The Battle for Barfield on the 7.30 report.

This article courtesy of the ABC might help you understand the whole battle between the NSW Farmer’s Association and the miners of Lightning Ridge.

Sourced from

Opal fever: Lightning Ridge battle heats up

By Paul Lockyer for The 7.30 Report

7.30 Report |

Posted Thu Jul 30, 2009 4:02pm AEST
Updated Thu Jul 30, 2009 5:03pm AEST

Another battle ground has opened up between miners and farmers in the north-west of New South Wales, where opal miners have a number of properties firmly in their sights.

Unlike the dispute between multi-national coal miners and the farmers of the fertile Liverpool Plains to the south, this is a story of small-time prospectors versus mulga country graziers. But passions run just as deep.

Opal mining began in the area in the early 1900s, when a discovery at Lightning Ridge triggered a rush.

Hundreds of men descended on the outback area – many of them carrying their few possessions in wheel barrows that they pushed for hundreds of kilometres. It is the only place in the world where the prized black opal is found.

The diggings around Lightning Ridge and the fields that stretch out from the town resemble a giant rabbit warren.

In the shafts below, the miners chip away – motivated by the same hopes and dreams that have sustained generations of prospectors.

Sebastian Deisenberger came from Germany 17 years ago and fell under the spell of the opal. He left behind a well paid engineering job to gamble at The Ridge, as it is known.

“When you go underground and you find the gem stone sitting in the wall and looking at you… that’s the beauty we have here,” he said.

Legendary rags to riches stories encourage the hopefuls. Fred Mallouk is amongst them:

“You’ll get people who’ve made a lot of money who’ll party for five years and go broke and there’s other people who buy helicopters and yachts and some people invest really wisely, buy houses or whatever, everything you can imagine has happened here,” Mr Mallouk said.

Expansion plans

But the main fields are being worked out and the miners want to expand. They first have their sights on Barfield Station, a big grazing property more than 60 kilometres south-west of Lightning Ridge.

Prospectors believe the signs are promising.

“It could be a whole new rush… it could be outrageous… it could be very, very good,” Mr Mullouk said.

John Usher, who owns Barfield, is worried about what he now confronts.

“They’ve all been waiting on Barfield to open up because it’s the biggest thing since Lightning Ridge,” he said.

Mr Usher runs 200 cattle on Barfield but he believes he will have no alternative but to walk away when the miners come.

“How important is our business? It’s our livelihood and as soon as they come on we’ve got to stop,” he said.

His neighbour, Jon Pocknell, is next in line. The properties are on a mining reserve area that has been designated by the New South Wales Government.

“It’s just going to spread like a cancer on our land,” Mr Pocknell said.” I could lose 14,000 acres of useable land at the moment so it’s a big hole in my wallet.”

Prospecting blocks on Barfield have just been balloted out. An environmental impact report will now be prepared by the Lighting Ridge Miners Association to clear the final hurdle.

That will involve talking to Aboriginal elders about their concerns. They say Barfield has many sites of historical significance.

Virginia Robinson of the Dharriwaa Elders Group unearthed a number of pieces buried at the foot of a hollow tree to back her claims.

“The stone axes, the grinding stones, milling stones and the mortars and the little flake pieces, they’re everywhere,” she said.

“There’s been no precautionary principle applied here, you know – look before you dig.”

The miners says they will take the concerns into account.

The graziers fear that a rush on Barfield will bring widescale devastation – pointing to old mining areas with mullock heaps and poorly sealed shafts.

“They just don’t clean it up, we don’t get proper rehabilitation or anything,” Mr Pocknell said.

But miner Chris Cheal denies that.

“Once a mining field is basically wound up it’s rehabilitated and it’s rehabilitated to standard. OK there’s some people who don’t do the right thing, we’ve got levies taken out every time we register a claim and we identify areas that need fixing up and we fix them up,” he said.

But Mr Pocknell says it is simply not happening.

“Once it’s on, it’s on… that’s it. It’s on forever and that’s why there’s no true rehabilitation,” he said.

“There’s no sunset clause, it’s open-ended.”

Much store is being placed on the new opal fields for the future of Lightning Ridge.

The global recession has left the opal market depressed, especially in traditional markets like Japan.

As president of the Lightning Ridge Miners Association Sebastain Deisenberger says things need firing up and miners need more ground.

“It would be very negative for Lightning Ridge if it didn’t go ahead because the whole town and all the infrastructure is based on opal mining,” he said.

The town relies heavily on tourism these days but has changed little in character from its frontier origins.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, where you come from, what you’ve done,” Fred Mallouk said.

“You can come to Lightning Ridge, you can go opal mining and if you toil hard enough you can get whatever you want.”

And the graziers are not hopeful of holding the miners back.

“Over the last 100 years no graziers have ever stopped mining and this is what we’re up against,” John Usher said.

You can watch the video of this 7.30 Report article here.