ABOVE: Anandan McEwen up a pole at Bentley Blockade, Pic Gasfield-free
Our upcoming Brisbane ‘World Storytelling Day’ Concert on March 20, has the global theme, ‘Together We Can’. I will tell an Indian folktale that insistently called me to tell it at The Bentley Blockade. At the time, I didn’t understand why. ‘Why would I tell that story here?’ I thought. ‘How is it relevant?’ It was only on the very last day there, after we knew we’d won, that it dawned on me how utterly perfect the story was.
I had offered to tell a story, but the organisers didn’t know me and wouldn’t let me tell. (They had to guard the mic against some who would rant.) It took some time for the word to filter through that I was to be trusted, but by then, we had won. In the end, I did get to tell a story there, just not in the way I expected.
I’ll give you some context, then links to the telling.
THE BENTLEY BLOCKADE
The Bentley Blockade was a massive, community lead campaign near Lismore, to stop an unconventional gas mine near Lismore. It was an exhilarating, joyous, life-affirming campaign. The organisers, some of whom were a part of the famous Terania Creek campaign, skilfully and inclusively built alliances and community, trained hundreds of people in non-violent direct action and communication, elegantly and equitably navigated conflict and tensions, and ran an extremely intelligent and strategic, non-violent resistance. Because a politician called us ‘extremists’, we called ourselves Protectors, instead of protestors. Just one consonant different, but a very different connotation. The power of words!
Experienced environmental campaigners worked alongside National party members. People of all professions, not only supported the campaign, but attended the many events, celebrations, trainings and actions held there. Local farmer, Anne Thompson, who had been a life long member of the National Party, learned about what was proposed at Bentley and not only locked on, but became a Knitting Nana Against Gas (a KNAG). 🙂 She also swapped her allegiance to The Greens. She told me the first time she ever camped was at Bentley!
However, it was also tense and scary at times.One day towards the end, we got news that 800 police were due to arrive to disperse us in an action code-named ‘Operation Stapler.’ Some of those police were Riot Squad. I am not an especially brave person. I wasn’t chained to the drill site, as many brave people of all genders and ages. We waited expectantly, nervously. Reports of police behaviour toward non-violent female elders of the Knitting Nana’s at the more isolated site Glenugie, had been disturbing. We braced ourselves that morning, but the buses of police never arrived.
Not long after came the joyful news that our community-lead, people powered movement had won against a giant mining corporation and the NSW state government. I attended the last dawn service, which was a mix of intense jubilation, but also some melancholy. Many had camped onsite for most of that time, cooking and eating together, singing around the campfire, working hard on the campaign and navigating inevitable disputes. We had formed a community over those many months, shared a lot together and had fun. I was working a casual teacher, so I could only pop in to the Dawn Services or weekend workshops and camped a few nights there, but I felt the loss too. Afterwards, I joined my friend and labyrinth collaborator, Jacquelina Wills for a closing ceremony around the beautiful earth mandala she had made with friends, on the spot where the drill would have penetrated.
A STORY CALLS
Finally in this small gathering, after we had finished the healing ceremony, we just stood in circle holding hands. ** No-one wanted to go.
Suddenly, an understanding of how the story was relevant to what we’d all experienced at Bentley arose in me, so spontaneously I asked, ‘Would you like a story?’
There was general enthusiastic ‘Yes!’.
Once uncorked, the story came gushing out of me, like a puppy off it’s leash, without pauses! I don’t usually tell it THAT fast! I hadn’t anticipated telling it, so I wasn’t rehearsed and hadn’t told it in some time. Though I didn’t deliver the tale in a polished way, it was one of the richest telling experiences in my life! What an honour!!
Brendan Shoebridge, who lead the team who created the multiple award-winning, ‘The Bentley Effect’, happened to be there. He filmed the ceremony and my rushed telling. Watch it here. (His camera had worked so hard, it was literally falling apart and was held together with gaffer tape!)
In the video, you can watch me tell, ‘The Woman Who Would Not Tell Her Story’ * with an explanation of why the story was completely perfect for that moment and that place and all we had been through.
Listen, the story knows.
My next blog will be ‘Three Tips for Choosing a Story Soulfully.’
‘World Storytelling Day’ Brisbane Concert, March 20 EVENTBRITE BOOKING HERE.
* The story is an Indian folktale, told in different versions in different countries, I learned it from my friend and colleague, Donna Jacobs Sife. The beautiful music with hang and percussion is by Greg Sheehan from the tracks he recorded for my ‘Reaching for the Moon’ kids album.
**Standing next to me was the inspirational activist, Benny Zable, who has worn his black suit at protests all around the world and is featured in any photos of Bentley wearing it next to the white Bentley angel and the banner with a quite from David Suzuki about the sacredness of water.