The history of the Western Australian School of Mines Alumni (WASMA) reflects theups and downs of the Western Australian School of Mines (WASM) and the role it has played in supporting graduates in a range of activities and events. It also describes the important role that graduates have played in ensuring WASM remains in Kalgoorlie and its survival under often difficult circumstances. But true to the values of the WASMgraduates they fought hard to ensure the school survived in Kalgoorlie. They did this because they feel very strongly about the critical role WASM has played in Kalgoorlie for well over 100 years, in producing highly proficient, industry-ready, graduates that drive the W.A. and Australian resources industry.
Up until 2015, WASM graduates were represented by the Western Australian Graduates Association (WASMGA). Since then, the Graduates Association has been renamed the WASM Alumni (WASMA). The change in name was felt necessary to keep it in step with contemporary practice. In this document, the terminology is interchangeable. Currently, WASMA is managed directly by WASM graduates whereas the remainder of the Curtin University Alumni is managed by the university.
The history of WASM and the WASM Alumni are inter-twined with many influential graduates in key roles shaping both their histories. There is an exciting future for the WASM Alumni and WASM. Both have completed strategic plans in 2019 with new directions being set.
The School was established at Coolgardie in 1902 (Figure 1) but was quickly relocated to its current location in Kalgoorlie (Figure 2) in 1903 due to the discovery of gold and the large influx of people into the Kalgoorlie area. It is not clear when the Graduates Association was formed. In the early days of the school the students and graduates worked together as an association. The first reference to WASM Students Association was found in the Kalgoorlie Miner dated 14th December 1905. An article described the second annual Graduates Association annual dinner. There is reference1 to the inception of the Society of WA School of Mines Associates in 1937 and also its demise in 1959. The “Associates” (graduates) was also mentioned in the Kalgoorlie Miner (21/11/1946) with Mr Johns as its representative. Again, in the Kalgoorlie Miner (16/8/1947), Mr Warman was recorded as representing the Graduates of WASM Association. In the same year, the Graduates Association had a member on the WASM scholarship Advisory Committee2. Since then there has been intermittent references of the WASM graduates Association until the 1970’s.
The activities of the Graduates association through this period consisted of managing the annual dinner/ball, participating in school management committees and councils, and attending many and varied school functions. The School was administered by the Department of Mines up until 1969 when it became a branch of the Western Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT), which has since become the Curtin University of Technology. These changes caused considerable disruption to the management and activities of the school and to the activities of the graduates in relation to the school. The graduates Association was administered by the school during this period.
In 1972/73 Clive Annear was President of Graduates Association3
In 1976 the Partridge Committee, set up by the Government to report on post-secondary education in Western Australia, recommended that the School be relocated to the WAIT campus at Bentley in Perth due to the higher cost of education in Kalgoorlie and other considerations.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the question of costs was raised by a WASM graduate, Sir Laurence Brodie-Hall, the Western Mining Corporation’s Executive Director, and he entered the debate and commented… “As the purpose of the school is to educate people for the mining industry it is, to my mind, illogical to assess the overall economics on the relative cost of teaching people at Bentley versus Kalgoorlie. If the decision is to be taken or influenced by economic considerations, the criterion should be per capita cost of teaching people who enter and remain in the service of the industry for which they have been educated and not per capita cost of turning out a graduate or diplomate, per se.” The Chamber of Mines argued strongly that the school should remain in Kalgoorlie, “… the location of the school of mines in Kalgoorlie enables students from other areas to be assimilated into a mining community; a not insignificant factor because, as professional mining employees, they will have to accept that for the majority of their working life, they will be living in non-urban areas. If the School of Mines was located in Perth, how many persons, after completing their studies, would be lost to the industry when they found they could not adjust to the social environment of a remote mining community? However, of greater relevance, is the students contact with the industry by class contact with part time students employed in mining and by general exposure to all facets of the industry, which they have chosen as a career.”
In support of the Chamber of Mines view, Brodie-Hall stated that within Western Mining Corporation, “the great majority of senior positions were occupied by graduates of the WA School of Mines who received their education in Kalgoorlie….From observations made during a lifetime spent in the mining industry, it is my belief that there is a greater ‘acceptance’ ratio with people trained in a mining environment then with people trained in a capital city….This is a most important consideration for people who have studied in Kalgoorlie will have confirmed that they have excepted the climate, social and industrial environment peculiar to the industry for which they have been trained.” The current WASM Alumni still strongly support this view and see it as a critical success factor when assessing WASM performance.
In 1975, the Graduates Association was disbanded at a time of increasing doubt over the future of the school4. Its demise was a matter of concern to the WASM Director, Dr Odywn Jones and two years late in 1977, when the State Government announced that it intended to retain the School at Kalgoorlie, he persuaded former students to re-form the Association. Following a meeting of locally-based graduates a General Meeting for Graduation Day of 1980 was organised where more than 50 graduates attended and an interim council was established under the chairmanship of Richard Tastula.
The new Graduates Association quickly issued certificates of membership and arranged for school badges and ties to be produced. Social events were held regularly and the Association also established a display featuring the achievements of some of the more notable graduates, including Brodie-Hall and Peter Wreford, executive counsellor of the Chamber of Mines. This display, which was shown at the annual Visitors’ day and other exhibitions, gave the school and the mining industry valuable free publicity. By late 1980 themembers of the Association were playing an important role in providing policy submissions to the School and Government.
In contrast to the strife-ridden years of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the School’s future looked promising although there were serious problems to be overcome. The most important of these was costs and funding. By 1986 the situation had deteriorated markedly and soon became critical. These issues were compounded by decreasing student numbers and the costs of sustaining the Agricola residence. Odwyn Jones and Brodie-Hall worked hard to sustain the school in Kalgoorlie through this period, as the question of relocation to Perth was always present in the background, especially when costs were the topic of discussion. Support to keep the School in Kalgoorlie came from the local community and mining industry. In 1986 and 1987 Phil Lockyer, President of WASM Alumni, supported by J Manners, Jeff Murphy, Max Wearne, G Conlan, I Letts, I Loxton, C McIntyre, G Wilshaw and Chris Wilson worked hard to ensure WASM survived.
In 1988, WASM Alumni honoured Odwyn Jones as a “WASM Champion” for his services to the Alumni and to WASM.
In 1991 David Spottiswood took over as WASM Director from Odwyn Jones and Chris Wilson was elected President of the Alumni. Efforts to increase student numbers focused on providing scholarships, encouraging female student enrolments and recognising the importance of foreign students.
At that time, it was identified that the students needed a guild building. Brodie-Hall and other graduates under the chairmanship of Barry Patterson commenced fundraising. Companies including Eltin Mining, Australian Mine Management and National Mine Management, all headed by Kalgoorlie based graduates, stepped in to assist raise the required $1.13M. Other key persons involved were George Botica, R Harkin, G Smith and R Crew. The Guild building was completed in 1994 and still provides amenity for the students today.
In 1994 WASM Director David Spottiswood managed the WASM merger with the Kalgoorlie College. From 1991 to 1994 Chris Wilson, WASMGA President with councillors, Jeff Murphy, Clive Annear, Max Wearne, W Brinsden, R Carpenter, K De Luca managed the Alumni affairs. Phil Lockyer took over briefly as the Alumni President in 1995 followed by Helen Sanders in1996 to 1997.
Until 1998 the Alumni was managed by WASM through the Alumni committee. When Eric Grimsey was appointed as the Schools Director and Mike Lovitt as the Alumni President, graduates took total control of managing the affairs of the Alumni. From 1998 to 2001 Mike Lovitt was Alumni President followed by Tony James from 2002 to 2011, Bill Beament from 2012 to 2018, Raleigh Finlayson 2019 to 2020 and Christian Price from 2020 to present.
From about 2000 the Alumni become more proactive in managing its affairs and negotiated tirelessly with Curtin University to prevent the School of Mines becoming irrelevant within the Curtin Hierarchy. It worked to increase student numbers attending WASM by offering generous cadetships and scholarships and prevented the removal of second year Mining Engineering from the Kalgoorlie Campus. During this time, the Patrons Group was formed and the first WASM Alumni strategic plan was developed to ensure the sustainability of WASM.
In 2011 Hillary Smith was appointed as the first Alumni Chief Operating Officer and was followed by Ann Meyer the following year. With the injection of a full-time employee to manage WASMA affairs, enormous drive and support was given to council activities. WASMA membership numbers quickly increased.
Other points of note were:
- Creation of new membership packages for the Alumni
- Launched the undergraduates Vocational Placement Program with Mining People International
- Became involved in the reintroduction of ‘Focus-on-Mining’ for year 11 and 12 students.
- Developed regional/country ambassadors to spread the WASM ALUMNI network
In recent years, the Alumni has been very active and during 2016 and early 2017 worked with WASM and Curtin University to develop a strategic plan that recognises the importance of the WASM in Kalgoorlie and identifies ways to increase the attractiveness of the School to undergraduates and post-graduates as well as improving the international standing of the School.
Every year the WASM Alumni hold a graduation dinner in Kalgoorlie where new graduates are welcomed to the Alumni with free membership and introductions to the mining industry. WASM has the highest percentage of graduates entering full time employment within the first year following graduation. In 2014 the alumni organised the very first annual long table luncheon to welcome the Bentley campus WASM Graduates into the Alumni family.
In 2018 Curtain University decided to increase the profile of WASM by moving several of its existing courses into the School to obtain the benefits of scale and operational synergies. These included Minerals Economics, Energy and Chemical Engineering thus vastly increasing the past and future WASMA members. WASMA are still managed by the WASMA council, separately from other Curtain University graduates who are administered by the University.
In 2020 Liz Blaxell took over from Ann Meyer as WASMA’s Operating Officer to continue Ann’s good work.
The Annual Ball has been maintained and regular Sundowners and guest speaker events are held to network Alumni members. The Alumni still plays an active role in securing scholarships for WASM students and provides proficiency medals for high achievers. A mentoring program has been running for several years and Kyle De Sousa has introduced the WASMA Podcasts that can be accessed on the WASMA website that capture a range of relevant topics for member information.
For some years now, the Alumni have been honouring people, both from the Alumni and other significant contributors to the Alumni and WASM. The following categories have been used to honour special performance.
- Life Members
- Honorary Members
- High Achieving Graduates
- Champions of WASM
Phil Plaisted, has used his best endeavours to factually reflect the history of WASMA. If you can add to this history or correct errors, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Letter from Margaret Macintyre to Jeff Murphy, 2 June, 1993 appended to WASMGA Council meeting 3/93, 25 June 1993.
- Miners and Mentors by Glen McLarens, page 150.
- Personal communication
- Miners and Mentors by Glen McLarens, page 199.
For those interested in Engineering Heritage in Western Australian, please visit their the EHWA Wiki site at http://ehwa.wikidot.com/. Several WASM Alumni are mentioned.