By Bernard Wunsch
BYRON BAY — Clearing and construction at the proposed Timbarra gold mine have begun. More than 60 protesters picketed NSW Premier Bob Carr here on July 29, calling on him to stop the work at the Timbarra site and investigate breaches of the mining lease agreements by Ross Mining, the company constructing the mine.
Carr was confronted by the protesters as he opened a writers' festival. He was presented with more than 300 signed letters calling for work on the mine to be stopped. The protest disrupted his address.
The proposed mine is situated on the Timbarra plateau, 40 km south-east of Tenterfield in northern NSW. The area contains 27 known rare and endangered species living in habitats surrounding a rare high altitude wetland.
The mine project area contains important cultural sites of the local indigenous people. Despite the area being considered to have outstanding and unique conservation value by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, clearing of the site has gone ahead.
Ross Mining plans to operate an open cut gold mine on the 730 hectare site. The mine will include cyanide leaching processes in a heap leach pad 25 metres high and covering an area of 29 hectares.
There are grave fears that the 700 tonnes of cyanide used to leach heavy metals, including gold, will not be contained by the leach pad. This would cause contamination of the Timbarra River, which is a major tributary of the Clarence River system.
Already a road and an area of 35 hectares have been cleared, resulting in soil pollution seeping into nearby Nelsons Creek.
There are several native title claims on the mine site and the road constructed for the mine. The native title claimants are from the Bandjalung people and represent 100 traditional owners from the Tabulum area. They have been denied the right to negotiate over the mining lease.
The traditional owners have been denied the right to inspect the endangered cultural sites since construction began. As a result, a $50 million lawsuit seeking compensation and damages has been threatened.
Both the NSW government and Ross Mining have sought to prevent claimants from being able to take legal action against the lease; the recent changes in the Native Title Amendment Act may deny them the right to take legal action.
Traditional custodian David Mundine commented: "Our sacred cultural links across the Bandjalung and Githabul country from Goanna Headland, Nimbin Rocks, Mount Warning (Wollumbin), Mt Lindsay to Bold Top (Timbarra) is what we are all about. Ross Mining, the government and the NSW Land Council are knowingly committing genocide of my people. The destruction is not just on the mountain but on the people — physically, mentally and spiritually."
For three years activists in the Timbarra Direct Action (TDA) group have been campaigning against the mine, holding blockades and launching legal challenges. Due to intimidation and assaults by hired security, and arrests by police, activists have begun to organise protests in regional towns such as Tenterfield, Grafton, Lismore and Byron Bay.
TDA spokesperson Gareth Sharman told Green Left Weekly, "Blockades in the past have suffered from a severe lack of numbers and from intimidation. We need numbers urgently because in September blasting begins in a totally fragile, unique ecosystem."
The TDA and the traditional custodians plan to continue and escalate the campaign. Ross Mining is continuing work at full pace while court injunctions are pending.
[Contact Gareth Sharman or the TDA on (02) 6684 7339 or Al and Jamie on (02) 6620 3044. Visit <www.unionscu.com/environment/timbarra/>.]