Nannalution Gathers Pace: Australia's Knitting Nannas Activists and the Anti-Fracking Movement

Knitting Nannas Against Gas (KNAG), an anti-fracking group held their national gathering in the heart of Australia's Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industry where the ‘Nannas' workshopped ways of evading arrest, media strategies, avoiding defaming energy companies, lawful protest, successful campaigns, protest songs and nanna naps. MAXINE NEWLANDS joined them for the gathering
Knitting Nanna's sit and knit at blockades, outside offices of energy companies and politicians, outside parliament, at fracking sites and use knitting as a form of protest

KNAG began as an offshoot of the Australian anti-fracking movement Lock the Gate Alliance in 2012. It now has over 40 active groups (or loops as they are known), and 10 to 15 dormant ‘oops across Australia. Nanna ages ranges from 60 to over 85, and it's often the octogenarian who is first to show at any action or blockade. 

KNAG started out wanting to "twist the stereotype of older women" says co-founder, Clare Twomey. She tells the Ecologist, "We wanted something to do whilst sitting around. We thought what can we use as a cover to be sitting here in the middle of a field, and we thought why not bring our knitting with us to make it look like we're doing something". 

Knitting Nanna's sit and knit at blockades, outside offices of energy companies and politicians, outside parliament, at fracking sites and use knitting as a form of protest. Black and yellow are their trademark colours, a nod to their Lock the Gate origins. Nanna's knit anything, from berets, scarfs, handcuffs, giant bikini's with which to adorn police cars, banners, hats, and badges. And they're following a long tradition of knitting, yarn bombing, and craftivism that stretches back to the French Revolution when women would sit knitting near the guillotine in silent protest at their exclusion from the political process.  

The national gathering finished with a tour of the nearby Coal Seam Gas fields between Chinchilla and Tara.  Nannas sat with families' still living amongst the gas wells, as the relatives spoke of their desperation to leave. Surrounded by the gas fields, many former residents have already sold up to the energy companies. The vacant land left behind becomes an extension of the nearby gas fields, and those left behind continue to live amongst the gas wells and night flares. Some families are currently waiting to hear about their applications for emergency housing with the local council. 

Australia's Coal Seam Gas Industry

Australia's energy industry has been fracking coal seam gas for 20 years. Coal Seam Ga is gas trapped within rock seams and extracted with high pressure water and BTEX chemical mix.  Australia's richest veins straddle the states of Queensland and New South Wales. At the end of last year, 7,093 wells were in operation in Queensland and 238 in New South Wales. Exploration and extraction has occurred in the remote and rural areas of Victoria, the Northern Territories, and in the north of Western Australia. 

Chinchilla to Tara is an isolated rural community almost 200 miles (300 kilometres) from the state capital Brisbane. The three main towns Chinchilla, Tara and Dalby, are home to less than 20,000 people. Chinchilla recently hit the headlines when the nearby Condamine River was set alight in an anti-fracking action.

Knitting Nanna's sit and knit at blockades, outside offices of energy companies and politicians, outside parliament, at fracking sites and use knitting as a form of protest

Standing on the roadside, there's no escaping a low humming sound permeating the air.  Only the gurgles from water and gas separators breaks up the constant hum. Peeking through the bushland, you see glimpses of white pipelines, connectors, processing plants and the yellow flashing lights of the workers vehicles. In the National Park, for roughly every half a mile, an acre of forestry area has been cleared for a new fracking well.

The extracted gas is processed into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Pipelines running in 55- mile sections (90k) in case of blow out, connect the numerous processing plants with the port of Gladstone 600 miles (1000k) away. The compressed gas is then shipped out through the Great Barrier Reef. Australia has seven operating LNG developments worth nearly $80 billion that are currently running or under construction.

A Change in the Political Wind?

Australia's southern state of Victoria, this week formalised a moratorium banning all inshore fracking. Community concerns over water and health quality for those living near the gas fields superseded the economic argument. State Premier, Daniel Andrews says "The government's decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledges that the risks involved outweigh any potential benefits to Victoria."

Activists and KNAG are now hoping the newly elected Northern Territory Premier and Labor Party MP, Michael Gunner will also ban fracking. Whilst in opposition, Gunner pledged to implement a moratorium on fracking in the Northern Territory. Northern Territory is home to iconic Uluru national park, and could be the venue for the next Knitting Nanna gathering with fellow activists the Growling Grannies Against Gas.

A New Model of Protest

Australia's Knitting Nannas Against Gas have reached a crossroads. They have expanded into the UK and USA, refining and polishing their Nannalution and Nannafesto. Twomey says: "Getting the Nanna's there [UK] happened through an existing network, we made the model available and they've taken it up with their their own twist to it". The UK link came from a Nanna visiting activists at Barton Moss Blockade whilst on holiday. As Twomey says, "the Nanna presented our model to them, and they took it up and back to the UK. Later, we were able to approach the Lancashire Nanna's". The model is outwardly autonomous, with each loop a satellite around a core group organising national gatherings, workshops, and key people in the satellite groups that focus on local issues. 

The national gathering agreed to drop the AG in KNAG, to fully realise their own moto- ‘Saving the land, air and water for the kiddies'. There's already a Knitting Nanna loop protesting against logging of native forest in Toolangi, Victoria.  

Capacity building has been achieved. Some members have left still believing in the cause, but not passionately enough about the Movement; whilst others suffer burn out - they are grandmothers after all.

Funded by producing KNAG merchandise and donations, they refuse to become an organisation or take tax break donations. There's no political agenda or ambition, beyond annoying "all politicians equally" says Twomey. And she promises the Nanna activists will continue just as long as fracking permits are still being issued, and families continue to be trapped by the gas fields.

Knitting Nannas Against Gas

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Maxine Newslands is the Ecologist's Australia reporter


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