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Protesters demand miners stop looking for gold in Wombat State Forest

“We had a huge fright, because we had no information, so we thought we’d have a protest to let any miners in the area know we were going to stand up and fight any mine in the area.”

Local residents held snap protests last week against exploratory drilling in the forest being undertaken by Currawong Resources, an private Australian-based company that is wholly owned by Fosterville South Exploration. Ltd, which has its headquarters in Vancouver and is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Fosterville South Exploration’s primary purpose, through Currawong, is to explore for high-grade Victorian gold deposits.

Ms Morris said Currawong was required to advertise the drilling in local media, but nobody she knew had seen it.

“Exploratory drilling implies that they would like to open a gold mine. They are meant to have done community consultation to let us know what they are doing, but we haven’t heard a peep.”

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The Wombat Forest region provides habitat for a diverse group of native plants and animals, and 99 rare or threatened species have been recorded there, including the endangered greater glider, powerful owls and rare plants.

It is also a popular tourism destination, with people visiting the nearby towns of Trentham and Blackwood for foodie tours, bike riding and bushwalking.

The Age has contacted Currawong Resources on two occasions, but has received no reply.

In a letter to VEAC in 2018, the miner’s then-managing director, Neil Motton, (who is now a principal consultant) said that the Wombat State Forest would be better managed by loggers and miners.

“The actual supposed purpose of preservation of habitats, flora and fauna within the national parks is not realised through Parks Victoria management, but rather the opposite, and the true managers of the bush were the timber workers, the miners, and the state forest workers and bush users,” Mr Motton wrote.

In July 2019, Currawong Resources was awarded a minerals exploration licence over ground approximately five kilometres west of Gisborne and west of Kyneton, including Wombat State Forest.

The central west report was released by VEAC in June 2019, and recommended permanent protection of about 60,000 hectares of native forests, which are home to 380 threatened species.

These include the Wombat Forest (near Daylesford), Wellsford Forest (near Bendigo), Pyrenees Ranges Forest (near Avoca), and Mount Cole Forest (west of Ballarat, near Beaufort).

After it was tabled in State Parliament on August 2019, the government had six months to respond but is yet to make a decision. The inquiry had taken four years, with 3000 community submissions.

“It is well and truly time to get back on track and commit to these new national parks,” said Matt Ruchel, who heads the Victorian National Parks Association. “The report and its recommendations need be dusted off and a decision made.”

Anthony Hurst, executive director of Earth Resources, the state government body that regulates mining, said Currawong Resources was conducting low-impact minerals exploration that included a percussion drilling program to help identify geological formations and rock types.

“Our inspectors are monitoring the licence holder’s exploration activities,” Mr Hurst said.

A spokesperson for the government said it would respond to VEAC’s report later in the year due to delays caused by coronavirus and the bushfires.

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