Save the Bylong from coal mining

Bylong Valley protest July 6. Photo: Lock the Gate/twitter

About 200 people gathered in Bylong, in Central NSW, on July 6-7 to demand the state Coalition government halt a proposed coalmine from going ahead in the picturesque Bylong Valley.

South Korean company KEPCO is proposing to open up a mine that would have drastic impacts on local agriculture and water and the iconic natural and cultural heritage of the region, including Aboriginal sacred sites.

The mine is still subject to a decision by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC).

The weekend-long protest camp was co-sponsored by the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance (BVPA) and Lock the Gate Alliance (LTGA).

The main event of the weekend was a live concert on July 7 headlined by ARIA and Golden Guitar award-winning country singer Sara Storer and her brother Greg. A highlight of the concert was Sara's song "Unity," which celebrates the struggle by Australia's farming community against coal seam gas.

At a forum on the morning of July 7, local farmers discussed ongoing developments in the campaign to Save Bylong.

Long-time local farmer and BVPA secretary Warwick Pearse told the audience, "before coal mining came to the area, ground water was already diminishing. Coalmining will reduce the water level even more seriously, and massively increase salt and other pollution.

“Many people in the district have been forced to sell their farms, under pressure from the company and its paid consultants, based on lies about the project."

The Newcastle Herald reported on July 9 that the state government had encouraged KEPCO to invest $115 million in buying up thousands of hectares of Bylong Valley land to reduce dissent over the proposed mine.

Local farmer Beth Miles said she and others had been fighting coalmining proposals in the area for decades: "The tactics that the mining industry uses in support of its plans are shocking.

"The task of the company is to divide and conquer. They pick people off one by one. My advice to landholders is: Never let them past the gate.

"The noise from the coal trains on the line running through the valley from existing mines in the Hunter Valley is already a big problem. If we can succeed in stopping this new KEPCO mine going ahead, it will be a major win," Miles said.

She added, in reply to a question about mining jobs: "The argument about coalmines providing more jobs is a farce. Bylong was a viable farming community, with lots of jobs, until KEPCO moved in. Our answer is: Keep it in the ground!"

LTGA’s Naomi Hogan said that the KEPCO project is "an enormous threat to environment heritage values at Bylong, to water levels and to Aboriginal heritage sites as well. The famous Wollemi National Park will be affected also."

In another session, well-known landscape restoration pioneer Peter Andrews, who developed his Natural Sequence Farming methods on Bylong's nearby Tarwyn Park property, spoke about his plans for "ecosystem regeneration" on a wide scale.

"Nowhere on the planet has a better chance of ecological regeneration than Australia," Andrews said.

"We need to better manage the land in order to regenerate it," he added. “But coalmines, such as KEPCO's, are a serious threat to the potential for landscape regeneration, through proper water management.”

A recent report commissioned by the NSW IPC makes it clear that KEPCO's proposed mine will do irreparable damage to the heritage values of the Tarwyn Park property and the landscape surrounding it.

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