The Dargues Gold Mine – at a Glance

What? A full-scale, underground gold mine.

Where? Near Major’s Creek, NSW.

Who? Big Island Mining, Cortona, Unity Mining, Diversified Minerals, PYBAR… ownership of the project is fluid.

Why? For the short-term profit of a few.

So what? 1.42 million tonnes of tailings (waste slurry rich in heavy metals) left in perpetuity at the headwaters of the Eurobodalla Shire’s drinking and water catchment: Spring Creek – Majors Creek – Araluen Creek – Deua River – Moruya River – Batemans Marine Park. The storage methods are a combination of Tailings Storage Facility (in this case, a valley lined with clay and walled with rock), and the disused voids of the underground mine. Both methods are known to generate leachate from the tailings over time. The storage facility is also prone to overtopping with heavy rainfall, or structural failure, and rests in a flood-prone valley and geological fault zone. Turbidation of waters by sediment discharge from where the topsoil has been stripped is also an issue, and has already occurred at Dargues. Then there’s the mine’s intersection of the groundwater system and associated lowering of the water table, for which the proponent will ‘compensate’ with inferior water from dams and water pumped from potentially contaminated historical mine shafts.

When? As soon as they can. At the time of writing (July 2016), mining has not yet commenced. Here’s a timeline of a few key events:

April 2010: The Proponent lodges its original application to the NSW Department of Planning & Environment (DPE).

September 2011: By recommendation of the Department of Planning, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) grants approval; the approval is appealed by Coastwatchers, the Eurobodalla Shire Council, and the South East Regional Conservation Alliance.

February 2012: The Land and Environment Court re-issues approval subject to stringent conditions.

April 2012: The Proponent applies to modify the project (Mod 1), beyond the limitations set by the court (use of paste fill; the storage of tailings underground). The court is not involved, rather the application goes before the DPE.

July 2012: Mod 1 is approved by the DPE, overriding the court order.

February 2013: The Proponent commences the initial construction phase (bulk earthworks). The Proponent is fined three times by the Environment Protection Authority for water pollution, due to uncontrolled discharges of sediment-laden water, mixed with a toxic flocculating agent, into Spring Creek (drinking water catchment).

July 2013: The Proponent applies to modify the project (Mod 2); further alterations to the court order to include the word ‘generally’ before compliance with any conditions or commitments.

October 2013: Mod 2 is approved by the DPE, further reducing the court order.

July 2015: The Proponent applies to modify the project (Mod 3) to further erode the conditions of the court order. This includes the use of cyanide to process ore (extract gold) on-site, despite a promise to the community that this would ‘never’ occur.

September 2015: The Proponent withdraws cyanide plans due to pressure from the EPA, but persists with other controversial aspects of Modification 3, including extension of the mining licence. Due the passage of time, the entire operation now depends on the extension of operation life from August, 2018 to July, 2025.

June 2016: The DPE recommends to the PAC that Modification 3 be approved.
July 2016: The PAC hears public presentations on Modification 3 before making their determination. 22 of 24 speakers were either completely opposed or generally critical. 2 were in overall support. The PAC is currently in deliberation.

Where can I find detailed information and debate on this mine?

NSW Department of Planning:

This web page is the main archive of documentation on the Dargues Gold Mine, form the original application through to the current modification (Mod 3). It includes Environmental Assessments, submissions by government agencies, political parties, community groups and the general public. It also includes the Proponent’s responses to submissions, the Land and Environment Court Order, Recommendations from the Department of Planning, and determinations by the Planning Assessment Commission.

By Tom Wells

Region X Trip Leader + Humanitarian

The Threatened Deua

The Threatened Deua