Just over 10 years ago, a group of farmers and environmentalists gathered in front of Queensland’s Parliament House in Brisbane to campaign against what they saw as the expansion of coal and gas development at the expense of Australian agriculture.
The protesters called themselves the Lock the Gate Alliance and said they were willing to go to jail to keep resources companies from exploring or mining on their land.
But as with any protest, they needed a centrepiece — something to gather around that would look good for the cameras.
A man in need of a gate
The day before, Darling Downs’ farmer Rob McCreath got a call from the protest’s organiser, Drew Hutton.
“Drew rang me up and said, ‘Rob have you got some rusty old gate that would look good in a picture?’,” Mr McCreath said.
“I had just the one because it wasn’t all that big, so I could fit it in the back of the ute.
“I’d sort of had it in mind to use it around the house somewhere because it’s quite a fancy old one, but I never got around to it.
“So we popped it in the back of the ute and shot down to Brisbane with it.”
‘It worked for Gandhi’
The alliance has come a long way since 2011. Lock the Gate claims it now is made up of 450 local groups with more than 120,000 members.
Mr McCreath admits that back when he was protesting in 2011, he had little idea about how much the movement would grow.
“The alliance has had a big impact, particularly in NSW, because a lot of farmers feel powerless when mining companies turn up,” he said.
“The idea being it’s non-violent, but you just refused to cooperate, so the principle was Lock the Gate to the mining and gas companies and refuse to cooperate.
“It got a lot of attention very quickly and I was on Radio National with Fran Kelly and she was asking me how many farmers were going to be taking part. I really had no idea.”
Mr McCreath believes the secret to the alliance’s success is the simplicity of the core concept.
“I’d never heard of civil disobedience before, and Drew told us about how Mahatma Gandhi had used it to protest against British occupation,” he said.
“It’s quite a simple procedure to say, ‘No, we’re not going to cooperate,’ and lock the gate.
“It worked for Gandhi. It’ll work for farmers too.”
A grand adventure
The protest came and went, but the gate stayed put, and when Mr McCreath decided to move, the gate went with him on a journey of 2,000 kilometres.
“We sold up in Queensland and bought a farm down here, so we brought it with us. There was no way I was putting this one in the clearing sale,” he said.
“There was a keeping pile and a selling pile, but this one was in the keeping pile from the start.
“I’m not sure if we’ll take it with us if we ever have to move again. It’s fairly well planted in a gate post now, and it’s doing a job.
“It’ll certainly last a very long time. It’s got a lot of steel in it, so for many hundreds of years, it’ll still be around.
“Maybe we’ll put up a sign: Here’s the gate, Lock the gate.”Internet Explorer Channel Network