A homestead with 80 years history, Valeria will soon be vacated by graziers to make way for coal mining.
A homestead with 80 years history, Valeria will soon be vacated by graziers to make way for coal mining. Simon Green

Displaced farmers gutted

BARRY and Norma Brown have lived on Valeria, a grazing property between Capella and Rubyvale, for 38 years, but soon, against their wishes, they will have to leave.

A month ago two representatives from Rio Tinto Coal Australia showed up on their doorstep and the news wasn’t good.

“They made an appointment and then came around and just told us the Valeria mine is going ahead, they showed us a map of how much country they want and then left,” Barry said. “What they are going to take makes it unviable for us to make a living here anymore, we’ll have to go.”

Rio Tinto’s proposed Valeria Coal Project is for a reported 762 million tonnes of coal reserves - so it is little wonder the mining giants are interested.

The project is expected to affect 10 families on seven properties in the region and most will likely be forced to negotiate a deal and move on. Many are awaiting valuations on their land and will find out what compensation they will be offered before looking for a new location to start again.

Barry and Norma will not be staying in the region.

“We can’t stay in this area, I’ve had enough, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the holes they are going to put in the land,” Norma said.

Barry said he and his wife were getting too old to pick up and start again.

“We’ll just have to retire,” he said.

“We aren’t going to fight it, what is the point in fighting the government - we’re powerless in the end.”

Barry said his two sons Grant and Scott - who each run one half of the cattle station, had no plans to take their families from the 80-year-old homestead before Rio Tinto moved on exploration permits in the area.

“The boys will have to relocate, they have no idea what they will do but they’ll have to move on and start again like most people on these blocks,” Barry said. “We never had plans to leave, this is our life, our lifestyle, it is a complete upheaval but what can we do?

“We always knew there was coal underneath us.

Valeria Station first went to sale on August 10, 1929, by auction. Since then it has seen numerous generations from five different families grow up on its land.

Soon that history will be lost and the only sign of what used to be will be two fenced-off graves Rio Tinto said they would not touch.

Barry said the uncertainty of what is going to happen in the near future is “driving everybody mad”.

“We’re all just shell-shocked I think. It is hard to believe that it is all happening and no one has any idea about what they are going to do or where they are going to go,” he said. “And until such time that we get a settlement it is pretty hard to plan anything, we just don’t know.

“One of our neighbours was initially further south of Emerald but one of the mines took him over down there and he came up this way, and now it looks like he’ll be chased out over here again.”

Another neighbour, who wished to remain anonymous, described the gut-wrenching scenario of spending 17 years building a family property that he hoped his children’s grandchildren would grow up on, only for it to be ripped away.

A Rio Tinto Coal Australia spokesperson said the company wished to better understand the size and quality of the Valeria resource.

“To enable this we plan to undertake drilling, cultural heritage and environmental assessments under an existing Mining Development Lease and exploration permit,” the spokesperson said.

“It is important to us that we work with the landowners to reach agreements to allow us to undertake this work.”

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