Construction of the $19 million first stage of a water management system at Leewood, near Narrabri, Friday, May 23, 2014.
Construction of the $19 million first stage of a water management system at Leewood, near Narrabri, Friday, May 23, 2014. AAP Image - Dean Lewins

98,000 hectare Narrabri gas project draws activists together

CONCERN about the expansive coal seam gas industry attracted a crowd of more than 100 people from across Queensland and New South Wales to a quiet, community hall on a back road in the heart of the Surat Basin on Saturday night.

Activists and farmers alike met in force at Cameby Hall, a small community centre between Miles and Chinchilla.

About 120 people travelled to the hall, 22 of whom drove by bus from Narrabri, in New South Wales.

Narrabri town is home to an amateur anti-CSG movement, People for the Plains (PFTP), which aims to keep companies like Santos from operating in the Pilliga State Forest through protest and government lobbying.

However, Santos has persevered with its plans for a 98,000 hectare Narrabri Gas Project, worth more than $1.6 billion in royalty payments to the State alone, with $160 million on offer for regional programs and infrastructure.

Searching for advice from Maranoa and Western Downs farmers, who are living with the realities of CSG and coal mining, discussions flowed across hot-button issues like bore capping, the spreading of weeds and property values.

The night started off with fiery rhetoric from the southerners, PFTP advocate Wendy Craig Duncan speaking about the group's fight against their "right-wing" member for parliament, and warning that "they (CSG companies) will divide and destroy you".

"We have a Narrabri edict; don't talk about CSG after lunch if you want a good night's sleep," said PFTP president Hugh Barrett.

Despite the federal Maranoa electorate being the most "right-wing" in Australia according to the ABC, there were farmers, like Guluguba's Dale Stiller, willing to share their experiences the hall.

He urged those concerned not to let political pressure interfere with their lives, and keep the negotiations focused on the health of their farm.

Others like Cameby landholder David McCabe advocated keeping extensive records of any dealings with a large company and battling where necessary, as he had done for nearly a decade.

Notable names from the blocks near Chinchilla included protesters Dayne Pratzky and Brian Monk.

Mr Pratzky has been involved in multiple protests, including an anti-CSG concert, and controversially blocking a QGC vehicle in October, 2013.

Mr Monk on the other hand is best known for the online footage of him setting his bore alight in 2012.

Much of the Surat Basin sits across "melon hole country" - a series of basins which honeycomb the ground and retain water, making drilling or fracking a genuine concern for farmers across the region.

Wallumbilla graziers Joanne and Greg Vine also raised the issue of stock safety under a corporate-leased property, and farm sustainability under such conditions.

With grievances in the open, the discussions ended amicably with a focus on the individual's right to negotiate for what they thought was fair.

The celebration of Columboola local Joe Hill's 71st birthday marked the end of the meeting.

The PFTP and Lock the Gate film crews moved on the following day, seeking to rally support for their fight in NSW in northern Queensland.



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