David Chadwick, a businessman and farmer from Coonamble, advised Hunter landholders that they have no option but to develop a strong and simple ‘piss-off policy’ to stop a gas pipeline being buried on their land.
Despite unprecedented opposition from scientists, the agricultural industry, environmentalists and Traditional Owners, the Narrabri Gas Project was approved in 2020. One of the conditions of the approval is that a pipeline is built to transport the gas to the east coast market. The approval came in spite of a long campaign of letter and submission writing, inquiries and meetings with ministers and officials in Sydney and Canberra..
For David and other farmers the risk to water security by an industry that will last 10 to 15 years is simply unacceptable.
David advised landholders at a community meeting at Elderslie Hall to lock their gates, get the appropriate signs and adopt the ‘piss-off policy’ when confronted with contractors wanting access to their land to conduct a survey for the Hunter Gas Pipeline. He went on to explain how the Western Slope Pipeline was stopped.
Stopping a pipeline
A meeting in Coonamble during the summer harvest of 2017 attracted over 400 people from along the Western Slopes Pipeline route. They agreed upon the Coonamble Declaration to reject the Santos’ Narrabri Gas project, block APA’s pipeline and to not attend one on one meetings with either company.
Several farmers around Coonamble had discovered cut fences and land disturbances on their properties. One farmer had found carrots bought from a supermarket and hay from an unknown source left on his property by contractors employed to do ecological studies. These signs of trespass and disregard for biosecurity were common and infuriating to landowners so a Whats App group was formed.
One day a mother driving along a dirt road on a school run noticed three strange cars and lots of people walking onto a property. She notified the Whats App group and within 20 minutes 71 people had arrived and the contractors cars were boxed in. The people on the property were doing an ecological study.
The farmers took photos and herded the surveyors out of the paddock to where their supervisors had remained outside the fence. Police were called because they were trespassing. The contractors said they had a court order to go onto the property but did not have it with them. They were able to convinced the locals to not press charges and as the trespassers were young people just out of university and some were upset, they didn’t.
Locals followed the contractors’ vehicles to where they were staying at a nearby town and they were tailed the next day. Wherever they went locals turned up to check what they were doing and to support their friends. Unknown to the contractors David and his sons were tag teaming in their planes, tracking them from the air. The contractors went to the police and accused the community of intimidation. No action was taken but the contactors soon left and did not return.
It’s contractors who are intimidating, especially in remote areas and if people are on their own. The community coming together and offering support to the affected landholders was critical.
Of the 336 landholders impacted by the Hunter Gas Pipeline only 29 people are known to have signed agreements. Some of these agreements have lapsed, been withdrawn or rescinded.
Mining companies are notorious for dividing communities and will find vulnerable people and pit neighbour against neighbour. The contractors are very convincing – that’s their job. Several charming people arrive with cake and an access agreement ready to sign.
David urged landholders not to sign anything without consulting an independent lawyer.
He advised against ostracising anyone who does sign though. The important thing is to make sure they know they have a right to rescind the agreement.
David talked about the blatant lies Santos told his community, including
- The location of the Great Artesian Basin
- That cattle could drink the salty waste water from the mines
- That Santos could minimise fire risks by remotely shutting gas production down. In reality their practice is to close the forest.
David paid tribute to Anne Kennedy who hounded him to become involved and to lawyer Marylou Potts who has given good advice to many farmers.