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Local community wins battle over gold mining in Karuah catchment

Media release 26.10.2011: Perth-based Gold of Ophir has this week surrendered to community pressure and abandoned its plans to explore for gold in the Monkerai Valley in the Upper Hunter. This is a rare win in the increasingly heated battle in NSW between expanding mining and preserving precious water and farmland.

In May this year, Perth-based mining company Gold of Ophir Pty Ltd applied for 15 licenses to explore for gold covering over 4000 square kilometres from the Hunter, North West Slopes and New England. One of these licenses, ELA 4269 covered the Karuah River catchment in the Monkerai Valley nearDungog and Stroud in the Upper Hunter.

The local landholders in ELA 4269 quickly mobilised. A community group, the Karuah River Protection Group, was formed and a community meeting was organised in the local Monkerai Hall. Over 90 people crowded the hall, including affected landholders form the Karuah, Williams, Allan and Paterson River Valleys, local tourism operators, forestry businesses and downstream oyster farmers in the Port Stephens. A resolution opposing the gold exploration application was unanimously passed.

Following this, local landholders wrote letters opposing the expansion to the company, the Premier, the Ministers for Environment and Resources, local MPs and Mayors and a contingent met with the departmental officials.

Information about threatened species was gathered and the Environmental Defenders Office visited the valley to inform the local community of their legal rights and legal strategies to oppose mining. 751 people participated in a cyber action opposing the mine.

On Friday 21 October, the Chairperson of Gold of Ophir Paul Chapman informed members of the Karuah River Protection Group that he would withdraw the mining lease. On Monday 24 October, the NSW Department of Mining confirmed that the lease application ELA 4269 had been withdrawn.

The vast majority of Gold of Ophir’s exploration licence applications remain on the books. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the price of gold has risen steeply as gold is seen as a refuge in the face of economic volatility. As of today, the price of gold stands at $1660 per ounce. In NSW this appears to be leading to a modern gold rush as previously uneconomic gold deposits become viable.

In the Hunter Valley, already struggling with a massive expansion in coal and coal seam gas mining, a new wave of gold mines will inflame communities and put further strain on water resources and air pollution.

Local landholder and spokesperson for Karuah River Protection Group Di Johnston said: “This is a massive win for our local community.

“At times it felt like a David and Goliath battle but this shows that there is hope in rural communities standing up to mining companies.

“It means that the pristine ecosystem in the Karuah catchment and our prime food-producing land will be safe from gold mining.

“We all feel a massive sense of relief. The value of tourism, agriculture and fisheries is worth far more than gold to our community”

Released by the Karuah River Protection Group. Further information: Di Johnston 02 4994 7175