Leigh Creek and Copley in ruins

CLOSING: The Packsaddle General Store in Copley will close its doors later this month after 20 years of operation. PHOTO: supplied.
CLOSING: The Packsaddle General Store in Copley will close its doors later this month after 20 years of operation. PHOTO: supplied.

Two-and-a-half years after the closure of the coal mine, Leigh Creek and neighbouring town Copley are on the verge of becoming ghost towns.

The Packsaddle General Store – Copley’s only destination for camping, hardware and groceries – will shut its doors in the next month after 20 years of operation.

The town’s post office is also based in the general store, but has been given notice to find a new home.

Packsaddle owner Karyn Ridsdale said everyone is leaving the area and things are falling apart.

“I tried to sell, but nobody is interested at all and I don’t blame them,” she said.

“Who would want to come over to this area with the way things are now? It’s just gone downhill.”

The closure of the Leigh Creek coal mine in November 2015 came as a result of the decommissioning of the Augusta Power Stations, putting over 400 people in the Far North region out of employment.

Leigh Creek’s population more than halved in 10 years, with the 2016 census revealing that less than 250 people were living in the town – a figure that would have undoubtedly decreased further by 2018.

The same census indicated that just 72 people remained in Copley, a decrease of over 30 per cent since 2006.

POPULATION DECREASE: Copley, five kilometres north-east of Leigh Creek, recorded a population of just 72 people in the 2016 census.

POPULATION DECREASE: Copley, five kilometres north-east of Leigh Creek, recorded a population of just 72 people in the 2016 census.

Karyn felt the situation was “too far gone” due to a lack of employment opportunities.

“It is sad. All my kids lived in Leigh Creek and they’ve all had to move now with my grandchildren,” she said.

“The way Leigh Creek looks at the moment, the scenery, the lawns are all dead.

“I can’t see why tourists would want to stop here. I can’t see anybody actually coming to stay.”

Local author Jessie Ford, who has lived in Leigh Creek her whole life, echoed Karyn’s sentiments.

Disheartened by the current state of Leigh Creek, Jessie has decided it’s time to leave her home town.

“I wanted to buy a house in Leigh Creek like so many others, but time has run out and the government has not answered our questions,” she said.

“More recently we have seen the destruction of beautiful gardens in town, including removal of fruit trees.

“It’s very sad to see a town I grew up in being damaged in this way.”

Many residents are infuriated by the lack of maintenance and upkeep in both towns, with much of the nature and land said to be left to waste away.

After returning home for the first time in two years, former Leigh Creek resident Sharron Nicholls said the town was in a sad state.

“Both school and town ovals are almost dust bowls,” Sharron said.

“This has never happened, no matter how dry and hot our summers have been. It’s obvious they aren't getting watered.

“The plan is to make it a viable town, but the first thing you see is a dead school oval.”

Leigh Creek Energy plans to conduct in-situ coal gasification at the former coal mine site, which involves extracting gas from Leigh Creek's coal seams.

However, the process has been widely opposed by Leigh Creek residents after it was banned in Queensland.

The ban was introduced after Linc Energy’s project near Chinchilla led to widespread contamination, which was labelled as the “biggest pollution event in Queensland's history” by former Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles.

LOCAL ANGER: Many Leigh Creek residents are unhappy with the current state of the town following the closure of the coal mine in 2015.

LOCAL ANGER: Many Leigh Creek residents are unhappy with the current state of the town following the closure of the coal mine in 2015.