August 2018

Book review: Geopeko – A successful Australian mineral explorer

  • By Andrew H White
Geopeko: A successful Australian Mineral Explorer.

Edited by Brian Williams and Rob Ryan

This book is an extremely valuable addition to the scant literature on the difficult subject of how to find mineral deposits. For anyone seeking the pathway to mineral discovery, this book is their field guide to success.

Geopeko was an outstandingly successful minerals explorer. The book describes the perfect conditions for exploration success, which by intent and good fortune existed in the first 20 years of Geopeko. At the strategic level, those perfect conditions are:

  • outstanding leadership at both board and exploration level, and it matters not what professional discipline the key board member comes from, as long as this person wants discovery
  • a direct link between the board chair (or the most influential board member) and the explorers of such strength that the explorers know they have the utmost support and confidence of this director and the board
  • a gifted exploration leader who insists on scientific rigour and work of the highest standard
  • a willingness to take big risks in testing ideas with drilling and new technology
  • within the constraints of scientific rigour and work of the highest standard, the exploration people need to be given the most powerful motivator, namely great independence in their work.

This book details how Geopeko followed this strategy in the years when Sir John Proud was Director/Chairman of Peko Wallsend Ltd and John Elliston was exploration chief.

The following tactics were implemented early by John Elliston and, with the aid of his early recruits, the Geopeko culture that underwrote their exploration success was formed:

  • a team approach to exploration that integrated geology, geophysics and geochemistry
  • close involvement of the explorers with the board in identifying appropriate exploration targets and locations
  • the exploration staff were housed as close to their field work as feasible
  • regular peer review of work, targets, geological and sovereign risks as a means of constantly challenging the geoscientists to seek the right target in the best place
  • insistence on and facilitation of continuing professional self-education
  • involvement and training of para-technical staff ensured enthusiasm for field efficiency and simple field errors were minimised.

Geopeko were also pioneers and major innovators in:

  • applying geophysics to mineral exploration thanks to Lew and Bob Richardson
  • integrating the three main specialist disciplines of geology, geophysics and geochemistry in exploration
  • applying geostatistics to resource estimation and applying geometallurgy to development of discoveries
  • developing drilling technology for their challenging drilling conditions.

The authors chronicled and analysed the later years when Geopeko went through difficult times, concluding as follows:

‘…Geopeko’s early history is to a great extent a textbook of how mineral exploration should be conducted. Its success rate and costs testify to that. The overall history of the group also highlights the value of the correct management of the company. As the group grew, and as more and more of the decision making about what to look for, and where, became centralised in head office and at board level, remote from the field crews, so the success rate fell away.’

Any corporate explorer would be well advised to read this book and emulate the practices that led to Geopeko’s success. 

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