THE story of a Scotswoman who travelled to West Africa with her family to set up an eco-friendly goldmine is the focus of a new documentary.
Family Goldmine follows Moira Nicolay, 60, from Musselburgh, her French husband Claude, 62, and their two sons Craig, 22, and Pierre, 19, as they attempt to strike it lucky in poverty-stricken Mali.
The job of finding the gold in a 100 sq-km stretch of land bought by Claude for $1 million (£650,000) was made all the harder by the fact that none of the family had any mining experience.
Mali is known for its large gold deposits, which form its third-largest export by value after cotton and livestock, though it is often complained that the industry benefits the foreign mining companies more than the Malian people and has brought with it serious pollution that poisons both land and water.
Moving to Mali in 2011, the family set their sights on creating a environmentally-friendly mine using neither cyanide or mercury – toxic substances commonly used to extract gold from ore – caring for the land and making sure the local mining community of Tofola, who work for them, receive a fair deal.
Filmed over a three-year period by Scots director Robbie Fraser, the family find themselves overcoming seemingly overwhelming odds as they scour the land and river for gold: the discovery of a single nugget sparks a mini rush by illegal prospectors; local villagers are hostile to the family’s presence; workers are seriously injured, malaria hits the family; and the threat of bankruptcy looms closer throughout the film as Claude’s Saudi backers’ fears grow that nothing will be found.
And the drama plays out against a backdrop of war in the north of Mali as Islamist rebels fought for control of the country.
The documentary will be premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival on 20 and 21 February (the first date is already sold out), and then will be shown on BBC2 on 1 March.
Despite the challenges, Moira said she has never regretted the move. “Life is an adventure, and it is lovely there,” she said.
“Instead of doing the same thing every day, knowing that you have to get into work at 9am and leave at 5pm, you never know what is going to happen with Claude.”
Helping with the initial set-up of the business, Moira then focused on charity work among the local communities.
In addition to treating minor ailments in the community, she also acted as an unofficial ambulance driver for injured or ailing mine workers and their families.
Despite still looking for a viable seam to mine, Moira believes the venture will work.
She said: “Things are in the pipeline, it’s not completely shut down and it will definitely take off again.”