BULGA is a small but not insignificant village, first settled in 1820. Descendants of the first settlement families still live here. Their family names are on the tombstones of the tiny St Mark’s Church and inscribed on the pillars of the war memorial gates. The community is vibrant and connected with a strong attachment to the area. The countryside and wildlife are truly stunning.
Bulga first came to public attention in Australia and the world in 2013 when we won a landmark appeal in the NSW Land and Environment Court to stop the extension of Rio Tinto’s Warkworth and Mount Thorley mine.
In 2003 Warkworth Mine Limited was granted approval to extend the mine until 2021. This approval was conditional on an “offset” that required Rio Tinto and the NSW government sign a Ministerial Deed of Agreement to protect Saddle Ridge and land towards Bulga from mining as a conservation zone.
Conditions of this deed bound Warkworth mine to create a new “non-disturbance area” (NDA) to be protected in perpetuity. “Open-cut mining to be excluded”. The area to be protected contained Aboriginal artefacts, European heritage (part of the Great North Road) and a unique ecological community, the now “critically endangered” Warkworth Sands Woodland. The coal beneath the ridge was not considered economic to mine. The deed was duly signed by Warkworth Mine and the Planning Minister.
The EIS for this approval stated “Saddle Ridge will continue to provide considerable visual screening to the majority of Bulga throughout the mining extension (to 2021) and “the presence of the ridge will act as a buffer against unnecessary noise”.
As the price of coal rose due to demand from China, Rio Tinto lodged an application for the Warkworth Extension Project, proposing to open-cut mine through Saddle Ridge and the Warkworth Sands Woodland, towards the village of Bulga.
The Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association lodged a merits appeal against the approval in the NSW Land and Environment Court, where the approval of the Warkworth Extension Project was overturned judging that the impacts on biodiversity and the Bulga community outweighed any benefits it would bring to NSW. The Supreme Court upheld the Land and Environment Court’s ruling against the mine expansion.
Rio lodged an application for substantially the same project.
A PAC Review recommended approval for the mine, but recognised the severe impacts by warning that Bulga might have to be “relocated”. The Planning Department and Rio insisted impacts would be negligible.
In November 2015 after a high profile campaign by the Bulga community, and thousands of submissions against the project, it was approved.
We, the people of Bulga, are left stranded on unsaleable properties. Properties that were once havens of tranquillity already sit on the edge of an industrial hell-hole and it can only get worse. There is no acknowledgement of the gross affront to our lifestyle.
This government has sacrificed peace-loving citizens on an ill-informed quest for “progress”. When Rio (or any future buyer) walk away from this mine there will be a void almost 1500 acres in area and 1000 feet deep.
Bulga has fought long and hard, we love our homes and our community and we deserve to have been given the full protection of the legal system we justly utilised.
All we are saying, is give Bulga a chance.