MAC: Mines and Communities

International Groups Decry Barrick Gold's Plans for Lake Cowal in Australia

Published by MAC on 2002-02-18

International Groups Decry Barrick Gold's Plans for Lake Cowal

Organisation: Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal
Contact Person: Ruth Rosenhek
Telephone: (02) 66213294
Address: PO Box 368, Lismore, NSW 2480

Word is spreading rapidly about Toronto's Barrick Gold's plans to implement a cyanide leach gold mine at Lake Cowal situated in Central West New South Wales, Australia.

During World Wetland Week (Feb 2-6), international support for the protection of Lake Cowal spread rapidly across the globe. Organizations and individuals worldwide sent letters to Toronto's Barrick Gold, world's 2nd largest gold producer, asking Barrick to put a halt to their plans. Groups raised their voices from across east and west Europe, Serbia, Ukraine, Canada, US, Indonesia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and South Africa. Campaign Supporters from abroad now include IUCN Sri Lanka, WWF Bolivia, Friends of the Earth International, Earth Justice Movement (South Africa) and Institute for the Protection of Nature of Serbia.

"Wetlands are of international significance." says Ruth Rosenhek, spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal. "According to World Watch Institute, the Earth has lost over one half its wetlands in the last 100 years and more than 800 million people are now without clean freshwater. Australia has lost an astronomical 89% of its wetlands."

"Wetlands are important because they supply freshwater. They act like giant sponges that absorb rainfall and slowly release it, while helping to purify water and control floods."

Lake Cowal is not only named in Australia's Directory of Important Wetlands, it is also listed for its high conservation value on the Register of the National Estate.

According to the Register of the National Estate listing, "Lake Cowal supports populations in excess of 1% of the national population of waterbird species. Because of this New South Wales Government is currently preparing a nomination for its consideration as a wetland of international importance under the RAMSAR convention."

"Unfortunately, National Parks & Wildlife Services has not pursued the nomination for Lake Cowal due to 'resource constraints' and 'complex nature of tenure', says Rosenhek. We believe that these wetlands would have been nominated had a gold mining project not been in the works. We urge NPWS to start working on the nomination as a matter of urgency. To do otherwise would be to risk losing a crucial component of the world's heritage."

"Clearly it is too risky to put a cyanide leach gold mine on the edge of a precious Lake and wetland system. Just last week a small spill in Northern Territories killed over 500 birds, a dingo and some kangaroos. It is not acceptable or sensible to risk terrible damage to drinking water, river life and birdlife to name but a few of the potential outcomes of this endeavor."

The Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal launched the campaign to protect Lake Cowal in December 2001. Membership in the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal has grown to now include 16 groups including Friends of the Earth Australia, Birds Australia, Nature Conservation Council, The Greens NSW and Humane Society International.

For more information, contact Ruth Rosenhek at (02) 66213294 and visit

Rainforest Information Centre
Box 368, Lismore 2480 NSW
(02) 66213294

See the Lake Cowal campaign at

The Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal (whose members include
Friends of the Earth Australia, Birds Australia, Nature Conservation
Council, Mooka Traditional Owners, Mineral Policy Institute, NSW
Greens) is asking supporters to mail the following...


Please email the letter below or a modified version to:, with a cc to,,,,,

Or post to the address shown. Thanks!

Mr Peter Munk, Chairman
Barrick Gold Corporation
Royal Bank Plaza - Suite 2700
Toronto, Canada M5J 2J3

Dear Mr Munk,

Please halt the gold mining project planned for Lake Cowal, New South Wales, Australia.

The Australian Heritage Commission has suggested that the NSW government consider the Lake Cowal region for RAMSAR listing. Lake Cowal is included in Australia's Register of the National Estate and its Directory of Important Wetlands. The National Trust of Australia (NSW) has also listed Lake Cowal as a 'Landscape Conservation Area.'

In fact, Lake Cowal is habitat for a high diversity of waterbirds. With 172 species of birds recorded including migratory waders protected under international migratory bird treaties such as the the China-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement, (CAMBA)and the Japan-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement, (JAMBA).

It is unacceptable to risk cyanide spills, acid mine drainage and heavy metals, to name but a few of the possible consequences, in these important, sensitive wetlands. A spill of cyanide and arsenic laced wastewater could severely damage the entire wetland and related waterways, killing fish, birdlife and farm stock. Drinking water could be severely damaged. With the region being prone to floods, these sorts of risks are vastly increased.

We support the Aboriginal traditional owners of Lake Cowal/The Bland who have declared their opposition to the Lake Cowal gold mine project. It is our understanding that Homestake/Barrick and their predecessors have not properly consulted with many Aboriginal traditional owners from the region.

Homestake/Barrick should reconsider this undertaking. We believe that there are alternative means of revenue generation possible for this region that would benefit both land and people.

The environmental and human rights record of Homestake/Barrick has already been marred by a number of infamous incidents. Examples are the 1997 civil suit filed by the US Department of Justice, the State of South Dakota and the Cheyenne River Sioux against Homestake for heavy metal pollution of Whitewood Creek, South Dakota; the May 1998 spill of cyanide-laced tailings from the Homestake Mine into Gold Run Creek, South Dakota; and current allegations against Barrick in Chile and Tanzania.

We urge you to work towards restoring your corporations' reputation by abandoning the Lake Cowal project forthwith. To proceed further would be to engage in a costly and long drawn out conflict with environmental defenders of NSW and Australia.

Clean water is more precious than gold.

Please advise us of your decision at your soonest convenience.

Yours respectfully,

YOUR GROUP or AFFILIATION if you have one
CITY/STATE/COUNTRY (Include full address if you would like a reply)

For further information please see

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