Tuesday 25 October 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Beaconsfield Mine - Effect of Excessive Rainfall


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, water is the subject today, and plenty of it.  This year has exposed a lot of frailties in our Tasmanian topography.  The Beaconsfield Gold Mine has always had a problem with water ever since mining began in 1877 when William Grubb and William Hart bought the claim for what was to become the richest goldmine in Tasmania.

Gold was extracted from three shafts:  the Grubb and the Hart shafts and the main shaft.  There was a very expensive extraction process because of the cost of pumping out the water.  The goldmine was forced to close in 1914 because of the regular flooding of the shafts.  It was reopened in 1999 but flooding continued to be a very expensive problem.  The mine's real geological problems began when a small earthquake triggered an underground rockfall just before 9.30 p.m. on Anzac Day, 25 April 2006.  It was not because I had hosted an electorate tour of Rosevears, where we went down to the 1000 metre level in that goldmine.

Ms Forrest -
I always thought there would be less of a hurry to get us all out.

Members laughing

- How interesting that we were at that level where the tragedy occurred.  Tragically, Larry Knight was killed in that rock fall and then Brant Webb and Todd Russell were trapped in part of the telehandler vehicle that they had been working on at the time of the collapse.  Those two men were found alive five days later and that long operation to safely drill to their location was mounted.  As all the world knows, Brant and Todd were rescued after a massive underground operation early on 9 May.  They had spent 14 nights a kilometre underground in those appalling conditions.  Brant and Todd's two-week ordeal put the
Beaconsfield mine on the world map and it has been a tourism asset ever since. 

Although mining ended there in 2012, Beaconsfield mine and its above-ground buildings are now an important part of Beaconsfield's economy, under threat because of fears about the stability of the now disused mine site.  The Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre, which is open daily, attracts thousands of visitors every year - and this might amaze you - to be precise 43 000 visitors last year.  That is a strong economic driver for a town which had lost its working goldmine.  Those 43 000 visitors boosted the whole of the West Tamar economy.  Visitors to the Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre love having their photographs taken in front of the lift door from which Brant and Todd emerged on 9 May 2006. 

Talking about tourism and the Beaconsfield mine, I had friends from Sydney a few years ago, and they are watching in Sydney as I speak, the Ballantyne-Jones'.  They came down with their four kids and took a drive to Beaconsfield.  The eldest, Bronte, leaned over and said to her Dad, 'Do you reckon we will see Todd Russell?'.  He said flippantly, 'That's him walking his dog up ahead there'.  As they drew alongside, there was Todd Russell.  Nothing that I had arranged!

That area where people love to have their photograph taken is now too dangerous.  Other parts of the historical site are likely to become too hazardous for visitors without urgent remedial action.  The geology underground has become more unstable for several years and the exceptionally wet winter that we have had and the June flood caused fears of a 35-metre sinkhole forming.  An engineer's report outlines significant cracking and surface subsidence caused by the heaviest rainfall recorded at the site for 28 years.

Recognising the local economic importance of the Beaconsfield Mine site, our West Tamar Council Mayor, Cr Christina Holmdahl, and the council members have decided to start remedial work immediately before obtaining state and federal funding.  They believe without a fully functioning mine and heritage centre, the Beaconsfield economy would be devastated.  If everything goes to plan, the federal government will cover half the repair bill and the council and state government would split the rest.

The West Tamar community waits with bated breath.  In the meantime the council has recognised a threat to an important regional economic driver and acted with urgency.  They are to be congratulated.