Nick Hanlon had already lived several lives when she decided to take on gas miners through the power of music. The fearless promoter of the hugely successful Rock the Gate and protest camp Pop-Up concerts grew up singing and acting and, having trained as an opera soprano, won Sydney Eisteddford singing in Gaelic.
Straight out of school she worked for Greenpeace as a fundraiser and direct action operative in Europe in the 1980s. As a singer songwriter, she toured Europe and the USA for many years, solo and with a succession of bands. After criss-crossing these continents for what seemed eternity, she returned to Australia in the late 90s, where she had her own record label, a publishing deal with Shock Music and wrote songs for the high rating kids TV show ‘The Saddle Club’.
In 2007 she moved to the Northern Rivers with her then partner to have a baby and settle in what she thought was pristine country. After hearing of the impending gas invasion and its consequences she decided it was time to act.
“I have a six year old son and as a mother I want him to be able to swim in a river without getting sick, it’s as simple as that. I want him to be able to play in nature and I’ve seen with my own eyes the effects that coal seam gas has on the lives of children in Tara and I just want to protect my child from that toxic legacy.”
“If it’s allowed to continue we are all going to inevitably become sick from it because it poisons the environment all the way. If you poison the water everything is affected by it. So there would be huge health impacts on my immediate family and community if CSG came to the Northern Rivers.”
Assisted by her old friend and fellow lifelong activist Amanda Shoebridge, Nick started organising concerts – at her own expense – for the coal seam gas campaign in 2012. The first Rock the Gate concert was at Murwillumbah in October, where she prevailed upon Pete Murray, Kerrianne Cox and Blue King Brown to headline. On the strength of her reputation she also garnered video messages from celebrity supporters of the campaign such as Leo Sayer, John Butler, Bob Brown, Mick Conway and a host of others. Four thousand people attended that initial concert and the Al Jazeera network televised it to 30 million people in the Middle East.
After that Nick conceived and produced the Pop-Up concerts, which were officially private parties at blockades. This designation avoided insurance and other red-tape dramas, as well as giving the police no leeway to intervene.
“We did one at Doubtful Creek called Don’s Party, where a thousand people turned up and shortly after that Metgasco pulled out. The next one was in the gaslands of Southeast Queensland at Tara and later, frontline at Bentley blockade at the Pilliga.”
Ash Grunwald, Kevin Bennett, Diana Anaid, Kram from Spiderbait, Li’l Fi, Xavier Rudd, Andrea Soler, The Re-Mains, S Sorrenson and Alan Glover, Wolfmother’s former frontman Andrew Stockdale, Davey Bob Ramsey, members of Mental As Anything, Den Hanrahan and Connor Cleary among others were all enthusiastic performers at these geurilla publicity events. A later show at the Byron Bay Brewery raised $20,000 for the Bentley campaign.
“They’re highly professionally organised and mainstream and attract a lot of people and give support to the people on the frontline as well as engaging the media in the campaign,” Nick says. “The music media is a slightly different beast to the mainstream media, so it’s using celebrity to give some profile to the campaign.”
Renowned for her unusual but effective ideas, Nick convinced blues singer Ash Grunwald to surf the methane bubbles of the CSG-damaged Condamine River in Queensland – wearing a gas mask. Photos of that stunt went viral internationally.
“Since then Ash has surfed the coal slag of the Liverpool Plains and ‘The Surfer’ will pop up in other places as well,” Nick promises.
Nick has worked with Githabul spokesman Jarmbi Githabul and tribal elders on these awareness projects, making sure they feature prominently in the concerts, fostering the deep connection with indigenous people that has been such a vital feature of these campaigns.
“With this campaign for the first time what’s happening is the farming community and the indigenous community are beginning to have a deeper understanding of each other. The farming community is starting to identify with the grief that you find in the indigenous community from their history and they’re bonding over the heartbreak they share seeing their country destroyed.
“So that’s the silver lining of the campaign. Groups that were traditionally opposed in their political ideology are finding common ground and creating new stronger networks.”
Nick considers these new community links to be the great strength of this powerful social movement.
“Traditionally conservative farming communities are being forced into direct action in places like the Pilliga, where they’ve tried lobbying, they’ve tried taking it to the courts, all the normal processes to stop this happening to their country, and now they have no choice but to actually start locking onto machinery. It’s a corrupt system that has allowed this to go ahead. So the urgency of stopping coal seam gas is felt very deeply through the community on every level.
“I think we all feel betrayed by our own government. I haven’t met one person who thinks it’s a good idea,”
You’d be guaranteed, on the other hand, to find plenty who think that the Rock the Gate and Popup gigs are a very good idea indeed.