February 2019

Book Review: Australia’s Nickel Adventure by Ross Louthean and Carl Knox-Robinson

  • By Jon Hronsky
Australia’s Nickel Adventure.

This is a remarkable and unusual book that chronicles the history of Australia’s most volatile (and to many, including myself, most interesting) mining commodity.

This is an industry that has soared to great heights on more than one occasion but has also been written off many times. Today, at the brink of the Electric Vehicle revolution, there is much optimism that it may be about to soar again – time will tell. This is an industry that has led to the development of some great science, particularly in the understanding of what was a completely new class of deposit when first found – the Komatiite-hosted nickel sulfide deposits of Western Australia. However, it is also an industry that has attracted its fair share of speculators and rogues over the years. For anyone who wants to understand today’s Australian nickel industry, its future prospects and why it came to be the way it is, I strongly recommend this book.

The focus is very much on the human dimension of this story and the many diverse characters who played and are still playing a critical role in developing this important industry; definitely not your typical dry industrial history tome! The senior author, Ross Louthean, has had a remarkable ring-side seat to this fascinating story for more than 50 years, starting as a regional journalist for the ABC in Kalgoorlie in the late 1960s during the great nickel boom. Subsequently, Ross has had a long and distinguished career in mining journalism, including founding several important mining industry-focused media organisations and publications. Ross’s intimate acquaintance with the events and the people involved in this story comes through on every page. Much of his material is derived from the contemporary media of the time, so unlike many histories that look through the clinical lens of 20:20 hindsight, Ross takes us more to the emotions and energies of the time of the actual events he chronicles. However, he also is clearly very well informed about the current state of the industry and does a good job of linking these past events to their current manifestations. As most of us who have been around for a long time know, old nickel mines/deposits never die, but eventually come back under new owners and/or with different names. This book is a very helpful guide to this earlier history that in many cases provides important context for understanding the modern industry.

The style of this book is quite idiosyncratic, comprising 46 short chapters, each essentially a self-contained story. These are arranged in broadly chronological order, starting with the dawn of the nickel age in the 1960s and continuing through to the present, with the final chapters of the book providing a very clear summary of the current state of the industry. A remarkable feature of this volume is how comprehensive and detailed it is, with virtually no significant players or events left uncovered. Although the stand-alone nature of each chapter leads inevitably to a degree of repetition, the authors can be forgiven for this because I think it is necessary for the narrative flow.

In conclusion, if you are involved with the Australian nickel industry or are interested in its future, you should read this book.

This book is available to purchase from www.australiannickelbook.com.

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