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Travel Diary: South West, Western Australia

Recently, Communications Officer, Ben Hamilton explored pit lake redevelopment and community engagement in south west Western Australia with the National Pit Lake Assessment team. He detailed his experience in a travel diary so you can join the journey.

Recently I joined part of the National Pit Lake Assessment and Management project team on a visit to south west Western Australia to understand pit lake redevelopment projects and community engagement in the region.

I take any opportunity to visit our partner regions to inform my work leading our Dig Deeper webinar program, CRC TiME newsletters and our work with project leaders and researchers.

Pit lakes, resulting from mining, vary in size and depth. Some can serve as water resources for communities while others pose environmental and other risks.

The project aims to provide national guidance for mine development and closure, including information and resources for Traditional Owners and communities about pit lakes. It includes studying existing pit lakes, identifying risks, beneficial uses, and understanding how to align stakeholder aspirations with technical possibilities.

I’ve detailed my experience as a travel diary so you can share the journey while learning about our work.

Wednesday 28 February

Our first stop was the picturesque town of Bunbury, Western Australia’s second city.

Somehow, we managed to get lost on a single street on our way to the Gnaala Karla Booja Aboriginal Corporation to introduce ourselves to CEO Bruce Jorgensen. During our catch up, we discussed our upcoming ‘Restoring Country’ webinar series and CRC TiME’s work with First Nations communities and organisations.

After that, we hightailed to meet with CRC TiME partner Regional Development Australia South West’s (RDA) Charles Jenkinson and Vickie Walker.

Before we officially met, we coincidentally bumped into Charles as we witnessed a semi-trailer in a strange predicament. They had taken the wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a tight roundabout. I commend the driver for their capacity to manoeuvre the vehicle around the roundabout without tipping its load over.

Meeting with Charles and Vickie was fantastic. What was meant to be a short catch-up on our way to Greenbushes turned into a 1.5-hour conversation about mine pit lakes in the area and other economic development activity. It’s an important conversation as the project team is gathering research to understand community values and aspirations for pit lakes post-mining.

Leaving with RDA reading material and a full belly from lunch, we travelled to Iluka’s Capel rehabilitation site and home to FAWNA’s Possum Finishing School.

There we met with our inaugural CRC TiME Community Champion Award winner Suzi Strapp and Iluka’s Mine Closure Planning Manager Rob Brown (Rob also nominated Suzi for the award).

For me, this was the highlight. Sorry to everyone else we met on the trip, but it’s not very often you get to hold a baby ring tail possum.

We interviewed Suzi about her work as FAWNA President and partnership with Iluka and learnt from Rob about rehabilitation at the site.

At Balingup that night, we met with Talison’s Glen Mountford Rehabilitation Officer. Glen’s passion for the rehabilitation of Schwenkies (a wetland and former mine lake pit) is remarkable.

Glen truly cares about the outcomes of his rehabilitation and maintains the area with love, always looking for ways to improve it through engagement with community.

Thursday 29 February

We woke early to go meet Glen and his Talison colleagues Superintendent Daniel Mance, Debbie Walsh, Reghan Timmins and Kathleen Holdsworth at Schwenkies lake at the Greenbushes rehabilitation site. Schwenkies is a legacy pit from tin mining in the 50s named after Eric Schwenkie the mine manager. It was also the first mining lease for WA.

This is now a thriving wetlands area which is valued and utilised by community groups to learn about this environment and monitor wildlife. Tree planting started in 2018 and now 42 bird species have returned to the area and brought a new ‘normal’ to their restored habitat. It was enjoyable listening to the birds over morning tea.

A special thanks to the team for providing us with morning tea – the muffins were delicious!

If you ever meet Glen, get him to show you his folder on the ‘Balga’ rehabilitation project. He has put meticulous care into it and documented it along the way.

Next stop, Collie. Collie’s economy is in transition as it prepares for the completion of coal mining for power-generation. CRC TiME has been engaging with people and organisations working to support a positive transition since we were established, including as part of our 2023 Knowledge Exchange.

We were grateful to meet with South West Development Commission’s Director of Regional Development (Collie and Communities) Steve de Meillon, Director of Regional Development (Business and Industry) Pip Kirby and Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Senior Project Officer John Kearney.

After a brief meeting, they escorted us to the beautiful Lake Kepwari – a former mine pit that is now a popular tourist destination. Learn more about Lake Kepwari in the Post Mine Land Uses report

At the lake, we met with Emily Evans, Environment and Community Superintendent at Yancoal.

We talked about our mine pit lake project and the public’s interest in the project. John then showed us the Collie Motorplex – another example of post-mine land use. There are so many beautiful landscapes in Collie.

Lessons from the trip will be used to inform CRC TiME pit lake community engagement plans and as case study examples in future in workshops.

Thank you to everyone we met along the way; the regional hospitality is second to none. I look forward to my next trip.

By Ben Hamilton