Chalice Mining is seeking partners to develop a massive ‘green metals’ deposit near the Julimar Conservation Park in Western Australia. Poet John Kinsella is seeking assurances that the region’s unique ecology will be protected. By John Kinsella.
Questions for Chalice Mining
Don’t mistake silence for silence.
Because I have been sweating and shaking
and my heart beating too fast,
don’t for a moment think that I’ve
forgotten Julimar forest and all
that dwells in its ambit. Don’t for
a moment think that my silence
is a silence that absorbs the gouge
of drill bits, that falls into the ‘future’
as if a forest was never there. This
mining colonialism relies on silence
from those it feels ultimately
are within its grasp; that after
a ‘song and a dance’ they’ll lapse
back into silence, be happy to see
one or two cockatoos and maybe a photo
of a woylie, that they’ll simply
comply by citing, I accept that this world
is a rechargeable battery, a battery that grows,
a battery to store and release
all earthly energy. But no,
I won’t be silent in my silence —
the roots of a forest hold and store
an ineffable energy that impels speech.
Chalice Mining has been exploring, testing, digging and looking to develop a project to mine nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum group elements in its Gonneville deposit, which abuts the Julimar Conservation Park, a state forest in Western Australia. In order to achieve its desired results, the company started buying local farms over the deposit. By April 2021 it had bought up to 17 square kilometres of private property, and as the prospective extent of that deposit “grew”, it looked more determinedly at the forest area. There were environmentalist public challenges and consequently a delay over getting drilling access to the state forest, but they gradually got in to sample and define the deposit’s size. The outcome of that sampling is yet to be clarified. The rhetoric from the company continues to focus on the supposedly massive benefits such a mine will yield in a world facing dissolution from climate change.
Chalice says it is operating entirely outside the forest. In August, managing director Alex Dorsch said it’s “a development plan which is deliberately constrained to Chalice-owned farmland”. But the company worked hard to gain access for sampling, and in an October presentation described the development of the Gonneville Resource as a potential “province opening play”. The company is seeking a strategic partnership for the project, having recently gathered expressions of interest. I am yet to receive responses to questions about how the company will guarantee that any future joint venture will leave the state park untouched.
Even in its existing form, the proposal for an open-cut mine in the area poses a threat to the ecology of the region.
Dorsch has also said “Gonneville is scoped to become a modern mine that can coexist with the local environment and our science-based biodiversity strategy, which is embedded from the outset and ensures no net-loss of habitat or species.” It’s unclear how this promise can be kept, given mining operations necessarily affect nearby habitats.
The forests and bushland of WA are already under great pressure from mining, which encompasses innumerable projects that are so often approved despite the consequences to flora and fauna, endangered or otherwise. And to allow those projects to proceed, a lip-service industry of “saving” endangered animals by transferring them to alternative habitats has emerged.
Feeding the mining and financial news outlets with a steady stream of positive reports about the extent of the find and its potential for exploitation, about the good health of the company, its reliability and thoroughness, Chalice has worked its way through environmental blockages with all the pizzazz of a company sure of its own mission, convincing itself it is doing good in a damaged world. Though recent scoping data has underwhelmed the market, the show goes on. All of this on stolen land the Australian public seems to want to deny was ever stolen.
The company has followed the usual modus operandi of inculcating itself into the local town, Toodyay, and funding various activities in the community, promising jobs and prosperity. Through this it has succeeded in getting some of the local community seemingly onside. It is not unusual to see on pro-mining online noticeboards that the only real opposition is from “tree-change” nimbies – the classic dismissal. That’s only a glimmer of the truth, though, as many oppose the mine, including organised groups and individuals who have been affected by the dust and noise of the early stages of the enterprise.
I say the “usual” approaches to embedding because this has happened locally before. When bauxite miners tried to get a toehold and then a foothold in the area, they set up shop and “invested” in the community and made promises of employment and so on. Though they didn’t succeed – faced with much activism, including the Avon & Hills Mining Awareness Group – they still lurk on the edges of the psyche.
And now the Western Australian government wants to introduce a fee for people wishing to log objections to mining permits, feeding the inclement and heavily skewed atmosphere against opposition and further bolstering the destructive forces of the mining industry.
WA declares itself a mining state, and one in which business gets done. The ex-premier and, indeed, a recent ex-treasurer, are both connected to mining in their post-political lives. The destruction of forest habitat in the Darling Range in the south-west is a bizarrely accepted part of the business of the state, as Alcoa and its affiliates devastate jarrah habitat in their mining of bauxite. All of us grew up on a diet of how the company “rehabilitates” the forest, from school excursions and outreach, through to the absurdity of “naturalists” demonstrating how they look after the wildlife – the destruction is so accepted that when another swathe is deleted it goes publicly largely unnoticed. The ghost of old forest is mocked by replantings that create a simulacrum forest in which old ecologies are image gestures through the “new”.
All technology comes at a cost to the environment. And Julimar forest must be protected. It is a remarkable zone of varied forest of marri, jarrah and wandoo – some of it survived earlier forestry usage and is regrowth, other patches are old growth, and there are many variants of vegetation and animal life across its vast area, including the endangered woylie. It is a carbon sink, it provides oxygen, it sustains endangered animals and innumerable others.
“Greenwash” is now such a familiar term that it is almost glossed over. But what we are talking about in this instance is the potential trading off of an ecosystem against the ability to make batteries and electric car components. The car industry’s gradual shift into the profit zone of “zero carbon” (it’s not) in order to address its contribution to the climate crisis and appease the minds of buyers that they are doing something to help is obscuring the sheer magnitude of new consumerism. Purchasing the new, “greener” car has become a moral obligation, and that’s an advertiser’s gift.
In November 2021, I started a Change.org petition objecting to this mining colonialism, and a poetry activist campaign against the Chalice incursion. In poem after poem, blog entry after blog entry, I listed the wrongs of the project. This reached its apogee when The Australian Financial Review ran an article on the Chalice project that included my objections and I was contacted by the company to have a meeting.
I discussed it with some others and decided there would be nothing for the forest in such a meeting, and the line went quiet anyway. Out of sight, out of mind?
I haven’t for a moment stopped the campaign. I wrote a play to be performed against the company and the poems still flow.
People rarely think of poetry as doing things. It does. If nothing else, it can act as a reminder. The “sustainability” of our lifestyles is predicated on our ability to substitute damaging technology for “green” technology, and yet it’s really a matter of visibility. What the consumer can see. People will buy shoes made with sweatshop labour if those shoes aren’t marked by scandal, if there are no visible signs of the exploitation, and the same with cars. Hybrid and electric cars also carry a carbon footprint you cannot neutralise by degrees of separation: it always comes back to the environment and people in the end.
Climate collapse is imminent, but capitalism only searches for ways around the problem – to maintain profits – and not to truly confront it. Lithium mining has consequences. Graphite mining has consequences.
As the open-cut mine slowly coalesces into a material reality, we advance with the momentum. “Open cut ” is the latest iteration, and the terms of engagement expand. For those suffering the dust and fallout from the developing mine, the contradictions are already clear. And the forest shakes on the edge of all this.
So, I ask Chalice Mining: what is your actual intention regarding Julimar forest?
Chalice Mining responds: The proposed mine does not extend into the Julimar State Forest.
Access to the state forest remains open to the community.
The Gonneville project development is being progressed separately to early-stage exploration Chalice is conducting elsewhere in the region, including the Julimar exploration project.
The Julimar exploration project surrounds the Gonneville project and covers a portion of the Julimar State Forest as well as farmland. It contains a number of targets considered prospective for minerals, but no economic deposit has yet been identified.
Chalice has made a biodiversity commitment of no net-loss of species or habitat diversity, and comprehensive program of baseline environmental surveys and on-the-ground restoration work is under way to support fauna habitats and connect remnant areas of vegetation.
Our biodiversity approach is aligned with the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) methodology, among other international standards, which requires independent measurable and verifiable targets.
A woylie bred in captivity and released into a thriving
kill-zone. ‘Conservation Park’ is why language
in the hands of colonials remains a series
of non-sequiturs. Or a series of circuits.
Each letter involves innumerable twists of the drill.
It will take (roughly) half-a-dozen years to hype
the mine into full activity. A lot of poems
conflating energy and loss. I will sign
into the saprolite profile, will cursive intrusion,
dip and ‘gentle’ plunge, I will seek assonance
in the weathering of Gonneville and will
play on the names of other deposits:
Hartog, Baudin, Janz. I will recall (how can I but do so)
the Baudin’s cockatoo we saved not so long ago.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 11, 2023 as "Questions for Chalice Mining".
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