Fears turn to cheers as Bentley gas protest gets joyful news

The people at the Bentley protest camp had been bracing for a showdown with police. But singing, cheers and group hugs broke out on Thursday as hundreds celebrated the suspension of gas drilling on the site.

''It's only one well, but the ripples will spread around Australia and the world,'' said protester Nan Nicholson, a 61-year-old botanist and member of the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers group.

''My message is always take part. You'll never regret it.''

Lisa Alexander, 57, a youth worker from Dunoon, has been a regular at the camp, sleeping in her car on-site in case the police arrived.

''I'm ecstatic, euphoric, relieved and surprised,'' she said. ''This is a great example to humanity.''

Drummers and guitarists led singalongs of We Shall Not Be Moved and Pharrell Williams's hit, Happy, as young and old, farmers, hippies and grandmothers enjoyed the victory.

Ms Nicholson says she got an early-morning phone call from the Sydney delegation relaying the good news.

''About 30 of us were round the campfire doing our dawn ceremony,'' she said. ''My phone rang, which was embarrassing. Then I put it on speaker-phone. There was an eruption of shouting, laughing and disbelief. It was magic.''

Eshua Bolton, a 39-year-old ''protector'', and his partner, Bec King, 32, gave up a holiday around Australia to spend the past six weeks at the camp. They had been ready to chain themselves to in-ground installations should the police arrive.

''We were willing to put our bodies on the line,'' he said. ''Now we want to spread the Bentley effect.''

The three-year campaign to halt the Metgasco drilling project borrowed methods deployed by the Rural Fire Service, such as the use of texts - at $200 a pop - to inform and activate more than 3000 people, said Aidan Ricketts, of Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.

Areas concerned about gas drilling were ready to help each other as they would in a bushfire, Mr Ricketts said: ''Every community's watching its own patch but everyone's ready to fight the fire at another location if there's a threat.''

Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, were used to get the word out and co-ordinate teams in tasks such as media work, running the camp, and direct action such as blocking machinery.

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