Alumni recall peak in nickel trough
Former Western Mining Corporation general manager Doug Marshall reflected on the heady days of the Kambalda nickel boom yesterday as the Goldfields town limps on amid a lengthy downturn.
Kalgoorlie-born Mr Marshall was among five WA School of Mines alumni from the class of 1966 — the same year nickel was discovered near Kambalda — to be honoured at last night’s graduation ceremony.
The first intersection of massive sulphide ore was discovered in drill hole number KD1 on January 28, 1966.
Jack Lunnon was the driller in charge of the rig and in what became something of a tradition, the ore body was named the Lunnon Shoot.
“I was there the day the core was coming in from Kambalda . . . it was a pretty exciting place to be,” Mr Marshall said of his time as a cadet at WMC’s Mac-Donald Street headquarters in Kalgoorlie.
The practice of naming new ore bodies after drillers, including Ted Otter, Mick Lanfranchi, Stan McMahon and Jim Hunt, continued at Kambalda as more nickel was discovered.
WMC built the Kambalda concentrator within 17 months of the find and WA’s first nickel boom had officially begun.
Today, the concentrator is starved of ore with the closure of mines by Mincor Resources and Panoramic Resources, while Independence Group has wound back development at its Long operations.
The result has been more than 200 job losses in the past year for the tight-knit community of Kambalda, where 67 houses are listed for sale by real estate agency Ray White.
Output from the Beta Hunt gold and nickel mine — between 3500 tonnes and 4500t this year — is understood to represent between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the ore being delivered to the Kambalda concentrator, which is now owned by BHP Billiton.
The nickel price also shows no sign of climbing off the canvas this year and was yesterday trading near five-year lows.
“I’ve seen the Goldfields through the peaks and troughs, Mr Marshall said. “I jumped in a taxi and went on the grand tour of Kalgoorlie and it’s obviously pretty quiet out there. But it always picks up again. It never stays down for long.”
Mr Marshall recalled working as a construction engineer for the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter, which opened in April 1973.
He also headed up WMC’s $1.9 billion Olympic Dam build as project manager between 1985 and 1988, and was involved in the development of the Mt Keith nickel mine near Leinster.
“We built the smelter, the water pipeline, railway from Kambalda and 14 houses in Kalgoorlie, all for $28 million,” he said. “Just think what that might cost these days.”
The 50-year graduates also included Malcolm Wills, Brian Philips, Dennis Sands and Kalgoorlie-born mechanical engineer John Kelly.
Mr Kelly followed his dad onto the Golden Mile, where both worked for Gold Mines of Kalgoorlie before heading to the growing Mt Isa fields in Queensland for most of the 1970s.
Last night’s WASM class of 39 graduates included 11 mining engineers, seven geologists, six surveyors and four metallurgists among various other Curtin University degrees.