Maria Rickert, the German-born owner and co-founder of the Pilliga Pottery and Barkala Farmstay, is passionately committed to protecting the Pilliga Forest from Santos’ plan to drill 850 coal seam gas (CSG) wells.
“I would like to emphasise how beautiful the Pilliga is,” Rickert told Green Left. “We need to bring awareness to the Australian people that the Santos gas project will have a destructive impact on the forest and the water system beneath it.
“Coal seam gas is not the same as natural gas. It is ‘unconventional gas’, which we do not need.”
Rickert arrived in Australia as a backpacker, some 30 years ago. She decided to settle on the 800-acre Barkala Farm beside the Pilliga Forest between the north western New South Wales towns of Narrabri and Coonabarabran.
Together with her then husband, they created the Pilliga Pottery, which creates pieces of art that are collected the world over. The Barkala complex includes a restaurant and visitor accommodation.
“The Pilliga is relatively untouched at present”, Rickert said. “It is the largest temperate forest remaining in Australia. The walking tracks and bicycle rides are famous, and would be placed in jeopardy if the Santos plan goes ahead.
“The great majority of local people are against the project. The farmers are against it, the residents of Coonabarabran are against it.
“The Independent Planning Commission and the state government must listen to the people. This project would contribute to ruining the future of the Pilliga and the future of coming generations.”
Rickert gave an oral presentation to the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) hearings on the Santos project. “It is an important responsibility we all have as human beings to prevent damage to the environment for future generations. We must protect our fresh air, our clean water, and to keep our natural forests intact.
“Santos is creating a crime scene by planning to destroy the priceless Pilliga Forest.”
“The Pilliga Forest belongs to the people. People have a right to know that it is a safe place to visit.
“Drilling for CSG will have a serious impact on tourism in this area, among all the other negative effects. Santos’ plan [for 850 wells] means increased fire danger, toxic waste, and a threat to the Great Artesian Basin.”
She said the gas project would wreck more than the forest. “There is the question of climate change, and the need to turn away from fossil fuels like gas. The water will be poisoned, the air will be polluted.
“We must all think of the kids coming through. Let’s not make it even harder for the next generations.
“We are the guardians of this land. We must fight to protect the Pilliga and other vital natural treasures and hand them on intact to the coming generations.” concluded.
[Maria Rickert's story features along with other residents opposing the Santos project in the film Pilliga Rising by Social Impact Media. An online forum on fighting Santos' push for gas in the north-west of NSW will be held on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM.]