Nanna Erica Bates speech to SS4C on 21st May 2021, Gold Coast, Queensland

Hi students, supporters, organisers and lovers of our Planet. I’m a Knitting Nanna and I’m a Craftivist!

Today we rally to send a clear message to the Morrison Government that Gas is not the answer as a replacement for coal. It’s not the “clean” transition fuel that this Govt claims it to be, in fact the fugitive emissions created by the gas industry are even worse than dirty coal and gas is a dirty industry on other levels that they seem keen to overlook. Much of what will be spoken about today will be in relation to the environmental impacts of gas and fossil fuels with science backing up the facts of Climate Change. I want to focus on some other aspects of the dirty gas industry that haven’t had a lot of media coverage in recent times, and to share a couple of stories of my own experiences at anti-gas protests nearby.

Coal Seam Gas is the horror story that just keeps on giving. It’s a ticking time bomb. Not just because of emissions and environmental damage… but because of the health and social impacts that come hand in hand with the industry.

L-R Nannas Marianne, Felicity and Erica at Columboola, Queensland

I’ve been a part of the Knitting Nannas movement almost since it’s inception… our full descriptive name is the Knitting Nannas Against Gas & Greed, our acronym is K-N-A-G… (NAG) and believe me we try to nag politicians and fossil fuel companies at every chance. Our catch cry is “Saving the land, air and water for the kiddies”.
We are a Dis-organization. We don’t like rules… and keeping us in order is a bit like herding cats at times.
I unofficially became a Knitting Nanna and started knitting in the trademark Lock the Gate triangle colors of yellow and black in 2012, when I was living in the Scenic Rim.

My family had just bought a large farm at Kerry near Beaudesert. We received a letter from gas company Arrow Energy to say they owned a CSG license over our property and that exploration was to commence nearby.
We found out we had no rights… legally we could not stop them coming onto our farm or establishing gas wells right beside our house if they so wished. No rights to stop them whatever.

I knew zero about Coal Seam Gas but I was about to enter a very steep learning curve.

The good folk of the Scenic Rim had formed a group called “Keep the Scenic Rim Scenic”. Not only gas was threatening the regions environment, but also an open cut coal mine was proposed near Boonah. Bear in mind this is just one hour west of where we are now standing, and one hour south west from Brisbane.

A blockade and protest camp was set up just across the Albert River from my farm, and people from other communities under threat came to lend support and share their stories. Arrests followed. Farmers, Local business people, Tourism operators and even teachers were arrested but the protest action continued.

I was one of many local farmers who joined that blockade… That was the first time I had blockaded or taken part in any protest action. My very conservative father had told me as a teenager and good St Hilda’s girl back in the early
1970’s, that if I ever took part in a Uni protest… I was not to bother coming home.

Nannas in Queensland at Dayne’s

40 years later there I was… standing beside another female farmer… both in our late 50’s… the two of us standing silently blocking the road, waiting to face the police as they escorted a bus load of gas workers into the exploration site at shift change.

As the police escort car approached us, my neighbor turned to me and said “Did you ever think you would be doing something like this?” And I simply answered “No”. We were two middle aged farming women completely out of our comfort zones… but we had a driving inner passion to save our farms, our clean air and water, and to support our community… but… we were very very nervous!

At the Kerry blockade, as it later became known, I learned the value of peaceful protest and simple delay tactics, performed by community not only for their own benefit, but also for others facing threats from CSG and fracking, as well as for the environment and for the planet.

We prevailed! Through people power, and with negotiations on both sides of politics, we sent Arrow Energy away, and the lease for the coal mine was also eventually relinquished. People power had won the day! But my life had been changed forever.

Once I began to learn about the damage being done, and the impacts of building the Queensland Gasfields out at Tara and Chinchilla, I was horrified. Not only the environment, water and farming land were being ravaged out there, but the health of the community was in real danger.

Children living near the gas field were suffering neurological symptoms and nosebleeds… cancer clusters had begun to appear in the area, animals were being born with health issues, and the Qld Govt was apparently not listening.

My focus soon turned to the Western Downs and the fast developing Qld Gasfields. Supporting communities and spreading facts became essential work and that work was willingly taken up by the Knitting Nannas. Looking back I can honestly say that becoming a Queenslandld Knitting Nanna Against Gas is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Nannas blockade QGC – Image Matthew Parry

This motley band of mainly female activists acted as a support network for the families in the Gasfields.We put on functions to raise money to buy them fresh drinking water, because their waterntanks were contaminated by the chemicals in the air. We listened and visited them, ourntongue in cheek humour raised spirits… and we became friends.

Besides taking on the role of Protectors at the protest lines, we aimed to win hearts and minds to the cause by standing strongly but peacefully beside these families, telling their stories in truth, while needling and nagging the perpetrators of their suffering.

We were described as being iron fists in fluffy yellow gloves…

Don’t ever mess with a mature woman who’s worried about the future of her grandchildren!
The term “Keep it fluffy” (coined by Potts) was a great reminder for times on blockades in the Gasfields, when we were sitting knitting in a row across roads and gateways into gas infrastructure. At times we held up literally kilometers of white utes and workers in mini buses, as we waited for the Police from Chinchilla to arrive and read us our move on orders.

Once we set up and started chatting and knitting, the gas field security guards knew we weren’t going to leave, so they rang Police… but it took 20 minutes for them to drive out from Chinchilla, and we knew we could stop traffic at change of shift for at least that long. The line of work vehicles got very long indeed.

An image of the gas worker blockades of 2013 by Chantico Love

Some Police were up for a joke and a chuckle with us but others were a little frayed around the edges at times… so “keeping it fluffy” was very very important. We smiled sweetly, asked them how their kiddies were, and even gave them hand knitted gifts.

Unfortunately the horse had already bolted as far as the establishment of the Qld Gasfields back when the Nannas began… it couldn’t be stopped. But we could protest and blockade and try to raise awareness further afield. Much of this activity was documented in “Frackman the Movie” which I highly recommend watching.

The suffering families were ignored and belittled by our “leaders”. It’s a very low income area in the Tara Estates and the families living there were treated as second class citizens and mere collateral damage. They were bullied and paid shabbily for having gas wells on their land.

Eventually because of the agitation by protestors and the awareness raised, many of the families were bought out by the gas company and were thus able to move away to new homes elsewhere.

Every time I visited the Gasfields I experienced a metallic taste in the back of my throat. My tongue felt numb and to be honest I couldn’t wait to get back home. I wasn’t alone experiencing these symptoms. I can’t imagine how it would feel living there permanently and the impacts on my health. I’m very thankful some families got out of that place. But there were also other negative impacts at play.

When I first went up to the Qld Gasfields, and specifically to the town of Chinchilla, it was to witness a sea of fluoro shirts on the streets, in the shops and jam packed on the verandah of every pub. Queensland Gas Company, QGC, had pretty well taken over the town during construction of the gas infrastructure.

The old stalwarts of country clothing, Akubras, checked shirts, jeans and boots, had been replaced by fluoro yellow reflective tape clothing and steel cap work boots. When QGC came to town and the Qld Government, began to spin tales of jobs, jobs, jobs, and great wealth to come for future generations, rents began to rise. The demand for workers housing, quickly priced locals out, and they left the town in droves.

Nanna Erica keeping it fluffy

I remember hearing stories of families being forced to live in tents in the Show Grounds because they could no longer afford housing. Other towns nearby suffered the same fate as this rural region became an industrial zone. Google Chinchilla and have a look at a satellite map of the area and you’ll see what I mean. Those Gasfields could be seen from the Moon!

The investors and developers quickly moved in and built executive housing estates and motels with the aim of making a fortune off the back of the gas boom. But rather than riches, many lost bucket-loads, because once the construction phase was complete and the production phase began, the bulk of the fluoro shirts had disappeared.

So when I visited the town a couple of years later, the streets of Chinchilla had begun to resemble more of a ghost town than a boom town. The verandah of the pub as we drove into town was pretty well empty… no longer a wall to wall mass of brightly clad workers. Those newly built executive homes now had for sale signs out front and many were empty.

A quick check on this week confirmed that the gas boom of 2013 was well and truly over by 2017. One of those Executive homes that had sold for $500,000 in 2013 is now valued at $300,000, while another that sold the same year for $400,000, has since sold for just $180,000. While this is my personal observation and as such hearsay, it’s backed up by the facts within the 2017 Annual Report on Chinchilla, by the University of Qld Centre for Coal Seam Gas. Crime rates up. Unemployment up. Businesses closed.

As I said before, Gas is like a horror story that just keeps on giving. No community should be forced to endure a gasfield being forced on them when renewables provide a workable solution. Over the border another battle was underway in the Northern Rivers region. Blockades had become regular events as gas company Metgasco attempted to exercise its right to explore for gas and establish a Gasfield there.

In 2014 the people of the Northern Rivers fought and won their gas field battle against Metgasco. The Bentley blockade must be one of the most inspirational stories and examples of the success of People Power in action around the planet. Metgasco and the NSW govt saw the beautiful scenery and fertile lands of the Northern Rivers as a prime location for a gas field… but they didn’t plan for the reaction of the people.

The community of Lismore and surrounds felt so strongly about protecting the region and keeping it gasfield free, that when teams of Police were to be brought in to break up the Bentley blockade, the motel owners and caterers of Lismore refused to rent them out their rooms, or to even cater for them if camped at the local show grounds. It was brilliant!

Every morning at dawn a smoking ceremony was held at the site of the blockade and cars would stream in carrying locals each and every day to attend and bolster numbers at the well established protest camp. One day there were 7000 people at the dawn ceremony! 7000 normal citizens had risen before dawn, standing up and bearing witness for community and environment! And it worked… in the end the NSW govt bought the lease back from Metgasco and the will and power of the people prevailed once again.

Communities standing together. People Power. That’s the way to do it!

In conclusion I have to say that standing here and looking out at you all I feel an over riding sense of hope. Our generation and those before us have created this crisis. A crisis that began way back in the Industrial Revolution, with greed being the driving force and nature being considered less important than wealth.

Your generation have inherited the crisis, but I have a deep feeling of confidence that you will be the generation that finally finds solutions, because in reality you’re the first generation that sees through the myths that have been perpetuated by our leaders for centuries, in order to retain power at all costs.

Don’t allow the wool to cover your eyes in blind belief that the govt knows best. We did. For a time at least. You question. You unearth fact. You listen to science and you’re prepared to take action and no longer be led along by the nose. You are unique as a generation because you’re prepared to stand up, to gather together peacefully, organised and in great numbers, prepared to question and defy the old framework of authority if necessary.

You are told that you should stay in school and not rally, because it serves them better if you are all good little children and you stay in school and keep quiet! They fear changing attitudes and see you as a threat to their comfortable status quo, rather than being progressive and prepared to take actions to instigate major change.
By example Greta has clearly shown the power of youth and the old guard just do not like it!

And so I see great hope and great leaders before me, and people power… people power can move mountains and that is a fact plain and simple! Continue to speak up. Continue to stand peacefully shoulder to shoulder. Be creative with your activism. Remember you are aiming to attract media attention to peacefully get your message across to our leaders, and to educate the deniers and fence sitters, to make them sit up and take notice. The more creative you are the better a story you present, to entice the media to give you coverage, and be heard.

Add a little humour, try a little craftivism, but always remember to keep it fluffy!

Feature image by Nanna Lee

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