They Still Enclose Commons, Don't They?

Here’s a surprise: the enclosure of the village common — as it occurred in medieval times — is still occurring, in a literal sense. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia, a mining company working in tandem with the Australian government has taken possession of the village common of Camberwell, Australia. (Thanks to Leo Burke for alerting me to this story!)

Since the 1890s, the village had used the common — part of an open flood plain around Glennies Creek — as a place to keep their horses and dairy cows, and to let their children fish, swim and ride horses. On April 5, however, as the Morning Herald reports, "A pair of officers from the Department of Lands arrived, called together members of the [Camberwell] Common Trust, and told them the Crown land would be immediately resumed and turned over to the Ashton mine that looms over the Upper Hunter village in the form of a hollowed-out hill on the other side of the creek."

This action is apparently part of a pattern, in which the government uses its authority to seize common lands for mines. The secretary of the Camberwell Common Trust told the reporter, "When we go to community meetings with the mines they are always talking about what they will do 'when’ they get approval. They never say 'if' they get approval."

Both mining companies and government do fairly well for themselves by enclosing the commons. The mining companies get access to the minerals, and the government earns about $1.5 billion in royalties and fees from the region’s mines each year.

Blasts from the mining has hollowed out the hills around the village and parts of the commons have cracked, according to the Morning Herald. Nearly two-thirds of the village population has give up fighting the mining companies and left.

In an unscientific poll on its website that garnered more than 4,000 votes, the newspaper asked readers, "Should the common be handed to the mine for money?" Seven percent said yes. Ninety-three percent said no.