Letter to Fairfax Regional Media: Dargues Reef Gold Mine Coverage

Dear Kerrie,

Earlier this year, the Bay Post/Moruya Examiner covered the controversy around Unity Mining’s proposal to process gold ore concentrate on-site (at the Dargues Reef mine near Major’s Creek) using cyanide. Since the plans for on-site processing were canned on September 8 2015, Regional Fairfax media have fallen silent on the Dargues Mine. But cyanide was just the tip of the iceberg.

According to their Shareholder Report of 28/10/2015, Unity Mining still intends to proceed with the mine itself, along with all the other clauses of ‘Modification 3’. This includes an enlarged, open-air Tailings Storage Facility that will suspend 1.22 megatons (1.22 million tonnes) of toxic mining refuse, containing concentrated levels of arsenic, heavy metals, and other toxic elements in the Deua River / Moruya River catchment.

It must also be made common knowledge that the engineering company contracted by Unity Mining, Knight Piesold, were the original engineers for the Canadian Mt Polley Tailings Storage Facility (TSF), which failed catastrophically on August 4, 2014. Some 25 million tonnes of heavy-metal laden mine tailings mixed with stormwater gushed into the Quesnel & Fraser river systems, poisoning the water supply to entire towns, ending tourism and depressing property value and contaminating marine and mammal habitats and food chains. Canadian media has resoundingly called this the worst environmental disaster in their country’s history.

Knight Piesold is now responsible for the engineering of the Dargues Reef Gold Mine’s TSF, upon whose integrity some 60% of the Eurobodalla’s water supply will depend, along with property value within the Shire, the local tourism industry, agriculture in the Araluen and Deua River Valleys, and the ecosystem of the Deua National Park and beyond,

The Report on Mt Polley Tailings Storage Facility Breach is the definitive scientific investigation into the the causes of the Canadian disaster. Although it was not mandated to name the companies liable, It identifies the original design of the Tailings Storage Facility to be the root cause of the breach. This Review of the above report by the Centre for Science in Public Participation (‘CSP2‘) names the companies found responsible (Knight Piesold and the mine owner/operators, Imperial Metals), as do countless Canadian news articles.

I am a Deua River / Moruya resident who returned to the South Coast this year after working in Canada as a river guide (whitewater rafting). I was in British Columbia at the time of the Mt Polley spill and was in fact floating down an affected river (the Fraser) at the time. I can attest to the effects of that spill and the probable consequences of a similar incident here, i.e. permanent disfigurement to the environment and economy of the region. I can source any of the information given in this email, and am willing to provide more information and/or interview with one of your reporters (I believe it was Carmen McIntosh who covered the issue previously).

This concerns our most fundamental resource, fresh water, and I am aware of no more pressing issue to the region. Please give this due coverage and re-open the debate over the mine’s approval and existence.

Thank you,

Tom Wells

Submitted to Fairfax Media 12/11/2015 (edited for this post)

Letter in Defence of the Deua River, its Ecosystem, and its People

In the bleary-eyed minutes before the midnight deadline on August 26, I submitted the following letter in opposition to Unity Mining’s plans to mine and process gold ore using cyanide at the headwaters of the Deua River, Australia. I offer it to the ether.

1. Objection to the Dargues Gold Mine: Modification 3

Over the last six years, I’ve explored dozens of rivers in Canada, the United States, and Chilean Patagonia by raft and kayak.  I’ve rowed and paddled thousands of river miles from sleepy flatwater to rapids at the upper limit of commercial navigability. As a river guide, I’ve introduced an inquisitive, international public to the beauty and rush of freshwater in motion, and to the humbling grandeur of its framing landscapes, from alpine forests to cacti-studded deserts. And I’ve witnessed the consequences of a Tailings Storage Facility spill in a freshwater ecosystem, smelled its septic waft and felt its toxicity in the pores of my skin. I’ve listened to the denial of accountability that follows, the down-playing of disaster by mining officials and government alike. I’ve watched as the cost of clean-up skyrockets over the bond fronted by the company responsible, and into the stratosphere of public funds, despite the underlying impossibility of rehabilitation except by the passage of decades, centuries, or millennia. Continue reading

Unwinter on the Rogue River

Rogue river 2015

19/02 – 22/02, 2015

We bowled South down the Washington interstate in the invincible two-door Honda with rasping brakes. Polished pickups slurped by, personal freighters purchased in a gas price slump like flaming skull tattoos commissioned in an hour of drunkenness. Four tonnes of steel and four hundred horsepower to carry one marginally overweight male and his cell phone along a paved highway. I looked to the baking February sky for signs of winter. Does Mr Bigfootprint notice that something is not quite right with the seasons? Does he make the connection? My thoughts idled away as my foot grew heavy on the pedal. We crossed the Columbia River into Oregon, pylon shadows weaving across the hood. Continue reading


The Deua River borders my folk’s property in New South Wales, Australia. Since the age of 11, I’ve taken the plunge into the placid green rippling with eucalyptus trees lining the prehistoric forest. This is the swimming hole I dream about during years abroad, the gully that echoes in my mind when the otherwise abstract idea of ‘home’ is cast in conversation or printed on an immigration form. Continue reading

Moto Tramp 125cc_part XV: Devilspawn

12/03/14 – 13/03/14

Still in Puerto Pyramides, Peninsula Valdes, Argentina

The mosquito  is among the most readily despised of all lifeforms on Earth. More airborne than the leech, more illusive than the paralysis tick, more numerous than the Wall Street stock broker. Mosquitos were designed by the Devil to seek out the ear of a sleeping human, and beat their wings at a trillion times per second, pausing to sip blood from shallow capillaries. If convenient, they’ll stick you with a blood-borne disease. And when you come unasleep to their near-subliminal buzz, swatting at the darkness and scratching the pinprick welts on your face and knuckles, they’ll dance out of reach, riding the updraught of your semi-conscious flailing. There they’ll hover unseen, just long enough for you to process the sleep-drugged notion that you’ve won. Then, as you chase the disintegrating elements of your dream back into the underworld, they’ll descend from the ceiling, light on a freshly exposed vein, juicy with the pulse of your reveries. They’ll probe for a lucky pore, inject their needle-mouth with surgical indifference, drink triple their weight in blood, and return to restricted earspace to buzz and itch you from sleep once more. They won’t be satisfied at midnight, won’t leave you alone by one. They will not rest until they’ve borne into your ear and gorged on your dreams. Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers