Coonamble is on the border of Wailwan and Gomeroi Country. It is one of 120 towns in Australia that rely on the Great Artesian Basin for drinking water, particularly in times of drought.
The Narrabri Gas Project and its pipeline has the potential to contaminate this precious water resource. Gas wells are not only drilled through the Great Artesian Basin into the coal seam below, but they are also drilled in the Pilliga Forest, one of the few areas where rainwater is known to recharge the basin.
Also, Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs – licences for exploring for coal seam gas) hang over the heads of Coonamble people and many other north western communities. NSW Independent Justin Field has tabled a Bill to extinguish these expired licences and a NSW Government inquiry has until 12 August to report on the Bill. For more info read our Zombie PELs Explainer
Consequently, 98.7% of the population in shires surrounding Narrabri, that’s 7,000 people over 3.2 million hectares, have vowed to oppose the Narrabri Gas Project and to block the pipelines, which are needed to link the project to the east coast gas network.
The Coonamble community united against the Narrabri Gas Project in 2018. They vowed to stop it and APA’s pipeline with the Coonamble Declaration. Signs on major roads around the town make their position on coal seam gas very clear.
Nanna Kathy grew up on a property on the Pilliga Road near Coonamble. Sydney Nannas and Friends spent a morning driving around her family’s property, currently owned and managed by her brother Don. He told them about life on a farm and the importance of artesian water to this area.
The water from the Great Artesian Basin is too salty for irrigation in this district, but in a drought it is lifesaving drinking water for the community and the many sheep and cattle raised here.
Don showed us the bore and how the water used to flow continually through old open bore drains, a terrible waste of a priceless resource. Diminishing bore flows were first reported in the 1890s but it took a hundred years for state governments to introduce a subsidised Cap and Pipe the Bores Program. As the name implies, bores were sealed off unless needed, preventing wastage and increasing water pressure. We saw how the water is piped to concrete tanks installed at the junction of paddocks and then directed to troughs in each paddock. We were told how bore water pressure returned on Don’s property once the cap was installed.
Even with government subsidies, farmers still had to outlay significant funds to sink, then cap and pipe their bores. Now they are worried that the Narrabri Gas Project will contaminate their water, which will reduce their stock carrying capacity and destroy the viability of their farms. This is aggravated by the uncertainty surrounding insurers covering damage from coal seam gas.
After the recent rain, the district’s farmers are busy sowing crops of wheat and barley. New sowing techniques have been introduced to minimise soil disturbance and reduce diesel consumption substantially. The tractors pulling machinery are well equipped with air-con, television, and radio, and are directed by satellite navigation. When conditions for sowing are right, they hardly stop except to fuel up or for repairs.
The good season has been followed by a mouse plague, which has decimated hay storage. Even the local shops lost stock as mice ate through packaging. Although we did see some mice, farmers are hoping a cold, wet winter will put an end to it.
Nannas drove on to the Pilliga bore bath where many indulged in a soak in the warm water of the Great Artesian Basin before a picnic lunch. This is a popular cheap camping spot for grey nomads with flash new caravans. We drove on a back road to Narrabri stopping at the CSIRO Telescopes where a visitor centre offers displays and an audio-visual presentation.