Indigenous elders in northern NSW have called for a temporary halt to work on the Maules Creek coal mine in order to avert the destruction of sacred sites.
Elders from the Gomeroi community said that burial grounds and sacred cultural sites will be destroyed by the development of Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek mine just north of Boggabri.
The elders have called for federal environment minister Greg Hunt to halt work on the mine for 48-hours, in a last ditch attempt to save their burial grounds as well as sites considered sacred by the local indigenous community.
The elders have also expressed their frustration at the minister's refusal to respond to their requests for over a fortnight.
"The minister knows the bulldozers have been destroying our culture and heritage all day, every day, including the weekend," said Gomeroi elders in a statement.
"Whitehaven [is] ripping the guts out of our sacred sites right now. We fear that by the time minister Hunt finally decides he has finished looking at our application carefully, it will be too late."
Whitehaven's $767 million Maules Creek Coal Project is situated at the centre of the Gunnedah Basin, 18 kilometres to the north-east of Boggabri and 16 kilometres from a key railway line which runs to coal terminals at the Port of Newcastle.
The proposed open-cut coal mine is considered to be one of the last undeveloped multi-seam coal deposits of significant size in the state. Its expected project life is in excess of three decades, and will see the extraction of up to 13 Mt of coal per year, as well as the rail delivery of up to 12.4 Mt of product.
The project has triggered significant controversy due to the threat it poses to adjacent forest ecosystems, as well as sites considered sacred to indigenous communities in the area.
Activists have staged protests against the mine over the past several weeks, with a number of individuals arrested for locking themselves to bulldozers or gates in order to thwart further construction work on the mine.
Last week authorities managed to prevent protestors from further breaches of the area by shutting down the forest on the grounds of fire hazards.