Dunolly prospecting shop set to close amid community concern over government investigation into state forests

CLOSED DOORS: Dean Mortimer plans to close his prospecting shop in Dunolly next month.
CLOSED DOORS: Dean Mortimer plans to close his prospecting shop in Dunolly next month.

Dunolly’s prospecting shop, from the outside at least, is easily forgettable.

But inside it resembles a shrine to foragers, success stories plastered across the walls, along with newspaper clippings of some of the most memorable finds.

The town – famous for cutting up the world’s largest know gold nugget, the 72-kilogram ‘Welcome Stranger’ found in 1869 – has been supported by prospectors since the Gold Rush, but store owner Dean Mortimer fears that is about to change.

He plans to close the shop next month, amid community concern over a controversial state government investigation into the use of public land in central Victoria. 

“No one wants to buy anything anymore because they feel they won’t be able to use the state forests anymore,” he said.

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council is in the midst of a two-year investigation into state forests in the region, which many fear will result in the reclassification of forests into national parks, thus restricting the ability to prospect, among others.

The growth in online sales of prospecting equipment also contributed to his decision, but Mr Mortimer said he had broader fears for the health of Dunolly if surrounding state parks are reclassified.

“I’d say this town would die over time,” he said. 

A bush user group rally held in Bendigo earlier this month. Picture: NONI HYETT

A bush user group rally held in Bendigo earlier this month. Picture: NONI HYETT

International visitors from the UK, Zimbabwe and Greece have all visited the town north of Maryborough, mainly because of its continued success. Just last week one local came back from the bush cradling a 200 ounce nugget. A series of submissions to the VEAC central west investigation released this week detail the level of interest, and conflict, caused by the project.

Of the 634 submissions, the City of Greater Bendigo is in favour of reclassifying the Wellsford State Forest, while the Pyrenees Shire Council believes existing protections in state forests will suffice in protecting the native environment.

The Bendigo branch of the Australian Greens voiced their support of reclassification, arguing it would provide a safer environment for native flora and fauna, while Vic Forests argued mooted changes would have a crushing impact on their, and other, businesses.

A series of rallies have been held in Beaufort, Avoca, and Maryborough, and most recently Bendigo, protesting the VEAC investigation.

The purpose of the investigation, according to VEAC, is to “identify and evaluate the condition, natural and biodiversity values and cultural, social and economic values and the current uses of public land and make recommendations for the balanced use and appropriate management arrangements”.