Stand with Gomeroi’ campaign wins NSW Environment Award

The IEU was proud to stand with the Gomeroi people and other unions to receive an award for the campaign to protect the Pilliga forest from a major gas development.

The 2024 NSW Environment Awards, awarded by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, held on Wednesday 17 March, celebrated the achievements of grassroots environmentalists and community groups across the state.

With broadcaster, author, journalist and stage performer Wendy Harmer as MC for the evening, there were laughs aplenty as award winners were announced and their tireless work protecting the environment acknowledged.

The Unions NSW Pilliga Campaign Committee was listed among the finalists for the Jack Mundey Award, which recognises collaboration between the environment and trade union movements. The campaign has stood with Gomeroi leaders to protect the Pilliga Forest on the NSW north-west slopes from a proposed coal seam gas project by energy giant Santos.

The Pilliga campaign was nominated alongside the Hunter Jobs Alliance, Janine Kitson and Frontyard Films.

With delivery akin to a Hollywood Oscar presentation, Harmer made the announcement: “And the winner is … Unions NSW Pilliga Campaign Committee!”

Cheers erupted from unionists in the audience as committee members took to the stage (pictured above). “Why do we love this campaign so much?” Harmer asked. “Because it brings together the unions, the Gomeroi people, environment groups and the Country Women’s Association in an alliance against a proposed coal seam gas project.”

Gomeroi Elder Raymond Weatherall accepted the award. He thanked all who had been involved and explained how the union movement came to stand with the Gomeroi people.

“I live on Country and the campaign seemed to be going nowhere, we needed more numbers, so I had a few yarns with the union – they wanted to come up to the Pilliga,” Weatherall said.

“I acknowledge Gomeroi leader Suellyn Tighe who’s not here tonight. Suellyn and I knew that if we took people out there that they would see the beauty that we see as Gomeroi every single day. After a couple of trips, Gomeroi gets into the spirit of you,” Raymond said. “My grandchildren, their grandchildren and their grandchildren to come will benefit from what we do today, tomorrow and the next day.”

Unions NSW Assistant Seceretary Vanessa Seagrove acknowledged the work the Gomeroi people have done to save the Pilliga and other spaces over thousands of years.

Seagrove explained that when the Maritime Union of Australia brought the campaign idea to Unions NSW she knew it was union business to protect the Pilliga, and support the Gomeroi people and their rights to protect the land.

“I just really want to thank all the unions involved for their support, and Jack Mundey, we love you!” Seagrove said.

The late Jack Mundey (1929-2020) led the Builders’ Labourers Federation in the 1970s with their ground-breaking “green bans” that saved parts of the Rocks, Woolloomooloo, Centennial Parklands and the State Theatre (among many other sites) from the bulldozers.

The collaboration between unionists, the Gomeroi people, environment groups and community organisations in protecting the Pilliga has been historic and offers inspiration to many.

“The IEU is proud to have been part of the campaign from the outset,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Deputy Secretary David Towson. “We’ve been part of a number of trips to the Pilliga, seeing firsthand the importance of standing with the Gomeroi people to protect the forest ecosystem and the Great Artesian Basin.”

The IEU congratulates all Environment Award nominees and everyone involved in the Unions NSW Campaign Committeeand commits to standing with the Gomeroi people to protectthe Pilliga.

Katie Camarena