First Keynote Address to the SMEDG-AIG Exploration Strategies Symposium



– copyright by Peter Vanderspuy, April, 2001.


Fellow romantics,


I open my keynote address to you today with good news and bad news. The good news is that nothing I am going to tell you is news to you. (You can all relax, sleep, play with your palm computers or whatever it is you do with your hands in your lap region.) The bad news is that I am going to take half an hour to tell you what you already know.


Why am I so impudent, you ask? Because I was born sixty years ago. My first real exploration syndicate was 40 years ago, chasing diamonds in competition with De Beers at 11,000 feet in the mountains of the kingdom of Basutoland. (I came second, and came out of there weighing just 45 kilograms.) I have lived exploration as far back as I can remember (which is usually about two weeks on a good day), and I have had the good fortune to explore in numerous places on planet Earth. More importantly, I have had the singular fortune of meeting, mixing and working and drinking with a great number of mineral explorers. It is the distillation of these things that I offer you today.


Therefore now let us begin:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And God said, “let there be light” and there was light.

The next 27 short verses deal with the creation of everything, including Man (but, significantly, not woman).

Then, on page 2 of this 1000 page book, we find that the river draining Eden has four tributaries, and I quote “the first is Pison that drains the land of Havilah, where there is gold and the gold of that land is good. There is also bdellium and the onyx stone…” We mineral people get our first mention on page two. Hundreds of pages before the first mention of the world’s oldest profession. Good on you Moses. You obviously took the right tablets.


Most of us know of this book, some of us have read some of it, and maybe a few of us have endeavored to implement some of the ideas it contains. It is a book of ideas. Some are ritualistic. Some are dogmatic. Most of the ideas are of an exploratory nature. I believe that is why this book remains in print. (You can order it from Amazon dot com, or you can nip down to the lovely little church just down the road and nick yourself a copy.).


My topic is exploration. I am going to address the following subjects:


·         What is exploration

·         Why do people explore

·          What is a successful explorer

·         What part does luck play

·         What characteristics are common to explorers

·         What kinds of geologists are there

·         What is an exploration geologist

·         What is an exploration geophysicist

·         What is a diamond drill

·         What is the significance of scale

·         Finally, brawn, brain and Bre-X


(Then we break for lunch and I will sum up this afternoon.)






Exploration is looking for something. It might be a better mousetrap or it might be for an answer to an observed phenomenon, this often being termed deductive reasoning. (Demonstrate how a geophysicist does deductive reasoning.)

Two examples of looking for something:




Two examples of deductive reasoning:


These are two examples of using cause and effect relationships in exploration. Of course we can always bark up the wrong tree – so to speak. An example of which is John Towie and Maureen Muggeridge panning the gravels of Smoke Creek at Argyle, looking for the tell-tale garnets. And what did they find? Diamonds! Some people can never get it right. "Spoilt our day", said John and Maureen.


Summary of exploration:


Exploration in the resource industry is looking for ways to make money out of minerals. Exploration may focus on finding new deposits. Alternatively, it may focus on improving ways of unlocking the value of known deposits. We must never be narrow in our definition of exploration. Look at the door opened by cyanide extraction of gold. The great leap forward from Jason and the golden fleece, and the product of a Glaswegian chemist making cough mixture for his mother-in-law, first applied to gold extraction at Waihi in New Zealand in 1895. And look at how our horizons rolled back with the application of CIL/CIP, which is not new technology. And look at what sulphide flotation did to our exploration horizons.





In 1929, when Mallory, late returned from his attempt on Everest, was asked by a pestering journo why he tried to climb Everest, he replied, “because it is there”.

People explore for two reasons:

True explorers come from the second category. Exploration is their raison d’etre. (Which I think means that they eat raisins.).





I know the answer to this one but I hesitate to tell you because you might think me a cynic, which I am not. But I will tell you anyway, in the interests of science and truth.

A successful explorer is one who, in the eyes of his or her peers, is considered to be a successful explorer. That’s it. All about perception, I regret to say.

Miles D’Arcy. Who? Mt Morgans and the oil in Persia. Oh, Him! Paddy Hannan. Paddy Hannan! Our icon! I’m sorry; Blind Freddy’s lame dog would have found the Golden Mile had he wandered 80 kilometers east of Coolgardie. Paddy had only this one discovery to his name, let he lives in legend-land. James Balzarno had more than 30 discoveries to his credit in Australia and New Zealand. Yet today he is remembered as the idiosyncratic barrow man at the annual Kalgoorlie Balzarno Barrow race. Ditto for Ray Smith of Granny Smith fame, named after his wife the day she became a grandmother. Ray had discoveries in Australia, Albania, Colorado, Ontario, Ecuador, Haiti, Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico. Ray Who? I am not a cynic. We should judge explorers by what they do, not by what other people think they do.







She is very important, provided we use my definition of luck, which has two legs:


Every one of us has had the occasional earth-shattering exploration idea, I am sure. Some of us have been lucky, which is to say, we acted on that blinding flash of revelation that hit us at 2 am on our way home from the pub, and that particular revelation brought fruit when it was applied. Most don’t, I suppose that is what we mean by bad luck.


Luck comes from giving it a go. It matters not how crazy the idea may seem. I would love to tell you about some of my current crazies but I am having a challenge with the patent’s office. “Heavier than air machines can not fly, please leave us alone” they say, after taking my money. But I can tell you about this one because it is patented. Why dig rock up to get metal? Why not just grow plants that collect the metal from the soil formed from the metal-bearing rock? Then reap the plants and burn them. Hey presto, the ash is our instant high-grade ore, ready for the smelter. Trouble is, there are laws in this country against the commercial cultivation of that plant that looks like a tomato plant. Go to Columbia, where the government subsidises it. The mind reels. Get a high from the smoke while we are creating our own orebodies.










A long question that means how do we recognize true explorers. Well, they tend to a mix of romanticism and pragmatism. They are simultaneously visionaries and doers; they are not dreamers. They are iconoclasts and scorn conventional wisdom. Yet they use every available tool. In particular, they absorb the experiences of others. Their active pursuit of ideas and opportunities means that they have a higher than average reward from Lady Luck. Finally, their pursuit of opportunity results in a lot of serendipity – doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The true mineral explorer does not have tunnel vision. The true explorer looks for what the rocks can deliver, rather than deciding in advance what he or she wants from the rocks.


Why be proud? If our target is manganese and we find the Hamersley Range or Cerro dos Carajas; if our target is nickel and we find the Venetia diamond pipe, why worry? Ray Smith did not worry because on his prime nickel target he found the signposts that led to Granny Smith.





Short answer; me and you, and I have some doubts about you. Alternative short answer: there are those that shower every day and there are the real geologists, who change their underdaks once in the summer and less often in the winter.


The longer answer is that there are academic geologists, environmental geologists, engineering geologists, exploration geologists and then there are Kiwi geologists: they are the ones to be found in thorny scrub in the pouring rain. And then there is the last kind of geologist - iconoclastic mavericks, commonly known as prospecting geologists or minefinders. They are the ones who explore for fun. They are never to be found driving taxis.





Like all geologists, an exploration geologist has many hands, as in “on the other hand…”. Each hand represents a different but equivocal and contestable opinion.

An exploration geologist is a management tool, which is to say that Management chooses at random one of the many hands to justify the spending of shareholder’s money to drill a diamond drillhole.

Fortunately exploration geologists are biodegradable because they get the blame for holes that fail to find Lasseter’s Reef and their use-by date comes up faster than the rate at which the share price heads for the Antarctic. This is not necessarily a bad thing because Australia does need interesting and universally-informed taxi drivers.





This is a quiz question. If anyone here knows the answer, write it on not more than 12 pages and email it to me at Bermuda Triangle dot com. First prize is a previously-owned but well cared for and regularly- serviced exploration geophysicist.

My suspicion is that exploration geophysicists are frustrated psychics. Or Melbourne tram drivers or Sydney symphony orchestra aspirants, because they have a fixation about conductors.

Life is full of surprise discoveries and I made one last week in the pub in the hamlet of Fairlie in the MacKenzie Country of South Island, which is on the right hand side of Tasmania, for the reference of xenophobics. In that pub I discovered in John Steinbeck’s transliteration of King Arthur that Merlin was an exploration geophysicist. Let me quote: “ Now Merlin was a wise and subtle man with strange and secret powers of prophesy and those deceptions of the ordinary and the obvious which are called magic.” Is that not a brilliant definition of an exploration geophysicist? To clinch it, I quote further: “Merlin knew the winding channels of the human mind, and also he was aware that a simple open man (for which read geologist) is most receptive when he is mystified, and Merlin delighted in mystery.” There you have it – incontrovertible evidence in a nutshell, because we all know how exploration geophysicists mesmerize geologists.

In practice, most exploration geophysicists make it their business to find out what the exploration geologist wants to hear. They then use black boxes to make black magic to produce Leunig-style diagrams. They use these diagrams to persuade the geologist to think that the buried treasure is there. The geophysicist produces dig-here maps for testing by twelve diamond drills. No one, including the geophysicists, actually understand these dig-here maps, so it is a cop-out for everyone when the twelve diamond drills turn up pure unadulterated granite uncontaminated by metals, and the geologists take up taxi driving. Needless to say, diamond drillers adore exploration geophysicists as passionately as they loathe exploration geologists. I am led to understand that the taxis driven by erstwhile exploration geologists are owned by diamond drillers.





This is a serious question and has two answers, the second of which is an indictment.



Yes, the diamond drill is the truth machine, but why not a laser drill and down-hole neutron-activated qualitative and quantitative analysis for the whole periodic table? My patent is pending.


Indeed, heavier-than-air flying machines took to the air 98 years ago. And 3500 years ago the Egyptians were drilling core holes in extra tough dolerite. Much the way we do it today, except that today it is not a hand job, so to speak. We have satellite imagery, geophysics and geologists electronic field notebooks. And we follow this by screwing a hollow pipe into the ground!


Surely we are due for some leaps ahead, overdue, in fact. We need in-ground detection and identification of minerals and we need in-situ, non-toxic mass mining, all imperative for environmental reasons, let alone sound commercial reasons. Would it not be ridiculous if we achieve this on the moon or Mars before achieving it in our back yard called planet Earth.


We do have one big leap ahead and it is thanks to Monsieur Daguerreau and Messers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Air photography, and satellite imagery. I will comment on these under the following, which seems like a non-sequitur but is not.






How long does it take us to walk the long dimension of an “average” orebody – excluding coalfields, oilfields, the Witwatersrand, the Bushveld Complex, the Great Dyke, the Zambian Copperbelt and similar monsters? It takes us a few minutes to a few tens of minutes. That’s the way we mineral explorers have measured scale for thousands of years. And it all changed after World War Two, which, for those not as aged as me, means 55 years ago. And most of the change has been in the last 25 years.

When my exploration career started in the early 1960’s in Darkest Africa, air photos were a luxury, where they existed at all. So I did my own, and, as some of you know, I have continued to this day, occasionally flying foul – excuse the pun – of the aviation authorities, though I refute the official allegation that I was guilty of flying underground at Kanowna Belle. (With a Sheila maybe, with an aeroplane – no!).


Air photography achieved for us what Icarus would have achieved as a fringe benefit had he not used wax rather than crazy glue. Clearly a man before his time.


People have always flown in their dreams and an interesting phenomenon is how accurately dream fliers have recorded the terrain, built up from the brain’s microprocessor making three-dimensional models from two-dimensional observations. Those of us who have worked with unsophisticated indigenous people around the world will know how readily and accurately they identify with air photo features and scale. Far better than many geologists.


The advent of satellite imagery and air photography is an enormous leap forward for explorers but it also presents us with new challenges. We can so easily now see things on global, continental and regional scales and, in doing so, we can all too easily lose sight of the dimensions of our targets. Take, for example, the BMR’s 80,000-scale RC 9 photography of Australia. A 400-meter orebody is only 5 millimeters and 5 millimeters is very small on a 22 by 22 centimeter air photo. In our GPS-navigated four by four, we drive its length in seconds, not minutes.


I love using satellite imagery and air photos in exploration and that is why I fly small aeroplanes. Using air photos, I stickybeak from 10,000 feet down to kangaroo-hopping height, tying together in my mind’s eye the various features as seen from different heights. From regional scale to local scale and down to site-specific scale. It is exciting and rewarding, for example, correlating an air photo feature with a vegetal anomaly that is visible only from a height of around 500 feet.


Interestingly, in Canada the light aircraft remains a prospector’s tool. It is underutilized in Australia and more the pity, given our terrain and user-friendly nature of most of Australia for light aircraft. Some of you will remember Leo Miller of Teas Gulf. He spent much of his time in the air all over Australia, prospecting at speeds that caused birds to fly past him.


Summarising on scale, we should all make a habit of walking our targets. Do all the other things, and follow through with feet on ground, to get the correct space – time perspective. No way better than by stopping to brew a billy and allowing the brain to assimilate and process the multiplicity of scales that today confront us.




Before passing from the ridiculous to the sublime, I have something more to add about geophysics. Fortunately it sums up in four sentences, being the normal concluding paragraph of any self-respecting exploration geophysicist’s report. It goes like this:


“The conductors run in parallel lines,

This is a condition you find in all the big mines,

They run low in the valleys and high in the hills,

And should be tested by twelve diamond drills.”


I am not sure if exploration geophysicists are in league with the devil but it is clear that they are in joint venture with the diamond drillers.






If we really seek exploration success we each need a company called either Accident NL or Chance NL, because it seems that all mines were discovered either by accident or by chance.


I am going to conclude this offering to you today by listing mines or discoveries under the headings of brain, brawn and Bre-X. It is for you to decide if my selections are appropriate.




Argyle, Boddington, Bougainville, Cadia –Ridgeway, Cannington, Century, Cerro dos Carajas, Ekati, Ertzberg, Ernest Henry, Gove, Hamersley, Hellyer, Jabiluka, Kambalda, Lihir, Lucky Draw, Macarthur River, Murrin Murrin, Ok Tedi, Orapa, Porgera, Platinum in the Bushveld and Great Dyke Complexes, Tanami, Telfer, Venetia, Witwatersrand.


BRAWN (includes serendipity and persistence)


Broken Hill, Great Central, Plutonic, Sunrise, Voisey’s Bay, Wallaby.





Under this heading I include all exercises in which greed and the lemming instinct have taken over from rational thought and responsible behaviour. I leave it to each of you to make your own list. Mine remains private property.



It matters not whether the discovery comes from brain or brawn. The only thing that matters is that we keep on looking, using every tool that is available to us.



Ladies and gentlemen, for the indulgence with which you have listened to an enthusiast for the orderly and proper discovery and development of planet Earth’s mineral resource endowment, I thank you very warmly.