Guest blog by Rebekah Hayden, Rainforest Action Group
Resources company Currawong Resources has been granted a licence in the Wombat State Forest, about 70 km north of Melbourne, Australia, an area with 380 threatened species including brush-tailed phascogales and the dusky antechinus, a small marsupial mouse.
The Australian-based company is 100% owned by Fosterville South Exploration Ltd., which has its headquarters in Vancouver and is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Locals only discovered the area was slated for mining on the weekend (13 June) and are strongly resisting plans for the gold mine.
The area is one of the few remaining forests in Central-west Victoria and an important cultural heritage for the Traditional Owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung people. The Victorian Environmental Assessment Commission (VEAC) recommended the area become part of the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park due to its high biodiversity. It is also a tourist hotspot. Small town Blackwood is within the mining concession, close to the drilling area.
Facebook group No Wombat Gold states that Blackwood locals “are concerned about water table and noise issues, traffic and large trucks, contamination” and are dismayed at the level of destruction just from the initial drilling.
An assessment by VEAC in 2019 showed that conserving native habitat would provide AU$247 million in economic value to the Central-West region, which includes the Wombat State Forest. This did not include the value of preserving water quality and quantity in the region, which would push the economic value even higher. Waterways in the area have been greatly impacted by agriculture and forest reduction. Any mining activity in the area – particularly at the depths indicated by the geology surveys – could significantly impact the water table in the region.
A gold rush in the late 1800s made the area one of the richest in the world at the time, but left arsenic-soaked barren soil as its legacy. Now, new technology is leading to historic gold mines across Victoria to be re-examined, with high-grade deposits being found across the state.
Currawong Resources and its parent company Fosterville South Exploration Ltd. own mining concessions that cover 1,400 km2 across the state of Victoria, which they view as “the world’s best address for high-grade gold.” Another Canadian company, Kirkland Lake, already has one of Australia’s biggest gold mines in the region, with output above 350,000 ounces in 2019.
In a letter to VEAC in 2018, then-Managing Director of Currawong Resources Neil (Rex) Motton states that he believes the Wombat State Forest would be better managed by loggers and miners than environmentalists, saying: “The actual supposed purpose of preservation of habitats, flora and fauna within the National Parks is not realised through Parks Victoria management, but rather the opposite, and the true managers of the bush were the timber workers, the miners, and the State Forest workers and bush users. Once these properties fall into the hands of VNPA and Parks Victoria, we can only expect that the destruction of property & habitats, and the endangerment of people & animals will continue.”
He goes on to denigrate Aboriginal land management as well, saying, “A large part of the VEAC recommendations are concerned with aboriginal [sic] forest management. This is clearly some type of social experiment, in an effort to recognise the traditional owners, since it does not necessarily follow that Victoria’s traditional owners have the necessary experience required to manage the State’s assets, unless there has been a massive educational program occurring whilst these proposals are being considered.”
Fosterville South Exploration is headed by President and CEO Bryan Slusarchuk, who founded Canadian company K92 Mining, Inc. K92 Mining has been embroiled in controversy over violence at its Kainantu gold mine in PNG over claims it failed to adequately conduct due diligence on landowner rights. One person was killed, 70 houses destroyed, and 50 people injured in the violence. K92’s current CEO, John Derek Lewis, is also on the board of Fosterville South Exploration.
Currawong Resources Managing Director and Principal Consultant Rex Motton (also the COO and Director of Fosterville South Exploration) has also worked for Barrick Gold, a mining company that was found to have directly caused the deaths of 65 Tanzanians and injured 270 when it hired police and security to actively protect their North Mara mine. Barrick Gold made an undisclosed payout to the victims of the attacks.
James Hutton, the Chairman of Fosterville South, is also on the advisory board for the Forum Energy Metals Corp (formerly the Forum Uranium Corporation) who have a number of contested uranium, copper, cobalt and palladium projects in Canada.
With board members such as these, and Rex Motton believing that gold mining is “an important visionary step forward for the entire State of Victoria” and who sees National Parks as being “a massive loss to the wider resources present within the Statae [sic]” and those who wish to protect environmental resources as “a handful of fanatics” it is very clear what kind of environmental legacy this mining company would leave behind.