In the 1850s Australia was gripped by gold fever. When gold was found in the southern tablelands area around Braidwood, tiny villages and settlements suddenly boomed as miners, merchants and mercenaries arrived to seek their fortunes. One of these was Majors Creek, a tiny settlement tucked into mountain ranges at the head of the Araluen Valley. Like most gold towns, Majors Creek thrived for a while, but as the finds of gold dwindled so did the population. Majors Creek has a current population of around 130, boasts a pub and an annual folk festival and is surrounded by some of the most biodiverse landscape in the country. So, why am I telling you this?
Well, there is gold in them thar hills – and copper, lead and zinc, but this time it is not individual prospectors looking to make their fortunes but a large mining company which will move into this peaceful hamlet and change both the environmental and social landscapes for its own economic gain. There is nothing romantic about this sort of mining. It is full-scale industry, requiring heavy transport, earthmoving equipment that will reshape the mountains and the catchment of the Araluen, Deua and Moruya Rivers, machinery to drill and scour and shift the earth. It will place a security fence around areas now populated by farms and wildlife and the toxic waste from the mining process – innocuously called ‘tailings’ – will be pumped into dams which will poison the earth and render it incapable of supporting life for many centuries to come.
The NSW government, in its rush to secure money from the mining industry and to appear to be supporting ‘development’, is quite happy for Cortona to set up its Majors Creek operations for the Dargue’s Reef Mine. It will create 80 jobs and contribute to the economy, it says. Eighty jobs? For whom? There is no unemployment in Majors Creek. No one in town will get a job in the mine – unless they are current workers for the local council who may find themselves unemployed if the mine moves in. Cortona will bring in miners, accommodate them locally and when the mine closes down, as it will, in a few years because mineral resources are finite and mining operations only hang around while it is profitable, those miners will be moved to the next job. Even if locals do get jobs in the mine those jobs will disappear once the mine closes.
Point 1: mines do not create jobs or benefit local economies. They shift jobs around and the only economic benefit is to the company.
The Majors Creek gorge is home to an astonishing number of vulnerable and endangered species of fauna and flora. If Cortona gets the green light to mine in this area, I’d suggest
you go out to Majors Creek before the security fence and tailings dams go in, otherwise you may never see an eastern bent winged bat, a climbing galaxid fish, a New Holland mouse, the Araluen zieria, a button wrinklewort, a spotted-tailed quoll or an Araluen python. And those are just the species that may be totally wiped out if this mine goes ahead. There are also platypus in the creeks, wombats, brush tailed wallabies, powerful owls and barking owls, gang gang cockatoos and squirrel gliders – all of which face an uncertain future in the face of polluting, resource extracting industry.
Point 2: this mine poses a definite and irreparable risk to a rare pocket of biodiversity.
The NSW government has an appalling track record of allowing industry to set up shop in the face of inadequate risk assessments and opposition from locals and the Land and Environment Court. In 2003 it passed legislation (Clyde Waste Transfer Terminal (Special Provisions) Act 2003) to overturn a decision of the Land and Environment Court in order to allow waste management giant, Collex, to use the abandoned open-cut mine at Tarago as a landfill. The claims about its green credentials, which included rehabilitating the toxic wasteland of the tailings dams, are laughable in the light of its practices. The situation with Cortona is similar. There has been no evidence of adequate groundwater testing, which means that toxic waste will likely be discharged through groundwater and will poison much of the surrounding countryside and rivers. Cortona’s own environmental assessment states:
It is not possible to collect all the data characterising the whole aquifer system in detail and therefore various assumptions have to be made during development of the groundwater model.
Hello? Assumptions? The Araluen Valley is one of the most fertile regions in the south-east. At a time when food security is being discussed at federal level, can we afford to poison our agricultural land?
Point 3: there is a very real danger that groundwater, used for agriculture and draining into catchments, will be polluted with toxic waste.
New South Wales goes to the polls in two weeks. Majors Creek is in the marginal electorate of Monaro and is currently held by Labor MP and Minister for Primary Industries, Rural Affairs and Emergency Services, Steve Whan. Apparently the tiny population of the Majors Creek area doesn’t count for a critical number of votes because to date, the only candidate for Monaro who has spoken out against the mine is Greens candidate Paul Cockram. Mr Whan has been noticeably quiet – perhaps his rural affairs portfolio doesn’t include the concerns of his own constituents.
Point 4: Mr Whan was the MP who, in 2003, put the Dorothy-Dixer to the Premier, allowing the passage of the Clyde Waste Transfer Terminal (Special Provisions) Act 2003. He has no concern for local environments or local communities.
A number of hydro-geologists, soil scientists and ecologists have made submissions to the government in opposition to this mine. The local community is opposed. The development brings into question the capacity of the local council to guarantee a water supply. Risk assessment and environmental and social impact has been sketchy, inadequate and selective in application.
Point 5: expert opinions apparently only count if they agree with the developers.
We have two weeks before (we expect) a new government will take control of the state. Contact Mr Whan ((02) 6299 4899 or email@example.com). Contact his National Party opponent, John Barilaro (02 6297 0220 or firstname.lastname@example.org). Contact the Mayor of Palerang Council. Make a noise. Find out more and tell your friends. There is little enough remnant wilderness left in the world, little enough space that we have not yet raped of its resources and poisoned with waste.
Local community campaign news here
Info from author and local community member, Jackie French, here