Ex-NRL players join Gomeroi elder's fight to save Great Artesian Basin from Narrabri Gas Project

PRECIOUS WATER: Gomeroi elder Polly Cutmore (centre) and ex-NRL players Alfred Duncan and Matty Ryan from Moree, are fighting to stop the Narrabri Gas Project in an effort to protect the Great Artesian Basin. They are pictured at the Glenroy bore at Millie, which is just one of the many natural hot springs in the region.
PRECIOUS WATER: Gomeroi elder Polly Cutmore (centre) and ex-NRL players Alfred Duncan and Matty Ryan from Moree, are fighting to stop the Narrabri Gas Project in an effort to protect the Great Artesian Basin. They are pictured at the Glenroy bore at Millie, which is just one of the many natural hot springs in the region.

As D-Day for Santos' Narrabri Gas Project fast approaches, a Gomeroi elder is calling on all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to come together in opposition of the controversial development, to save our precious Great Artesian Basin.

Moree Aboriginal elder and Native Title Applicant for the Gomeroi Nation Polly Cutmore is hoping to bring the whole community together in her fight against coal seam gas (CSG), ahead of the Independent Planning Commission's (IPC) impending decision about the Narrabri Gas Project.

The controversial project is currently in the hands of the IPC after it was endorsed by the NSW Department of Planning last month. The IPC must make a decision on the Narrabri Gas Project by September 4, with public hearings to be held from July 20 to 24.

As one of 18 elected representatives of the Gomeroi people, Ms Cutmore has been busy consulting with people and handing out petitions across the Gomeroi Nation - including Moree, Narrabri, Wee Waa, Pilliga, Coonabarabran, Lightning Ridge, Walgett, Collarenebri, Boggabilla, Toomelah, Inverell, Tingha and even Armidale and Tamworth.

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"What I'm doing is taking a petition around asking my Gomeroi people, are they for mining?" Ms Cutmore said.

"I need to hear from them. We're going to take that to the IPC. I've handed over 50 petitions out in the community and they have filled up straight away. At this stage I've got about 200 signatures and I only just put it out. I'm also looking to put it online.

"I want to bring all of us Gomeroi people together. I do believe our people don't want mining."

Ms Cutmore is particularly frustrated with what she says has been a lack of consultation with the wider Indigenous community.

"They've mainly consulted people in Narrabri," she said.

"If they ran an information session down there for Indigenous people they can tick that off and say they've consulted Aboriginal people. It's all very tricky.

"But they didn't ask, do you want it. And the majority of people I've spoken to don't want it.

"We're the custodians. We're not signing over any Crown land. We're not giving them the Great Artesian Basin to destroy.

"They have to listen to the traditional owners."

The most concerning part of the project is the impact that CSG mining could have on the Great Artesian Basin, Ms Cutmore said.

"They say they're not fracking but one little slip and [the Great Artesian Basin] is ruined for life," she said.

"We can't afford that, not for a 20 year project.

"I'm concerned about the run-off of waste into the ground water and poisoning of our waterways. It will go into our waterways. If they frack in the Pilliga, it will ruin the whole Great Artesian Basin."

With the region boasting some of the best natural hot springs in the country, which bring visitors from far and wide, and Moree's water among the best you'll find, Ms Cutmore doesn't want to see it destroyed.

In an effort to raise awareness of the issue and bring the whole community together against the project, Ms Cutmore has enlisted the help of two ex-NRL players from Moree - Matty Ryan who played for Canterbury in the 1990s and Alfred Duncan who played for Manly in the late '90s and the Tigers in 2000.

Both are strong advocates for protecting Moree's precious water.

For Ryan in particular, the artesian water helped him recover from what everyone believed was a career-ending back injury in 1992.

"I had a bad back injury and doctors said I wouldn't play again," he explained.

"There were days I couldn't walk, I couldn't roll over, I couldn't get in and out of the car.

"I came back to Moree and soaked in the pools every day. Having the natural springs, I was walking and was able to go again."

Ryan ended up pulling on the Cantebury jersey again in 1994 and 1998, which he credits to the healing powers of the natural mineral water.

"It had a huge impact on me," he said.

"You don't realise the benefits until you've got something seriously wrong.

"Not many places have got the water we've got."

When Ms Cutmore approached Ryan about getting behind her campaign to stop the Narrabri Gas Project, he said it was a "no-brainer".

"If something happens to our water, it'll have a huge impact on us," he said.

"In some way, shape or form, we've have all benefited from the water or the tourists it brings. It has a huge impact on our community. It's been here since we were kids and we want it to be here for a long time to come.

"How many people struggle for water and we've got an abundance, and they want to jeopardise it. Why bring in an industry that could jeopardise another one?

"I know what I'd prefer - water over gas any day. You can survive without gas but you can't survive without water."

Duncan agrees.

"We grew up here and survive on this water," he said.

"I've lived in Sydney and there's different water down there. You go elsewhere and taste the water and it's not the same.

"We've got a lot of talent up here. Something's got to be in the water, in the minerals here. There's a lot of good people in this town who rely on this water."

Despite concerns of the risks of CSG development to water resources like the Great Artesian Basin, Santos is confident that the project can be developed without harming water or the environment.

"We are confident that we have relied upon the best science to confirm that the Narrabri Gas Project can be developed safely and sustainably, without harm to water resources or the environment," Santos managing director and CEO Kevin Gallagher said.

"However, a consent decision is one for an independent umpire, the IPC, and we're looking forward to its decision within the next few months."

The Narrabri Gas Project has the potential to supply enough natural gas to meet up to half of NSW's natural gas demand where more than one million family homes, 33,000 businesses and 300,000 jobs rely on natural gas as a source of energy.

Ms Cutmore would love to hear from anyone else who is interested in supporting her campaign against the project, particularly anyone who is involved with water, environment, agricultural or even mining industries.

"The more people we've got to stop this, the better off we're going to be," she said.

"We've all got to get behind it. We can't stop or we'll have nothing.

"We can't lose this."