tiny town of Bulga is threatened with extinction by a massive expansion
of the vast Warkworth coal mine (pictured), owned by Rio Tinto.
In the tiny town of Bulga, which is in danger of disappearing off the
map, the locals say they can hear the sound of the massive mine that
threatens to swallow them getting closer.
“Saddleback Ridge was a
fairly big buffer but they’ve started blasting that. Then there’s
Wallaby Scrub Road that will be wiped out,” Bulga shop owner Toni Silk
“You can hear them in the night operating the
machines, shovels into the side of the mountain, dropping 300 tonnes of
rock into a truck.
“They never stop, it’s 24/7.”
historic rural village of 135 houses in the upper western region of the
NSW Hunter Valley 220km north west of Sydney, is under threat from the
relentless expansion of mining giant Rio Tinto’s Warkworth coal mine.
expansion will bring the mine closer, to within 2.6km, but residents
say it already encroaches on their life with coal dust on their houses,
clothes, cars and in their water tanks, continual noise and the visual
pollution of the vast mine a part of their daily views.
Packing up and leaving the town, which is divided by an
“acquisition zone” of houses, became a closer reality when Bulga lost
its legal fight against the expansion in May.
forced to drop their court appeal against the approval of the Warkworth
expansion when the NSW Government took away the opportunity for anyone
to challenge it.
This followed the government’s state Planning
Assessment Commission’s (PAC) suggestion that the town be relocated
lock, stock and barrel.
“The town is divided and if they’re going to acquire some houses, they should acquire all of them,” Ms Silk said,
“I say that and I’m in the acquisition zone.
people not in the acquisition zone that get so much dust when the wind
blows and their line of sight is right over into that huge mine.”
Bulga is one of the three options to address the noise, air quality and
visual impacts predicted following Rio Tinto’s approved expansion.
NSW Government and Rio Tinto would foot the bill for the relocation of
the village’s 350 people, with the state delivering all new
infrastructure and the company paying for construction of new houses.
But that would require the involvement of Bulga residents and “an independent mediator as a first step towards reconciliation”.
Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) New South Wales acknowledged “the
disastrous impacts of the mine’s expansion on the village of Bulga”.
It also acknowledged that “the negative impacts on the village of Bulga is extremely unreasonable”.
Further investigations “to minimise the size and depth of the final void” would be made.
the ground in Bulga, where locals feel their once secure future is in
jeopardy of the “bloody massive hole” advancing on the town, the
political negotiations are all just talk.
“We were never going to
win the legal challenge because Rio Tinto has massive pockets, but for
those of us who planned to stay in Bulga we aren’t ready to make the
decision to pack up,” Ms Silk said.
“And are we going to walk
away without a mortgage, or nothing if Bulga is relocated because they
say it is uninhabitable because of the mine’s proximity.”
Progress Association has staged protests against the mine’s
encroachment, and the closure last week of Wallaby Scrub Road.
the association “does not represent all the town”, and “if there’s
going to be voluntary acquisition of houses then everyone should be
offered it,” Ms Silk said.
“There’s going to be diehards who say they want to stay, but we live on the doorstep of the mine.
“Is Bulga over?” Ms Silk said. “I won’t deny that’s a possibility.”