Tim Roberts, Elspeth Pottie & Steven Lucas
Keynote Address: “Dealing with Derelict Mines: Novel risk-based management approaches to dealing with problems, issues and policy challenges” International Conference 6-8 December 2016. Singleton, NSW.
Since time immemorial the mining of the earth’s riches has been a universal and necessary function of societies across the world. The situation in Australia has been no different, from the agates of the stone implements of the indigenous peoples through to the sandstone quarries of the First Fleeters, the gold rushes, the miners in general and most recently the huge excavations of the coal miners. The riches have been there for the taking for individual wealth creation and through the taxing with licences and royalties national wealth creation. Also since time immemorial abandonment of the mine when the resource has been exhausted has been the common practice, with the cleanup, the restoration, the reinstatement of the landscape left to the community that has lived in that space premining.
With some 50,000 abandoned mines across Australia the impact on these communities is manifold, from an innocuous hole in the ground that can be used for recreation, to disturbed land prone to sinkholes and subsidence, through to the highly dangerous toxic and acidic leachate emitters. Although governments have been quick to set in place the taxing implements related to active mining, it is only in recent decades that rehabilitation requirements have been enshrined in legislation.
A derelict mine is one that no longer has an owner, but indeed it is in fact “owned” by the community of that area. That community was associated with that landscape before it was disturbed and lives with the disturbance presently and into the future. Similarly the government has moral ownership of the derelict mine as it had been party to approval, and implantation of the mine through licencing, taxing, and royalty collection.
The socio-cultural legacies of abandoned mines are intimately intertwined with the environmental legacies which are often all too visible. Communities endure and the derelict mines whilst inducing solastalgia in the individual generations that lived through the active mine life; offer in some cases opportunities for new use of the landscape and in other cases an enduring environmental hazard.