Lake Cowal, located between the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers that feed into the Murray Darling basin, is the sacred heartland of the Wiradjuri country.
The important wetland and conservation area is also home to an open-pit goldmine, operated by Canada-based multinational Barrick Gold.
The mine uses cyanide leaching for its gold extraction. The toxic chemical ends up in tailing ponds that risk leaching into the groundwater or spilling over into surrounding rivers in floods.
Lake Cowal floods approximately every 10 years, flowing into the Murray Darling river system by way of the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers.
This controversial mine not only poses a threat to rivers and ecosystems, but desecrates Aboriginal sacred sites. Indigenous custodians of the land, the Wiradjuri people, have been fighting Barrick Gold for 14 years to stop the mine.
Barrick Gold aims to almost double the size of the Lake Cowal mine, which will nearly double water consumption. Last July, the grassroots campaign against the mine won a case in the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal that delayed the expansion. At the time Neville Chappy Williams, a tradition owner of Lake Cowal and a leader of the campaign, said: “You can’t eat gold and you can’t drink cyanide. We must remember water is more precious than gold. Water is life.”
But in September the court ruled in favour of the company, with Barrick’s spokesperson telling the ABC on September 3, “Barrick's just really looking forward to getting on now with the modification.”
Al Oshlack, from the Indigenous Advocacy Network, responded by telling the ABC: “There's no way in the world that Neville Williams will let up on this matter. Barrick Gold will just have to pack up and go home.”
Every year since 2001, people from around Australia have converged at Lake Cowal to support the struggle against the mine.
[Resistance will be joining the protests. Dates are yet to be finalised, but keep checking the GLW activist calendar to find out more.]