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Adrian Griffin reveals reinvention is the key to success in the mining industry.


While the events that shaped my passion for mining date back to my early childhood, the reality of building a lifelong career in the resources industry has been such that to survive has required constant reinvention.

My parents were pretty hot on ethics and education and, despite being very much middle class, my father in particular was keen to see my two brothers and I follow his privileged attendance at Wesley College in Melbourne. It had a huge impact on him as it surely did on me.

During those formative years, nearly every holiday break was spent on the Victorian goldfields where a past generation had established themselves during the Great Depression.

I was drawn to the historic environment as though it was a magnet, spending the days crawling through old mine workings, trying to figure out what my forebears had done and dreaming I was part of it.

I was hooked from a very early age and encouraged by my father to continue the inquisition into the mining industry.

I had almost no greater aspiration than to be part of a gold boom that unfortunately had finished nearly a century before and I could never see it coming again.

Regardless, the time came for university selection and in those days (pre-Whitlam) it was pretty expensive. Luckily, I received a scholarship for engineering, but the mining bug wouldn’t let go.

Rather than use the scholarship awarded, I decided to take the course I wanted and pay the tuition fees. That was the start of my studies into geology and metallurgy, which created the career path into mining.

My first real taste of the resources industry came after my final year of undergraduate studies, when I was employed by one of the companies for which I had so much admiration in those formative years, the then long-surviving, but now defunct, Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company.

While working for the company, I took every opportunity to visit the locations of Geoffrey Blainey’s classic book The Peaks of Lyell. There I was, once again, consumed by my fascination of what had driven the mining industry, with the aid of the greatest historical analysis of a hundred years of mining.

Unfortunately, Mt Lyell was not a great career move. Just in the way Mr Blainey chronicled the events, the operation shrank from 3000 employees to close to zero in the blink of an eyelid. So, it was back to school.

The decision to go back to school led to the opportunity to work on a few specific issues in the iron ore industry, with the intention of a doctoral thesis as an outcome.

Though the experience of writing my thesis was not without its own challenges (I was close to furious when the examiners wanted parts of it rewritten, presumably to agree with their views), those days, which lasted for about seven years, gave me the opportunity to get my hands dirty with BHP Billiton and alternate down at the big deep freeze with the Australian Antarctic Division. It was a lifestyle to die for, a boy’s own adventure at every turn.

The years to follow were filled with career successes and challenges. One particular memory that stands out above all others was my role managing the Bellevue gold mine in WA, following a hostile takeover. I had to remove most of the contractors, sell most of the equipment and chase the ore with hand-held mining techniques, despite being the second largest underground gold mining operation in Australia.

Nowadays, I wear many hats.

In recent years, I contributed to the float of the world’s third largest market capitalisation rare earths company, Northern Minerals, where I retain a position of Non-Executive Director. I have also had a big influence in the development of potentially the world’s largest potash deposit as a Chairman of Potash West. The significance of this deposit was first realised by the Western Australian government in the 1960s, at which stage it planned to exploit the huge resource, to make WA self-sufficient in potash.

Alas, the technology was not available to exploit the opportunity but, teamed up with the right people, we have been successful in unlocking the process requirements to turn the dream of a past government into the reality of private enterprise.

Picture: WA News.