Galilee Road Trip: action stations
Glencore Xstrata's Rolleston Open Cut thermal mine is 16 kilometres west of the town. Operations began in 2005; then in 2011 an application was lodged to expand production. The mine currently produces about 14 million tonnes a year, for both export and domestic use, and has an expected life of 20-30 years. The pit lies beyond the Albinia National Park as you turn off the Dawson Highway, and abuts Lindsay and Avriel Tyson's Springwood Station.
The Galilee Road Trippers had intended to be there to experience a mine blast at 10 am, but we were running a little late. All we saw was a faint puff of 'smoke' ahead of us as we headed down the track.
This is what the open pit looks like (with apologies for the quality of pix taken from a moving bus or from a distance).
This is what the Springwood property looked like on a warm April day...
And below left is what a multi-volumed, glossy paged, hard-covered and lavishly encased Environmental Impact Statement (for the Expansion Project) looks like. No expense spared.
Springwood Station has been in the Tyson family since 1895. Today they run 25,000-26,000 head of cattle (Droughtmasters), some of them in the state forest to help reduce the risk of fire. Lyndsay and Avriel's son and grandchild joined us for morning tea. The trippers devoured homemade scones and jam. No scone was left uneaten.
Lyndsay described the situation. Expansion of the current mine is an attractive option for Glencore: the infrastructure is already in place, and the existing mine is making money. But that expansion will be at the Tysons' expense: they would lose nearly 3000 hectares of their land and I believe they would have to move their homestead, a topic we didn't press. Glencore's mining lease offers the company the prospect of mining the easy-to-work alluvial plains near the Meteor Creek that provide the Tysons' water at present. The welfare of the Creek is one of Lyndsay's main concerns: alluvial plains are prone to flooding even without the interference of mining. The existing mine uses water (from holding ponds) for dust suppression: there is no washing plant.
Rainfall in the region is highly variable: Lyndsay describes it as 'boom and bust' rainfall. It's 65-cm country. In 1902 there was a massive drought and landholders lost most of their stock. There was less rainfall than usual in December and January last summer, but for the Tysons the jury is still out on climate change in a region of such variability.
The coal deposits are shallow. The overburden is removed by dragline excavator and used to refill the hole once the coal is removed. The topsoil is then reseeded. Glencore have used Queensland bluegrass and species of tree and bush found in the national park. There are mixed views about the planting of Black Wattle. It may be a native and good for erosion control, but it is rated by many as invasive and hard to eradicate. One thing I have learned is that opinions about the best grass vary according to whether you're a grazier or a conservationist. Buffel grass seems to be the Marmite of the dry lands.
We went to have lunch by Meteor Creek. It flows into the Comet River, part of the Fitzroy catchment. Springwood is 70 km from the top of the Range, beyond which is the Murray Darling. We couldn't have ordered a more beautiful spot. There was plenty of shade, and space on the river bank for our discussions and the 'where are you on the spectrum' game. We had to place ourselves on an invisible line from city to country (our origins); extroversion to introversion; a little or a lot of knowledge about coal; to what extent we'd halt further coal mining or CSG development... all designed to put our fellow travellers in context.
I would have really liked a few moments of quiet contemplation.
As the Tysons relaxed with their enthusiastic guests, we chatted more about their farm and their future. Asked what she thought should happen, more broadly, Avriel put renewables at the top of the list. Then, that water shouldn't be messed with during resource development. And thirdly – and closest to her heart – that family farmers should be the mainstay of agricultural production, as they always have been.
For me, the Galilee trip was already worthwhile. This one meeting had provided an insight into how landholders at the front line of resource development are thinking and feeling, worrying and coping. We appreciated the warm welcome and fact that the family gave us their precious time. The beautiful surroundings were conducive to empathy and understanding, and I daresay many of us would have happily sat by Meteor Creek for a lot longer.
If you enjoyed reading this – and there are several Galilee Road Trip posts still to come – please share with friends and connections. One of our principal aims in making this journey was to spread the word about the Galilee Basin.
This post was last edited on 22 May 2014