Campaign groups Western Downs Alliance and Six Degrees combined with a number of other activists and organisations to bring us the Rock the Gates Festival at Tara showgrounds from April 29 to May 4.
The festival was organised to elicit support for, educate and inform about the Lock the Gates campaign which is aimed stopping the corporate destruction of the land and groundwater caused by the search for and extraction of coal seam gas in and around Tara.
The campaign involves farmers, landowners, environmentalists and scientists who have been warning both state and federal governments about the deleterious effects on the environment and human health of the untrammeled destruction of the land and water by international mining corporations.
Frontline of a coal seam gas war
More than 200 activists gathered at the showgrounds, from as far away as Melbourne, Mackay, and Newcastle.
The opening of the festival heard from a range of speakers including Barunggam traditional owner Neil Stanley, Bob Irwin, Drew Hutton (FOE), Rob McCreath (Friends of Felton), and speakers from Rising Tide, Beyond Zero Emissions and the 100% Renewables campaign.
Training courses and workshops followed with an evening concert featuring activist, singer and poet Penelope Swales, who flew up from Melbourne for this event. John Gordon and Rouge State also entertained.
Many attendees visited the “Peoples Blockade” which was into its 47th day at the beginning of the festival.
This blockade is designed stop the destruction of native forests along a proposed gas pipeline route. So far the “Peoples Blockade” has delayed work by the gas corporation significantly.
When we visited the site, security guards immediately raced out to photograph our car number plates and us, and within 15 minutes a police car appeared.
Over Sunday and Monday, workshops were held on the legal rights of both protesters and landowners. Drew Hutton (FOE) Libby Connors (Qld Greens) and Aiden McClindon (Qld Party) discussed many of the issues.
Many attendees went to the Chinchilla May Day parade, and marched as a contingent. They were however denied access to the Chinchilla showgrounds where the rest of the May Day activities were being held as Queensland Gas Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of British Gas, sponsored the day.
The festival was a great success and the organisers were pleased with the support. However, the battle goes on and even though the organisers have pledged that their campaign will remain non-violent, it remains to be seen whether enough pressure can be put on state and federal governments to ensure that if these projects do go ahead they will be done with full environmental and human protection.
An example of this included a letter, read aloud to activists, from a source within the gas company, who advised that the state government did not intend to enforce the machinery washing requirements in the pipelaying contracts.
This means that machinery will be able to be moved from one part of the pipeline site to another with no environmental controls at all, which could result in vegetation and weed transfer from one area to another along the route.
This will save the contractors a lot of money but will cause farming communities along the route a lot of headaches in coming years.