MIXED reactions have surfaced from farmers located in the Gippsland regions of Stockdale, Dargo, Glenaladale, Walpa and Lindenow, where mineral sands exploration is occurring on private land for zircon and titanium deposits.
The livestock, dairy and horticulture district is reliant on aquifers for stock, domestic and fire-fighting resources and on river irrigation water for a multi-million dollar vegetable industry.
Last year, Kalbar Resources acquired, from Rio Tinto, exploration licences over 800 square kilometres of East Gippsland stretching from west Stockdale to Orbost.
Mineral sands exploration in the Mossiface agricultural district revealed poor results, according to managing director Rob Bishop; so Kalbar Resources is concentrating its efforts on Glenaladale-Walpa with some drilling in surrounding areas.
Mr Bishop addressed a community meeting on the issue at Glenaladale, where about 150 people attended.
Attendees' questions included compensation for health, environmental and lifestyle impacts, acquisition of land and property devaluation; about the size, lifetime and rehabilitation of a mine; and concerns about water and the vegetable industry's quality accreditation.
Mr Bishop hedged his bets, saying any mining proposal was up to 10 years in the future and subject to an Environmental Effects Statement.
"Our plans are quite short term. We need to determine if the drilling results reinforce our confidence in the estimates of 1.6 billion tonnes of heavy minerals," he said.
Mr Bishop spoke about using existing assets of a regional port facility, sealed roads and electricity and "the abnormally high unemployment rate in East Gippsland".
He said a mine would lead to positive economic effects in the retail sector of nearby Bairnsdale.
East Gippsland Shire Councillor Ben Buckley attended the meeting and said a mining industry would deliver significant benefits to the shire's health and education facilities.
Many farmers told Stock & Land they were unaware until recently if the drilling affected them and were trying to understand the implications of it; but were concerned about the long term consequences of a mine.
The attitude of some attendees was that: "it's going to happen anyway, so better we work with these guys than with an overseas company", which contrasted starkly with those who protested loudly against Kalbar's exploratory drilling and any future mining.
Max and Margaret Treasure – whose farm abuts that of David McMahon, whose land appears to have a high quality mineral load and who has welcomed exploratory drilling – said they wanted to hear more about the implications of mining.
"We need more information and we're keeping an open mind so we can communicate with [Kalbar Resources]," Mr Treasure said.
"The resource is there and someone will take it – we need to negotiate the best deal for the community."
"The value of my place is under the ground. I'd rather they found out what was there, find out what it's worth and go forward from there," Mr McMahon said.
Another neighbour, Geoff Johnston, said the recent broad-scale improvements after this year's bushfire had re-energised his commitment to farming and he wasn't going to easily give up his right to farm.
Some residents have written letters of objection to the Victorian government.
Fear about future impact
WALPA farmer, Geoff Johnston, is worried about the impact of mining on his and future generations of farmers.
His farm overlooks other farming properties that have been identified as rich in mineral sands, including zircon and titanium that Kalbar Resources wants to mine. Exploratory drilling on Mr Johnston's farm many years ago revealed titanium was close to the surface.
Mr Johnston is concerned about the corrosive effect of sand mining and the resulting sediments affecting air and water quality.
He said the impact of digging down 60 metres to retrieve the minerals - with an estimated mine scar one kilometre square - would leave the soil so unstable it would not be able to hold a fence post upright.
He also doubts the capacity of the land to recover enough to support full time farms like his.