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21st of July 2018


Wollar mine expansion pits locals against American giant Peabody

Col Faulkner standing outside his house

A tiny village in the central-west of New South Wales has become the unlikely site of a David-and-Goliath battle.

The expansion the Wilpinjong mine, owned by American coal-mining giant Peabody, has seen the little town of Wollar all but wiped out — but one man, Col Faulkner, is holding out and says he's staying for the long haul.

"They've been coming around trying to buy me out ever since the mine started," he told 7.30.

"But I always told them, 'not for sale'.

"I've got everything I want here … don't have to go if I don't want to."

'Throw enough money at 'em and they'll go away' Wollar street scene

Col stopped at Wollar 40 years ago, at the start of a trip around Australia, and he never left.

"I got to know a few blokes around town, found out there was a couple of blocks of land for sale and so I bought 'em," he said.

"She's quiet, it's a nice climate, you get to see four seasons. There's a good swimming hole in the hot weather and plenty of firewood in the winter."

But over the years, the coal mine expanded and the trains servicing several mines in the area increased, which Col says has brought noise and dust to the village.

"The drinking water that comes off the roof these days has got a different taste to what it was in the pre-mining days," he said.

"The dust in the gutters used to be brown and now it's black."

The mine was scheduled to close in 2027, but the latest extension approval means it will now get bigger and operate longer.

To pave the way for the expansion, the mining company has, in recent years, set about buying up huge tracts of land in the region, including homes in Wollar.

Now it owns all but four properties in the village.

Some are rented to mine workers, but others are left derelict

Col Faulkner has been repeatedly approached to sell.

"Their attitude from the start just rubbed me up the wrong way," he said.

"The way they approached it was through a Yankee attitude — 'throw enough money at 'em and they'll go away'."

'No standards to meet' Bev Smiles of the Wollar Progress Association. Interviewed by 7.30, June 2018

Bev Smiles heads the Wollar Progress Association and is another local who's fighting the expansion.

She believes Peabody is buying up the homes not to mine to village, but so no-one is left to complain.

"If it's mine-owned land, they can go gangbusters," she told 7.30.

"They can make as much noise and dust and blast away to their hearts' content.

"And there are no standards that they have to meet."

Woman in orange high visibility vest led away by police on country road

In 2017, after the approval of the seventh expansion of the mine, Bev Smiles and Bruce Hughes, who lives just outside the buy-up zone, were arrested while protesting at the gates of the mine.

They faced a seven-year jail sentence, but the charges were dropped after 14 months.

Bruce Hughes says Peabody has broken promises and the Government has done little to help.

"The Government is basically treating me and Bev and the others here like roadkill," he told 7.30.

"They haven't been listening to us."

'They don't tell you all the truth' Aerial of Wilpinjong coal mine near Mudgee

Peabody was approach by 7.30 to answer concerns raised by the Wollar locals, and initially it agreed to an interview.

But less than 48 hours before the arranged time, it changed its decision.

Instead, they sent a slick corporate video, including their own "local community member" and the mine's general manager.

The corporate spin is light years away from the world of Col Faulkner.

"They don't tell you the truth," he said.

"Or they do tell you the truth, but they don't tell you all the truth."

He's willing to be the last man standing in Wollar.

"I don't have to do anything," he said.

"I just have to stay here and I'm quite happy to stay here.

"Why should I move? Bugger 'em."

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