On Sunday 23rd November the small town of Birregurra held a declaration ceremony in the community park. Local residents gathered round the rotunda and under the trees sitting on hay bales and the grass on a glorious sunny day in a delightful, historic town. Four Melbournites were privileged to be part of the ceremony and among the onlookers. It was an opportunity to celebrate, and get a sense of the character of the town by chatting with locals and farmers. We met Heather, who ran the post office and spread the news about the surveying process from there; Debbie the Lock the Gate organiser; Sue and John, a local alpaca farmer and shearer; Judy who baked the Lock the Gate cake; Leisa who started it all with a Lock the Gate film night and many other locals. The event showcased the strength and determination of a small community in the face of a Victoria-wide threat from onshore gas extraction.
Birregurra is seated at the foothills of the Otway ranges and boasts a range of industries reliant on the bountiful soils of the area. These include beef, lamb and certified grass seed. There are also many alpaca farms and the historic property of Tarndwarncoort where the Polwarth, the first Australian breed of sheep, was developed in 1880. The sheep were named after the local electorate.
With so much to offer, the state has a great deal to lose if any part of this beautiful region is subjected to unconventional gas exploration and mining. It is no wonder that the small community has been so active and that 95% of those surveyed from Warncoort and Birregurra declared the area coal and gas field free. The ceremony commenced with a speech by the hardworking Debbie, followed by Farmer Brian, then Eloise, intern to Western Vic Lock the Gate coordinator Chloe Aldenhoven. All expressed concern for the losses that unconventional gas mining could bring to the area, and optimism arising from the strength of the community in their determination to defeat an industry that would destroy all that makes Birregurra, Warncoort and surrounds a wonderful and varied, thriving region.
By Catherine Hearse