Once a small but thriving village in picturesque central west New South Wales, the community of Wollar has been all but wiped off the map by an American coal-mining giant’s open cut mine with hopes to expand even further.
- The world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy, wants to explore more land around the tiny village
- It has closed the doors of Wolar’s General Store
- The last man who lived in the village itself recently died
Wollar’s general store was the last remaining shop, but its operators have finally closed its doors.
For those few people remaining in the district, it could mean a 100-kilometre round trip to the larger center of Mudgee for basic essentials like milk or bread.
And locals fear the few remaining privately owned properties could be swallowed up by another expansion of Peabody Energy’s Wilpinjong Mine.
A proposal to explore another 1,670 hectares of land, the majority of which Peabody Energy already owns, would see it surround the village at a distance of 500 meters.
If successful, it would mean the company could operate beyond 2030.
Bev Smiles moved to a property to the east of Wollar about 40 years ago, when it was “a very vibrant community” with a school, a cricket team, and dozens of families.
After the open cut operation began in 2006, the district’s population fell from more than 300 to fewer than 70.
“Since the turn of the century there’s been ongoing drama and trauma for our community in relation to the NSW government releasing coal exploration licenses,” Ms Smiles said.
Last man standing gone
Col Faulkner, who was known as the last man standing, died in January.
The 69-year-old was the only person to live in a privately owned dwelling in Wollar itself.
He moved to the area in the 1980s and was described in an obituary, penned by Ms Smiles, as the unofficial “Mayor of Wollar”.
He was a staunch opponent of Peabody Energy’s Wilpinjong coal operation and sought to stand in the way of the company’s hopes to expand it.
“Col was not prepared to sell out to Peabody Energy and stood his ground,” Ms Smiles said.
“The loss of Col Faulkner to the remaining active members of the Wollar community, living on outlying properties, is inestimable,” his obituary read.
“The spirit of the Wolar community will not be crushed and Col’s legacy will always be remembered and carried on by the next generation,” it said.
Coal giant ‘supported’ area
In a statement, Peabody Energy said its approach to purchase a number of properties in Wollar was “to establish a buffer between the mine and local residents to reduce noise and dust impacts”.
It has created over 600 jobs in the mid-western community — including Mudgee, Gulgong, and Dunedoo — and injects $400 million into the local economy annually.
Ms Smiles said the reality of mine’s impact was vastly different from what was promised.
Instead, she said, the primary school closed and the community spirit dwindled as more locals and businesses, including the general store, were bought out.
“There’s no fuel in the area, there’s no services, we’ve just been left totally stranded,” Ms Smiles said.
The company said it had financially supported the Wollar General Store for the past decade but were informed by the operator they “no longer considered the business a viable ongoing concern”.
It said the community was given 12 months’ notice and the store premises will be maintained to preserve the visible amenity of the main street.
More coal to mine
The state government has ditched other pitches for new underground coal mines in the region.
It scrapped the Hawkins-Rumker proposal, near Rylstone, specifically addressing “the associated population decline from property acquisitions” [that] could result in a reduction in local populations, services, community values, and sense of place as has been the case in the nearby Bylong Valley and the village of Wolar”.
The Deputy Premier and minister responsible for resources, Paul Toole, said a separate application would be needed to mine the Wollar Allocation Area.
“That would be subject to a robust and rigorous planning assessment with the Independent Planning Commission being the ultimate consent authority,” Mr Toole said in a statement.
He said the NSW government was on track to achieve net zero by 2050.
The government’s Future of Coal statement outlines that during the global transition away from the fossil fuel it “will continue to support the responsible development of our abundant, high quality coal resources for the benefit of the state”.