If the Bowman family properties in the Hunter Valley were not located above easily, accessible, rich coal seams Wendy Bowman’s life would have been vastly different.
For one she would not have had to spend the last 30 plus years battling to save her home and farmland from the onslaught of open cut mining, she would not be living today in a house surrounded by those mines that cover her life and her lungs in dust.
Instead she could have devoted her time to doing what she loves most raising Droughmaster cattle, growing lucerne and tending to her beautiful garden.
Whether you agree with Mrs Bowman’s view on mining no one can doubt her determination, her honestly and her desire to preserve the best agricultural lands in the Valley and beyond for future generations.
Few of us would have her staying power and at 83-years-of-age her willingness to take on multinational mining giants in a legal battle.
And not change course like others have - she is one very courageous woman.
Today her work and her courage is being recognised, she is currently in the Unites States, at the White House no less, to receive The Goldman , the pre-eminent, global environmental award for grassroots conservationists.
It has only been awarded to Australians on four occasions (Bob Brown was an inaugural winner in 1990). It recognises people who have acted with great courage often in the face of overwhelming odds.
Before leaving for the US to officially accept the award, Mrs Bowman said she was honoured to receive such international recognition but really it also recognised the work over a number of years of many people in the region.
She thanked the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) who represented her in a significant legal case that prevented the Chinese miner Yancoal from developing its Ashton South East Coal Project unless it owned or had permission to mine Mrs Bowman’s property “Rosedale” near Camberwell.
“All the team at the EDO have been wonderful and so has Bev Smiles and members of the Hunter Environment Lobby and Lock The Gate,” she said.
“Their support has been inspirational.”
Joining her for lunch at the White House will be the Australian Ambassador Joe Hockey and the Federal Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg whom Mrs Bowman can’t wait to give an ear bash to about his policies.
“I want him to know that all mine development applications should include a health assessment, it’s ridiculous in this day and age that they don’t,” she said.
“That pair will hear plenty from me about the dust in my lungs and in so many others who are forced to live close to open cut mining. I will tell them about the work locally by Dr Au which showed the impacts of dust on our health.”
Mrs Bowman moved to the Hunter in 1957 when she married Mick Bowman living then at “Ashton” also at Camberwell . At that time the district was wall to wall dairy farms.
She lamented on how things have changed as there are now so few dairies left in the district adding she is now living on a farm surrounded by coalmines not grazing cows and lucerne paddocks.
To make way for the industrialisation of her landscape she was forced to move twice, the second time following an eviction notice that gave six weeks to leave “Granbalang” the historic 1860s cedar and sandstone home that was bulldozed to make way for Rix’s Creek open cut.
But she was, and is, determined to stay at her current home the 190 hectare “Rosedale” that fronts Glennies Creek.
Her latest battle to do just that began in 2010 when Yancoal proposed to extend the Ashton South East Open Cut mine, which would bring mining operations onto Bowman’s grazing lands and the banks of one of Hunter River’s most important water tributaries.
The Ashton mine expansion was initially opposed by the regional government agencies because of concerns about the mine’s air and water pollution. Yancoal appealed in 2012, and the planning committee approved the project. By early 2015, more than 87 percent of homeowners in the proposed mining area had sold their property.
As one of the few landowners left in the area, Bowman became a key plaintiff in a public interest lawsuit to fight back the mine expansion. Given that more than half of the coal for the proposed mine is under Bowman’s property, her refusal to sell was a significant factor in the case.
The Land and Environment Court issued its ruling in December 2014: The Ashton expansion could proceed, but only if Yancoal could get Bowman to sell them her land. It was the first time an Australian court placed this kind of restriction on a mining company. The New South Wales Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, effectively stopping the mine expansion in its tracks.
Bowman has refused offers of millions from Yancoal, and is now working on a plan to have “Rosedale “protected in perpetuity. She has also recently installed solar panels on her property, and envisions an energy future where Hunter Valley is powered by its abundant sun and wind.
Commenting on Mrs Bowman’s award Elaine Johnson, principal solicitor, EDO NSW who represented HEL in the landmark Ashton case said EDO NSW has had the privilege of working with Wendy over many years in her fight to protect the community and its precious water resources from the cumulative impacts of coal mining in the Hunter Valley.
“We’ve seen how a strong sense of justice underlies all the work she does,” she said.
“Her focus has always been on ensuring that agricultural land, water, biodiversity and Aboriginal heritage remains intact for future generations to enjoy. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and fight when your opponents are powerful and well-resourced, but there is no doubt that Wendy has what it takes. She’s a tireless and selfless advocate for her community and the environment, and we will continue to support her in the work that she does.”