Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Greens push to end mining in Sanctuaries - and Arkaroola's case

the latest Arkaroola Sanctuary newsletter highlights the damage done by mineral exploration - link to the 'From the Ark' newsletterBelow is an excerpt from Greens MLC Mark Parnell's speech to the State's upper house on the 17th of October introducing his National Parks and Wildlife (Mining in Sanctuaries) Amendment Bill of 2007. The Bill seeks to remove provisions allowing for mineral exploration and mining in Sanctuaries, and was specifically drafted in the face of the threat to Arkaroola sanctuary.

As can be seen by following the link to the latest Arkaroola Sanctuary Newsletter at left, and by examining my 'Arkaroola - would U mine it?' photoset on flickr, mineral exploration continues to damage this fragile mountain wilderness, already under severe stress from the ongoing drought.

My bill seeks to amend the sanctuary provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act in two key areas. The first of those areas is that a sanctuary can only be de-proclaimed — or undone, if you like — by a resolution of both houses of parliament which have been given 14 sitting days' notice. This brings sanctuaries into line with other parts of the conservation estate... At present, the minister can simply revoke the sanctuary declaration at any time.

Also, if the landowner requests revocation, then the minister must revoke the sanctuary status. The problem with the current arrangements is that the wishes of those who seek to protect important habitat can be undone easily by either the minister or future owners... The principle, stated very simply, when it comes to the conservation state is one of 'easy in and hard out'. In other words, it should be relatively simple to add to the conservation estate. It should be more difficult, but not impossible, to remove such areas.

I now come to the second part of my bill, and there are really only the two operative provisions. The second part is to prohibit mineral exploration and mineral extraction (or mining) in sanctuaries. At present, there is no legal impediment to mining in declared sanctuaries...

It will come as no surprise to honourable members that the motivation for my bringing this bill to parliament today is the proposal for uranium mining in the Mount Gee area of the Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges. For those who are not familiar with this area, Arkaroola is 600 kilometres north of Adelaide. It covers an area of 610 square kilometres. The wilderness sanctuary features rugged mountains with towering granite peaks, magnificent gorges, ancient seabeds and life-sustaining waterholes. The sanctuary is home to rare and endangered species, including the yellow-footed rock wallaby and the short-tailed grass wren. Arkaroola has become a leading ecotourism destination, and offers more than a dozen Advanced Ecotourism accredited tours, including the famous Ridgetop Tour that thrills patrons with its four-wheel drive trek through steep and spectacular scenery. The Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary, as members may know, was the winner of the 2005 and 2006 South Australian Tourism Awards for Ecotourism, and also the 2006 award for sustainable tourism. Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is undoubtedly South Australia's premier eco-tourism destination. What is the proposal that has so concerned conservationists in relation to Arkaroola? The proposal for uranium mining is at the behest of Marathon Resources.


The Arkaroola sanctuary has a real history in South Australia. Members will be aware of the heritage of the Sprigg family, who have been responsible for that area. The current owners and operators, Margaret and Douglas Sprigg, say on their website that they are deeply disturbed by the Marathon proposal. They say that they do not want a mine of any description on Arkaroola. Their father, prominent South Australian geologist and conservationist Reg Sprigg, purchased Arkaroola in 1967 and, with his wife Griselda, transformed the former sheep station into the multi-award winning wilderness sanctuary that has become an outback tourist destination icon. The Spriggs say — and I agree with them:
"While we are not against mining per se, the thought of the uranium mine right in the heartland of this fragile but spectacular landscape is abhorrent to us."

They note on their website that, because the land is a pastoral lease and only has sanctuary status, they do not see that there are any legal grounds, or that it is difficult for them, to prevent uranium mining. That begs the question: what is the value of sanctuary status if it cannot be used to preserve these important areas as sanctuaries? That is not the only status this land has. It is also part of Australia's national heritage: Mount Gee is on the Register of the National Estate. It is also a class A conservation environment under South Australia's development system. That begs the question of how we properly manage and protect this area.

The full text of Mark's speech is available here -

The Bill itself is available here -

All Mark's links on the issue are available here -

From the Ark - Arkaroola Sanctuary newsletter spells out their case against mining.

The Spring 2007 edition of the newsletter of the Arkaroola Sanctuary spells out their case against the mine, and provides a wealth of background information on the geology and biology of the area. It features some disturbing images of the damage wrought by current exploration activities, which can also be clearly seen in the 'Arkaroola - would U mine it?' photoset.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

unwanted, unsightly and frankly unbelievable - marathon in arkaroola

what would be a radioactive slurry pit at mount gee -  link to the 'would U mine it?' set on flickrIf this is what the exploration phase is like, imagine the mine!

One might think that if a company was to be undertaking controversial exploration work in a highly-sensitive environment with a view to establishing a very large mine that company would go out of its way to minimise its impacts while it was doing so.

Not so, apparently, in the case of work being undertaken by Marathon Resources in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. Perhaps they feel that with the state government uncritically praising the mining boom to the skies acceptance of their project is a foregone conclusion.

This is a no way to treat an environmental and tourism icon! I was genuinely shocked, having been exposed to a good deal of the Department of Mineral Resources Development's propaganda regarding best-practice exploration. Little wonder the Sanctuary's owners, Doug and Marg Sprigg, want no part of the company's proposed mine!

ridgetop tour vehicles on the ridge opposite mount gee, overlooking the exploration area- link to the 'would U mine it?' set on flickrThis work is being undertaken directly adjacent to the route of the famous ridgetop tour. Extensive scarring is already visible from the tour vehicles in the basin lying to the east of Mount Gee, and exploration is due to expand there as this is the company's main target region.

The company says that it intends to establish the mine underground, using a giant tunnel they'll run in from the fringes of the ranges. We'd scarcely know they were there! Well, there'd be ventilation tunnels and emergency exit shafts! No, they couldn't say how many. Or just what this rather implausible scenario might cost.

scarring plainly visible from the ridgetop track, more activity is due in this area - link to the 'would U mine it?' set on flickr But would it all be underground? We were told this at a meeting I, along with representatives from The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation, attended at the Marathon's Adelaide offices on the 24th of September. But by the next week the company's CEO wasn't so sure, telling ABC Radio's 'Bush Telegraph' that they might install a shaft 'in the head of one of the gorges' with a trucking route - or even a conveyor - to reach their processing area on the plains! Through the wilderness sanctuary! Perhaps this was due to the recent $20 per pound fall in the price of Uranium?

At any rate, judging by their efforts so far one must have little confidence in the company's respect for the area, or their ability to manage their exploration crews' impact in this delicate semi-arid environment.

And no-one who has visited this area with eyes unclouded by dollar signs could fail to be impressed by it's majestic wildness, and its eminent suitability to remain what it is now, a sanctuary preserving this unique environment and the rich range of species associated with it.

For more images from the Mount Gee region see the 'Would U mine it?' set on flickr -

(also available as a slideshow from the page, or go straight to it here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/liamjon-d/sets/72157602426525519/show/

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Arkaroola back on the ABC's Bush Telegraph

The winner of this years Bush Telegraph national 'Australian Rural Icon' competition was the Arkaroola Sanctuary.

Now the sanctuary is back on the ABC - but in circumstances they would would rather have avoided.

Hear Arkaroola's Marg Sprigg and Marathon Resources' Stuart Hall discuss the proposed Mount Gee Uranium mine on the ABC Radio National Website, whether as an mp3 download or via streaming.


(the program dated Wed 3rd of October)

I will be in the district all next week, and hope to be able to provide my own photographs of the target area.