Heather Saville, New South Wales Regional Meeting
Knitting Nannas Against Gas (KNAG) was established in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales in June 2012, in response to a growing awareness of the exploration for unconventionally mined gas in our prime agricultural land. We have grown out of the Stop Coal Seam Gas movement and have strong links with the Lock the Gate Alliance (more of that later).
As our website says, “we peacefully and productively protest against the destruction of our land, air, and water by corporations and/or individuals who seek profit and personal gain from the short-sighted and greedy plunder of our natural resources. We support energy generation from renewable sources, and sustainable use of our other natural resources. We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities.”
KNAG aims to bring attention to the environmental damage associated with CSG extraction, to raise awareness of the dangers of such mining to individuals’ health and our drinking water, to gain media attention using direct non-violent action and humour, and to increase support for ending Coal Seam Gas mining.
To do this we employ a variety of tactics from sitting on the pavement outside politicians’ offices (having, of course, notified both the politician and the local media in advance), to seeking support for petitions to State Parliament, and attending protests and blockades. Regular protests include knitting outside the offices of AGL and other gas companies to lobby staff, shareholders and others passing by. Recently nannas from all over New South Wales were part of a large demonstration at the AGM of AGL in Martin Place in Sydney.
We aim to make protests and blockades safe, to support people asserting their right to protest. We want to make sure that our servants, the politicians, represent our democratic wishes and know they are accountable – to us. We are very happy to remind them of this – often. We represent many who cannot make it out to protests – the elderly, the ill, the infirm, people with young children and workers.
We usually knit in yellow and black to identify with “Lock the Gate” triangles mounted at the entrance to many properties. Lock the Gate Alliance aims to make very clear that its members do not want mining on or under their land and will peacefully prevent it happening.
KNAG draws on a long history of knitting used as a tool for non-violent political activism, though we view our knitting skills as less important than the act of bearing witness while we knit. Our knitting choices range from functional items for sale to more symbolic objects, including long lengths of knitting, which are thrown over fences and gates in danger from drill rigs, and cushions for those who have locked themselves onto barriers.
There are now local KNAG groups in many places around the country, each employing their own methods of gaining support for the aims of KNAG. In the Illawarra, which is my local group, we have been the mainstay of the Stop CSG stall in the regular Friday Wollongong Markets. The stall has sought to raise public awareness of the dangers of CSG mining generally, and especially in the drinking water catchment areas. The Illawarra Stop CSG movement arose in 2011 when it became clear that there were 16 exploration licences on the geologically unstable escarpment above the city. Our emphasis at the stall has been to garner support for petitions that can then be presented at State Parliament, thus generating debate about the whole question of CSG mining and the risks it poses to agricultural land and drinking water catchment areas.
In the lead-up to both the 2015 state election and the July federal election the Illawarra KNAGS visited the offices of many candidates (both sitting members and others) and put to them three questions:
- Do you support a ban on coal seam gas mining in the drinking water catchment?
- Will you vote for legislation for a permanent ban on coal seam gas mining in the drinking water catchment?
- Will you move legislation for a permanent ban on coal seam gas mining in the drinking water catchment?
A fourth question is now being asked, following the Victorian Government announcement prohibiting CSG exploration and mining in that state: “Would you support a ban on unconventional gas development in NSW similar to the one announced in Victoria?”
When KNAGS began in 2012, around 65% of New South Wales was covered by exploration licences. Exploration licences, it should be understood, are not authority to go ahead and mine. They are issued for a set time period during which exploration is supposed to be undertaken, to determine whether a follow-up application to proceed with mining will be sought. These exploration licences had been granted by both Labor and Coalition state governments over decades, sometimes to small and little-known companies. The actual extraction licences are then taken over by larger well-recognised companies. This system has sometimes meant that landholders have given permission for entry to their land, or worse, sold their property, without fully realising the use to which it was going to be put.
The Stop CSG movement, which of course includes the Knitting Nannas, has undertaken a wide range of activities designed to bring the dangers of CSG mining to the attention of the public. The movement’s efforts contributed in large part to the huge swings against Coalition politicians in northern NSW in the March 2015 election – over 27% in one seat and 30% in another. One of these was won by the Greens, in an electorate that had been held by the National Party for decades.
Mining companies’ tendency to be somewhat “economical with the truth” regarding their activities has contributed to the change in public opinion. One example of this late last year was in the Gloucester area, where a mining licence had been issued and extraction had commenced. The wastewater from the extraction process – known as fracking – contains huge quantities of toxic chemicals. This was illegally dumped into the Hunter Valley water supply, with the dumping being recorded by local activists. Mining has now ceased in the Gloucester area.
Following the March 2015 New South Wales election, the Coalition government assessed the political risks and came to the conclusion that exploration licences should no longer be allowed in drinking water catchments and prime agricultural land. As a result, most of the then-existing licences were cancelled, reducing the proportion of NSW covered by such licences to 9%. However, this apparent success may well be temporary, as without legislation there is nothing to prevent future governments or future ministers from reinstating or issuing new licences.
Until recently the various protests, (including blockades) have been treated fairly leniently by the NSW government and the courts. However, that seems to be changing. At the end of October, legislation was enacted designed, in its own words, to crack down on “interference with mining and other businesses or undertakings”. This follows similar legislation passed in the Tasmanian parliament to be used against anti-logging protestors.
While this new law is clearly intended to enable mining to proceed unimpeded by troublesome radicals trying to preserve the country for future generations, KNAGS believe that the cause is worth defending.
Amongst our members are musicians, including some splendid ukele players. They have reworked the words of that feminist anthem of the 1970s “I am woman”, which could be viewed as our response to this law.
WE ARE NANNAS
sung to I am Woman… Helen Reddy
We are Nannas hear us roar, in numbers too big to ignore,
And we know too much to go back and pretend.
We’ve heard it all before and you just keep destroying more
No one’s ever gonna keep us down again.
Oh yes we are wise but it’s wisdom born of pain,
The planet’s paid the price, the exploiters only gain
If we have to, we will do anything, we are strong.. strong
We are invincible, invincible, we are NANNAS!
You can arrest us but never break us
‘cos it only serves to make us..
More determined to achieve our final goal
And we’ll come back even stronger, not novices any longer
Cause you’ve deepened the conviction of our soul.
We are Nannas watch us grow, see us standing toe to toe
As we spread our lovin’ arms across the land.
But we’re still an embryo, with a long, long way to go
To make those politicians understand.
Go the Nannas!