Home Institution

University of Puget Sound

Publication Date

Spring 2019

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


The Gasfield Free Northern Rivers campaign evolved into a broader social movement opposing unconventional gas extraction in the Northern Rivers, New South Wales, Australia. This movement manifested the Bentley blockade in which thousands of people collaborated to resist the invasive gas industry. This movement was successful in getting all gas exploration licenses in the region bought back by the NSW government, thus achieving the goal of keeping the Northern Rivers Gasfield Free. In this study I investigate how the GFNR campaign reached the scale of the Bentley blockade, and what aspects of this campaign and the broader movement are applicable to other social or environmental movements. I chose to investigate this question to increase the likelihood of other environmental movements attainting the same level of success.

After receiving ethics approval from the local review board, I began to conduct background research. Prior to collecting data, I conducted extensive background research on activism, social movements, social networks, sustained commitments to the environmental cause, unconventional gas extraction in Australia, and the opposition to unconventional gas in the Northern Rivers specifically. Using this knowledge, I created an interview guide and electronic survey. I interviewed 11 people involved with the GFNR campaign or the movement more broadly, each signing an informed consent form prior to the interview. Twenty-seven environmental activists in the region took my electronic survey. The interview data was coded for emergent themes that best answered my study question. The survey data was analyzed by calculating the proportions of responses and using this as supplementary data to support the emergent interview themes.

The interview and survey data indicate that the growth of this movement is attributed to personal communication and the tight focus of the GFNR campaign. There are several themes which are applicable to other movements. These include the necessity of leadership structure and the benefit of the coexistence of top-down and horizontal leadership, the contextualization of individuals’ role within the greater social movement, the power of language and framing, the importance of intergenerational involvement to sustain the movement, and the necessity to adapt and resist to social movement conditions, rather than search for the exact formula for success.

I recommend further research on how complexity theory and its application to social movements can be made accessible to leaders of a variety of campaigns and social movements, in the hopes that improving its accessibility will quicken its application and thus empower more communities.


Australian Studies | Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Law | Environmental Policy | Environmental Studies | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Politics and Social Change | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sustainability


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