Fighting for fairer access to land in NSW
“Restore the balance in NSW”
Who are we?
Prospectors and fossickers in NSW come from all walks of life and are spread throughout the community. Some of us belong to clubs or internet forums, but many do not.
All of us have an appreciation of the great outdoors, a sense of the history of NSW and the desire to make use of the natural bounty of the land.
There are tens of thousands of us, spread across the state. We are generally outdoor types who also enjoy fishing, shooting and our 4WDs for the mobility they give us.
A lot of us are baby-boomers keen to explore the state in retirement and to encourage a love of the outdoors in our children and grandchildren.
Many of us invest a lot of time and money travelling throughout the state and Australia to pursue our chosen recreational activity.
Photo: Fossicking camp on the Stuart Town Common
We are mostly gold prospectors. We search for gold using metal detectors, sluices and by panning.
Many of us also fossick for gemstones or hunt for coins and relics from bygone eras.
There are a few fossickers and prospectors that make a living from it, but most of us are lucky to ever cover our costs.
This is not about the money, although. like the diggers of old, we all dream of the lucky find!
Photo: 27 oz speciment from Central NSW, found 2012
Access, Access, Access
In a nutshell we are desperately concerned about the insidious, ongoing erosion of prospecting and fossicking access to public land in NSW, especially where that land has been mined in the old days.
Many areas of state forest have been converted to National Parks, Commons have been closed or leased and 60 or so dedicated state fossicking areas have been abolished.
Many of the areas lost to gold fossickers have a long history of fossicking.
They have been used by generations of fossickers since the gold rush era in the 1800’s through to their closure or conversion to a reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
Photo: Mt Brown -- before it was closed to fossickers
The NPW Act forbids fossicking in these categories of reserve. In a number of cases some important established fossicking sites within National Parks and Nature Reserves could be opened to fossicking without damaging conservation values, however the current NPW Act doesn’t allow it.
Closures have a significant impact on our ability to prospect and fossick and to maintain this activity for future generations.
It also means that an interest group whose population is increasing is being pushed into an ever diminishing area.
It means that fewer people will get to know and understand the bush. There is presently very little balance in the way access is determined.
The balance needs to be restored.
The current system favours conservation and the big end of town at the expense of the little guys.
If fossickers and prospectors had fur or feathers we would likely be considered ‘endangered’ and in need of habitat protection!
Photo: Turon gold (Nero Design)
This is unfortunate and has really only occurred in the past 40 years or so.
Prior to that, laws were framed with small operators in mind – true to early NSW traditions – and with public access being part of the goal.
This closing down of access has been happening despite our concerns because we have not had any effective representation of our needs, not been consulted, and because the interests of green groups and big business have held sway.
Submissions that have been made regarding fossicking access in draft plans of management in reserves and National Parks have not resulted in fossicking being included in any plans of management.
What’s eroding access and how do we fix it?
Photo: Geen and gold farming landscape near Cowra.
1. The strong protectionist bias towards exclusion of fossicking/prospecting within “Plans of Management” which NPWS draws up for “State Conservation Areas”. Fossickers are not being properly considered in these plans. In all but one case ‘consent to fossick’ has been excluded in the Plans of Management.
Even when submissions get made - which is rare because they are not publicised that we know of - they are not accepted despite the very low level of environmental impact of modern fossicking techniques (metal detecting, panning and sluicing).
This is because NPWS is not undertaking genuine consultation and places too great an importance on environmental and conservation values ahead of fair and traditional use by prospectors.
NPWLS simply take the view that fossicking is not compatible with conservation and in every case have not allowed fossicking.
By any measure, that is not fair.
Ironically State Conservation Areas (SCAs) are so classified because there are oftren minerals in those areas which the government may eventually want to see mined, which would be virtually impossible if they were National Parks.
Photo: Detecting in the field. (Nero Design)
Thus, it is usually possible for a mining company – which has the lawyers and deep pockets for technical experts – to be able to establish Exploration Leases and even mining claims in SCAs – and yet fossicking is normally not allowed even though many SCAs are very disturbed from past mining activity or are covered with alluvial gold workings!
The NPW Act, allows fossicking SCA’s if consent is written within a Plan of Management for an SCA.
However, the problem is that fossicking is only authorised (by consent in a Plan of Management) in only one of the 100 or so SCA’s in the state, that is Torrington SCA!
This is a case of the NPWS green machine ignoring the needs of fossickers and putting excessive value on conservation goals.
Solution: Plans of management for SCA’s need to automatically include the consent or right to fossick and prospect.
NPWS should do a stock take of which SCA’s have mining history on them and make this information publicly available online, along with maps.
If limitations for conservation or heritage values are to be imposed they must be justifiable to, and agreed with, by the user groups most affected.
There needs to be a change in the NPW Act to make fossicking an allowed recreation activity in all reserve categories under the Act.
Consent to fossick in a certain area within a reserve would then be given within the plan of management for each reserve.
The plans of management for each reserve would indicate the locations in the reserve where prospecting could occur and any reasonable conditions that may apply.
2. The excessive protectionist bias of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) results in the automatic exclusion of recreational fossicking/prospecting as an allowable activity in national parks, even though many of those areas have been the site of fossicking, prospecting and mining for a century or more.
Many national parks are available for a wide range of recreational activity – but not fossicking -- even with a metal detector that makes a smaller hole than a rabbit or wombat! (And we fill in our holes!) ·
Solution: permit prospecting/fossicking in national parks, especially in but not limited to, areas where mining was traditionally carried out.
(It needs to be remembered that fossickers will not normally want to fossick in most national parks because there is nothing there to fossick for, so in practical terms this is not a major exercise). ·
If there are heritage or unique conservation areas that are to be excluded from fossicking, they should be sign posted and publicised both at the locality and on the NPWS website, along with accurate maps of the excluded areas. The tradition of bush camping should be permitted in most areas, along with 4WD access.
Photo: Old time surfaced area at Hill End
3. The Mining Act unfairly pushes recreational miners, prospector and fossickers out of prospective areas within Exploration Lease areas that have been taken out by mining companies.
Often these Exploration Leases will cover vast areas of land, including many old alluvial gold fields that are suitable areas for recreational mining.
Under the Mining Act access to those areas is subject to permission of the prospecting company and the landowner if it is private land.
Practically it is very difficult to identify who these companies are and the areas covered by their leases and even to communicate with them. It can turn ordinary people into unwitting trespassers.
There are a lot of these large ELs in NSW. If you want to fossick at Hill End, around Ophir, Nundle and many other prime fossicking areas you supposedly must have the leaseholder’s permission despite the fact that most mining companies only do soil sampling/drilling in very small parts of their EL. ·
Photo: Gold in hand! (Nero Design)
Solution: Amend the Mining Act to allow recreational mining (fossicking and prospecting) on Exploration Leases as a matter of right. This right of access should be automatic.
Where land is freehold permission of the landowner would still be important. But where it is leasehold, such as a grazing lease, it is not fair or right that access can be denied – as it often is – without justification or appeal.
5. The NSW Mining Act
The rules covering where and how you can fossick and the amount of gold, minerals and gemstones you can take in a day are included in the Act.
The Act (including fossicking provisions) was reviewed a few years ago.
The new Act abolished NSW’s long established fossicking reserves/areas and limited the areas where people could fossick.
Solution: Establish additional fossicking areas and restore the reserves which were abolished.
Have proper representation and meaningful consultation with the recreational mining community in NSW when the Act is next reviewed.
6. The Mining Act makes it prohibitively expensive for recreational miners to be able to establish and work small claims.
It is astonishing that in NSW, with its rich tradition of small-time miners, it is now so complex, expensive and difficult to establish and work a small claim that very few people even try.
The ‘fair-go’ has become ‘no-go’!
This change seems to have occurred since about the 1970s, when we understand the government still issued mining rights and sponsored prospecting.
The mining rights were then downgraded and replaced with a fossicking licence (since abolished).
It was just made harder and harder to have a go.
Solution: That the Mining Act be amended to enable recreational miners to take out small mining leases on areas under Exploration Lease (excluding the immediate areas of active mining sites) subject only to the permission of the land owner where that is not the Crown.
These leases would need to simple to establish and register and be inexpensive to hold and could be limited to a modest area with Western Australian legislation as a guide to size and conditions.
7. Crown land with known prospecting history is sold or leased without consideration of effective future access arrangements. Western Lands are a good example, but not the only one. In that case, the right of fossicking access to large areas in the west was removed in the 1990s, with access now dependent on leaseholder permission to enter.
Solution: ensure that when Crown land that contains known prospecting areas within its boundaries is leased or sold, that the right of fossickers to continue to access that land is maintained and is not simply subject to landholder discretion. In the case of Western Leases if rights restoration is not possible then at least that leaseholders be encouraged and supported to allow reasonable fossicking access to key areas.
8. The community of fossickers and prospectors is not being effectively consulted by the NSW government when laws and regulations are being formulated. ·
Solution: that the Office of Environment and Heritage, the Mines Department and the National Parks and Wildlife Service consult with the NSW & ACT Prospectors and Fossickers Association when there are developments that affect these citizens.
SUMMARY OF GENERAL NEEDS
1. That regular reviews and amendments to the Crown Lands Act, Mining Act, Forestry Act and NPWS Act enshrine and strengthen the right to prospect for minerals/gems/rocks/gold and to provide minimally regulated opportunities to prospect in NSW.
2. That recreational miners who fossick and prospect receive similar consideration in planning and legislation as fishers, shooters and 4WDers who also seek to use public land for their health and enjoyment. Many recreational miners also shoot, fish and drive 4WDs!
3. That NSW government and its ministries consult via online channels and other means with representatives of the fossicking/prospecting community when considering laws and regulations which have an impact on this activity.
Photo: Well equipped fossicker at Hill End.
4. That fossicking and recreational prospecting is properly classed as a low environmental impact activity which needs to be considered separate to the interests of the broader mining industry.
That is to say: a person with a metal detector, a pick, pan or portable sluice, is NOT a mining company and should be exempt from the burden of big miner regulation under the Mining Act.
SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC NEEDS
1. That the NPWS Act be changed to protect and/or restore the right of recreational fossicking/prospecting within NPWS reserves that are currently categorised as State Conservation Areas, State Parks (e.g. Burrendong), travelling stock routes and travelling stock reserves.
2. That national parks be immediately made available to recreational fossicking in a similar way to state forests. In the interests of maximising access, this right of fossicking access should extend to all areas of all national parks, except if there are genuinely unique historical or conservation requirements that in the interests of national heritage need to be met.
3. That the NPWS & Crown Lands Acts be amended to retain the right to fossick and prospect on non-urban crown land with a history of previous use by prospectors. Further, where the status of that land has changed since 1970, that fossicking/prospecting rights be restored.
4. That the Mining Act be amended to enable prospecting/fossicking and the taking out of small mining leases on areas under Exploration Lease (excluding the immediate areas of active mining sites) subject only to the permission of the land owner where that is not the Crown (Western Australia has such a law).
5. That the many historic dedicated public fossicking areas in NSW are not closed and sold-off or leased in such a way that excludes fossicking/prospecting. Where that has occurred since 1970, that such rights are restored.
6. That the right to fossick/prospect (with hand tools or detectors) is restored on Western Lands leases in NSW or at least made much easier than it is at the moment.
7. That local councils and tourism authorities be encouraged to establish fossicking areas (gold and gems) in appropriate areas (even with participation of private land owners by agreement) of their shire as means to encourage regional and interstate prospecting tourism.
8. That NPWS establish an online register with accurate maps if possibleof dedicated areas available for fossicking in NSW to facilitate access.
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