Sustainability: Taking the Leard

A very familiar sight of the Inner West of Sydney are the bats that unfurl over the urban landscape at dusk, from the shadow of trees migrating all along Eastern Australia.

574 kilometres away, a similar scene plays out at the Leard State Forest located between Boggabri and Narrabri in Northern NSW. These bats that traditionally roost within the critically endangered White Box-Gum Woodland, face the destruction of their home, over 5000ha of the Leard State Forest, by coal mining companies. That equates to over half of the forest which is home to 396 species of plants and animals and includes habitat for 34 threatened species and several endangered ecological communities.

Boggabri Coal, Tarrawonga and Maules Creek Project are operational open cut mines that will have direct environmental consequences to the Leard State Forest. Idemitsu and Whitehaven Coal are the big name companies that largely own and operate these mines.

Most recently, Maules Creek Project officially opened and will be Australia’s largest coal mine costing $767 million and is projected to produce greenhouse emissions of about 30 million tonnes of C02 equivalent per year. This doesn’t exactly help Australia’s status as the world’s highest per capita emitter of C02.With the coal market slowing, many have questioned why the NSW government is even considering clearing more of the state forest to make way for a new mine that bears the burden of being environmentally destructive and commercially non-profitable.

Directly, mines affect the main pillars noted for biological survival and prosperity- the integrity of the soil structure beneath mining, the waterways and drinking water catchment and the pollution of air. Indirect edge effects that you get from blasting the surface of the earth can change the micro-climate within the forest, resulting in a loss of biodiversity and a reduction in an ecosystems’ ability to deal with climate change, disease, species invasions and other human impacts.

Cultural concerns are also rife with mining companies occupying large tracts of bushland. Despite the NSW government’s tenure of land, Whitehaven Coal has denied access to sacred sites within the mining sites of the Leard to the traditional custodians of the area, the Gomeroi people. This isn’t the first time they have restricted access to culturally important sites. There are many sacred sites including burial grounds in the Leard State Forest, situated within the boundaries of both Idemitsu’s Boggabri Coal, and Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine leases that are vulnerable to being rendered inaccessible.

Groups like Front Line Action on Coal have been working with the Gomeroi Traditional Owners to advance the cultural and environmental protection of the Leard. Recently, The Leard Forest Alliance and the Gomeroi Traditional Owners have signed a protection treaty with many enviro-centric signatories including the Maules Creek Community Council and Greenpeace Australia-Pacific. Mining companies like Idemitsu and Whitehaven Coal should heed the voices of the communities affected, as discontent is only growing stronger.

Interestingly, despite the politicised nature of coal, under the banner of anti-coal mining dictum the lefties and the national conservatives are the loudest- a veritable climate denier’s nightmare. We should all take a leaf from traditional Indigenous sustainability practices that include caring for country for the people that have yet to experience the splendour of nature as we do today.

It is very empowering to see the strength and innovation of human agency in the face of the behemoth of the mining industry. Perhaps one day, bats like the grey haired flying fox may journey from the Inner-West of Sydney to the Leard State Forest with the knowledge that all is not lost.

Words by Sonia Feng