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Miners and graziers clash over land

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Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland has engaged in traditions of cattle grazing and mining since the late 1800s.

This means graziers and miners have to share the same property to carry out their work and this can create some problems.

While landholders previously settled conflicts in creative ways in the past, things are different in the present as everything is regulated and there are high risks for both parties.

The ABC spoke to Neil Coates, who owns Hurricane Station, a breeder cattle station around 130 kilometres north-west of Mareeba.

Coates complained small miners arrive to make money quickly and leave.

“We’ve got all to lose and nothing to gain,” he said.

“A miner coming on the property, there’s nothing financial in it for the property owner, absolutely nothing.”

He is worried about the environmental consequences of mining, including the natural watering holes going away, water quality on the river, erosion, increase in weeds and easier access for trespassers.

To dispute his claims is Mike Collins. He runs a small gold mining lease on an eight-hectare site on the Hodgkinson River.

“We’re paying him $18 a hectare, which is far in excess of any income per hectare which he earns off that property. The grazing capacity out there, where we are mining, is virtually zero – nil.

“We have a zero tolerance of any dirty water going in the river. You can go downstream, 300 metres from where we’re working, and you can drink the water.”

The Queensland Department of Mines and Energy’s North Queensland regional director Luke Crotin said despite the penalties that are in place for violations, officials “can’t be everywhere all of the time.”

“We try to target the appropriate spots, depending on the seasons, the weather and those types of arrangements.

“And certainly if we do get a complaint, we’ll certainly investigate and treat them as a serious matter.”

But the issue for graziers like Coates is that he has to initiate the complaint and identify the problem before anything can be done.

“They have lots and lots and lots of criteria the miner has to live by and operate under. And if ticks the box and says he’s going to do it, they give it to him and I’ve got to go down and police it,” he said.

“It’s very stressful. It’s not good for health and it affects everybody...you’re flat out getting enough time to run the property let alone running around after something else that’s really got nothing to do with us.”

Collins, however, defended himself as an “excellent neighbour”.

“I am a gold miner. The only way I make my money is when I sell gold. So we test all of our ground ahead of us, we only disturb ground that’s got gold in it.

“When we finish, we put it back exactly how it was and if we can be of benefit or leave it in a better place for the grazier than when we started, we’ve achieved our goal.”

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