Australia’s Defence Department is making its own contribution to the minerals boom by allowing gold mining in a vast area of South Australia where rockets have been tested for decades.
The Woomera Range covers about 127,000 square kilometres, and most of it is off limits to the public.
But now one of the country’s biggest gold mining companies has been granted access.
Brendan Trembath reports.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: It is not often that a mining company gains access to a new expanse of land roughly twice the size of Tasmania, and land the Defence Department has kept people away from since the 1940s.
Group Captain Dennis Davison is the director of Battlespace Management at Air Force Headquarters.
DENNIS DAVISON: It’s basically the largest land-based test facility in the world. And we use it primarily for tests and evaluation for defence capability.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The stock exchange listed mining company Oxiana has signed an access agreement to develop a gold deposit discovered in the Woomera area in 2001.
Mining analyst John McDonald says this part of South Australia is promising gold and copper mining territory.
JOHN MCDONALD: The broader terrain in the South Australian cratons has yielded Olympic Dam, which is one of the biggest copper, gold mines in the world.
It generally is prospective for more of the same.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Oxiana’s miners might be familiar with explosives, but for big bangs like rocket tests they might at times be advised by the Defence Department to leave the area.
Group Captain Davison again.
DENNIS DAVISON: We have very strict safety regulations that we apply with any weapons testing in that area. For each particular weapon we develop a safety template that will allow us to work out the area which could be potentially dangerous to personnel or equipment.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: So apart from Oxiana, are there any other existing mining operations within that whole vast region?
DENNIS DAVISON: Not within the Woomera Prohibited Area itself. This will be the first deed of access for mining activity.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Group Captain Davison says the Woomera Range is being opened up as the Defence Department adapts to accommodate Australia’s booming mining industry.
DENNIS DAVISON: Part of our charter, I guess, for the future is looking at the safe coexistence of mining activity plus defence activity within that area.
And that led to requests for Oxiana to seek access for mining activity. And that’s been ongoing in negotiations for the last 12 months or so.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: While Defence calls the shots on this land, most of the site is actually owned by the South Australian Government and Aboriginal communities with native title claims.
They’re likely to get most of any mining royalties.
If the Oxiana mine is successful, other companies will probably follow its lead.
DENNIS DAVISON: I know it’s the intent of Defence and the South Australian Government that any future mining requests we would look at the deed that we’ve currently negotiated and use that as a basis for any ongoing activity.
Â© 2006 ABC