SMEDG -- Its Role in the Australian Exploration Scene

by Dr. Roy Cox

The Sydney Mineral Exploration Discussion Group (S.M.E.D.G) recently held its 50th meeting. Since its formation this small but active group has rapidly established itself as a vital element in the Australian exploration scene. S.M.E.D.G was formed in October 1972 by a small group of enthusiastic geologists. They felt that, although the Sydney area was well served by interdisciplinary societies such as the Australasian Institute of Mining & Metallurgy, the Geological Society of Australia and various specialist groups (e.g. S.G.I.G.O.D. and S.G.G.M.), there was a lack of suitable informal professional communication between geologists primarily interested in the techniques and concepts of mineral exploration. This group included Dr Neil Hillhouse (Placer), C. Kelly O'Connor (Conwest) and Dr. John I. Sharpe (Pennzoil), all of whom had previously been based in Toronto, Canada, where they had actively partaken in a Mineral Exploration Discussion Group. Their idea of forming a Sydney group based on the Toronto model was pursued with other prominent Sydney based geologists, including Alan Blatchford (Placer), Lindsay T MacAlister (Kennecott), Michael Sharwood (Horizon) and Dr Alex Somm (Swiss Aluminium), and so S.M.E.D.G. was born. An initial questionnaire was circularized to exploration companies and individuals on 23rd October, 1972 to ascertain the degree of interest in informal discussion of mineral exploration subjects, and how such meetings could best be organised. The circular was received with much enthusiasm. From the replies it was clear that the majority of interested people preferred:

  • 1 . late afternoon meetings, mid-week.
  • 2. an informal atmosphere conducive to discussion
  • 3. a city venue
  • 4. no conflict with either Aus. I.M.M. or G.S.A.
  • 5. meetings at approximately monthly intervals.

Objectives

The objectives of the Sydney Mineral Exploration Discussion Group were defined as:-

  • (1) the development of a higher degree of personal contact among practising geologists to promote active discussion and so reduce corporate reluctance to associate.
  • (2) the subject matter for discussion to be oriented as much as possible to the practical problems of exploration and to case histories.
  • (3) the meetings and administration of the group to be conducted in an informal manner so as to avoid conflict with, and the administrative formalities inherent in, existing professional organisations.
  • (4) membership* (if one may call it that) to be entirely open to all interested persons.
  • (5) the dissemination of information which would not normally be published.
  • (6) financing to be arranged by a small levy (say $5) to cover mailing costs and, whenever applicable, hire of venue for meetings.

Meetings

The inaugural meeting of the Sydney Mineral Exploration Discussion Group was held on 9th November 1972 at the Mining Club in Sydney. Dr Peter Solomon, consultant geologist, addressed 70 interested persons on "Geochemical aspects of exploration for massive sulphide deposits with particular reference to the Lachlan Geosyncline". The high attendance and good discussion following this address had got S.M.E.D.G. off to a good start. The style of meeting, with approximately 20 minutes for initial socialising, an address which lasted 45 minutes, followed by an equal time for questions and informal discussion, proved extremely popular and set the format for subsequent meetings. Most of the first 24 meetings were held at the Mining Club in Sydney. Following closure of the Mining Club early in 1976, a two year period of difficulty was then experienced in finding a suitable venue gratis. Meetings were alternated between three main venues:-

  • (1) Rhodes Room, Gold Fields House, Circular Quay, Sydney. (Made available at reduced cost by Consolidated Gold Fields Australia Limited.)
  • (2) Royal Commonwealth Society, Norwich House, Bligh Street, Sydney.
  • (3) Shell Theatrette, Shell House, Carrington Street, Sydney. (Made available gratis through the courtesy of the Shell Company of Australia Limited, who also provided refreshments.)

Since late 1977 S.M.E.D.G. meetings have been held at the Science Centre, 35 Clarence Street, Sydney. A number of the major exploration companies have generously offered to sponsor these meetings (i.e. finance the cost of hire of the Science Centre facilities), so relieving the S.M.E.D.G Organising Committee of the problems of additional levying and associated administration.

Topics of Discussion

Since inception in late 1972 the Sydney Mineral Exploration Discussion Group has held a total of 52 meetings. Forty-eight of these meetings have been of a technical nature, with an invited speaker(s) addressing the group on a topic of current interest. The subjects covered have encompassed a broad spectrum of geological and geographical environments within the field of mineral exploration. There have been a considerable number of specific case histories and these topics, generally, have received above average support and stimulated the most active discussions. The S.M.E.D.G. Organising Committee is able to arrange meetings at very short notice and their flexible attitude to frequency of meetings and, where necessary, venues, has enabled them on numerous occasions to take advantage of brief visits to Sydney by both interstate and overseas based personnel. Of the 48 technical meetings held to date, six have been addressed by persons based interstate, 14 by persons based overseas (Canada, Hungary, South Africa and U.S.A.) and the remaining 28 meetings by Sydney based persons. The remaining four meetings (of the first 52) have been purely social functions.

Attendance

Attendance at the S.M.E.D.G. technical meetings has ranged from 40 to 120, averaging approximately 75. The purely social meetings, arranged in the evening over an informal dinner, have also proved very popular for both members and their partners. These attendances indicate that S.M.E.D.G. is filling a vital role by providing Sydney-based explorationists with an excellent selection of experienced speakers and topics of interest in the field of mineral exploration. Furthermore, the informal atmosphere is what most Australians find conducive to active and meaningful discussion. A number of meetings have also been of particular interest to senior geology students.

Membership

The interest in, and success of, the S.M.E.D.G. meetings has travelled well beyond the limits of Sydney. Active members come from as far afield as Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth.

Organising Committee

The organisation and running of the Sydney Mineral Exploration Discussion Group has, right from its beginning, been carried out on a very informal basis. The Organising Committee has generally consisted of 4 or 5 enthusiastic volunteers and herein lies its strength, flexibility and success. The members of the committee have wide experience and contacts throughout the mineral exploration and mining industry, both in Australia and overseas. This enables them to enlist the assistance and co-operation of a large number of people so necessary to providing speakers and topics of interest for discussion. The original S.M.E.D.G. Organising committee consisted of Alan Blatchford (Placer), C. Kelly O'Connor (Conwest), Dr John 1. Sharpe (Pennzoil) and Michael Sharwood (Horizon). During 1974 the Organising Committee consisted of John Best (Burmah), Tony Hall (Burmah), Dave Kennedy (Otter), Dr Garry Lowder (Kennecott), Tony Robinson (Otter), Ian Ross (Robertson Research), Michael Sharwood (Horizon), and Dr Alex Somm (Swiss Aluminium). With transfers the membership of the committee has gradually changed. For the past few years it has consisted of the present committee members: Dr Roy Cox (Placer), John A. S. Dow (Kennecott), J.F. (Jock) Gilfillan (Consultant) and Dr Garry G. Lowder (Consultant). In the interim Dr Neville L. Markham (Geol. Survey N.S.W.) and Dave Clappison (Pacminex) have served on the committee for short periods. The Committee Members have always received ready co-operation from numerous people throughout the minerals industry.