Protests by the Save Lake Cowal campaign have halted work at the Barrick Gold open pit mine at Lake Cowal, western New South Wales, over the Easter Weekend. Lake Cowal is an ephemeral lake lying in the Lachlan River plain within the Murray-Darling Basin, home to many migratory water birds and sacred sites of the Wiradjuri people.
Twenty Eight people were arrested on Sunday when protestors walked onto the open pit mine closing it down. They were authorised to enter the mine site by Wiradjuri Tradtional Owners.
Sydney Indymedia | Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (Australia) | Save Lake Cowal | Protest Barrick Gold | Background - Lake Cowal Video (2006) | Rainforest Information Centre - Lake Cowal Campaign
Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company, uses highly toxic cyanide in the gold mining process with the cyanide transported over 1600 km by rail and truck from Gladstone in Queensland to Sydney and over the Blue Mountains to the mine. Since 2006 Cyanide Watch has born witness to the cyanide crimes of the gold mining industry.
The Lake Cowal Gold mine also uses up to 15 megalitres of water per day pumped from artesian bores. This bore water comes from the sacred underground Dreaming track, also know as the Bland palaeochannel. The region surrounding the mining site is enduring its eighth year of drought. The Murry Darling River basin, which produces much of Australia's agricultural produce, is under severe stress from lack of water flows caused by several years of drought and over-allocation of water for irrigation.
The protest is the seventh yearly gathering of solidarity with the Wiradjuri people and their ongoing opposition to the mine, and further expansion of the mine. "We asked our supporters to enter the mine site to bear witness to the destruction and document the mine's impact. It is important that Wiradjuri maintain access to our cultural sites." said traditional owner Neville Chappy Williams.
Members of the Wiradjuri conducted a smoking ceremony inside the mine site. They alledge that over 10,000 artefacts have been stolen and kept by Barrick Gold Corporation at the mine site in a compound encircled by a 6 foot fence.
"This is a fight for justice, Barrick Gold Corporation is destroying our culture," states Wiradjuri Traditional Owner from the Lake Cowal area, Neville Chappy Williams at the smoking ceremony, "We have been in the courts now for 10 years, it has been a desperate, never ending uphill fight but we are not giving up and we are not going away."
"They are destroying our culture so we stand firmly in the ground to assert our inherit right to occupy and enjoy our land. Aboriginal sovereignty has never been ceded, we have a right under 116 of the constitution to practice our religion."
Caroline Glass-Patterson, Wiradjuri woman from the local area stated "We stand here on poisoned and desecrated land, the smoking ceremony will cleanse and protect the artefacts. We want Barrick Gold to shut down it's operation and leave and for our artefacts to go bought back to country."
In February 2009 the NSW Land and Environment Court handed down a decision in favour of Wiradjuri Traditional Owner, Neville Chappy Williams, with an injunction restraining the NSW Minister of Planning from determining the E42 Modification Request for the proposed expansion of Barrick Gold's mine in Lake Cowal.
"We are very pleased with the result", stated Mr. Williams, "We have been fighting against the world's largest gold mining company, Barrick Gold, for nearly 10 years, we will continue to fight until we get justice. Barrick Gold has ridden shot gun over this ecologically significant and sacred land for far too long. "
In March 2008 Wiradjuri Traditional Owner, Neville 'Chappy' Williams, exposed a massive collapse at Barrick’s Cowal Gold Project in Lake Cowal.
Barrick Gold has been criticised for their mining practices by indigenous leaders from many mining regions. In May 2008 several international indigenous leaders attended Barrick Gold's Shareholder's meeting. Questions by indigenous delegates were censored from the webcast of the meeting. Many indigenous communities impacted by Barrick Gold are calling for investors to divest their shares and no longer support a transnational corporation that perpetrates gross violations of human rights, such as alleged killings, rapes, poisoned waters, poisoned rivers, poisoned soil, and forced migration.