South Wales.
The “angels”, all aged over 50, are part of the Climate Guardians, a group of anti-coal seam gas (CSG) activists who dress as angles to create awareness of the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The women are part of an ongoing civil disobedience campaign to prevent the construction of Santos' Leewood Water Treatment Facility and the planned 850-well gas field in the Pilliga Forest.
One of the arrested women, June Norman, said she was a great-grandmother concerned about the future she was leaving for her grandchildren.
“It is my duty to do whatever I can to protect Australia for future generations. If it takes civil disobedience to protect our natural world, then this is what I am prepared to do,” she said.
Spokesperson for the blockade camp Jo Evans said: “They chose to be arrested and police had to remove them, but it wasn't done in a very orderly manner.
“The police actually struggled with removing them from the road, they used pain compliance — when they use pressure points or bend back wrists to make people comply — on some of them. The angels were not resisting arrest, they just didn't want to move.”
The following day, February 10, a contingent of health care workers joined the blockade. The group of nurses and midwives said that as health carers they felt a responsibility to stand up for the health of the environment as it impacts directly on the health of the people.
They said they are concerned about the damage 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.
New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) delegate Angie Gittus from Murwillumbah, said: “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."
In 2014 the NSWNMA passed a resolution to support the actions of members protesting against this dangerous industry and called on the NSW government to ban all CSG activity in NSW.
Heather Dunn, a midwife at Lismore Base Hospital and union delegate, said: “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.”
Santos says it has all the approvals necessary to carry out its work on the wastewater facility. But those approvals are the subject of a case before the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Anti-CSG group People for the Plains, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, will argue the Leewood facility's approval is illegal and should require public consultation. The case is set for a two-day hearing from April 6.