August 2018

Book review: Mandarins & Mavericks – Remembering Western Mining 1933-2005

  • By Gavan Collery

An insight into ‘the University of WMC’

Mandarins & Mavericks: Remembering Western Mining 1933-2005.

Mandarins & Mavericks – Remembering Western Mining 1933-2005 tells a great Australian story. Written by respected author and journalist Martin Summons, this is a book about people, their visions, their many successes and the odd hiccup – which is inevitable when you factor in human frailty, luck, commodity supply-demand cycles and the politics of nation or state. This is a book about a culture where learning and leadership were openly encouraged. This is also a book about how a company morphed into what I call ‘the University of WMC’.

The title says a lot about WMC (Western Mining Corporation). The mandarins are those who had vision and shaped a culture – such as WS Robinson, Lindesay Clark, Frank Espie, Laurence Brodie-Hall, Bill Morgan, Arvi Parbo, Hugh Morgan, Roy Woodall, Keith Parry, Don Morley (five of them were AusIMM Presidents) and through to the last (pre-takeover) CEO Andrew Michelmore. The mavericks were many – geoscientists, mining engineers, metallurgists, administrators, etc – who often operated far from head office on a ‘glass half full’ theory and built upon the WMC culture and brand, confident of ‘granted trust’ from their leaders.

Mandarins & Mavericks does not necessarily need to be read cover to cover. It documents a range of self-contained and complementary stories from origin to end with company-making commodities, and tells the story of people and iconic assets and locations throughout Western Australia and indeed the world.

Mandarins & Mavericks tells the intriguing and complex story of what revered historian Geoffrey Blainey describes as the ‘sensational’ discovery of the world-class Olympic Dam along with other assets that have etched their names into industry folklore. It tells the stories of exploration, discovery, innovation and development, and it gives the reader a very personal insight into the corporate intrigue that led to a day in March 2005 when BHP Billiton CEO Chip Goodyear walked into the WMC boardroom and dropped a game-ending $9.2 billion offer on the table.

The final word, as is entirely appropriate, goes to iconic WMC Executive and Chairman and former AusIMM President, Sir Arvi Parbo, who says in the epilogue to the book: ‘The upshot was that a small gold explorer and miner became a world-scale diversified minerals producer, thanks largely to major minerals discoveries made by its own very successful exploration team…One of the characteristics of WMC people was their loyalty to the company. While the company no longer exists, the loyalty continues.’

Perhaps uniquely, Mandarins & Mavericks is a book that was essentially ‘crowd-funded’ by former employees – no commercial entities – and this is indicative of the ‘house’ that was the University of WMC.

Footnote

An electronic file is publicly available, via the National Library of Australia, which contains extensive information and insights that are, by any measure, an order of magnitude greater than that which can be contained in a book. The e-file can be accessed at http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn7419932.

Mandarins & Mavericks can be purchased by enquiry to info@wmcbook.com.au or PO Box 393, Claremont, WA, 6910. The cost of the book is $59.95 plus postage (per book: $12.50 Australia, $20 NZ and $35 rest of the world).

Gavan Collery is a former journalist and 30-year veteran in the mining industry (almost 15 of them as a staffer with WMC).

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