Obituary: Geoff Stewart OAM

  • By Trevor Ireland and Alastair Morrison

1930-2019

Geoff Stewart OAM.

Geoff Stewart was born in Tatura, northern Victoria in depression-ridden 1930. He left school at age 16 and became an apprentice fitter and turner, then a toolmaker at the South Australian School of Mines. Early employment in heavy steel manufacture and the fabrication of mining equipment led him to become the owner-operator of an earthmoving business and ultimately into the mining industry where he found his niche.

A man of remarkable achievements, his was a unique style and a unique intellect. His professional success was recognised by AusIMM with his appointment as a Fellow in 1990.

Geoff founded North Flinders Mines Limited (North Flinders) in 1968 and East African Gold Mines Limited in 1993, building two significant mining enterprises from within junior companies – a truly remarkable legacy. Throughout his life, Geoff and his companies punched above their weight. Built on his understanding of the business, his doggedness, and ultimately his ability to build persuasive argument, he achieved where similarly-sized enterprises frequently faltered. 

Geoff kept the fledgling North Flinders alive through the post-Poseidon depression of the late 70s and kept the company intact through successive partial takeovers during the 80s. He was undaunted by the magnitude of occasion or impediment in the way of his preferred route. From the mantra of ‘They said it couldn’t be done’ in relation to building a gold mine in the remote and apparently waterless Tanami, to the challenge of crafting the first commercial agreement under the then-new NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act, for Geoff goals were there to be achieved, obstacles to be overcome. Persistence was his watchword.

Geoff’s understanding of the business was encyclopaedic. He was able to engage at high level with insightful questions to accountants, geologists, engineers, financiers and lawyers. He seemed to understand their part of the business at least as well as they did. 

Under Geoff’s management, North Finders went on in 1991 to discover the world-class Callie gold deposit in the Tanami Desert, Northern Territory. Now a prized asset in Newmont Goldcorp’s portfolio, the Tanami operations recently produced their 10 millionth ounce of gold and look to be only halfway through what may finish as a more than 50-year mine life.

But after finishing with North Flinders, Geoff was not done.

In the early 90s, Tanzania was completing its transition from a socialist state and was revising its laws to attract foreign investment. Its historic gold endowment offered potential quickly appreciated by Geoff. In a venture that became East African Gold Mines (EAGM), he identified a prospective area in a tough and challenging northern part of the country. As in the Tanami 20 years earlier, it was a time of significant social change, requiring persistence, tenacity, and wit to prevail. Complex transactions were accomplished between EAGM, all levels of government and representatives of the local community. Exploration of the selected areas was immediately successful, but a retreating gold price and legal challenges thwarted the project, requiring faith and persistence to continue the drilling.

EAGM went on to increase the resource to more than 5 million ounces and commissioning of the North Mara Gold Mine was completed in 2002. The mine remains a significant gold producer and is currently part of Barrick’s global portfolio. However, Geoff left more than a mining legacy in Tanzania; his generosity changed the futures of numerous disadvantaged young people and communities.

Geoff retired from active work in 2003 at the age of 72. He was inducted into the Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame, and in 2014 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the mining industry.

He was a remarkable visionary whose enthusiasm and passion helped shape the gold mining industry in the Northern Territory and Tanzania. They said it couldn’t be done, but he did it twice. Not bad for the proudly proclaimed fitter and turner!

Geoff is survived by his two sons, Robert and Ian, and daughter Alyssa. He passed away in September 2019 and we extend our deep condolences to his family.

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