The Camberwell and Hunter community is celebrating following the news Yancoal’s planned Ashton South East Open Cut coal mine extension has finally bitten the dust.

The project’s planning approval granted in 2015 expired earlier this month, bringing to an end the decades-long fight against the proposal.

Crucial to the community’s victory was award-winning environmental activist farmer Wendy Bowman, who refused to sell her house to the company, even updating her will to ensure her home could not be sold to Yancoal in the event of her death.

The company was left with few avenues after the 2015 state Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision of the Land & Environment Court that the mine could proceed only on condition that Ms Bowman sold Yancoal her land.

“It’s all been worthwhile,” Ms Bowman said.

“The reason I was so determined was I wanted to protect our lovely village Camberwell and the water in Glennies creek.

“I opposed the mine expansion right from the beginning because the village and the water were so important. I was thinking of everyone downstream who completely relies on that water. It was just so stupid – the whole project.

“It is a tremendous relief for everybody. I’m happy because the fact is nobody will be affected by this project now and everything can go on normally. So many people have worked to help stop it. It’s marvellous to think we’ve stuck to it for so long and got there in the end.”

The Camberwell community was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office in a number of court battles against the mine over more than a decade, including the pivotal 2015 Court of Appeal case.

Scott Franks of the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People paid tribute to everyone involved in the victory.

“The long and draining battle that took place at Camberwell over Yancoal’s South East Open Cut coal mine has finally come to pass.

“This line in the sand has sent a clear and confirmed message: If First Nations people and local communities stand united, we will win.

“This decision and outcome was based on a long standing commitment of the EDO, and us all trusting each other.

“Thank you to everyone involved, including our old people that no longer walk with us, and walk with our Creator Biami. As Wonnarua people, and all involved in this fight, we have won one of many battles. Thank you.” 

EDO Director of Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said the expiration of Yancoal’s approval was a huge win for the community and the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People.

“This is a significant moment for Camberwell, which is now finally safe from destruction at the hands of multinational Yancoal.

“The Ashton South East Open Cut coal mine extension would have devastated local farmland, a culturally significant landscape, and impacted the precious water resources of the Hunter Valley. That has now been averted thanks to decades of work by the local community.

“The bravery of locals like Wendy Bowman, Deidre Olofsson, the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People, and the Hunter Environment Lobby in opposing the mine, both in and out of the courts, has been instrumental in fending off this mine and safeguarding their land, culture and water for future generations.

“This win shows that regional and First Nations people can stand up against even the biggest mining companies with the deepest pockets and emerge victorious with their land, water and communities intact.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde said the victory was testament to the unwavering determination of the Camberwell community.

“For a community to stand up and fight against the might of a multinational coal company takes incredible grit and determination. To do it for more than 20 years is a near-superhuman feat,” she said.

But he said the fight had taken its toll on the community.

“Yancoal has been able to decimate the Camberwell community, with many residents having moved on, for the sake of a coal mine that was never built,” Mr Clyde said.

“It’s terrific that this battle has been won, but it has come at a significant cost to the community.

“This is the nature of coal mining companies – they seek to divide and destroy communities and see those who suffer as collateral damage. All this could have been avoided.”