Rylstone communities fight NSW government push to mine coal

Rylstone. Photo: Rylstone Region Coal Free Community

The New South Wales government wants to open up the valley of Rylstone in the Central Tablelands to coalmining. Residents are organising to protect the Hawkins and Rumker areas near Rylstone, next to the Wollemi National Park. The new coalmines are estimated to contain 910 million tonnes of coal.

NSW Coal wants to set up an open-cut mine with some underground sections next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage-listed area and the World Heritage-listed Wollemi National Park. The potential coal release area covers 32,700 hectares.

Phil Joseph, Shireen Baguley and Craig Shaw addressed a webinar organised by Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann on October 7. They explained that wineries, orchards, alpaca and sheep farms, agriculture and tourism would all be adversely affected. Coalmining would also impact the pristine waters of the upper catchment of the Bylong River and more than 3000 natural springs.

Baguley said there are more than 50 endangered species in these areas, including the powerful owl, microbats and spotted quolls.

Wiradjuri elder Peter Swain said coalmining would devastate 28 First Nations sacred sites in the parks. First Nations people have allied with local farmers and are visiting their country to preserve their stories and culture. Wiradjuri people are gaining further knowledge of other sacred sites, known to farmers who kept them secret for fear of a land claim.

The sacred sites include ancient rock art, artefacts, hand axes and sites where First Nations people lived and others where they held their ceremonies.

Volunteers from the  are organising to protect the land, heritage, culture and community.

The Rylstone community said the coal companies spread conflict and division by sponsoring local sporting groups and buying up land. , new coalmines in the approvals pipeline will pump out as much coal as 15 Adani-sized mines, if they are approved.

Coalmines need water, which in this area would be drawn from catchment areas and the upland swamps, and deplete ground water. The proposed mine will cut into the grassy boxwood woodlands.

The , released in June 2020, identified 14 potential coal exploration release areas, including the Hawkins and Rumker areas. The Ganguddy-Kelgoola area, also known as Dunn’s Swamp, which sits adjacent to Hawkins and Rumker, has been identified for future exploration.

The government is pushing for the Hawkins and Rumker areas to be assessed immediately and, after further exploration, the Ganguddy-Kelgoola is expected to be assessed.

The Rylstone community has already objected, sending in 2000 submissions covering terrestrial and aquatic ecology, Aboriginal cultural heritage, health and social impacts, land use, heritage values, tourism, intergenerational equity, groundwater and economic concerns.

National Party MP Paul Toole, the new deputy premier who has vowed “”, including opening up coalmining in Aboriginal heritage sites and threatened ecological communities, may have just shot himself in the foot.