STUART Andrews spent the first decades of his life in the shadow of his maverick ‘‘genius’’ father Peter on the Bylong Valley property, Tarwyn Park, that was both paradise and battleground.
Now father and son barely speak after Stuart Andrews sold Tarwyn Park – the property hailed as the beacon for sustainable Australian land use in the future – to Korean mining company Kepco in February last year as it seeks approval for an open-cut coal mine.
‘‘For three years we made a stand against mining, but I knew we couldn’t hold them out forever because they have the law on their side,’’ Stuart Andrews said this week. ‘‘It reached a point where I thought, am I going to drag my family through what my father dragged us through, because you’re on your own.
‘‘It was like an oasis compared to everywhere else, but Peter has always argued his methods can be replicated.’’– GERRY HARVEY
‘‘It’s just you trying to stop a multinational company, and the politicians couldn’t give a s---t.
‘‘You don’t have options. You can try to negotiate a deal with them or go to arbitration where they overwhelm you, but the outcome’s the same.
‘‘They wanted to purchase. They made that clear from the start.’’
The lack of public protest about Kepco’s purchase of almost all privately owned farm land in the Upper Hunter’s Bylong Valley and increasingly strident political support for coal mining at both federal and state levels ‘‘led us to make a decision to sell’’, Mr Andrews said.
His family was shattered by Peter Andrews’ decades-long battle for recognition of sustainability reforms at Tarwyn Park that directly challenged established Australian land use practices.
Stuart Andrews, whose sons are 16 and 12, had no wish to repeat history by continuing the fight against the mine and appearing to prioritise Tarwyn Park over his wife and children.
‘‘The only thing I could see was me creating the same history for my children that my father made for us by fighting for the property to the point where you lose sight of everything else. What I was picturing was a future with my wife and children gone. I knew there’d be criticism, but whatever way I went I knew I was buggered.’’
In 2005 Peter Andrews’ fight to have his unorthodox land-use practices at Tarwyn Park understood and accepted by the scientific community and government was shown on the ABC’s Australian Story, and later became the segment most viewers wanted to see again.
It explored Peter Andrews’ loss of the farm twice, in 1994 and 1999, when his focus on changing minds about the land-use practices left the family with little income, and Stuart Andrews’ purchase of Tarwyn Park in 1999 and acceptance of the debt.
On Monday Australian Story returns to Tarwyn Park for the fallout of the farm’s sale to Kepco.
Peter Andrews said this week that he encouraged his son to sell to Kepco when the Korean company bought out exploration licence holder Anglo Coal.
‘‘I told him to sell, but only because his life would have been destroyed if he’d fought it – just like mine’s been,’’ Peter Andrews said.
The rift between father and son, which both men trace back many years, has deepened because of events after the sale.
Retailer Gerry Harvey, who has had success with Peter Andrews’ ‘‘natural sequence’’ methods on two Hunter properties and has regular contact with both men, said Tarwyn Park’s sale for a mine was ‘‘a pity because it’s always a pity if you sell up good floodplain land and it’s mined’’.
‘‘Once it’s gone, it’s gone,’’ he said.
‘‘You could put a spade in the ground at Tarwyn Park and say ‘holy hell’ because it’s beautiful soil. Full of worms. It was like an oasis compared to everywhere else, but Peter has always argued his methods can be replicated.’’
University of Newcastle academic Peter Stevens has described Peter Andrews’ land use reforms as of inestimable value: “If ever there was a property that represents the quintessential Australian landscape and how it can be developed and used in the long term for productivity, Tarwyn Park is it.”
In April last year a NSW Government mining and petroleum gateway panel assessed Kepco’s plan for underground and open-cut mining of more than 120million tonnes of coal over 29 years in Bylong Valley between Denman and Mudgee.
The panel found the project complied with only one of 12 assessment criteria and would lead to ‘‘significant impacts on highly productive groundwater’’; that it did not properly assess impacts on nearly 2000 hectares of equine land; and had already had a direct impact on the equine critical industry cluster with the purchase of Bylong Park Thoroughbreds.
Retired Professor David Mitchell, who specialised in management of water resources and strongly supported Peter Andrews’ land use practices, said on Friday that Bylong Valley was ‘‘good agricultural country’’ and ‘‘I would oppose an open-cut coal mine straightaway because the damage that is done is irreparable’’.
‘‘You’re actually changing the environment permanently if you’re talking about mining for such a very long period of time. If there are huge benefits to be gained and those benefits are widespread, then you can make an argument for it, but if the benefits are to be gained by a few people, then it’s right for people to question it,’’ he said.
Bylong Valley Protection Alliance secretary Craig Shaw asked alliance members to ‘‘walk a mile in the shoes’’ of people who had sold to Kepco, including Stuart Andrews.
‘‘No doubt this has been an extraordinarily difficult decision to make, given all the blood, sweat, tears and heartache that have gone into Tarwyn over the years,’’ he said.
Stuart Andrews and his family can stay at Tarwyn Park for a number of years under the agreement signed with Kepco.
An environmental assessment of the project is yet to be placed on public exhibition.
Mr Andrews said the reality of ending his relationship with Tarwyn Park would not hit until he walked out the gate. He reserves his strongest criticism for politicians: ‘‘The mining companies are just doing what the rules say they’re allowed to do. It’s the politicians who don’t understand the impacts, on the environment and families and communities, and they don’t care.’’