Destructive gold fever takes the shine off tourism
16 INQUIRER THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN, DECEMBER 31, 2011-JANUARY 1, 2012 www.theaustralian.com.auDestructive gold ree at Oxford University on mer- cury in artisanal small-scale mining in Indonesia. She cites evi- dence that mercury levels in Seko- tong’s water and fish far exceed the World Health Organisation’s safefever takes the standard of 0.001 parts per million. Mercury in river sediment is 600 to 3500 times higher than the WHO standard, according to a 2010 study conducted by Univer- sitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta.shine off tourism Mercury in fish in Glodok, a downstream area of West Lombok where several rivers flow to the southern coast, was up to 2000 times higher. Hair samples of local children also showed unsafe mercury levels. Harbour, the jumping-off point ‘‘Sadly, in hair samples fromMercury and cyanide poisoning makes it from Bali to spectacular diving and children aged 0 to 4 years mercury surfing spots, including the world- concentration was up tounlikely Lombok will ever rival Bali renowned Desert Point, so named 20.07ppm,’’ says Ismawati, who by Australian surfers for its iso- featured in Time magazine’s 2009DEBORAH CASSRELS lation. The town attracts foreign list of environmental heroes. ‘‘In investors and visitors from Bali the next two to three years I who cherish Lombok’s natural believe there will be manyTHE Indonesian island of Clashes with police, the mili- beauty. Authorities have their children with congenital diseasesLombok is yet to become Bali’s tary and mining companies — hopes pinned on the pristine as the mother eats mercury-con-nemesis as a tourist destination, with corrupt officials fuelling re- Lombok mainland as their ticket taminated fish.’’but locals have found there are sistance — are common; this week to a booming tourist economy. Compounding the problem isother ways to make a buck. on neighbouring Sumbawa island It has plenty going for it: its the sale of illegal mercury brought Gold fever has gripped parts of police shot dead two locals pro- long-awaited international airport into Lombok and Bali.the island, particularly the south- testing over the Australian Arc opened this year; beleaguered de- ‘‘One of the big mercury illegalwest peninsula of Sekotong, trans- Exploration gold mine. velopment processes in the south importers told me he importedforming areas prized by many In an incident on Lombok in are finally progressing; and Bali’s mercury under the table, payingAustralians for their superb October, violence erupted be- overdevelopment and overpop- off customs and police officials tosurfing and scenery into hotbeds tween miners and Southern Arc, ulation, along with a recent flurry import 200 tonnes of mercury,’’of discontent and environmental the Canadian parent of Indone- of negative publicity, mean many Ismawati says. ‘‘While the officialdisaster. sian subsidiary PT Indotan, which are seeking an alternative. But PICTURES: DEBORAH CASSRELS figure of mercury importation Over lunch, served poolside at was granted a mining permit ear- gold fever, with its toxic by- A Lombok villager cooks with mercury to extract gold from rock under a sign urging people to buy the precious metal from the Ministry of Trade in 2010Cocotinos Resort, the only luxury lier in the year. Miners blocked products, may kill the industry and 2011 is only two tonnes: that isdestination in Sekotong, there’s staff and equipment from entering before it’s born. the total amount used by manu-scant evidence all is not well. the exploration site before de- The head of the West Nusa facturing companies to make Dubbed an eco resort, it is en- manding permits to continue min- Tengarra (a region that comprises compact fluorescent lamps andcircled by pristine white sand bea- ing. Southern Arc countered by of- Lombok and Sumbawa) Foreign sphygmomanometers (bloodches, verdant rolling hills, coconut fering to recruit 400 local miners Investment Board, Lalu Bayu pressure meters).’’groves and development torpor. in November. Earlier a local was Windya, thumbing through a list To make matters worse, inSuch is life on Lombok, a paradise killed by police, and two were ar- of 87 foreign investments in Seko- Indonesia there are no laws ban-in waiting. rested for burning the PT Indotan tong, despairs that most land is ‘‘in- ning the use of mercury or cyan- Foreign guests tuck into fresh facility. In response, locals at- active’’, with tourism development ide, which are sold openly in shopssalads, hamburgers and seafood, tacked the police office. flat. Much of the land was bought and on websites. Ismawati seesunaware that the produce is not What they are fighting for is in 2008 in the heat of the gold rush. Sekotong as a looming tragedyfrom the crystal-clear waters in 1395 tonnes of gold in the hills of ‘‘The government has a plan to similar to that of Minamata inwhich they were recently diving, Sekotong. The spoils have at- build marinas for cruise ships and Japan, which claimed nearly 2000or from the lush vegetation or the tracted about 6000 illegal miners, yachts next year,’’ he says. lives after a mercury poisoninglocal animals. who are digging up 12,000ha in 18 ‘‘Foreigners have bought a lot of outbreak 55 years ago. Resort owner T. M. Wong whis- areas, much of which is protected land, but they haven’t started Cocotinos Resort, the only luxury resort in Sekotong Gold-crushing equipment stands beside huge cyanide pumps Among the 900 hot spots inpers conspiratorially: ‘We are not forest and private land, according building yet.’’ Indonesia, miners suffering tre-buying local produce, as a protec- to the West Lombok Energy and An exception, the European- to do it. They sit there with a wok, prise, given the government’s mors and fever indicative of mer-tion for clients. We get food and Mineral Resources office. owned Palm Beach Garden guest- burning this mercury. aversion to funding studies, a lack cury poisoning have beenwater from Mataram (Lombok’s Drive round the winding, pic- house in Pelangan, embraces min- ‘‘Some of the best snorkelling is of initiative to monitor effects of misdiagnosed as having denguecapital) or Bali.’’ The coral reef, a turesque coastline and the telltale ing as a tourist attraction. Oper- in these beautiful reefs,’’ he says. chemical use and an entrenched fever, malaria or stomach cancer.stone’s throw away, has also faded tarpaulins dotted over Sekotong’s ations manager Bukran, although ‘‘There used to be farming and culture of corruption. Reports have not been released.from a rich, brilliant hue to a blea- hills — where locals live and die he still takes eager tourists to pan fishing: it’s gone. The big prawn A study undertaken last year by Regional autonomy, a legalched aberration. digging for gold — signal the for gold, has lost many friends kil- farms are empty; no one wants to the head of the physics depart- quagmire, also hampers the regu- Of paramount concern is the locals’ desperation to do better. led in the pits. do it. They get paid more for ment at Mataram University, S. lation of small miners who slipthreat of mercury contamination Sacks overflowing with ore are ‘‘One year ago there were many risking their lives doing gold- Hiden, found unsafe levels of mer- through myriad gaps into unpro-in water, soil and food as locals en- piled outside houses and proces- accidents, and in 2009, 200 people mining. It’s really dangerous and cury in Sekotong soil, but that ‘‘it’s tected territory. ‘‘It’s cowboy coun-gage in rampant small-scale illegal sing plants, waiting to be crushed. died in a big hole,’’ he says. the by-product is killing and normal, according to the city try. There’s cheating at everygoldmining using toxic processing The rock has been removed by ‘‘It was easy to get gold then. It deforming everything of the fu- council’’. Government research stage, with no records of gold trademethods. Mercury, used to extract hand and delivered by women paid rupiah 450,000 ($50) for one ture of that area.’’ funding was a paltry R5 million or of gold produced at hot spots,’’gold from the rock, causes neuro- carrying the sacks on their heads, gram.’’ Now gold ranges in value Lalu Bayu Windya S. Hiden Pillinger became involved with ($500). ‘‘We wanted to measure says Ismawati, adding that childlogical disorders, trembling and ignorant of the gold content. from R425,000 for 24-carat to the regent of southwest Lombok, the water,’’ Hiden says, ‘‘but there labour is common. ‘‘Many shaftfever, and produces shocking New concrete houses are re- R280,000 for 18-carat. It’s still ‘It’s like the wild plan, but Pillinger says corruption Zainy Arony, who has advocated a is no more funding.’’ openings are so narrow only adeformities in children. placing traditional thatched huts worth the effort in a country where stymied it. zoning plan for Sekotong with des- Contradicting this, the head of child could get in. Some have died But with no regulations, nor in the villages, and it’s de rigueur to the official minimum wage is $100 west gold rush. ‘‘It’s like the wild west gold ignated community mining. the government-run Environ- in landslides.’’education on the dangers, the sport multiple gold crushing a month, although many earn less Literally, it’s rush,’’ he says of the charged Consultations between the ment Agency, Tadjuddin Erfandy, When Pillinger opted out hetoxic substance is vaporised or machines in the front yard where than that. Much of the ore is trans- like walking atmosphere. ‘‘Literally, it’s like provincial government and the claims no independent study has was pushing for the banning ofdumped, along with other mining water, high concentrations of mer- ported to Mataram, famous for its into a saloon’ walking into a saloon.’’ Their idea national Ministry of Energy and been undertaken. He cites a gov- mercury: ‘‘I thought I could bringwaste including cyanide, on to cury and tailings slosh about, fre- jewellery stores, where the same was to form a co-operative operat- Mineral Resources are in flux. ernment study on mercury and some expertise from Westernland or into rivers and then flushed quently spilling on to soil where perilous mercury techniques are DAVID PILLINGER ing under its own licence with Meanwhile, the government over- cyanide contamination about two Australia. I took some geologists DEVELOPERinto the sea. children play and animals wander. used in processing. security of tenure, with the local turned Lombok’s tourism zoning years ago that ‘‘found the quality of and a couple of people from public Since 2008 the gold rush has When Inquirer visited the area, Perth and Bali-based developer government receiving royalty last year to allow 1500ha of trad- water in Sekotong — in sea, rivers mining companies who were will-been driving once sleepy villages villagers without protective cloth- David Pillinger was drawn into payments. ‘‘It didn’t seem to be itional small-scale mining. and creeks — was safe, with no ing to do something.’’in Sekotong. Government at- ing were extracting ore, inhaling Sekotong’s environmental mining what the government wanted. Despite health and environ- indication of mercury contami- He suggested a communitytempts to stop illegal miners have mercury fumes over naked flames. concerns a couple of years ago by a Everyone had their little gold mental alarms, local government nation in the fish’’. processing plant with sealed unitsbeen ignored, while hundreds Despite suffering dizziness, vil- group of Australians who own assay plant,’’ Pillinger says of the lethargy appears solid. ‘‘There are Although annual checks are that recycled waste and water, buthave died in collapsing mines and lagers say they are OK. They land there but haven’t built. They villagers’ archaic processing meth- no reports of environmental scheduled, they are irregular be- ‘‘you can’t stop them mining, it’slandslides. Earning up to $200 a might be sick five years down the share a love of surfing and diving, ods. ‘‘They were crushing the gold monitoring carried out stating cause of funding shortages. like their god-given right. Indone-day, the new rich earn substan- track but they don’t care. ‘‘It’s no and an attachment to the spec- down to a superfine slurry, then that the goldmining activities have Environmental engineer sia could have safe, Australian en-tially more than the few dollars big deal; we drink coconut juice, tacular landscape. Pooling (panning) it. They were burning shown a significant adverse and Yuyun Ismawati, a winner of the vironmentally approved proces-they picked up as fishermen or that fixes it,’’ says one. resources and know-how, they mercury over an open Bunsen large impact,’’ investment board Goldman Environmental Prize in ses, but it’s too hard. You put yourfarmers. Sekotong is close to Lembar tried to facilitate a sustainable burner. Then they get their wives head Bayu says. That is no sur- 2009, is completing a master’s deg- money in and they steal it.’’ The party’s over and Bligh is to blame sonal loyalty had precedence over ernment over the building of the Peter Beattie paved the way for disaster by performance. There also was not Traveston dam; and the use of re- arranging for his deputy’s succession enough focus on detail. Instead, cycled water. Crucially, it caved in Bligh concentrated on managing to union demands for budget- ROSS FITZGERALD the latest political disaster. The breaking enterprise bargaining damage from this crisis manage- deals that helped drive the state ment soon became irreparable. over the financial brink. This was of 50 per cent. The transition fol- Also, many members of Bligh’s the underlying reason for the lowed years of Beattie promoting cabinet are lazy. Government state’s loss of its AAA credit rating. Bligh over other ministers into ministers are rarely seen at busi- The only tough decision the tough portfolios to enhance her ness events in Brisbane or in key Bligh government made was on experience. At the time it was regional centres and LNP the sale of government assets such regarded as an ideal transition. frontbenchers are being openly as railways to fund the budget Bligh enjoyed strong public courted as future ministers. The shortfall. But even here Bligh support until her policies and per- Bligh government has lost the made a hash of its implemen- formance showed a rapid decline links with business vigorously tation by not putting the issue to IN the new year, Julia Gillard and to the point where today the Lib- developed by Wayne Goss and the people in the 2009 state elec- the poor standing of federal Labor eral National Party under Camp- Beattie. It is a pale imitation of tion, thus costing her valuable will not be responsible for the de- bell Newman enjoys at least 59 per past Labor governments. credibility. The deal also meant feat of Anna Bligh’s Labor govern- cent two-party preferred support The fat bureaucratic structure Queensland sold off the most ment in Queensland. and is on track to give Labor an of super departments was so cum- profitable parts of Queensland JOIN GEORGE NEGUS ON THE VLADIVOSTOK TO MOSCOW The blunt reality is that Bligh’s absolute hiding whenever Bligh bersome that one director- Rail and kept the unprofitable government is one of the worst in goes to the polls. general was responsible to several parts. On election night, Labor TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY JOURNEY Queensland history. Neither the Premier nor her government is up It was a serious error of judg- ment on Beattie’s part to promote ministers, making the public ser- vice process-driven rather than seats will fall to the LNP through- out the regions because of how the to the job. Its defeat will be primar- Bligh when there were more tal- outcome-focused. QR sale was handled. The Bligh ily because of its incompetence. It ented choices available, including Besides, the quality of government is guilty of 41/2 dys- September 6-27, 2012 is little wonder that eight key John Mickel and Rod Welford. It directors-general slipped as Bligh functional administration and members of the Bligh team, in- seems Beattie was more inter- appointed favourites or ideologi- Queenslanders know it. cluding six former ministers, are ested in putting Queensland’s first cal fellow travellers over quality Deputies are often promoted Travelrite International invites you to join George Negus on the world’s greatest railway adventure – the Trans-Siberian Railway. retiring at the state election. They female premier into office than candidates. beyond their abilities into the top have simply given up on Bligh and promoting the best candidate. This resulted in a failure to job. Bligh was such a deputy and Travelling east to west from Vladivostok, the tour passes through eight time zones and covers almost 10,000 km on its way to Queensland Labor. State Labor’s problems started properly oversee projects such as state Labor will pay a price. It is Moscow. 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