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Environmental groups call for action after another coal sludge spill in Helensburgh’s Camp Creek

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre’s Cooper Riach inspecting the coal slurry waste on Saturday, September 10.
The coal sludge in Camp Creek

CONSERVATION groups are calling on immediate action to stop repeated pollution incidents in Australia’s oldest national park after another coal waste spill in Camp Creek near Helensburgh last month.

National Parks Association (NPA) CEO Gary Dunnett said the Hacking River, which runs through the heart of Royal National Park, has been impacted by yet another spill of coal waste. 

“Last week we inspected Red Cedar Flat, about a kilometre downstream of where waste from Peabody’s Metropolitan Colliery reaches the Hacking River,” Mr Dunnet said.

“The sight was truly unbelievable, the river looked more like flowing tar than the crystal-clear water you’d expect in the deep rainforest of our first national park.” 

United States giant, Peabody Energy currently own and operate the Metropolitan Colliery at Helensburgh.

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre spokesperson Dr Catherine Reynolds said the event is particularly shocking, but there was a similar coal sludge pollution last year, and in 2020.

Dr Reynolds said the Environment Centre put in a formal submission to NPWS in August last year.

“Peabody were fined $15,000 earlier this year, but it’s a pittance to a company that size,” Dr Reynolds said.

“Camp Gully creek now appears barren of the aquatic life, and we are concerned about the extent to which this coal sludge is bioaccumulating in the riparian zones downstream.

“The government must take action and ensure this terrible damage along the full length of Camp Gully Creek and the Hacking River is re-mediated.”   

In response to multiple reports about the most recent spill the NSW EPA issued a ‘Prevention Notice’ to stop Metropolitan Collieries from discharging coal waste.  

State MP for Heathcote Lee Evans said he had been briefed by EPA CEO Tony Chappel on the impact of the spill and had visited Camp Creek with NSW Environment Minister James Griffin.

State MP for Heathcote Lee Evans and NSW Environment Minister James Griffin with concerned residents inspect a polluted Camp Creek.

“Polluting our sacred Royal is unacceptable and we expect more from all those who neighbour a national park,” Mr Evans said.

“EPA is ensuring the procedures from here on in will guarantee an effective clean up. Also a plan of management will be enforced so this will never happen again.”

Minister Griffin has reportedly ‘spoken directly’ to Peabody and stressed the need to repair the damage. 

NPA’S Gary Dunnett said it was past time to rely upon the EPA tinkering with Peabody’s licence to discharge pollution into Royal National Park.

“This travesty needs to be cleaned up, with a full restoration of the Hacking River and prosecution under the National Parks and Wildlife Act for the appalling damage the park has been suffering,” he said.

“We call on Minister Griffin to take decisive action to preserve the legacy of those visionary parliamentarians who established Royal National Park nearly 150 years ago.  No-one who witnesses the foul waters running through Royal could doubt that legacy is in dire peril.”

One of the main concerns is how the pollution affects wildlife and plants, including the survival of platypus, which are intended to be revived in the area, after not being seen there for decades.

As reported by The Bulli & Clifton Times earlier this year, the University of NSW have plans to reintroduce platypus to the Hacking River in the Royal National Park.


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About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick managed several community newspapers. He has been editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.

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