June 2015

Exploring new ideas in gold

  • By Neil Phillips FAusIMM(CP) and Martin Hughes MAusIMM(CP)
people on underground mine tour

The Melbourne Geology of Gold course has established a strong reputation for its exploration of new geological processes

Melbourne Geology of Gold is arguably the world’s longest running full gold geology course. The aim has always been to combine lectures, practical classes and a field trip. The course draws on presenters who are leaders in international gold research with practical industry exploration and mine geology experiences. Some of the lectures provide the conventional explanation for the major deposit types, while others provide some of the latest thinking well before it becomes accepted wisdom. Understanding and working with uncertain concepts is a part of the training.

The Gold course was initiated in 1995 by Peter Arden, Martin Hughes and Neil Phillips, when it took the form of the Vicgold technical course for geologists, the Tinline Lecture, and a separate afternoon for non-geologists in industry and government. This mixed-audience philosophy has remained, and we continue to tailor the course for students, postgraduates, industry geologists, and non-geologists including CEOs and CFOs. Much value is derived from the interaction of these different groups over field outcrops and rock specimens. Students learn that industry practitioners still use hand lenses and rely upon mineral and rock identification, and they also gain some appreciation for commercial realities.

Fosterville open pit mine
The Fosterville open pit is an outstanding example of the various forms of regolith on different rock types and at different depths.

The course has always relied upon voluntary contributions from academics, researchers, industry geoscientists, and industry consultants. Rod Boucher, Janet Hergt, Simon Jowitt, Jonathan Law, Roger Powell, and Andy Tomkins have generously given their time and ideas to strengthen the course over many years – others in the past have included Frank Bierlein and Reid Keays. Overseas specialist guests have included Iain Pitcairn, David Craw and Nikolai Goryachev. Meanwhile, course participants have been predominantly from Australasia, with additional postgraduates and gold specialists from all over the world.

The host in recent years, the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, has provided teaching facilities and excellent administrative support, especially from Ms Kerry Grieser. Course costing has been based around giving the university Honours students an affordable but professional field trip to the Victorian goldfields, while keeping costs reasonable for employed and unemployed geoscientists. The field trip costs have risen substantially in recent years but organisers have been loath to cut back on this valuable component. Financial support from the AusIMM Skills Program, Gold 88 Endowment and MTEC has been appreciated in the past. St Barbara, through the efforts of Ed Eshuys and Ross Kennedy, underwrote a major course update in 2008-09. The course has weathered gold prices of around $250 per ounce and has seen participation numbers as low as eight, but attendance has been close to full in recent years.

Student and examiner
Jonathan Law (right) supervising the rock identification portion of the exam for Honours students. The exam also involves some reading, written work, and a map-based exploration challenge.

The Archaean greenstone gold and Victorian gold province have always been a core part of the Gold course. However, the course has also led the promulgation of new ideas on Witwatersrand goldfields and how to explore for them, the Carlin gold province of USA, and goldfields in high metamorphic grade such as Big Bell and Hemlo. In all these cases, the development of novel approaches has relied on the strong petrology and geochemistry talents within Melbourne universities and the broad knowledge of the gold researchers. Today, many of these originally controversial ideas are being accepted to varying degrees by academia and industry, with Gold course participants having had the advantage of several years lead time. Most importantly, course attendees have learnt to think-outside-the-box in terms of deriving new ideas from geological processes.

Share This Article