THE Supreme Court has dismissed a mining company's bid to keep its Bendigo sites, but what does that mean for the city?
The short answer is that we do not know for sure, even if it is clearly a major moment for the goldfield beneath your feet.
Bendigo Advertiser journalist Tom O'Callaghan has pulled together this article to explain what is going on, why some people think Bendigo's mining is doomed and why others think the next bonanza is just around the corner.
What's the problem?
Bendigo might have been founded on gold but by the late 20th century all of those exploration and mining rights were consolidated into just one claim.
A company used its rights to the claim to build an 18km-long, $200 million tunnel from Kangaroo Flat under Bendigo in the 2000s.
However, it only found a fraction of what it had hoped for and by 2016 had handed the claim to Kralcopic, a 100 per cent wholly owned subsidiary of company GBM Gold.
Kralcopic got a pretty good deal. The previous owners even agreed to loan millions of dollars in environmental bonds that Kralcopic needed to pay the state government.
All mining companies must pay bonds, just in case they cannot afford to rehabilitate sites once they are finished with them.
Even in 2016, some in the community were deeply concerned about the government's approval process.
Others were frustrated that the company missed a deadline to rehabilitate one Woodvale site two years later.
Since 2016, GBM Gold has tried numerous times to raise enough capital to pay off all debts and fund its ambitions for the Kangaroo Flat site.
But a number of attempts failed and GBM Gold's financial situation has become more precarious over time.
So, what's with the court case?
The latest chapter in GBM Gold's struggles began with a phone call at 4.45pm on a Friday in August, 2019.
The conversation that followed would change everything.
The head of the state's mining regulator, Anthony Hurst, rang chief executive John Harrison to say he was revoking mining licences for Bendigo sites.
Hurst told Harrison his group had lost faith in the company's ability to raise nearly $7 million to pay off debts and fund future works.
It was a crushing blow that financially exposed GBM Gold as well as its shareholders, business partners and subsidiary Kralcopic.
"I said to the Defendant [Hurst] words to the effect of 'you are not even going to let us finish our fundraising', to which the defendant said 'no'," Harrison would later write.
It was not the first time Kralcopic had tried to raise the funds needed to square its debts and pay for future works.
Hurst's agency, Earth Resources Regulation, had been closely watching the company's finances for some years and had come to the conclusion it did not have the financial ability to meet state legal requirements.
In the aftermath of the call, Kralcopic launched two court cases.
One challenged the decision to revoke the licences and another demanded the company pay extra money in bonds to rehabilitate sites if it stopped operating.
Kralcopic would later settle the case over the bond and agreed to pay an extra $572,000 into a fund set aside for any future rehabilitation works.
Kralcopic kept fighting to get its licences back, arguing it had satisfied financial requirements the regulator had imposed in preceding years.
It also disputed the regulator's assessment of its financial ability, and argued investor uncertainty about mining rights was damaging its capacity to raise funds.
That is the case that the Supreme Court just ruled on.
Why does the case matter?
Because there might be millions of ounces of undiscovered gold beneath Bendigo.
No-one can say for sure until they find it, which would be difficult at the best of times but is made even harder by Bendigo's geology.
"The Bendigo field is one of bonanzas," GBM Gold told investors in a 2018 annual report.
"Instead of large bodies of uniform grade ore the gold at Bendigo is relatively coarse and occurs in shoots of great richness and sometimes great length in reefs of otherwise nearly barren quartz."
The company noted that if they could find a bonanza it could be rich enough to give a net profit "throughout the whole lifetime of the mine".
GBM Gold wanted to look for more than six million ounces of gold, but that was a target, not a prediction.
The Supreme Court's Tuesday decision potentially opens the door for Earth Resources Regulation to make one of a number of big decisions.
A number of community advocates want Bendigo mining sites rehabilitated.
They argue the sites should have been closed years ago and that GBM Gold and other companies experiences have shown the Bendigo goldfield has been tapped out over the past 170 years.
That said, the Advertiser is yet to confirm whether Kralcopic, GBM Gold or its creditors might launch a legal action to overturn the Supreme Court's decision.
There's also a question about a Woodvale mining site.
There, advocates are concerned that arsenic-laden dust could blow off of "evaporation ponds" - shallow dams where mine water was once pumped to evaporate.
Earth Resources has been monitoring dust since the site was decommissioned years ago and has repeatedly stated it is prepared to rehabilitate the land if needed.
Kralcopic still owns the land itself and it wants to put a huge solar farm on the site, though that would depend on multiple government approvals and its ability to lock in financial backers.
What does this all mean for mining under Bendigo's streets?
That's all up in the air.
The regulator has previously said it would consult with the community to gauge its hopes for the Kangaroo Flat site.
It has not ruled out rehabilitation, which would come after sustained community pressure over the past decade.
Mining companies may not want that.
They could argue that the world has changed since Kralcopic first applied for Bendigo licences in 2015.
For a start, the gold price has been surging for some years now.
But more than that, investors have flooded mining companies with money for exploration in recent years after Fosterville's gold mine proved there were still hidden riches under Victoria.
To give you an idea of the wave exploration companies are riding right now, just consider this fact: exploration spending had more than doubled over five years to $124 million in 2019-20.
That has all happened in the period Kralcopic has presided over the Bendigo goldfields.
A lot of investors with deep pockets might be willing to back other exploration companies if they sense an opportunity.
They cannot do that if the Swan Decline is closed over.
What will happen to GBM Gold?
GBM Gold is currently considering its legal options.
Its subsidiary Kralcopic is in the hands of administrators amid a push from creditors to reclaim debts owed from the fallout from the court case.
GBM Gold is not named in the Australian Securities and Investment Commission paperwork seen by the Bendigo Advertiser.
Creditors, the regulator and community groups are closely monitoring the situation.
The administrators' decisions could shape GBM Gold's future. The company has other projects outside of Bendigo and hopes of turning Woodvale into a solar farm.
It is still too early to know what the court ruling might mean for those projects.
Whatever happens, the saga over Bendigo's goldfields will likely continue for some time to come.
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