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A gold mining pit visible from space threatens to swallow a town.
Here, residents dread the daily blasting. Keren Calder points to cracks in her living-room wall. “When there’s a big blast, the whole house shakes, and it feels like the floor’s going to cave in,” she said. “All the pictures are at an angle, and I’ve had ornaments fall off the shelf and smash.
“The dust is diabolical, too. If I don’t sweep my floor every day, it’s like someone has emptied a vacuum cleaner over it.”
Cheri Raven hears drilling whenever she takes a shower. “Sometimes it sounds so close, you think a miner’s going to pop up the plughole.” Like her neighbors, Raven is convinced that Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mining, which runs the Super Pit for Newmont and Barrick, would like to depopulate Williamstown. It has already bought and bulldozed houses.
Raven said: “This is my home and I’m not moving; it doesn’t matter how much money they offer me. My grandparents lived here; my husband and I were both raised here; I’ve got history here.”
The frenzy of activity in this region is part of a spectacular mining boom propping up the Australian economy. Already the world’s second largest gold producer, Australia could overtake China this year. Kalgoorlie, where fortunes have ebbed and flowed since Paddy Hannan’s day, prospered during the global financial crisis, with investors flocking to gold, a traditional “safe haven.”
During that period — as much of the world held its breath — a new $8.5-million shopping center opened in the town, while work proceeded on a $17-million golf course. “The global financial crisis?” shrugged Russell Cole, the Super Pit’s general manager. “We watched it on our new plasma-screen TVs and heard about it as we drove to work in our big new cars.”
However, no one from the aboriginal community of Ninga Mia, a cluster of run-down houses and rusting abandoned cars, works at the pit. According to Geoffrey Stokes, a local pastor, the benefits of living next-door to one of the world’s richest gold mines amount to “sweet nothing, beside the pollution and the dust and the noise.”
Stokes said: “Every week we have a funeral in Kalgoorlie: that’s our reality. We die of common diseases while the rest of the community gets fat and rich on our birthright, our inheritance.”
Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mining rejects the criticisms. “If the wind is blowing toward town, we don’t blast, and we’ve not blasted for two or three weeks at a time sometimes,” said Russell Cole. He notes that the company contributes $85,000 a year to community groups. Complaints to its “Public Interaction Line” are quickly followed up.
But disgruntled residents are unimpressed, and Steve Kean, who lives in Williamstown, expects the mine’s expansion to make life worse. “It’s like a nightmare,” he said. “It feels like the Super Pit is swallowing up the town.”