Bickham Bersheeba

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.”

Eagle Falls leaves rivals in his wake

Two decisions by the connections of Eagle Falls saw him win the biggest race of his career to date in the Group 2 Salinger Stakes yesterday.

One was taken in March after the promising galloper ran a disappointing sixth in the Australian Guineas and the other shortly before yesterday’s 1200-metre event.

After the Australian Guineas it was revealed that the son of Hussonet had a breathing problem and the decision was made to have it remedied surgically.

“We didn’t think about it, we just got it [the operation] done straight away and it’s been very successful,” said trainer David Hayes.

The other decision was to stay on the inside of the straight course after Eagle Falls had drawn barrier four.

Eagle Falls had been able to get some cover in the early part of the race behind Red Element and Mr Slick before peeling to the outside as the field came onto the course proper.

He quickly took over the lead with inside division with 300 metres to travel and toughed it out well to win by three quarters of a length from Turffontein, who ran home strongly out wide. Absolutelyfabulous ran on well over the latter stages to be a further three-quarters of a length away third.

Jockey Damien Oliver said he got plenty of confidence from Hayes and Ramsden to stay on the inside and explained that it would have been difficult to head out and get into the position he wanted.

“It made a lot of sense to stay on the inside. It’s hard to go out there and end up in the spot you want to be. If we had headed out there we would have played right into First Command’s lap,” Oliver said.

“It’s hard to ride a race against the outside. You just have to concentrate on the inside and hope you get the rest right.”

At Caulfield at his previous start Eagle Falls had been held up at a vital stage of the race before running home better than anything.

“Ollie got off and said sorry at Caulfield and he rarely says that. He [Eagle Falls] ran the fastest 900 metres of the race and lost,” Hayes said.

While Hayes joked that the sprint on Derby day was formerly a Group 1 race and should have stayed one, he believed Eagle Falls, who has now won six of 11 starts, had a group 1 race in him.

“We have him entered in the Emirates Stakes next Saturday but I’m more inclined to put him aside with a view to the autumn,” he said. “I think he is a genuine Group 1 horse and would be very well suited in the Newmarket.”

Source: Andrew Garvey, The Age

All American secures third leg of Arrowfield trifecta

Arrowfield notched a notable milestone on Saturday when ALL AMERICAN – the 4YO entire who races in the stud’s colours – secured a dominant victory in the G1 VRC Emirates Stakes (1600m).

All American joins Charge Forward and Snitzel as a trifecta of colts purchased in racing by Arrowfield prior to winning at G1 level.

Charge Forward won the G1 The Galaxy before retiring to stud. Last year he was crowned Champion First Season Sire (by earnings) and he is already the sire of G1 winner Headway. Snitzel beat an exceptional field in his runaway victory in the G1 Oakleigh Plate, and like his barn mate, has also made a promising start to his sire career with his oldest progeny just 2YO’s of the current season.

Whilst he is an exceptional looking horse, Messara said he was initially attracted to All American by his pedigree and a 50% managing share in the son of Red Ransom was purchased by the stud after the colt had won three of his four starts as a 2YO. This included a win in the G3 Skyline Stakes (1200m) at Randwick, and a long head second in the G1 Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.

“He’s now a Group 1 winner after Group 1 placings as a 2YO and 3YO, he’s by Red Ransom out of a Strawberry Road mare so is relatively free of Northern Dancer and his grand-dam was a Champion 2YO in France by Mr. Prospector,” said Messara.

“There are outstanding performers in every generation of his pedigree and with the sire influences of Roberto and Mr Prospector close up, he is well served to make a stallion. Importantly, he has an active stallion close-up in his own pedigree in Rock Hard Ten (USA).

“Hussonet (USA) and Charge Forward have proven the success of this farm’s outcross strategy and All American will join Charge Forward as the second outstanding colt by Red Ransom on the Arrowfield stallion roster,” Messara added.

Not surprisingly, trainer David Hayes was also delighted after All American’s G1 victory. “That was fantastic! They ran brilliant time. If you can break 1-34 at Flemington you’re a pretty smart horse – in that sort of company.”

In fact, All American’s time of 1:33.98 was the second fastest in the race”s history.

All American is now being set for the G1 WATC Railway Stakes with the 4YO expected to retire to Arrowfield Stud Scone next Spring.

More European Black Type for Starcraft

World Champion Older Miler and 5-time G1 winner Starcraft has notched another blacktype performer in Europe.

His first European starter – Don’t Tell Mary (ex Only in Dreams, by Polar Falcon) – was a stakeswinner, taking out the Listed Hilary Needler Trophy (5f). Yesterday in Germany 2YO colt Keep Cool (ex Kirov (GB), by Darshaan) placed 3rd in the G3 Grosser Bombadier Vosslocha (1710m) at Krefeld.

In Australia Starcraft has had just two starters (at Doomben and Eagle Farm) with both horses placing at their first outings.

Starstreamed (ex Gay Performance, by Bataan) finished very strongly for second in the 2009 Urban Events QTIS 600 2YO Handicap over 1010m at Doomben after racing greenly throughout. On 10 October, Starlin (ex Maid For Me, by Belong To Me (USA)) finished third in the 2009 Aergo Aviation Solutions QTIS 600 2YO Colts & Geldings Plate after winning a trial at Doomben.

Both of these horses are clearly looking for longer distances but seem to have plenty of natural ability.

“Starcraft was a supremely talented racehorse and he appears to be transmitting this raw ability to his juvenile offspring,” says Arrowfield Bloodstock Manager Jon Freyer.

“It’s encouraging to see such good results so early in the season and it augurs well for breeders who have supported the stallions in recent years.”

Starcraft stand at a fee of $22,000 (incl. GST) in 2009.

The JM File: Australia's Horse Capital Under Threat

Unless we act now, the lifespan of the local industries that support the Upper Hunter towns and families with jobs, income and lifestyle, will be in jeopardy.”

That’s the grim message from Arrowfield Stud’s proprietor John Messara after reviewing Bickham’s recently submitted Water Study which was placed on exhibition after being lodged with the NSW Department of Planning in April.

Bickham released the updated Water Study – known as the Water Resource Assessment and Draft Water Management Plan – in one of the final steps in determining whether or not the coal mine will get the go ahead by the Department.

The 6-week study exhibition takes the company a step closer to its objective of having the mine proposal assessed for the final decision on whether it will go ahead or not under the New South Wales Government’s Major Projects legislation.

The Bickham Coal Company is proposing to develop an open cut thermal coal mine in the Upper Hunter Shire – approximately 12 kilometres southeast of Murrurundi in direct proximity to the Pages River and Kingdon Ponds – to produce 2.5 million tonnes a year (total production of 36 million tonnes) over a 25-year period.

The Upper Hunter is primarily an agricultural region that currently has no open cut coal mining operations and only one (currently suspended) underground coal mine. The Bickham Coal Project has the potential to result in significant adverse impacts on surrounding groundwater systems and on the connected Pages River and Kingdon Ponds.

Arrowfield is one of 6 major thoroughbred farms who stand to be directly affected by Bickham. In combination, the land value of these properties touches $184m, bloodstock $643 million and the total annual revenue of the six exceeds $183.5 million.

“If you want to refer to ‘black gold’ in terms of Upper Hunter resources you would be ignorant to overlook the agriculture and related industry as well as mining,” says Messara. “Not many industries can lay claim to being in the top 3 in the World – but the thoroughbred breeding industry in Scone holds exactly that position.”

“It’s assumed that if you are against a development proposal then you are against the product. I am not against mining. It is an industry that has a deserved place. My argument is that in relation to this particular mine the threat posed by its development to existing and remaining industry is disproportionate to any economic benefit. On those grounds it makes no sense to proceed.”

“Sure the government can approve a mine for 25 years. But if existing agriculture is forced out due to water contamination, lack of water, or general pollution, what exactly will sustain the long term planning requirements of the town, its residents and other service providers after the mine shuts? That’s the multi million-dollar question that mining developers never seem to answer in their reports. The simple fact is they won’t be around to have to deal with the wash-up anyway.”

The picturesque Pages River – whose meandering curves lie just 150m from the proposed Bickham mine – runs downstream through the centre of Arrowfield Stud. The river bed is currently dry after limited seasonal rain but deep beneath its sandy floor it feeds a number of aquifiers that fuel the irrigation needs of the majority of downstream farms.

“Without water we have nothing. But based on Bickham’s own study this coal mine will extract 2 million litres of groundwater a day at its peak. The Report also says in black and white that it will take 105 years for the Pages River to return to normal. That’s a pretty sobering statistic. That’s not my children or their children’s generation – that’s their grandchildren’s generation.

“The mine is also confusing people with mixed messages. It advertised in a recent media release that it will offer 300 jobs. In truth, if you read the small print on an ancillary document you will discover that they are offering less than 100 full time positions. Six thoroughbred studs alone affected by Bickham employ 257 full time workers. The majority of these workers reside on the farms where they are employed. In essence then this mine stands to seriously displace families rather than create jobs.

“Bickham has played on the edge of the Upper Hunter’s community consciousness for many years,” continues Messara. “People may indeed have become almost immune to the reality of this mine coming into play. With the release of the Water Report the gun has been fired and the race is now on. If the local community do not take this opportunity to band together and recognise the key issues that affect them then they will need to live with the fact that the life they take for granted, their jobs, their income and lifestyles will change forever.

“I fully understand that the history of mining approvals in this State concerns a lot of people. The reality is however that Bickham is a limited resource mine. Ironically perhaps, existing industries in the area have already proven that in combination they generate higher revenues over the same time period employing more people and ensuring continuity of lifestyle and land use for future generations!

The approval of the Bickham mine would be a planning disaster for Scone and surrounds. Australia’s Horse Capital is fundamentally at risk.

“I think it’s about time people got concerned,” concluded Messara.

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