Toxic Trails to Lake Cowal

View of Gladstone industrial area where Orica manufactures 20,000 tonnes of sodium cyanide a year nearly all for the gold mining industry, August 2004

Route Reconnaissance for the Lake Cowal Cyanide Transports Gladstone to Goondiwindi,

Gladstone to Goondiwindi along the Dawson and Leichhardt Highways, Queensland
initial survey conducted by John Peace, 2 to 6 August 2004.


There are 236 waterways and 38 bridges between Port Gladstone and Goondiwindi in Queensland on the shortest most practical route to the Newell Highway in New South Wales. ie. the Dawson Highway joining the Leichhardt Highway at Bannana and proceeding to Goondiwindi where it joins the Newelll Highway at the Queensland New South Wales border, a total of 647 kilometres.

The waterways are comprised of, 1 Harbour, 7 Rivers, 65 named creeks, 31 unnamed creeks, 73 floodways and 59 roadside dams and lagoons.  162 of the waterways are dry, 35 are low, 28 are medium full and 11 are full.

The "Chain of Lagoons" 18 kilometres North of Taroom in the Taroom Shire and "Chinamanís Lagoon" at Miles in the Murilla Shire, both on the Leichhardt Highway, stand out as locations of potential high risk of contamination. Both are classified as significant environmental protection areas, the road runs directly through them, and they are both classified as high accident rate areas. Neither has bridges, having instead piped easements of significant proportions beneath the carriageways.

Further information is required regarding the extent of roadside verge which has been classified as of environmental significant between the two lagoons, I think it might be quite extensive. I made preliminary enquires concerning the types of flora and fauna present at the two sites of concern at the Landcare office in the township of Miles and have contact web sites addresses should further information be required in the future.

The road surfaces are in good condition at both sites but narrow at "Chinaman's Lagoon".

During the journey I encountered trucks transporting a wide variety of goods travelling in both directions as follows;

Farm produce, livestock, livestock food supplements, fodder and machinery, fuel, gas, explosives, hazardous chemicals, cement, timber, logs, frozen goods, supermarket goods, car carriers, general freight, container transporters and enclosed vehicles with unidentifiable loads.

Road trains were the most common followed by bogey doubles and tri-axle semi trailers with the least common being rigid chassis.

A great many wide long loads travelling North, both escorted and not escorted by support vehicles carrying earth moving equipment and steel fabrications were encountered.

Generally most of the road is in very poor condition ie. narrow, with deep undulations that result, even at low speeds, in a pitching and rolling motion very unconducive to maintaining directional stability of a motor vehicle.

An enormous amount of road kill is evident with tyre marks indicating driver's have veered off the road or into the oncoming lane. I encountered many people travelling at high speeds and a very low police presence.

During my extensive walk around the "Chain of Lagoons" area I caught a glimpse of a road train driver drinking a Four X can of beer while driving North over the road easement area at maximum speed.

Wallumburrawang Creek crossing north of Gilgandra, October 2004

Goondiwindi to Lake Cowal along the Newell Highway to West Wyalong then secondary road to Barrick Gold Mine main gate
initial survey conducted by John Peace, 14 to 31 October 2004.


There are 290 waterways and 71 Bridges between Goondiwindi on the NSW/Queensland border and the Barrick gold mine main gate at Lake Cowal on the most direct route i.e. the Newell Highway to West Wyalong followed by the most direct secondary road to the mine site, a total of 796 kilometres.

The waterways are comprised of 2 lakes, 8 rivers, 89 named creeks, 38 unnamed creeks, 63 marked floodways, 28 unmarked floodways, 58 roadside dams, 1 lagoon and 3 irrigation channels. 183 of the waterways are dry, 55 are low, 25 are half full, and 28 are full.

The major Cities and Towns in New South Wales through which the cyanide will be transported are as follows; Boggabilla, Moree, Narrabri, Coonabarabran, Gilgandra, Dubbo, Parkes, Forbes and West Wyalong.

The Wallumburrawang Creek Bridge 55 kilometres North of Gilgandra is of immediate concern regarding its potential to contribute to a major traffic accident.

The bridge is approximately 7 metres wide to the guardrails, 2 semitrailers can not pass on the bridge, a truck and car can pass but at a reduced speed and with caution. The bridge is located at the bottom of a gully with downhill slopes to both North and Southbound approaches. The visibility of oncoming vehicles is reduced to a minimum Southbound, due to the presents of a blind left hand curve approximately _ of a kilometre South of the bridge, and Northbound, due to a hill crest at slightly further distance North of the bridge.

There is a road intersection approximately 30metres North of the bridge into a property on the East side, and a popular rest spot entrance including a short runout on the West side, directly opposite. The road is in fairly good condition but is reasonably narrow with very limited road verge either side, particularly on the steeper, Northerly approach, leaving very little room for avoiding any swerving oncoming vehicle or crossing wildlife. The bridge is signposted at 500metres in both directions but is not speed limited.

I observed traffic negotiating the bridge continuously between 7pm and 8pm on Saturday the 16-10-04 during which time 24 trucks passed over safely. The next morning between 5am and 6am I observed an average of 1 truck per minute going over the bridge. I saw truck's tailgating one another and other motorists on both North and Southbound approaches to the bridge. My observations were conducted in good weather conditions with excellent visibility.

My observations lead me to conclude that there is a high probability that a major traffic incident involving one or more trucks could occur here some time in the future, particularly during wet weather and/or bad light conditions. The creek, which is spanned by this bridge, flows from the Warrumbungle Mountains area in the North, to the Castlereagh River to the Southwest.

Sandy creek 12 kilometres North of Gilgandra is another possible problem area. It appears to be an environmentally delicate area with a history of at least one multiple death accident. I observed four trucks tailgating one another while one of them overtook another over the bridge.

Golf Links creek at Dubbo receives run off water directly from the Newell Highway just a few metres away via means of roadside drains.

At Parks, a large constructed dam with abundant wildlife and recreation area adjacent to the Parks Visitors Centre receives run-off directly from the nearby Highway.

The town of Forbes has a lot at stake. The Lake Forbes constructed wetland in the town starts just 3 metres from the road verge. The road and rail bridges go right beside the water. South of the town, at about 3 kilometres distance, Gum Swamp Wildlife Refuge starts 30 metres on the down side of the road verge and drains water from at least _ of a kilometre of roadway.

At West Wyalong the road from the Newell Highway to Lake Cowal passes directly over the town floodway.

The entire length of the Newell Highway from Goondiwindi to West Wyalong is moderately wide, and generally speaking, the surface is in fair to poor condition overall. Many sections of road are narrow as well as in poor condition and call for a reduction in speed limit, however this is not the case, for example, approximately 5 kilometres North of Moree where a 110 kilometre speed limit is in place.

I encountered the same types of trucks in New South Wales that I did in Queensland, however South of Goondiwindi they were in far greater numbers. I saw many incidences of as many as 5 trucks travelling very close together in convoy, and on sections of road with poor visibility and with broken and/or uneven surfaces.

A low amount of road kill was evident, however, there was evidence of quite a few vehicles having left the road, leaving run off-tyre marks and bent or broken fences. For example, a guard rail ripped off and crash damage on the opposite guard rail, obviously a very serious crash, straight into Little Bumble creek by a big vehicle, just South of the Town of Gurley. Further South, evidence of a car having crashed recently, straight into Middle Galathera creek.

Many car drivers were driving well over the already high speed limit.

Tailgating is very common as is overtaking over double unbroken centre lines.

Whalan Creek Bridge approximately 96 kilometres North of Moree is speed-limited to 80 kilometres per hour. The frequency of trucks crossing between 7.30pm and 8.30pm on Thursday the 14-10-04 was an average of over 1 per minute, this frequency increased over the following few hours. Most cars and trucks during this period did not observe the requirement for a reduction in speed over the bridge.

Travelling South on the Newell Highway on Friday the 15-10-04, approximately 13 kilometres North of Moree, I was travelling the legal speed limit when l was overtaken by a road train bearing Queensland number plates, this occurred while I was negotiating a railway level crossing which was sign-posted with "Prepare To Stop". There are many railway level crossings along the 1,443 kilometres of the toxic trail surveyed, they were not counted, they would exceed 25.

This report concludes the initial survey of the toxic trail between Gladstone Queensland and the Barrick gold mine main gate on the edge of Lake Cowal in New South Wales.

I have highlighted in both these reports the need for our community's attention to be directed toward certain road verge sites that were of significant to me. This was done with a concern for public safety, the well being of those working in the transport industry, and to prevent the environmental damage that would inevitable occur following a collision involving a cyanide delivery transport vehicle on this route.

John Peace 5-11-04

Barrick Gold's front gate at Lake Cowal, October 2004 protest outside the Australian Gold Conference, Melbourne, March 2002


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