Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

When Gold Loses Its Glitter

By Denise Goldsworthy

The Gold Rush left behind thousands of mines that remain toxic to the environment. The mining sector needs to develop a national abandoned mine initiative to regain public trust.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Tens of thousands of forgotten mines puncture Australia, some even dating back to the Gold Rush. Some of these abandoned mines have become toxic to the environment, eroding the public’s trust in miners and regulators.

Unrehabilitated legacy mines number more than 50,000, including structures like shafts and tailing dams. While some are now protected as historically significant, others capture rainfall in pit voids and can leak acidic water into the ecosystem.

Sulphide minerals are one of the major geological culprits. When they lie near the surface of the ground, they naturally oxidise and leech acid.

Abandoned mines often come from a time when mining practices were less scrutinised. They have no clear owner, with many found on private land. Who takes care of the clean-up is legally and logistically murky. Thankfully, additions to this legacy are now uncommon.

One of the facts of life is that the profitability of mines swings significantly from year to year. Addressing environmental impacts is often left to the good years or close to the end of a mine operation’s life.

Combined with poor transparency, this means that legacy mines are used by anti-mining activists as examples of why the current environmental approval systems for mines can’t be relied on, so they argue that the only reliable alternative is no mining at all.


The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.