Musician gives voice to the Bentley Blockade

20 August 2014
People Power: Dallas James fights for his environment at Gigs Not Rigs event after the Bentley Blockade. Image: Ingrid Pullen
People Power: Dallas James fights for his environment at Gigs Not Rigs event after the Bentley Blockade. Image: Ingrid Pullen

Auburn pink flushed the sun-setting sky, as tall winter trees added a darkly ominous atmosphere to the spacious beauty of the land.

Many desire the life of hustle and bustle but without a doubt the true paradise lives beyond the narrow winding roads and gullies in the hills between Byron Bay and Lismore.

Here a small red cedar cabin stands amongst a cluster of trees, the only sign of civilisation, and in contrast with the vast landscape of the blue hills and green foliage.

This is where musician Dallas James and his family call home.

Earlier this year, Dallas had traded this life of simplicity and busking in Byron Bay for the blinding lights on the urban and brash stage of The Voice Australia.

Dallas used The Voice to establish his name on a national stage and through the process used the profile he gained on The Voice as a platform to protest against coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the Northern Rivers.

Dallas was encouraged throughout his journey on The Voice by other contestants to spread the importance of this issue.

Three years before Dallas and his wife Ingrid had sat watching a documentary on fracking, called Gasland.

“I watched it and immediately felt sick, but I thought it would never happen to me,” says Dallas.

A year later it did.

After investigating the coal seam gas issue, Dallas realised that Petroleum Exploration Licences (PEL) had been granted for the Northern Rivers and were expected to sacrifice the land he has lived on for the last six years.

Dallas was horrified at what he saw happening and couldn’t believe his water and the land would be sacrificed.

Behind the cabin lay an emerald green creek, its liquid murmur nurturing a drought affected land. This beautiful farmland and rainforest is what Dallas and other anti-CSG protesters aim to save.

Chemical fracturing, or 'fracking', is an extraction technique used to increase the flow of gas to a well or bore. This procedure causes fractures in the rock and allows the gas to be extracted.

But the controversy behind this process is the effect it has upon the environment. Communities are concerned that carcinogenic chemicals used in fracking can contaminate underground water and pollute water supplies that are used by many, including the river used for drinking and swimming by Dallas and his family.

And CSG mining was progressively moving into the Northern Rivers and the most active company was Metgasco.

“Fuck you," said Dallas.

“You [Metgasco] are not going to come here and poison my water.”

Dallas sat, with his feet up on the table, herbal honey tea in one hand, honey soy chips in the other, while dinner cooked in the oven. While he spoke the words of frustration and anger, he maintained a peaceful demeanour.

“I’m going to fight, however way I can, because this is injustice,” he said.

“I was approaching this as a fight, the innate feeling as a male to fight for what affects me.”

Dallas isn’t the only person who feels this urge to fight.

Many members of the Northern Rivers community feel strongly about the environment and that is why anti-CSG non-violent protests such as The Bentley Blockade, the anti-CSG street march that attracted 7,000 people to march through Lismore, and Lock the Gate campaigns have been created.

Their primary aim is to halt CSG miners including Metgasco and other mining companies in their endeavours to extract coal seam gas from valuable farmland and the floodplains.

So when Metgasco announced it would begin drilling on a farm at Bentley, a small village less than 15km from Lismore, the fight was on.

In February, a protest camp was established on farmland neighbouring the planned gas well and the Bentley Blockade was born. By early May, between 3000 to 5000 people would regularly come to blockade the farm gates at dawn, prepared to stop any drill rig from entering the proposed drill site.

Dallas first heard about the Bentley Blockade through mutual friends and social media and he felt a strong urge to do more than protest at Bentley.

So he decided to use the premiere of the 2014 The Voice Australia as an opportunity to create awareness at a national level.

On the night his audition was set to air, Dallas changed his profile picture which explained his willingness to be arrested at Bentley and dragged away from his family in order to protect the environment.  

 

Dallas’ popularity exploded with the airing of his audition and as a result an increase of awareness of the Bentley Blockade occurred.

During his audition though, his wife Ingrid was filmed breastfeeding their son Tashi, and although she was told it would not be aired, it was.

Then KllS FM announcers Kyle Sandilands and Jackie-O responded sensationally to Ingrid breastfeeding. 

All eyes turned to Ingrid and overshadowed Dallas’ advocacy for the Bentley Blockade. But this didn’t crush his spirits, nor did it deter him from continuing to spread his message. 

“Both issues are important but I feel this issue [anti-CSG protesting] is urgent,” said Dallas

And although industry veteran Doug Williams eliminated Dallas from the show in the battle rounds of The Voice, this was just the beginning of Dallas’ public campaign.

From there, Dallas decided to create a music event to gain support for the Bentley Blockade.

He soon realised, in order for such ideas to be effective, “people involved must join forces” and collaborate on an event which served a purpose.

This is when Dallas’ involvement with the Gigs Not Rigs events developed.

The Gigs Not Rigs events are positive community events created by Laura Targett and Yollana Shore, to advocate and raise awareness and funds for communities who aim to stop unconventional gas mining in Australia.

Five Gigs Not Rigs events were held at Bentley from April 13 to May 16. 

“I wasn’t the main organiser but instead advocated through the use of my music,” said Dallas.

“Music is like a diary, instead of writing in a diary, I write a song,

The final Gigs Not Rigs concert was held at Bentley Hall on May 16, the day after Metgasco mining license was unexpectedly suspended by the NSW government.

Dallas was joined by speakers and musicians such as Luka Lesson, The Badlands, Murray Kyle, The Link, Loa, Kodi Twiner and Filthy fingers, Chad Wilkins, Arte Gitana, Mana Aloha and Lock the Gate Alliance’s Ian Gaillard.

Dallas said the vibe was indescribable, something you had to experience for yourself.

“It was unprecedented, something spectacular,” he said.

Events such as these played a crucial part in the community support of the Bentley Blockade.

“We may not have as much money as Metgasco but we have music, we have fans and we have influence.”

Currently Metgasco is attempting to gain a settlement agreement with the NSW government as the mining company claims it would be hit with a large expense if it walked away from PEL-16.

Adam Guise, Lismore’s Greens candidate for the  2015 NSW state election and Regional Coordinator for Lock the Gate, said The Bentley Blockade and Gigs Not Rigs were “a great example of community uniting to protect land and water ways” within the region they love.

“Protest has been a vital part of history and continues to address out-of-date laws which the community want governments to change,” said Adam.

“Protests aid the change of injustice.”

Community members such as Dallas and Adam advocate giving a voice to the environment and protecting it for generations to come.

“The fight is over for now and I’ll go back to living my life, but when it emerges again, which it will, I’ll be there to fight again,” said Dallas.

The flowing river behind his home, the stretching trees, colourful sky and the animals who relish the essence of the beautiful environment is what Dallas, his family and CSG protesters want to save.

 

Dallas James Bentley Blockade

For information relating to CSG advocacy and protesting contact CSG-Free Northern Rivers.