A four hour drive from the bustling metropolis of Sydney is the idyllic Bylong valley. It’s lauded by locals as ‘paradise valley’, and it’s not hard to see why.
The scenery you pass on the winding road into the valley is so magnificent it has seen the Bylong Valley Way listed as one of Australia’s top 10 drives, for its “great combination of wide open stretches and twisty climbs” showcasing “an engaging mix of stunning scenery and challenging driving roads”.
Nestled between Wollemi and Goulburn River National Parks, the Bylong valley has been home to farming and thoroughbred breeding for over a century.
Since the 1850s Bylong’s lush pastures have been renowned for thoroughbred breeding—from champion race horses to the ‘Walers’ that carried the Light Horse Brigades during World War 1.
In recent years a coal licence has been granted over the region, dealing a blow to locals and existing businesses.
There is currently no coal mining in the valley, but a company named KEPCO is seeking approval to dig what would be Bylong’s first coal mine, comprising two open-cut coal pits and an underground mine.
Locals are worried what the future holds if the mine is given the green-light.
“My old man bred race horses for close to 30 years … we do accommodation, we have a handful of cows, and we’re surrounded by the Wollemi National Park. It’s heaven on earth.”
— Jodie Nancarrow, Bylong local.
Jodie is the proprietor of the Bylong General Store and readily admits her shock at the prospect of coal mining in the valley she calls home, “I guess I was a little bit of an ostrich, I put my head in the sand, ‘no they won’t touch our valley, they can’t touch our valley’, it’s pristine, it’s productive, it’s gorgeous.”
Farming in the Bylong Valley is predominantly beef cattle and lucerne hay production, with some crops.
In 2014 the NSW Government mapped areas of the Bylong Valley as ‘biophysical strategic agricultural land’ — that is the state’s most valuable farming land. The criteria for the mapping of this land was based on levels of soil fertility, land and soil capability classes and access to reliable water and rainfall levels.
“These are food production areas of high quality, producing grains, livestock. That’s why my grandfather bought this place, because he was a very good judge of land and he saw this country and said ‘this is strong country’.”
— Peter Grieve of Talooby Angus Stud
Like his father before him, Peter manages Talooby Angus Stud. He is concerned about what will happen if the mine proceeds, drawing out water currently relied upon by local farmers.
“The open cut is supposed to go for about 8 years, and the underground for something like 20 years … what we’re doing here, we’ll be doing this in a thousand years time, and if the world is still here, in two thousand years time or more,” he said.
A little further down the valley is Tarwyn Park, where grazier, race horse breeder, and agricultural pioneer Peter Andrews developed the method of landscape regeneration known as ‘Natural Sequence Farming’.
In 2013 the National Trust listed the Bylong Valley as a Landscape Conservation Area, based on its ‘prime agricultural land with a rural landscape of exceptional scenic value’.
The National Trust also noted the scientific significance of the area, stemming from implementation of Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming.
It's not yet known whether the proposed coal mine will go ahead in the Bylong Valley, but the instability that comes with the threat of a new mine together with the mining company's land grab have already changed the face of region.
“We’ve made a hell of a mess of the planet all over the place,
so we’ve got to recognise that we have to learn how to fix it.”
— Peter Andrews, Tarwyn Park.