Yanaay Santos, Gamil means No!”: Against coal seam gas on Gomeroi land

Demonstrators called on Chris Minns’ Labor Government to reject Santos’ plans to develop coal seam gas extraction in north-west NSW.

Photography by John Janson-Moore

Sydney’s CBD was shut down by thousands of demonstrators who marched from Circular Quay to NSW Parliament House, demanding a halt to Santos’ fracking in the Pilliga Forest and surrounding Gomeroi lands in north-west NSW.

Macquarie Street outside NSW Parliament was completely blocked by up to 3000 farmers, unionists, students, and climate activists protesting the Narrabri Gas Project — which aims to fulfil as much as 50% of NSW’s gas demand by 2025.

The demonstration saw contingents from Unions NSW, Lock the Gate Alliance, NSW Farmers, the Country Women’s Association, University of Sydney students, and the Gomeroi community converge on Macquarie Street.

Demonstrators called on Chris Minns’ Labor Government to reject Santos’ plans to develop coal seam gas extraction in north-west NSW, a proposal which is supported by both the NSW Liberals and Labor. The rally’s key concerns were around the project’s implications for the sovereignty of the Gamilaraay community, and its impact on groundwater purity.

After rallying at Customs House, to receive a Welcome to Country from Gadigal Elder and daughter of First Nations activist Charles “Chicka” Dixon, Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, the march stopped at Santos’ headquarters to deliver a letter of protest. Outside the company’s Bligh Street offices, protestors and members of the public were united under chants of “yanaay (get out) Santos!” and “gamil means no!” — calls from the Gomeroi people for an end to Santos’ destruction of sacred sites on their native title land.

Protestors were joined outside NSW Parliament by an esoteric group of politicians — Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP for Barwon Roy Butler, Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann, Legalise Cannabis Party MLC Jeremy Buckingham, and Independent MP for Wagga Wagga Joe McGirr — who spoke in opposition to the expansion of Santos’ operations in the Pilliga and north-west NSW.

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde told Honi that protestors were simply calling for the government “to act in the interests of ordinary people.”

“Santos should have been stopped in its polluting tracks long ago,” he said, “but there has been a serious failure by NSW Governments to act in the interests of ordinary people rather than the short-sighted interests of billion-dollar gas companies.”

Gamilaraay Elder and Traditional Owner Suellyn Tighe demanded that “the state and federal governments stop extraction, consumption and selling of fossil fuels and with all haste transition to green and renewable energy.”

NSW Premier Chris Minns has yet to announce whether he would greenlight a fast-tracked rollout of the project, however it was reported in March that Minns had expressed support to Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher before the 2023 state election.

Santos has defended itself against questions regarding the cultural and environmental impact of the project, claiming it was fulfilling its obligation to consult with the Gomeroi community and Traditional Owners.

“Santos has a strong track record of working collaboratively with First Nations peoples in Australia and internationally,” said a spokesperson for Santos, “the company has a range of cultural heritage and native title agreements in place with 23 Traditional Owner groups and six Local Aboriginal Land Councils around Australia.”

The rally was held on a day where NSW Rural Fire Service hazard reduction burning in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park — in preparation for what is expected to be another high-risk summer — resulted in a choking haze over Sydney which registered the fourth worst air quality of any city in the world.