A TWO kilometre stretch of Browns Creek has disappeared and the farmer who owns the land believes mining activity is the culprit.
Brian Adams has lived at Tallwood, 20km south of Orange, for all of his 65 years and had never seen Browns Creek run dry until December 1999.
At 2.30am on December 23, underground operations at the Browns Creek Gold Mine were suspended following a massive water ingress 500 metres below the surface.
A controlled explosion had broken into an underground water body, known as an aquifer, releasing water into the mine at a rate of up to 4000 litres per second.
South African mining company Durban Rooderpoort Deep (DRD) was in the final stages of acquiring the mine from Hargraves Resources when the explosion flooded the mine, production from which was one of Australia’s lowest cost gold mining operations.
After the acquisition was completed a decision was later made to close the mine.
More than 100 people lost theirs jobs with the closure and DRD is now in the hands of an administrator.
In the week following the explosion land holders 2km upstream from the mine found a sink hole about five metres wide and three metres deep.
Instead of flowing along the creek bed, Browns Creek was now pouring out of site through a limestone portal.
Mr Adams believes the sink hole was created when the aquifer burst into the mine altering the nature of the underground water body.
He said the change in pressure simply sucked the creek off the surface of his property.
“It’s like someone pulled the plug out of a big bath,” he said.
The aquifer has since filled the 500 metre deep underground mine and has all but filled the open cut section to a depth of more than 100 metres.
By comparison, Orange’s Suma Park Dam is 30 metres deep at the wall.
Mr Adams said the open cut was expected to overflow by the end of the year but there was no joy in that fact for him.
The Adams family has farmed in the Tallwood area since 1928 and while there had been some “dry times”, Mr Adams said December 1999 and since was the first time his section of Browns Creek had failed to water his stock.
He said the mine filled the sink hole with five truck loads of cement and gravel but almost immediately, just metres away, a second hole appeared.
Two kilometres of Browns Creek is now dry, a kilometre of which runs through Mr Adam’s property.
A kilometre of dry creek bed runs across mine property.
“The mine don’t want to have anything to do with it now. They maintain this hole has nothing to do with the mine but we know better. This happened just after they closed the mine,” Mr Adams said.
Mr Adams said if DRD did not believe it was at fault, why did it fill the initial sink hole.
A spokesman for DRD referred the Central Western daily to administrator Ferrier Hodgson in Perth.
Ferrier Hodgson was contacted to comment on the allegations but has not responded.
Blayney Shire Councillor Bruce Kingham has followed the issue closely and said it was clear the mine had to do something.
He said if the mine was unwilling to act, the Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC) should step in and force the mine to make amends.
DLWC Central West resource compliance manager Bruce Rutherford said department hydrologists were investigating the cause of the sink hole but until that was determined no action could be taken.
He said sink holes in limestone country were not unusual and were mostly caused when the water table fell causing the limestone to dry out.
The falling water table reduced pressure underground and the limestone could then fracture, resulting in a sink hole.
He said it was possible there was an extensive limestone network of caverns and fissures in the area around the Browns Creek Mine.
He said damage caused by mining was an issue for the Department of Mineral Resources.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources said mines paid a bond to the department but that money can only be used for rehabilitation work within the mine boundary.
She said if Mr Adams and DRD could not reach an agreement, it was a matter for the mine warden within the Attorney General’s Department.