Dreams now dust: Farm nightmare at the coalface

A LOCAL couple have spoken of their anguish at inadvertently becoming the forgotten victims of the state’s lucrative coalmining boom.

Not a day passes when Jim and Robynne Picton do not regret their decision 11 years ago to relocate from Collarenebri to the picturesque Wean Valley.

The 6300-acre mixed farming operation was to be not only their superannuation, but something special to pass down to their three children.

But the subsequent arrival of the Tarrawonga, Boggabri and Maules Creek coalmining operations on their doorstep has seen the family’s dreams turn to dust.

“We had hoped to live here forever and expand our business enterprise for our children, but there is no farming future in this valley,” Mrs Picton, 52, said.

“It was a lovely, quiet country valley, but not anymore. The mines are all around us and there’s going to be more popping up all the time. We’re stuck; we can’t get out.”

Despite the property sharing 70 per cent of its boundary with the Tarrawonga mine, the Pictons say Whitehaven Coal has made it clear there will be no buy-out.

Yet for years the moment any prospective buyers learn of the fertile land’s proximity to the intensive mines, they beat an immediate and hasty retreat.

“I’m 58 now and the life of the mines is probably another 15 to 20 years,” Mr Picton said. 

“If I can’t sell it in that time, well, they’ll just cart me out in a box.”

The Pictons are not anti-coalmining. What they are, however, is angry that state and federal governments could allow such mines to surround them.

Most days they wake to a dusty haze stirred up by either the open-cut extraction methods, or the associated heavy-vehicle movements along the nearby gravel roads.

It infiltrates their house and their water supply.

They do not know what the implications of living in this environment will be to their health in the long-term, and are not keen to find out.

“We seem to be in a situation where no one seems to want to help us,” Mr Picton said.

“At this stage we’re more or less waiting for the knock on the door (with an offer) which we probably know is not going to come.”

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