The campaign
to protect Lake Cowal


Lake Cowal is an ephemeral lake in the central west of New South Wales, Australia, in the triangle formed by the towns of West Wyalong, Condobolin and Forbes. Presently dry, but when filled the lake becomes the biggest inland lake in NSW and supports an estimated 400,000 birds including 172 different species that breed there, including internationally protected migratory waders from China and Japan.

Lake Cowal is also "heartland of the Wiradjuri Nation" according to Aboriginal elder, Neville Williams.

The Carr Labor government of NSW granted a license to the Toronto based multi national gold mining giant, Barrick Gold, to mine at Lake Cowal and the mine started up 31 March 2006.

The mine development and operation is actively opposed by the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal which is coordinated by Ruth Rosenhek out of the Rainforest Information Centre in Lismore.

Friends of the Earth Australia are also active in opposing the mine. The campaign is led by Wiradjuri Elder, Neville "Chappie" Williams on behalf of the Wiradjuri Traditional Owners of the Lake Cowal region and has broad based support environmentalists statewide (including the NSW Greens), national and international.

Here are some facts about the mining operation proposed.

Over 8 years Barrick will excavate and leave an open pit 1 km by 800 metres wide and 325 metres deep. Approximately 128 million tonnes of mined waste rock produced over the life of the proposed mine.

To do this it will consume about 15 million litres of (tax free) diesel

Over 13 years a mill cyanide leach process will extract 80 tonnes of gold from low to medium ore bodies averaging about 0.6 gram per tonne.

Annually this process will require the transportation and consumption of the following industrial chemicals:

  • 6,090 tonnes per annum of sodium cyanide;

  • 7,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate;

  • 522 tonnes of sodium isobutyl xanthate;

  • Less than 60 tonnes of Magnafloc 155;

  • 702 tonnes of hydrochloric acid;

  • 0.12 tonnes of sulfamic acid

  • 12,600 tonnes of sulphuric acid;

  • 2,100 tonnes of hydrogen peroxide;

  • 56,700 tonnes of quick lime; and

  • 248 tonnes of sodium hydroxide.

    The gold is extracted from the powdered rock by soaking it in a 2% cyanide solution. Most of the other chemicals involved are for neutralising the cyanide and moderating the poisons that are collected in vast bodies of permanently polluted water called tailings dams.

    Barrick Gold has also been granted water licences to sink four artesian bores and pump, up to 15 mega litres per day but not more than 3,650 mega litres a year over the next 13 years. This daily water consumption is more than the entire domestic use of Lismore district.

    Be assured that Barrick will not be taking the water with them when they go. Permanently poisoned, it will held in tailings dams - two of them each 1.2 km square.

    When the mine winds up, the poisoned water will be transferred to the void (the open pit) and left behind in the landscape for a problem for future generations after the gold is long gone and the coroporate entity responsible for the mining, is merged or liquidated, gone, gone, far, far beyond accountability.

    Gold mining has become a seriously dirty industry (see ), scarring the Earth and poisoning ground waters on a scale so massive that it boggles the lay imagination.

    Australia is presently producing 100,000 tonnes of sodium cyanide annually for the gold mining industry, 60% transported about and consumed in Australia, 40% shipped by sea to gold mines in the South Pacific and SE Asia.

    This annual massive dose of poison being delivered annually to Gaia can be expected to grow as gold miners work lower grade ores, dig bigger pits and use more tonnes of toxins for processing.

    Graeme Dunstan, captain, has vowed to defend Lake Cowal and work towards banning cyanide leach gold mining everywhere and forever.

    He sees the monstrous pits and toxic tailings left by the gold miners as crimes against future generations of humans and other mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and yabbies and he names the perpetrators cyanide criminals.

    The gold mining industry is notorious for its deceits, its denials and its oppression of indigenous people who object to their toxic practices.

    For an example of how Barrick Gold in partnership with Newmont Gold have been poisoning groundwater and riding roughshod over locals at the Kalgoorlie Superpit, Western Australia, check out the 2004 Cooke Review. Download a 900Kb pdf copy of the report

    Graeme has contributed to other campaigns to bear witness to the environmental crimes of the gold mining industry.

    See the successful campaign of 1998-2000 by the Big Hill Action Group to prevent an open pit being dug at Stawell, Victoria Hill/.

    See also the contribution he made to the successful campaign to close the cyanide gold mine on Timbarra mountain near Tenterfield, NSW, at has so far made seven missions to Lake Cowal.

    See Graeme's letter from Lake Cowal, February 2002

    See Bearing Witness to the Sacred at Lake Cowal - Easter 2002

    See The Lake Cowal Dance - Easter 2006

    See Resurrection at Lake Cowal, Easter 2007

    See Standing with the ancestors, bearing witness for the Earth, Easter 2008

    Cyanide Watch is a new direction and a new tactic in the campaign to protect Lake Cowal. It is a campaign of witness and direct action to stop the cyanide transports and ban cyanide gold mining forever and it hit the road in March 2006.

    The cyanide used at Lake Cowal is made by Orica at its manufacturing plant in Yarwun, Gladstone, Queensland, and is transported by Pacific National by rail Gladstone to Brisbane (Acacia Ridge), Brisbane to Sydney (Chullora), by truck across Sydney through Bankstown and Auburn to Parramatta, then west on the rail through the Blue Mountains (and the catchment for most of Sydney's water supply) to Dubbo, then by truck along the Newell Highway, through Peak Hill, Parkes, Forbes, to West Wyalong.

  • Go here to find out about past campaigns.

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