Two thousand sheep have run to the top of their spelling class near Hamilton in south west Victoria – spelling out ‘BAN GAS’ – as a reminder to the Victorian Government that rural communities across Victoria oppose development of an onshore gas industry on their prime agricultural land. A group of local farmers came up with the idea over the last couple of weeks, and were able to convince the sheep to form the message across a paddock south of Hamilton.
It took about two weeks to train the sheep to follow a trail spelling out the message. There were some anxious moments co-ordinating sheep, kelpie dogs and the technology of drones and cameras to capture the moment. Footage of the event was captured on video by local environmental engineer, Heinz de Chelard, using his remotely controlled drone helicopter.
Mal Rowe, who manages the farm and the sheep, said it was always going to be a high risk activity, but worth the effort in order to encourage the state government to decide against allowing an unconventional gas industry to develop in Victoria. “The main recommendations from the recent gas inquiry in Victoria were that Victoria was no-where near ready to be able to manage such an industry,” Mr Rowe said. “The risks to the environment, to agriculture, to human health and social harmony were deemed to be too great. We want the Premier Daniel Andrews to give us certainty.”
Hamilton livestock agent, Michael Kerr, attended the event and reiterated that the south west region of Victoria, as a significant food and fibre production region, should not be put at risk. “We are one of the top wool producing areas in Australia, with West Gippsland we produce the bulk of Australia’s milk, our beef and lamb industries underpin Victoria’s economy, and high value horticulture, wine and cropping are increasingly establishing in this secure, high rainfall zone,” Mr Kerr said.
Colin and Jill Frawley, who run sheep, cropping, and grow out dairy heifers at Branxholme, are most concerned about a gas industry impacting upon Australia’s image as a clean agricultural player on the world stage. “So much of our Agricultural production is now exported to the world, and we currently have a significant competitive advantage from that clean, green image,” Mr Frawley said. “Common sense says we should do nothing to jeopardize that.”
Local farmer Aggie Stevenson is adamant that her children will grow up recognising, understanding and appreciating the unique environmental values of the region she loves. “This is a unique area,” Ms Stevenson said. “We are all connected by the ground and surface water systems, which are critical not only to agriculture, but to the sustainability of the natural environment as well.” “Not too far away we have the Discovery Bay Marine Park – a key fish and marine nursery – Long Swamp, a wetland system which is currently the subject of a Ramsar listing, and to the north are the Grampians, which are a major recharge zone for our groundwater. And just to the south of us is the Mt Eccles-Lake Condah ground-surface water complex which is currently the subject of a Natural Heritage listing application. “My children love the freedom that this beautiful region offers, and there is no way I am going to stand by and watch it become desecrated by a short term, toxic gas industry,” Ms Stevenson concluded.
The sheepish call for a gas baaaaan has seen the video go viral, capturing attention at home and overseas. We eagerly await an announcement from the Andrews government on the fate of the Victoria’s water, land and health.