Protest against mines at Scone on Saturday

Some of the country’s biggest thoroughbred studs are leading a protest against a coal mining company which wants to operate in the breeding heartland of the NSW Hunter Valley.

John Messara interviewed at the 2008 Inglis Easter Yearling Sale.  Photo by Bronwen Healy A protest march will be held in the main street of Scone on Saturday in a show of opposition to the Bickham Coal Mine, which is seeking to develop an open cut thermal coal mine in the upper Hunter.
Arrowfield Stud proprietor John Messara says the studs are not generally opposed to all coal mining in the region but fear the Bickham operation poses a serious threat to their livelihoods.
"What we’re saying is we understand the importance of coal mining to the state, to the country etcetera but surely two industries can co-exist so that coal mining can proceed where it’s not going to destroy the horse business," Messara said.
"We are only talking about those ones which are going to impact us seriously and the one we are particularly protesting against is the Bickham Coal Mine.
"It is so close to two highly valuable water courses and studs like Arrowfield, Darley, Vinery and Patinack Farm would be put at risk if there was water contamination or a significant reduction of water levels.
"The risk is too high."
Along with the contamination issue, Messara said one of his primary concerns was the amount of dust which would be generated by the coal mine.
He fears that could lead to respiratory problems in young, developing horses.
Along with the nation’s major thoroughbred studs, the Hunter region is also the headquarters for the Australian Stockhorse Society and has a large equine population while the town of Scone is known as the `horse capital of Australia’.
Representatives of the studs met with state planning minister Kristina Keneally several weeks ago to discuss their concerns.
Messara was happy they received a fair hearing and said whether or not the Bickham Coal Mine was granted approval to operate was now largely in the government’s hands.
Saturday’s rally is aimed at bringing the coal mining issue to the attention of the public and reinforcing the studs’ position to the NSW government.
"We’re hoping 1000 horses (and riders) will rally down the main street of Scone to bring to the attention of the public and Macquarie Street the fact we think we’re in grave danger of being destroyed by these coal mines," Messara said.
"We’re saying surely there is a way the Hunter Valley can be developed in a balanced fashion.
"Yes, have the coal mining, just don’t risk the prime agricultural assets.
"The Hunter Valley is the capital of breeding in Australia and it’s also the second biggest centre of breeding in the world after Kentucky in terms of numbers."

By Mandy Cottell