IT was a major trading route for Aborigines, was developed into a world-renowned cattle and horsebreeding site by two former convicts and their descendants, and was home to Melbourne Cup champions and a maverick farmer with revolutionary ideas about landcare.
Now Bylong Valley between Denman and Mudgee is under threat by a Korean Government-backed coal mine and the valley’s heritage status is the new battleground.
Opponents of the KEPCO Bylong mine have seized on the findings of an independent heritage report, ordered by two NSW Government ministers, to repeat calls for a State Heritage Council interim heritage order over the Bylong property Tarwyn Park.
“This historic horse-breeding stud, with its Federation homestead and role as the cradle of the unique land restoration system of Natural Sequence Farming, needs to be protected as a state heritage icon, not destroyed by coal mining,” said Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde.
The GML Heritage report, prepared for the NSW Planning Assessment Commission as it considers whether to approve the KEPCO proposal, identified 19 threats to Tarwyn Park heritage from the underground and open cut mine which has applied to extract up to 6.5 million tonnes of coal per year for up to 25 years.
KEPCO bought the property in 2014.
The 48-page report identified Bylong Valley as a significant area for the Wiradjuri, Gamileroi and Wonnarua Aboriginal language groups, with 343 sites identified in a 1981 survey providing evidence for the area as a major trading route.
The earliest British settlement followed land grants in 1829 to former convicts William Lee and John Tindale, whose work established the valley’s later reputation as site of the biggest herd of shorthorn cattle in the world, and one of Australia’s most significant thoroughbred breeding areas.
The earliest farmers’ commitment to world class cattle included importing a bull, Napolean, bred by Queen Victoria at Windsor Stud Farm to improve the Bylong stock, the GML report said.
William Lee’s four sons became notable horse breeders, and son John’s breeding contributed to four of the 19 bloodhorse families now listed in the Australian Stud Book. The skeleton of one of John Lee’s most famous horses, Sir Hercules, is on display at the Australian Museum as representation of the importance of horses and horsemanship in Australian history.
The report notes the 1918 purchase of part of the Lee property by Herbert Thompson, who named it Tarwyn Park and enhanced its breeding reputation by producing 29 winners from stallion Heroic, including 1933 Melbourne Cup champion Hall Mark, ridden by jockey Jack O’Sullivan.
In 1952 Tarwyn Park was bought by Thomas Langhorme Fleming, who concentrated on cattle. Horse breeding revived in 1973 when Peter Andrews bought the 1190 hectare property and installed two-time Melbourne Cup winner Rain Lover, who is buried near Tarwyn Park’s front gates.
The GML Heritage report explored the history of Mr Andrews’ development of Tarwyn Park and controversy over his landcare methods now known as Natural Sequence Farming (NSF).
A CSIRO panel later concluded NSF was sustainable and effective for Tarwyn Park and could be applied in other areas with similar landscapes where fresh groundwater is held in floodplain sediments and there is a system of a “chain of ponds”.
The method has been successfully applied on properties across Australia, including farmer Tony Coote’s property, Mulloon Creek, at Bungendore, where the use of NSF was recognised by the United Nations as one of five sustainable projects in the world.
The GML report concluded that while NSF is no longer practised at Tarwyn Park after KEPCO’s purchase in 2014, the property retained “the potential to yield new information” that could “contribute to the development of sustainable land management systems and economic development and agricultural productivity within NSW”.
The State Heritage Council on Wednesday considered the GML Heritage report and Lock the Gate request for an interim heritage order, but is expected to consider the issue further in July.