Author-Historian and Financial Journalist – Two Centuries of Panic, The Bold Riders, Operation Dynasty, The Money Miners and, in less serious veins, Vintage Pierpont and the best-selling DIY book for geological entrepreneurs, The Official History of Blue Sky Mines (No Liability Except at Gunpoint).

The following address was presented to an assembled multitude of Sydney-based geoscientists, financiers/brokers and senior mining management to kick off the eastern Australia appeal process to support the Mining Hall of Fame project now under construction in Kalgoorlie. Details at the bottom of the page. Read on…


August 9, 2000
Organised by the Sydney Mining Club, Tattersalls Club – Sydney

In the 10th Century AD the Arab traveller, Ibn Al-Fakih – a name one has to pronounce rather carefully, said that gold grew like a plant whose roots lived in the sand. It had to be harvested regularly.

He said: “In Ghana gold grows in the sand like carrots. It is picked at sunrise.”
Four centuries later another Arab traveller confirmed the story. He said that in Ghana there were two gold-bearing plants. “Holes are dug and the golden roots are found in the form of stones. Gold begins to grow in the month of August, at the time when the Nile of the black peoples (the River Niger) begins to rise and swell.”
Having invested in my share of gold companies, I have observed that the amount of gold in a proposed mine appears to shrink rather than grow as mining proceeds. So I can tell you that gold does not always grow and swell in companies’ reserve statements, although I have noted that it swells a lot in their prospectuses.
Perhaps I should be investing in Ghana. Or then again, perhaps investing in Ghana is purely for the Arabs.
To give you a little more ancient wisdom on gold, a 16th Century Chinese manual, Tien Kong K’ai Wou, said that gold could be found by washing goose and duck droppings.
We all know this to be true. How often, after all, have we seen a mining prospectus where the geologist’s report was a pile of old duck droppings?
I mention these things merely to display my historical erudition on mining and metals.

Mining has been around for a long time. Going by tomb recoveries, mankind has been using gold for 7,000 years. The first known production of gold in any quantity was carried out at Varna on the Black Sea – in what is now Bulgaria – somewhere between 4,500 and 4,000 B.C.
If you want to count ochre as a mine product, our own aboriginals may have been the first, with the earliest mining maybe between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago. There are even pits that have been set up as a tourist attraction in the West Musgrave Ranges, not far from Alice Springs.
Smelting goes back a long way too, which is pretty amazing when you consider that for effective smelting of copper ores you need temperatures well above 1,000 degrees Centigrade and the average campfire can only deliver about half that heat, even when using charcoal.
The development of the kiln was one of the great technical jumps in mankind’s history. The oldest yet discovered, to my knowledge, is at a place called Timna on the edge of the Sinai Desert, where men were smelting copper ores in 3,500 BC.
The point I am trying to make is that the discovery of metals and their treatment is one of the oldest industries on the planet. Mining and metal processing has been one of the great contributors to the advancement and enrichment of mankind for several millennia – longer than recorded history.

It is a sad commentary on Australia today that mining has become divorced from every-day life, even though our community still depends upon it in many ways. Mines are in the bush and the population is in the city.
Very few people in capital cities know anything about the mining industry and those who do are more likely to revile it than support it. To speak bluntly, this vast gulf of ignorance will not be filled merely by one museum in Kalgoorlie, but the Mining Hall of Fame is a great start.
Visitors will see and understand the contribution mining has made to Australia’s development and, hopefully, will be inspired to learn more about it. My only criticism of the hall is that it was not done back in the 1960s when it could more easily have been afforded by the major companies and when there was wider popular interest in mining companies.

So I am a great supporter of the Hall of Fame. Indeed, for several years I’ve been advocating a few monuments to neglected heroes of the mining industry, and this gives me a chance to ride a few of my hobby horses again.
In Kalgoorlie, of course, the cult of Paddy Hannan is strong. But as the city’s official history, Golden Destiny, makes clear, it is by no means sure that Hannan was the actual discoverer of gold there.

His fame rests largely on the fact that he was the member of the party who rode to post the reward claim.
Even if Paddy were the discoverer, the alluvial field which was found in 1893 does not appear (we can never be sure with alluvials) to have been much richer than Lambing Flat.
The real wealth of Kalgoorlie was in the Golden Mile and it was Sam Pearce who had the vision and courage to peg it – backed by the Brookmans of Adelaide. Hannan’s discovery petered out in a few years. It was Pearce’s that ensured Kalgoorlie lived for a century.
I’ve therefore always felt it something of an injustice that the main street and even the beer of Kalgoorlie was named after Paddy while poor old Sam has been consigned to the dustbin of history.
So I hope the Mining Hall of Fame will correct this longstanding oversight by making sure Sam Pearce gets proper recognition.
I have also advocated that somewhere in Kalgoorlie – outside the Hall of Fame would be fine – there should be a statue to the Bournemouth widow.
If you look at the history of mining finance in Australia, it is only in recent times that most of the funds came from Australia. Kalgoorlie’s first two great booms were in the 1890s and the 1930s.
Both were extensively financed by English capital. In the 1930s, Claude Albo de Bernales was particularly proficient at raising funds from retired colonels and widows in Bournemouth and Bath to finance his mines, which all, by no particular coincidence, contained less gold than the prospectuses claimed. (There were some real duck droppings around in the Thirties, I can tell you.)
Thousands of Australians who would otherwise have been unemployed, got jobs on the goldfields in the 1930s, funded by the widows of Bournemouth. And the shares in all de Bernales’ companies wound up as dust and rubble, so I feel the Bournemouth widow has paid in full and should be recognised.
Indeed, if the sponsors ever decide to expand the project, perhaps there could be a Hall of Infamy as well. I have plenty of nominations, from Horatio Bottomley through to Alexander Barton.
One chap we could put in there is Sir Roderick Murchison, who in 1854 proclaimed that gold would almost never be mined profitably from solid rock. His opinions were so highly valued that the West Australians named a whole district after him – the Murchison – where the main industry to this day is the mining of gold from solid rock. Which just shows what a fine sense of humour West Australians have, to be sure. (It reaches its highest form in prospectuses).
At the very least, perhaps we could paper the walls of the toilets with scrip from some of the more notorious companies in our history, from the Londonderry to Chillagoe.

On a more serious note, the Hall will pay a long overdue tribute to the men who built one of Australia’s greatest industries. I don’t know who is going to be honoured, but the list of deserving names is very long.
One that comes to mind is W.H. Corbould, or Jimmy as he was known, who must go down as one of the great mining engineers of Australia. Between 1886 and 1927 he seems to have been associated with every big mine in Australia.
He started as a School of Mines graduate working on the Pinnacles mine at Silverton, but the mine soon closed and he set up as an assayer and metallurgist at Broken Hill, only a few days before the first BHP smelter was opened and blown in.
He was in Coolgardie in 1893 and was the first outsider to track down the four young prospectors who had struck a rich lode which was later called the Londonderry Mine. He managed a succession of mining operations at Kalgoorlie, Burraga and Mount Elliott and became particularly proficient at treating low-grade copper ores.
It was Corbould in 1923 who rode out to look over a new field 70 miles west of Cloncurry and took options over most of the prospectors’ leases covering an area which Miles Campbell had called Isa. Corbould then went to McNall and Hordern in Sydney and they raised 150,000 Pounds as preliminary prospecting funds for Mt Isa Mines Limited.
And while we’re in that territory, I assume John Campbell Miles will get a mention somewhere in the Hall as the prospector who discovered Mount Isa. His first 10 samples assayed between 49% and 78% lead, with associated silver. It must have been magic to live in times when you could make strikes like that.
And I guess if we honoured Miles, we should perhaps also honour Ernest Henry who discovered the Cloncurry field, and so the roll of honour goes on.
I’ll be interested to see if the Hall mentions Cecil Cumberland, the pioneer of the mineral sand industry at Ballina, or Wallace H. Smith, the broker who backed him and got the industry started.

Cumberland was staying in a suburban boarding house in Melbourne, where he’d been conducting experiments to prove that zircon could be separated from the host sands with sulphuric acid. Wallace Smith went down to the boarding house to see this process. They had to climb in through a window because the landlady was trying to evict Cumberland for making messes in the bathroom. Not many industries had a humbler start than that.
We shouldn’t forget that there are quite a few heroes in modern times too.
I would rank Sir Maurice Mawby high in any listing of great Australians. His technique of borrowing against firm contracts to raise finance was the device which propelled Australia’s great mining boom of the 1960s, as he brought in Weipa, Tom Price and later Bougainville.
We’ve had many great prospectors in the past but none greater than Mark Creasy, whose work in the Yandal Belt I regard as just sensational.

Some sort of medal for boldness should go to Sir Lindesay Clarke and Sir Arvi Parbo. When the drilling team at Kambalda struck rich nickel, Sir Lindesay and the Western Mining board decided to go for it immediately.
The discovery hole at Silver Lake hit 8% nickel in January 1966. It took the company only three months to announce the discovery and development of Australia’s first nickel mine.
Shaft sinking began in July 1966, the first ore was produced in March 1967 and the first consignment of concentrate was shipped in August 1967, just 19 months after the discovery hole was sunk. By acting boldly Westerns had got itself a share of the world nickel market and ensured the survival of the company. No modern mine was ever brought in quicker.

There should also be a plaque to whoever started gold loans in Australia. In the 1980s gold became one of Australia’s great boom industries. One of the main factors driving that boom was the advent of the gold loan – innovative financing that enabled scores of mines to be opened.
I don’t think Australians actually invented the gold loan. However, as soon as gold loans were invented we became immediate and enthusiastic practitioners, and quickly led the world in using them.
As far as I can ascertain, the first gold loan in Australia was done in 1984 by Mase-Westpac for Pancontinental. That is something worth commemorating. In fact, I think I see the seeds of a small sponsorship there. I reckon it’s worth mentioning to David Morgan, anyway.

What saddens me is that I doubt if you can find one history book in the schools of Australia today that even mentions great mining men such as Corbould, Miles or Henry. We in this room know them but if you go out to the Miranda shopping mall I would be surprised if one person there had ever heard of them.
Yet these men founded great enterprises. They brought jobs, great wealth and prosperity to Australia. They would have had a better chance of being remembered if they had been jockeys or murderers.

History has been hijacked.

When I began researching Australian history to write Two Centuries of Panic, it did not take me long to discover that history was far from being a dead subject. Indeed, it was a political battleground.
In the words of Sir John Glubb – or Glubb Pasha, if you like, founder of the Arab Legion, and a fine military commander, writer and historian: “There are ‘political’ schools of history, slanted to discredit the actions of our past leaders, in order to support modern political movements.”
In Australia, there is a whole school of history writing which ignores the quite considerable achievements of Australia and Australians and instead magnifies the negative aspects of our society and in particular its foundation.
The writings of historians such as Brian Fitzpatrick and Bert Evatt laid the foundations for a Marxist interpretation of Australian history. And that interpretation still has a strong grip on our campuses today.
The theory of Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 is: “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.”
And so Orwell’s hero Winston Smith works on the assembly line of a history factory, where yesterday’s historical facts are being constantly falsified to suit today’s political needs.

But that was a book about totalitarian Russia, wasn’t it?

It’s not something that happens in contemporary Australia, is it?

Well, let me tell you something. Some of our historians have an agenda and so do the people who make their works compulsory reading in Australia’s history courses.
The one Australian historian who has been compulsory reading at our universities for 20 years is Manning Clark. Is he objective?
Certainly his early work on the history of Australia was excellent, but certainly as he progressed towards his own times his agenda became clear.
In History of Australia, Volume Six, Manning Clark assesses Australia’s Prime Ministers. On the Labor side was James Scullin, “much loved”; John Curtin, “greatly loved”; Chifley, “loved”; Gough Whitlam, a “great hero” and “man of vision”; Bert Evatt, who believed “Labor was the Magic Flute leading Australians from ignorance and superstition up to the light”. As I have already noted, Evatt’s interpretations of our early history would have tended to push Australians further into ignorance rather than lead them out of it.
Sir Robert Menzies, however, was a failure because he “lacked the precious gift of reading the direction of the river of life”. Menzies was “a tragedy writ large”. He ruled Australia for 17 years. For Clark those were “our years of unleavened bread” in which he “began to be haunted by a sense of belonging to a doomed society, a society heading towards some terrible disaster”.
Well, I came from a working class family in Adelaide, none of whose members would ever have dreamed of voting Liberal, but I don’t think we saw Menzies quite in those terms even at the time.
And in hindsight he doesn’t look too bad at all. There are times when I would quite welcome him back at the Lodge.
Instead of getting Menzies back at the Lodge we got Malcolm Fraser in 1975 and 1977, which sent Clark right off the planet.
He condemned Australia as a “corrupt and overripe society” and predicted civil war. He prophesied that “a cleansing fire” would “sweep the ancient and barbaric continent of Australia, ushering in a great madness.”
What else is likely to be on the history curriculum? Most probably The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes.
Hughes seems to have recorded every flogging and hanging of every convict in our history. Well, sure, these things happened but by concentrating solely on them, Hughes gives a quite unbalanced view of Australia’s foundation. Worse, he extrapolates it.
The central thesis of The Fatal Shore is that Australia was the world’s first totalitarian society. He says that it was in Australia “where England drew the sketch for our own century’s vaster and more terrible fresco of repression, the gulag”. He goes even further to call the Marquis de Sade the intellectual patron of Australia.
Port Arthur in Tasmania is equated with the Nazi extermination camp Dachau and a link is drawn between massacres of aboriginals and Hitler’s final solution.
It’s good lurid stuff for the best-seller lists if it was written as fiction by someone such as Robert Ludlum or Stephen King, but Hughes is really going overboard.
The facts are that the criminals who were transported to Australia were treated no worse than those who were kept in Britain and – if it comes to that – other countries. Indeed, the convicts were not treated much worse than the soldiers and sailors of the British Army and Navy.
Some of the convicts had committed quite serious crimes and were hardened criminals. But any of them who survived the voyage out here and the privations on arrival had a far better chance of making a good life for themselves in Australia than they did in England.
I have always believed that transportation did the convicts a favour.
Any convict who was prepared to do an honest day’s work very soon found himself gainfully employed. The key book to understanding the early days of Sydney Town is not The Fatal Shore, but The Sydney Traders by D.R. Hainsworth.
Hainsworth proved quite conclusively from an extensive study of court and commercial documents that convicts rapidly became active in Sydney’s commercial life and by the end of the 1790s were largely in control of it. When the terms of the original convicts expired, only 7 percent volunteered to return to England. Men such as Simeon Lord and Samuel Terry rose to become the richest in the colony.
When Australia’s first company was formed, The Bank of New South Wales in 1817 – several members of its first board were emancipists, convicts who had won their freedom. All this stands in utter refutation of Hughes’ overblown condemnation of Australia.
But Hainsworth had derided the ruling Marxist school, which also might be called the self-loathing school of Australian history, with John Pilger (another journalist, I’m afraid) as its patron saint.
So Pilger’s The Secret Country and Hughes’ The Fatal Shore and Manning Clark are on the curricula while it is very hard indeed to find Hainsworth or Geoffrey Blainey or any of the historians who celebrate the successes of Australia and, particularly, the successes of the free enterprise system here.
Indeed, Blainey has been vilified by the custodians of political correctness in Australian academia – none of whom are fit to clean his boots – and Australia is intellectually the poorer for his treatment.
I have an enormous admiration for Blainey. He writes as well as any modern author and he has made a huge contribution to Australian history.
The Mining Hall of Fame will be a step towards getting history right. If it is not built then the void is liable to be filled by the enemies of the industry, who are numerous. The mining industry has a great history and a great tale to tell.

Let’s do it.


Trevor Sykes on the Australian Constitution, Mabo and the Native Title Debate
…at the Samuel Griffith Society


The Mining Hall of Fame
Campaign Office
Amberley Business Centre
IBM Building, Level 3,
1060 Hay Street, WEST PERTH, WA, 6005.
PO Box 1395, WEST PERTH, WA, 6872.
Tel: 61 8 9480 0477
Fax: 61 8 9226 1632

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