Trouble in paradise with goldminer and landholders in dispute

This gate on Steve Ross’s property was allegedly locked by the manager of the mining lease at Clarence River Wilderness Lodge.

Susanna Freymark

Steve and Sharon Ross have chosen to live off the beaten track.

For more than 40 years they have run the Clarence River Wilderness Lodge where guests come to escape into the nature and unspoilt beauty of the Clarence Valley.

The rocky dirt track off Paddys Flat Rd is a 20-minute steep drive to the lodge and camping grounds on the 460 hectare property.

The property boundary is marked by water – 4km of Clarence River frontage and 6km of Tooloom Creek. Guests to the retreat get to canoe these rivers.

The place is hidden away.

It’s a sanctuary.

Except for the contentious goldmine in their backyard.

The gold isn’t making the Rosses rich, though.

Steve and Sharon Ross at the Clarence River Wilderness Lodge. Photo: Contributed

In the past year, the gold mining lease on their land has caused great stress, Mr Ross said.

The goldmine is 11km from the lodge and the mining lease is owned by Tooloom Creek Pty Ltd.

There are three mining leases on the Rosses’ land and the mine is managed by Darren Sampson.

Tensions between the Rosses and Mr Sampson heightened when Mr Sampson allegedly locked the gate on the road leading to the goldmine wash plant in July.

The gate is on the Rosses’ land and when it was locked it restricted access for guests who go to the campsite near the goldmine and camp by the river.

To get to the campsite, a path winds around the wash plant.

An aerial view of the goldmine wash plant. Photo: Contributed

Entry to the wash plant is forbidden but guests have to walk close by to get to the river campsite.

Mr and Ms Ross have been dealing with goldmine leases on their land for years. In the past, issues were worked out and for most of the time the wash plant has sat idle, Mr Ross said.

In May 2022, the mining licence was renewed for 21 years.

Mr Ross has been asking for a review of access and payment since then and was not happy with an offer from Tooloom Creek Pty Ltd to increase payment from $2300 a year to $4500. Mr Ross wants a lot more.

“The reason I want more compensation is because these three mining leases encumber 256 ha of my land and the compensation offer is nowhere near mining industry standards of compensation being paid to landholders,” Mr Ross said.

In June this year, Mr Ross removed the plastic netting blocking the path to the goldmine campsite to open it up for guests again.

The plastic fence blocking the way to the campsite that was pulled down. Photo: Susanna Freymark

“I removed the lock off the gate that was on my property and opened the gate for access for our campers,” he said.

“I then informed Darren Sampson of my actions.”

Mr Ross said Mr Sampson responded by locking the gate 1km away from the mining lease and on the Rosses’ property.

On July 16, the locked gate became a big problem when a visitor had an asthma attack and made a triple zero call and an ambulance came from Urbenville.

Lachlan Priest from Logan in Queensland was visiting the goldmine campsite.

“I was out camping with my partner and we went for a drive to the goldmine campsite,” Mr Priest said.

“My partner had an asthma attack. There was no phone signal so I walked up the hill to call the ambulance for a puffer.”

The ambulance couldn’t get to them because the gate, on Mr Ross’s land, was locked.

“I had to call the owner (Steve Ross) to smash the lock,” Mr Priest said.

All turned out well in the end.

Mr Ross made sure Mr Sampson knew the trouble caused by the padlock on his gate.

The wash plant on the goldmine lease. Photo: Susanna Freymark

There has been no reply from Mr Sampson to Mr Ross. contacted Mr Sampson several times asking for a comment on the locked gate but there was no response.

Even before the recent issue with the asthma attack, the deteriorating relationship between the Rosses and Tooloom Creek Pty Ltd came to the attention of the Clarence Environment Centre.

An ad in the Cairns Post showed Australian Mineral Holdings was seeking exploration licences over 24 square kilometres at Tooloom.

Clarence Environment Centre secretary John Edwards sent a letter on May 11 to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment opposing the granting of mineral exploration licences to Tooloom Creek ventures proposed by Australian Mineral Holdings Pty Ltd.

“We expect that any potential gold discovery will lead to an unacceptable risk of water pollution, as the lease straddles both the Clarence River and one of its largest tributaries, Tooloom Creek. The treatment of alluvial material, excavated during the exploratory process, will likely be treated at the existing mine site, expanding operations there as a result,” the letter stated.

“The site of the current mine has a long and chequered history dating back to the 1870s when it actually supported the small goldmining township of Eight Mile Rush.”

Mr Ross reported the locking of his gate to police.

“Police say it is a civil matter,” Mr Ross said.

The trouble in paradise doesn’t look like it will be resolved any time soon.

The lodge by the Clarence River. Photo: Contributed

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