Nov 11, 2019

Man versus the elements

Man versus the elements

If Sven Sewell wanted a challenging job, he got it at Bauxite Hills.

The environmental manager wields his science to manage climatic forces in far north Queensland, that are legendary even in a country renowned for its weather extremes.  

Mr Sewell is based on the Metro Mining operation located on the western side of Cape York Peninsula about 95 kilometres north of Weipa.

In a demanding annual scenario, he has to mitigate the effects of monsoon rain driven by cyclonic winds and reduce potential impacts of fire feeding from the resulting growth cured in the dry season.

Just to highlight the drama, the operation’s dongas are chained to footings as part of a standard cyclone season preparation. 

Dongas on Bauxite Hills are chained down as part of cyclone preparations

In between these events he manages cultural heritage values of an area where the locals have called home from well before Jesus was a child.  

Bauxite Hills is on the Skardon River and has been operational for two years. 

The savanna country around the mine is scattered with evidence of continuous Indigenous ties to the land, none so stark as the ‘scar’ trees. This where the heavy bark has been removed from trees for shields. 

This is the environment that Mr Sewell negotiates, cajoles, educates, and plans with staff and management to help bring home the bacon, or bauxite as the case may be.

Bauxite Sills environment manager Sven Sewell

Managing water was the key, said Mr Sewell.

“Everything we do is in accordance with our environmental authority, basically our environmental license,” said Mr Sewell.

“… because water is a potential conduit for contaminants, things like that, we keep a very close eye on water quality, groundwater and surface water.

“We’ve got some quite high ecological value waters around this place. So that’s a big focus for us.”

“We’re in a wet, dry area. So certainly, in the dry season things get very dry, in the wet season, things get very wet, but basically it’s more the region that we work in, its quite unusual with rare flora (and) fauna, in the area.”

The company has planned to almost double production to six million tonnes in 2021 and they are bringing back archeologists to help in the planning said Mr Sewell. 

“Part of the archeologist’s role is to identify if there’s anything that we should be wary of or from a cultural point of view, scar trees, and they all get mapped,” he said.

“And then when we do the actual clearing, we have a cultural heritage monitor, and a person called a ‘spotter-catcher’, which essentially is a wildlife person. 

“So, as they go through, they’re also looking for fauna, as well as cultural objects and if there’s anything in the way, basically fauna, we relocate it.

“Cultural objects, they get marked off and we don’t push them down until we get further advice from the Traditional Owners on how to manage them.”