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Jenny Leunig’s Mural

May 23, 2015

Jenny Leunig’s Mural

In 2012 Lismore grandma Jenny Leunig hit the roof over Coal Seam Gas (CSG). Literally. The retired public servant commissioned a local artist to paint a six-by-four metre canvas for her roof after she attended a public meeting on coal seam gas mining in the Northern Rivers.

“I came home thinking, what can an old Nanoo do to help fight this filthy CSG industry, and it brought back a story that I was told over 40 years ago. The local indigenous story of the Sleeping Warrior of the Nightcap Range who still lies in watch over the village of Nimbin,” she said.

Originally the words at the top of the mural said, ‘No to CSG. Yes to Clean Water’.  But after Lismore residents voted in a referendum in September 2012 she changed it to ‘87% Voted No to CSG’. The mayor of Lismore congratulated her in a Facebook post. Lismore’s daily newspaper ran a story and faster than methane leaking from a gas well the banner became a local icon.

The mural was Jenny’s first ever step into activism. Soon after she became a Knitting Nanna against Gas (KNAG), joining other grandmas with their balls of black and yellow wall to sit and knit in peaceful, productive protest against unconventional gas mining. ‘We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against those who try to rape our land and divide our communities’, reads the KNAG’s “Nannafesto”. Their peaceful protest aims to show “just how far from radical” the people who oppose mining are.

Then in December 2014 Jenny had a call from her landlord. Two National party city councillors had complained about the mural. She was told that if the banner wasn’t removed within two weeks, the council would fine her landlord $750 fine for unlawful advertising.

Jenny phoned her landlord and asked if he would let her sort things out. Jenny phoned the Lismore Council who gave a two week extension on their demand. They sent a case-worker to her home to have a look. She was asked again to take it down.  ‘No’, said Jenny.

Jenny wrote to the council and in this written submission argued that the mural was a piece of art. In more than two years there had not been a single complaint.  She defended the mural explaining how the words “87% Say No to CSG” had been used on council signage across Lismore.

The council staff decided it was not a matter for them and referred it to a council meeting. The local television station ran a story  called, ‘The Question of Art’. Byron News ran a story with the headline, ‘Iconic Anti-CSG Mural Under Threat’. ABC ran a story.

The Northern Star publishes a photo worthy of Tracey Moffat, silhouetting the everyday characters of grandma and granddaughter and a white picket fence with the roof-artwork behind framed against curtain of dark trees and deep blue sky. On Facebook, Gasfield Free Northern Rivers posts a message of support: ‘We all hope Jenny Leunig does not have to take down her famous rooftop mural in Lismore because of state planning laws. We love it…and Jenny.’

Jenny Leunig Photo in Northern Star

As the Council meeting day approaches local networks get busy on social media and public websites circulating the details. On the day of the meeting Jenny tells her Facebook friends, “I think I’m ready, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got it down to 5 minutes, unless I get a tummy upset or start (hysterical) laughing. No heckling whilst I’m talking tonight people cos time is precious.”  It has been a challenge to  get her all words into the five time allocation. “I was worried if people heckled I wouldn’t get time to say it all,” she said.

The council chambers are full for the meeting. Jenny argues her case and against any penalties: “I would like to state there’s not much point in fining me because I am an aged pensioner paying rent … and I’ve spent most of my daughter’s inheritance on fighting the gas exploration industry. You can’t get blood out of a stone.”

A motion is moved that the Council takes no further compliance or enforcement action in relation to the CSG-artwork in its present form.  It’s moved that further investigation is an inappropriate allocation and focus for Council resources.  Seven councillors vote aye. Three councillors vote nay.

At the conclusion Jenny leaped up and planted a big kiss on the bald head of the councillor who put in the complaint. She thanked him for the publicity. In a follow up letter to Jenny the Council requested that one day the mural be donated to the local library or art gallery.

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