ACT News

Bulldozer takes out 25,000 stone fruit trees at orchard over fears from a proposed gold mine

A year after these peach trees have been torn from their roots in the rich creek flats of Araluen Valley they will be torched and burned to ash.

A new peach tree takes three years before it produces enough to return a profit to its owner, but contractor Tom O'Brien's Caterpillar D6 bulldozer pushes over 120 mature trees an hour. When the dozer's work is finished, 25,000 trees will have been pushed into big piles to dry out before becoming bonfires.

Bulldozer driver Tom O'Brien with some of the Wisbey's orchard peach trees already removed.
Bulldozer driver Tom O'Brien with some of the Wisbey's orchard peach trees already removed.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

The risk of a cyanide spill upstream at a proposed gold mine was the last straw for the orchardist, who previously battled supermarkets, poor seasons and uncertainty.

Owner Robyn Clubb,​ who has invested $1 million  in tree replacement, cool room upgrades, accommodation for staff, a cafe and tray assembly shed, cannot sell the orchard as a going concern.

Left alone trees will attract pests like fruit fly and make the land they stand on less attractive for sale.
Left alone trees will attract pests like fruit fly and make the land they stand on less attractive for sale. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Left alone trees will attract pests like fruit fly and make the land they stand on less attractive for sale. The orchard was listed for sale last September and did not attract a bid, and the district is divided over whether the proposed gold mine upstream at Majors Creek is to blame.

Some people  support the mine and its promised job opportunities, while others are dismayed that, like the Chinese coal interests on the Liverpool Plains in the New England's cropping district, mining will ruin the land and water catchments.

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Mrs Clubb says without leadership to protect farming country, Australians will be forced to buy more food from overseas not knowing what chemicals have been used in its production.

"The orchard brought bees to the valley, we have killed over 200 feral pigs and lots of foxes, who will do all that when we go?" she said.

The orchard peach trees are being bulldozed, because the orchards cannot be sold as a going concern.
The orchard peach trees are being bulldozed, because the orchards cannot be sold as a going concern.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

Those attacking her decision through social media had no understanding of what was required to run a business, Mrs Clubb said.

 The Wisbey family established the orchard 70 years ago. People travelled from Cooma, Goulburn and  Canberra to load up their cars with plump, juicy peaches and nectarines. At the peak of Mrs Clubb's tenure the orchard produced 500 tonne of fruit.

This winter the trees were not fertilised or sprayed with winter oil and copper to prevent scale and curley leaf. Orchard staff once lit coal and wood fires under the trees at midnight to ward off frosts and worked 14-hour days in the picking season, which ended with big trucks hauling fruit to the Sydney markets.  

Eurobodalla councillor Gabi Harding says Unity Mining's bland assurances that tailing dam spills don't occur in Australia looks hollow given that in 2014 the miner was fined almost $200,000 for a pollution spill into Spring and Majors creeks.  

But Unity says its proposed tailings dam exceeds government guidelines, and the facility's designers have been involved with over 400 similar facilities.