2020 has been tough for nurse and activist Teresa, but fighting for her community is everything

Teresa Trindall has been fighting on two frontlines this year; keeping her patients safe from coronavirus and battling to save her Country from the Narrabri Gas Project.

Teresa Trindall

Teresa Trindall Source: SBS News

A Year Like No Other is an SBS News collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney. It features stories written by journalism students. 

When Teresa Trindall thought coronavirus had reached the small, remote town of Coonamble in north-west New South Wales earlier this year, she was terrified.

The Gamilaroi woman was on the frontline, working as a nurse at the local hospital, and is a registered Aboriginal Health Worker.  

Her niece, who lived with Teresa's elderly mother, received a false positive COVID-19 test.

Gamilaroi woman Teresa Trindall.
Source: Fleur Connick

“It was an extremely difficult period. My mum has had breast cancer, she's a bad asthmatic, she's got a pacemaker in, and she would often call me crying on the phone,” Teresa says. 

“It was a lot for me not to knock down the door and go in there. But as a nurse, obviously, I couldn't.” 

Teresa says 2020 has been an intense year, not only for her own family but for the many others she has dealt with through her work. 

“It was hard to talk to family members who couldn't come in and see their loved ones in aged care or who were dying, you know, reassuring them that their loved ones are being looked after.”

Teresa Trindall on 2020

She says she’s always done what she can for other people.  

“I think becoming a nurse, for me, it was more of a calling.” 

“It’s the little things you can do to help a person, even as simple as shaving their beard so they feel proud or presentable.”

Becoming a nurse, for me, it was more of a calling.

- Teresa Trindall 

But being a nurse wasn’t the only frontline Teresa fought on this year.

Her activism has seen her uniting members of the local Indigenous community and non-Indigenous community in an attempt to stop the Narrabri Gas Project going ahead.

In September, the NSW Independent Planning Commission granted ‘phased’ approval for the $3.6 billion coal seam gas project, with 134 strict conditions.

It also has the backing of the federal government. 

Source: Fleur Connick

“It's definitely a betrayal of all of us; the Gamilaroi nation, the farming community and the town's people,” Teresa says. “It feels like we're being sold out.”

During the pandemic, the government offered virtual community consultation on the project in lieu of in-person community meetings. But as internet services are intermittent in regional NSW, and many people in isolated communities do not have access to computers, it reduced the amount of community involvement in the final phases.  

“Big money talks and it feels like we are not being listened to out here,” Teresa says. 

Teresa says the Pilliga Forest holds significant meaning.
Source: Fleur Connick

The project received a record 23,000 public submissions to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, 98 per cent of them objections.

It will result in more than 850 gas wells over 20 years and the clearing of 95,000 hectares of surrounding farmland and sections of the nearby Pilliga Forest. 

The Pilliga is sacred for Gamilaroi people (also known as Gamilaraay/Gomeroi/Kamilaroi), and to Teresa it has always felt like home.

Teresa was born in Narrabri, about two hours from Coonamble, with the Pilliga in between. The hospital where she entered the world is right beside the Namoi River, the same river where her grandmother fished every day.

Teresa is concerned about the impact of the project on the Pilliga Forest.
Source: Fleur Connick

“The Pilliga means more to me at the moment than it ever has in the past, you know, the Dreamtime stories, which itself and the land has been taken away from us.”  

“Aboriginal people have been pushed down so low and have had so much taken away since colonisation.”

Aboriginal people have had so much taken away.

Teresa has a vision to establish programs in the Pilliga to bring together Indigenous families and teach children about Indigenous culture and the bush.

“I have an idea that getting back to basics, getting back to the bush, getting back that little bit of self-pride, self-determination and a little bit of ownership for Indigenous people on something, might empower our people to be a lot stronger.” 

Teresa outside her home in Coonamble.
Source: Fleur Connick

The forest is the vital southern recharge zone for the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), the largest groundwater basin in the world. Regional communities like Coonamble cannot rely solely on rainwater, so having access to clean bore water is crucial to surviving.

Teresa is an active member of the Great Artesian Bore Protection Group. She says consultation on the gas project was not regulated and it doesn't have the approval of the Gamilaroi people. 

She is also a prominent member of the local Aboriginal Lands Council in Coonamble and says a motion against coal seam gas mining has been passed by the community. 

The fight is not over, she says. 

Teresa is hopeful the project won't go ahead.
Source: Fleur Connick

On 14 November, approximately 200 local Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members congregated in Narrabri for the ‘Gathering for Gomeroi’ event.

“I’ve seen everyone coming together and the gas has actually united the Aboriginal community and the farming community together. 

“It doesn't matter what the history was because if we don’t all stand together now as one, none of us will be living out here and there’ll be no water.”

On 23 December, a group of farmers filed a legal challenge alleging the approval of the project did not properly consider the impacts on climate change. The NSW Independent Planning Commission has said it will not comment further than confirming it is listed before the court for March 2021. 

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said last month her approval was based on the Commonwealth's expert science committee on coal seam gas.

"I am satisfied that the conditions, and the staged nature of work in the area, will safeguard the biodiversity of the Pilliga Forest."

Fleur Connick is originally from Coonamble and is now based in Newcastle. She finished her bachelor of journalism in 2020 after being forced to move back to Australia from her exchange in Madrid due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Read all the stories in the series below:

Published 25 December 2020 at 1:50pm
By Fleur Connick