George Bender, a 68-year-old cotton farmer from Chinchilla, Queensland, took his own life on October 14. His family lays the blame squarely with the coal seam gas (CSG) industry he had fought against for a decade.
Described by his family as “a straight talker” who “told the truth, not the sugar coated bullshit”, George was a fifth generation farmer in the Western Downs. He stood for the right for a farmer to say “no” to the gas industry.
His family said in an October 20 statement: “[George] was willing to talk openly to anyone who was interested in really seeing what was happening as a result of the CSG industry ... He saw the impacts on the land, both agricultural and otherwise, of the mining operations.
“He did not hold back in trying to bring to light the very obvious effects and impacts of this industry, which were in turn, and routinely, denied by the companies and the government.”
George decided to lock the gate after seeing the impact of CSG mining on neighbouring families. He fought to defend his property at Hopeland, south-east of Chinchilla on the Darling Downs, because he was committed to “clean and green” produce and long-term sustainable agriculture.
The production of CSG on neighbouring properties had caused his own bores to run dry and bubble with noxious methane.
Having resisted pressure from the Queensland Gas Company and Arrow Energy, the most recent threats to his property had come from Origin Energy, which wanted access to his property to drill 18 CSG wells.
“In George's view, all had the same intent and agenda: their interest was in getting the gas and they didn't really care about the lives of the farmers on whose land they would trample to access it,” his family said.
Part of George's submission, in November 2014, to a Senate inquiry investigating aspects of the Queensland government's administration, stated: “The government has provided the CSG companies with all the power, leaving an individual farmer to protect himself against multinational companies.
“The decision whether or not to have CSG on our property should be a commercial decision; it should be the right of the farmer to choose what effects his business on a commercial basis.
“This situation the government has created leaves the process open for bullying, intimidation and potential corruption.”
Lock the Gate president Drew Hutton said George's death showed, once again, the CSG industry's “huge and devastating toll on rural communities and farming families in Queensland” and urged campaigners to step up the fight for landholders to say 'no' to the industry.
“None worked harder [than George] to fearlessly challenge the powers threatening his beloved farm, the groundwater it relies on and the future of his family and local community.”
Vigils to mark the passing of George Bender were organised by Lock the Gate on October 21. At the Sydney vigil, outside Origin Energy's AGM, several shareholders told campaigners they intended to give Origin a grilling.
Phil Laird from Lock the Gate urged everyone to use this tragedy to redouble efforts to ensure farmers have the right to lock the gate.
Lock the Gate has announced a CSG Crisis Action Plan aimed at getting farmers more rights to deal with the CSG industry.
“In the end, George Bender died from a broken heart”, his family said.
“He fought to protect the air, land and water from the inevitable permanent damage that this industry is causing and has caused overseas.”