Jonathan Chancellor | 15 November 2011

Nicole Kidman now has Cockatoo Coal as her near neighbours after mining giant pays record price for Sutton Forest

Nicole Kidman now has Cockatoo Coal as her near neighbours after mining giant pays record price for Sutton Forest

The South Korean-backed Cockatoo Coal mining company has emerged as the $8 million buyer of a beef cattle farm virtually on the doorstep of Nicole Kidman’s peaceful Sutton Forest retreat, Bunya Hill.

It was whispered last month in the Southern Highlands that the coal mining consortium, claiming interest in pursuing farming, had bought the 425-hectare holding, Wongonbra, from unsuspecting vendors.

Kelly Lofberg, the coal company spokesperson, declined to return Property Observer’s phone calls and emails, but there’s now confirmation that it bought the land just a few kilometres from the rear of Bunya Hill through a shelf company, Aurelius Rural, to ensure the secrecy of its strategic purchase.

It gives Cockatoo an area from the Hume Highway through to the Illawarra Highway in which to carry out exploration and possibly install a mine head.

"It will directly affect their (Bunya Hill) property as coal-filled trucks would be passing all day long and maybe through the night on their way to Wollongong for export," local Greg Barnsley has suggested.

The coal company hasn’t yet decided where the underground mine will be located while it continues exploratory drilling, but has signalled it was not their intention to buy any further land in the immediate future, although it could not rule it out happening again.

The Korean steel-maker POSCO owns 70% of Aurelius Rural, with the remaining 30% owned by Cockatoo Coal, with the venture taking the name Hume Coal. 

The syndicate assumed the exploratory rights from Angelo Coal (Sutton Forrest) Pty Ltd, which had held the mostly formant lease since 1985.

Goulburn MP Pru Goward says she is “heartbroken” by the announcement, saying it would make opposing coal mining much harder.

The miner’s exploratory lease is due for renewal on November 23, with locals lobbying that Energy Minister Chris Hatcher not renew the lease.

Kidman is among the 424 land owners in the 115-square-kilometre exploration area who were recently advised 120 test exploration holes would be drilled to check on the size of the coal offerings.

Many locals fear that the potential mining will not only destroy the peace of the area but also contaminate underground water reserves.

In 2008 Kidman and her country music star husband, Keith Urban, snapped up Bunya Hill, a 45-hectare cattle stud with a magnificent 1878 Georgian mansion, thinking they would be allowed at enjoy the home in peace.

Southern Highland Coal Action Group’s Peter Martin says he cannot understand why the coal company could not buy the property under the Hume Coal name rather than “running around the neighbourhood in secret using Aurelius”.

“Our technical guys have said the property is an ideal location for a mine head with to run the conveyers into the mine seam,” he told the local Fairfax paper, The Southern Highlands News.

“We think they will use its direct access to the Hume Highway to truck coal up to the rail loop over near the Boral’s cement plant.

“People don’t spend that much money to punch a couple of holes in the ground.

“They have to punch 120 holes in the whole area to proof up the resource, and they can’t do it from one location.”

The land was sold by Michael Ball and his business partner, Peter “Talkie” Newton, with Ball saying he never suspected they were selling to the South Korean steel giant.

Ball told the Illawarra Mercury he would not have sold had he known the buyer was Hume shelf company Aurelius Rural.

Locals fear with ownership of such a large parcel of land, it will be easier for Hume Coal to be able to develop its planned mine.

The company is hoping to prove up underground reserves of more than 100 million tonnes, and is currently undertaking drilling and seismic survey work in the nearby Belangalo State Forest

The holding company that bought the farm has directors who work at law firm Blake Dawson, one of them Ian Williams, who lists among his clients as POSCO.