Berrima Farmers, Landowners Threatened by Proposed Coal Mine

Kate Ausburn

Protesters from the Battle for Berrima group march through Sydney

A recently proposed coal mining development by Hume Coal is threatening to irreversibly damage the groundwater bores of 72 properties in Berrima, in the New South Wales Southern Highlands region.

Hume Coal admits in its own report that 30 per cent of these water bores would never return to normal levels, whilst the remainder would take roughly 76 years, or three generations, to come even close to making a comeback.

Ken Wilson, former president of the anti-Hume Coal collective Battle for Berrima, says that the impact the mine would have on the agricultural community will be unprecedented.

“It is an outrage that this level of impact on existing landowners, their businesses, livelihood and local economy can be even considered by Hume Coal,” Wilson said in a 2017 press release.

Berrima resident Julian Brophy believes that the impact of the mine on agriculture will be exacerbated by the intense drought currently plaguing New South Wales.

“We are in the grips of one of the worst droughts we’ve ever had, and we are looking at—within the drinking water catchment—giving more water away to mining companies, and not to people who rely on it for their farms and their agricultural work,” Brophy said.

While the farms generate their own income, the variety of farming done in the area acts as a draw for tourists, and a boost to the local economy.

“Tourism in the area is a massive thing… We have a network of what they call “food clusters” which are small, agricultural producers creating everything from wine to vegetables… a whole range of fantastic things,” Brophy said.

He says that the threat of contamination to Berrima’s groundwater resources will wreak havoc on their agricultural tourism industry, placing the local economy in danger.

“All of that is placed at risk,” Brophy says.

However, a 2017 Environmental Impact Statement lodged by environmental consulting agency EMM reports that the quality of the groundwater in the area will not experience a significant dip, “provided the mitigation measures discussed in Chapter 13 are implemented.”

The Battle for Berrima group refutes this in their submission to the NSW Department of Planning & Environment, citing Hume Coal’s “unknown and untested” mining method.

“These uncertainties are significant and warrant a “precautionary principle” to be applied, and the proposal not to be supported,” the submission reads.

A petition conducted in April by Battle for Berrima amassed a whopping 13,000 signatures, exceeding the minimum needed to force a parliamentary debate over the project.

The debate proved a victory for the activist organization, with several speakers from Parliament supporting the petition.


December 12, 2018: The NSW Department of Planning and Environment recommended against approval for the mine and the associated $37 million rail project, noting that the mine’s economic benefits would not outweigh its impacts on the community and the environment and citing the potential level of environmental damage to groundwater and surface water resources. The application has now been referred to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) for a public hearing, expected to take place during 2019.