It is the last place you would expect to see an open cut coal mine.
Tarwyn Park is the famous Hunter region property where horse breeder Peter Andrews created a landcare revolution that has impressed everyone from retailer Gerry Harvey to garden guru Don Burke.
Now, as Australian Story reveals, a Newcastle University study is suggesting there should be last ditch moves to heritage list the property.
Tarwyn Park, in the Bylong Valley, was sold to the Korean electricity company Kebco by Peter Andrews’ son Stuart after a long struggle to hold out.
Peter Andrews spent 40 years nursing the “environmentally bankrupt” property and developing his intuitive method of “natural sequence farming,” which first featured on Australian Story a decade ago.
In the midst of drought, Mr Andrews was able to maintain green and fertile pastures while neighbouring properties dried out.
But Peter Stevens, a researcher with Newcastle University’s Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, said Tarwyn Park should be heritage listed.
“If ever there was a property that represents the quintessential Australian landscape and how it could be developed for productivity, Tarwyn Park is it,” he said.
“It would be sheer folly to mine the Upper Bylong Valley, given the alternatives that Peter Andrews has shown us for the use of that landscape.”
Mr Andrews bought Tarwyn Park in 1975 when the property was rundown and suffering from severe erosion.
He began experimenting with unconventional methods to slow down the movement of water on the property in order to improve the fertility of the soil.
After decades of being dismissed by the scientific establishment, his work was finally championed by high profile supporters including retailer and stud owner Gerry Harvey, television host Don Burke and former governor-general Michael Jeffery.
His book on “natural sequence farming” became a best seller and he was awarded an Order of Australia in 2011 for his work on sustainable farming.
Mr Andrews had continued making improvements to Tarwyn Park even though he was bankrupted in 2000 and his son Stuart stepped in to buy the property back from the bank.
‘I am disgusted my life’s work has come to this situation’
Five years ago Kepco, one of the largest companies in Korea, was granted a lease to explore coal deposits under the Bylong Valley.
Last year, Mr Andrews made the difficult decision to sell Tarwyn Park in a deal that has exposed deep divisions in the Andrews family.
“I am very conflicted about this. I always had grave concerns about the implications for Tarwyn Park, and the last thing I want to see is the property destroyed,” he told Australian Story.
Mr Andrews advised his son to sell, believing it was a battle they could not win, but remains disappointed at the turn of events.
“Of course I am disgusted that all of my life’s work has come to this situation,” he said.
“But everything that has been learned here is now transferable. There is no reason why what we’ve learned at Tarwyn Park can’t be applied generally everywhere.”
Kepco Australia is preparing an Environment Impact Statement for the project and if approved, will commence mining in 2018.
The company plans to dig two coal mines in the Bylong Valley in a $1 billion investment that it said will create over 1,300 jobs.
The first is an open cut mine, 300 metres from the historic nine bedroom Tarwyn Park homestead, that will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week for seven years.
Kepco said the land will then be rehabilitated and an underground mine will continue for another 20 years.
“We’re very confident the mining activities will have minimal effect in regards to Peter Andrews’ work on Tarwyn Park,” Kepco Australia CEO Bill Vatovec said.
“The proposal to develop the mine is well away from where Peter Andrews’ work was carried out, and we will be trialling natural sequence farming methods in our rehabilitation of the site.”
But many locals and proponents of natural sequence farming are unconvinced.
“What Peter Andrews has done at Tarwyn Park is a whole of landscape proposition. Disturb the landscape, disturb its systems and you end up with an unknown outcome,” Newcastle University’s Peter Stevens said.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the deep whole of landscape hydrology can be returned after mining.”
John Ryan, a local journalist who has been writing about Tarwyn Park for 20 years and now works for a landcare organisation, also believes the property should be protected.
“This is the only property that’s had these processes in place for 30 years,” he said.
“If we lose this, we lose a priceless natural resource that’s basically a physical laboratory, a microcosm of what the Australian landscape could be.”