More than 500 people – the majority on horseback – took to the streets of Scone, Australia’s Horse Capital last Saturday. Their message to the State Government and to Bickham Coal Company was clear: this mine poses too great a risk to high-value agriculture in the Upper Hunter Valley district.
A large group of leading thoroughbred horse studs were represented at the rally. The Upper Hunter represents the world’s second largest thoroughbred breeding ground. It supplies not only 30% of all Australian thoroughbred foals born in Australia each year, 71.6% of yearlings sold at Australian yearling sales, 75% of Australian stallion service fees, but also in excess of 1000 local jobs. Familiar faces were spotted from studs including Arrowfield, Vinery, Darley, Bellerive, Cressfield, Willow Park, Yarraman Park, Coolmore, Murulla, Turangga, Kia-Ora, Invermien, and Middlebrook.
The Scone area is also home to the Australian Stockhorse Society, and hosts every equine pursuit from team penning, camp drafting, polocrosse, polo, dressage, and eventing, to showjumping, rodeo, show hack, pony club, and other breeds.
A number of regional identities were called upon to address the crowd from the steps of the newly completed Upper Hunter Shire Council headquarters. Local landowner Peter Haydon dismounted from his Australian Stockhorse to speak. Haydon detailed an expansive list of risks posed by the Bickham mine and made a passionate plea for the community to draft submissions to the Department of Planning by the closing date of 4 December.
Well known bush poet and Scone resident Greg Scott recited a poem he had written specifically for the occasion whilst Martin Rush, Mayor of neighbouring shire Muswellbrook, raised loud applause from the crowd when he stated that a small mine such as Bickham should not interfere with longstanding agricultural industries.
John Messara AM also spoke. He referred to the ‘precautionary principle’ needing to be invoked in the case of Bickham’s application for this mine, and called “for ongoing balance in the State Government’s approach to planning for the region”.
The 37 degree temperature saw Australian equestrian rider Nikki Richardson – who led the parade – shed her Olympic jacket, but the mood amongst the crowd remained infectious.
“This isn’t an anti mining rally per se,” commented one of the day’s organisers and 7th generation local Peter White. “It’s anti THIS particular mine. Bickham proposes to build its mine 150m from the Pages River. Although much of this water system flows underground, the Pages River is the most historic tributary of the Hunter River which
underpins our Horse Capital. This region has a proven longevity beyond the 25 years of this limited resource mine. We must protect our living water,” added White.
On Wednesday 2 December the Upper Hunter Shire Council voted unanimously to oppose the proposal proceeding to mine application and will strongly oppose the proposed Bickham open cut coal mine in its submission to the NSW Department of Planning.
Upper Hunter Shire Council Mayor Lee Watts said Council’s experts considered the water report produced by Bickham inadequate.
“Council believes the proposal should be stopped now and not proceed to a mine application, and we oppose the proposal proceeding to this stage,” Cr Watts said.
“Whilst Council acknowledges the potential local economic value, the potential negative environmental impact highlighted by the deficiencies in the water report and the precautionary principle have guided Council to oppose the project proceeding to the next stage,” Cr Watts added.
Cr Watts said Councillors agreed the potential economic benefits from the mine were negligible compared with potential negative impacts for the Shire.
“It is not logical nor in the interests of long term sustainability or rational planning principles to open a 36 million tonne coal mine in a location where no other mine currently exists within many kilometres north or south,” Cr Watts said.
“The sustainability of the Upper Hunter region and its rich diversity must be maintained. The risks associated with a development such as Bickham are disproportionate to any benefits that could possibly flow from this mine.”
Cr Watts said the mine posed an unacceptable risk to the upper water catchment area of Kingdon Ponds and the Pages River, a major tributary of the Hunter River.
Councillor Bill Howey stated “Establishing a coal mine at Bickham is a totally unacceptable risk to the sustainable ecology and pristine pastoral environment of the Upper Hunter Valley and to the long established industries of agricultural production and horse breeding in particular. The long term viability and absolute integrity of the internationally renowned marquee industry of horse breeding which has been over 175 years in the making must be protected at all costs. Any threat should be vehemently repulsed. It is not logical or nor in the interests of long term sustainability or rational planning principles … The risks associated with a development such as Bickham are disproportionate to any benefits that could possibly flow.”