Stab Magazine | The 2009 WQS Champion Is Waging A Modern Crusade
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The 2009 WQS Champion Is Waging A Modern Crusade

Dan Ross v. The Clarence River mine. 

news // Sep 24, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

All rivers spill into the ocean. 

Ok, you caught us. We have no idea if that’s true. But does it really matter? We know that at least some rivers spill into the ocean, and of those some, a few make fantastic waves. This is more than enough reason to respect and protect rivers with anything at our disposal.

Which brings us to New South Wales’ North Coast, where a proposed mining project looks to disrupt the Clarence River (and potentially the world-class waves it nourishes). 

Below, we chat with Dan Ross—2009 WQS champion, Championship Tour veteran, and Patagonia-sponsored surfer who calls Angourie home—about the Clarence River project, and why it mightn’t be in this community’s best interest to let it come to pass. 

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Stab: Tell us about this mine. Where is it exactly? Why are they drilling? 

Dan Ross: There are currently 18 exploratory mining licenses in the upper reaches of Biirrinba/The Clarence River and the two most vocal on findings of cobalt and copper are Castillo Copper at Cangai (just upriver of Grafton)  and Corazon Mining at Mt Gilmore.

Last week Corazon Mining announced that Native Title Access has been granted and that they have a Co-Funding Agreement with the NSW Government (Cooperative Drilling Grant) for their prospects at Mt Gilmore, basically, they are getting support from the government to proceed, putting this whole area at risk. Mining the ridgelines of any river is madness if you are at all concerned for the health and biodiversity of life associated with that river.

What impact will it have on the place?

It would poison the place. The river is the lifeblood of this area and toxic runoff from mining so close to a precious water source is criminal. 

What makes this region so special?

The nature that surrounds us, the amazing communities, and the rich history as told in the stories of our Elders. For my entire life, these wild places have provided endless joy, life lessons, and continued learning. This is the same for so many people in this region.

Quite often there’s the promise of jobs and more infrastructure to a local region. Is that the promise here? No doubt it’s part of the narrative here, but it is usually absolute bullshit: an outdated line used for way too long to try and broadcast a sense of security amongst individuals and communities. With the technology advancements on these projects, a lot of the perceived jobs are likely to be automated anyway. What’s more, local jobs in the clean-up process of the whole mess they’ll create is probably even factored into that empty jobs promise.  

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That’s Mt Gilmore in the background, with Dan and Hayley Talbot in the foreground. Pic :Thunderbox films

Are there benefits to the community?

Last year Castillo Copper were reported by a concerned community member for multiple environmental breaches including a lack of sediment and erosion control along with poor management of waste materials. They were suspended and copped a solid fine from the NSW resources regulator but then turned it into a positive PR stunt by buying the local Royal Fire Service a new fire truck.  Does that count as an overall benefit to the community? 

Maybe a few private landowners in that area might benefit financially from these mines. I’m still learning about it all but I can’t see many benefits that warrant the risk.

What do you need from surfers? How can we help your plight?

Short term we need 10,000 signatures opposing mining in the Clarence Catchment area. Long term we need to lock up these places for good to make sure they stay wild. 

So many surfers love this stretch of coastline where this river directly meets the ocean, so it would be awesome to have their support which means printing out the petition and getting friends and family to sign it. We are currently at 7900 signatures.   

Does activism work?  

It definitely works when we all come together to protect the places we love. The Fight for the Bight campaign is a great example of coastal communities and people all over Australia joining together to do just that. The Bentley blockade was another one where the power of the community put a stop to massive Coal Seam Gas companies wanting to frack that area. Timbarra gold mine which is also at the headwaters of the Clarence River near Tenterfield saw huge protests and non-violent direct action that eventually stopped it.

Chatting to people like Howie Cooke, Ian Gaillard and others who have devoted decades to stand up for wild spaces by blocking projects like this motivates me to do what I can around important issues and especially ones right here on our doorstep.

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 Dan Ross enjoying what’s at the mouth of the river. Photo: Duncan Macfarlane.

Do you ever get pressure because you’re a sponsored Patagonia surfer? As in, you get paid to be a surfer who fights environmental causes? 

You mean the fact that I drive a car, fly in planes, and use a phone that is made of these exact minerals? I get the odd antagonistic view here and there, I’m aware that I’m contributing to the demand and totally understand that most of us are still dependent on oil and minerals that are extracted. But just like the proposition to drill in the Great Australian Bight was far too risky, I feel the same about the proximity of this mining activity to the pristine waters of Biirrinba/The Clarence River. 

In regards to supporting environmental causes, this type of work aligns with my values so I’m grateful to be supported by a company that gives a shit.

In terms of the causes you’re interested in: What do we do right in Australia? What do we do poorly? Why is that?  

We poorly utilize our opportunity to be a leading country in renewable energy and continue to extract finite resources amidst all the warning signs. Why? I’m not sure.. poor leadership by people who seem to be disconnected to the natural world maybe. We let water be stolen for Big Agriculture to support farming methods that are doing more harm than good, degrading topsoil and uses large amounts of herbicides and pesticides. That’s scary when we think of food security.

What do we do right? There is so much amazing work being done here in Australia, individuals like Damon Gameau (2040 Film) highlighting climate solutions that already exist and encouraging people to act on those. And then there are all those grassroots organizations doing incredibly impactful work. Amazing regeneration projects with seaweed farms and Indigenous social enterprises like Black Duck Foods focusing on traditional food growing methods that care for the Country and return economic benefits directly to indigenous people. 

Working with Patagonia on their 1% for the Planet environment grants program I get an insight into all the great work being done.Local organizations on the front line protecting Biirrinba/The Clarence River are the Clarence Catchment Alliance and the Clarence Environment Centre.

Not to mention, the indigenous culture of caring for country. They hold the most powerful learnings for us to follow. Healthy country, healthy people.

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