Experiences from AusIMM members living and working in countries across the world
The AusIMM is an internationally recognised entity and has members all over the world, reflecting the diverse and global nature of mining today. In this special feature, we ask some of our members living overseas to recount their experiences of being an AusIMM member working internationally. We provide a cross-section of the many different roles our members hold, and show the possibilities on offer for industry professionals. The diversity of our members’ stories highlights the nearly unlimited opportunities for all of our members in the contemporary mining industry.
David M Abbott Jr FAusIMM(CP)
Current & previous locations: USA
I’m a consulting mining geologist based in Denver, Colorado and a native Coloradan. I work on precious and base metal deposits (including PGMs) along with industrial minerals. Prior to this I was a geologist for the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Denver for 21 years. I was involved in helping companies honestly describe their prospects in SEC filings, as well as investigating and assisting in the prosecution of mining and oil & gas frauds.
I’ve visited sites all over the world and one of the great things about living in Colorado is the wide variety of geology clearly exposed to view. Colorado has a mix of high plains, mountains, and canyon lands. While not as sparse as the deserts of Arizona, Colorado’s vegetation cover is not as intense and rock obscuring as the eastern US, Canada or the tropical forest of French Guiana. This is why many US university field camps are conducted in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.
I’m interested in professional ethics and joined the AusIMM following the development of the Competent Person requirement for preparation of JORC-compliant reports. I served on the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, & Exploration (SME) Resources and Reserves Committee that developed The SME Guide for Reporting Exploration Results, Mineral Resources, and Mineral Reserves, the US equivalent of the JORC Code 2014.
Gary Ballantine MAusIMM
Executive General Manager, Geology and Exploration, Energy Resources
Current location: Mongolia – Gobi Desert
Previous locations: Australia, Chile, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Russia, Southern Africa, USA
After spending a number of years as a coal specialist leading BHP Billiton Explorations – Global Coal Group, I returned to consulting where my first project steered me to China. Following a few interesting weeks in central China on a one-off job, I was asked if I could go to Mongolia for 1-2 days to look at a project. That was in January 2008 and I’m still here having completed over 30 projects.
Mongolians are a proud people with a vast history and an incredibly varied countryside; from the open rolling plains of the southern steppe of the Gobi Desert, to the northern mountainous slopes where the great Chinggis Khan came from. Mongolia sits between two massive countries which the Mongols have ruled or been ruled by over the last millennia, and remnants of these ancient cultures continue today.
Having the chance to be involved in opening up one of the last known major coking coal basins left on the planet – Tavan Tolgoi – with a world class mining operation at Ukhaa Khudag has been utterly exhilarating. I’ve been fortunate to have overseen the formation of our geology department for Energy Resources, which now has 30 fully trained Mongolian geologists with an average age of 27.
I’ve travelled the world and carried out exploration on most continents with many different peoples, but working with young Mongolian geologists has been the most enjoyable. I’m appreciative of their work ethic, attitude and sense of fun. Living amongst Mongolians has been a great adventure. The remote locations, harsh weather conditions and raw geology remind me why I became a geologist in the first place.
Shawn Crispin MAusIMM CP(Geology)
Chief Geologist, G-Resources Martabe Gold Mine
Current location: Indonesia (Residing in Jakarta, FIFO to North Sumatra)
Previous locations: Australia, Brazil, PNG
I am very fortunate to have worked in several countries and regions during my career. For the last seven years I have enjoyed residential expatriate positions with my family. In late 2009 I joined the team at the Martabe Gold Mine, and have experienced working at the operation in Sumatra and living and working in Jakarta.
A key job role for all expatriates at Martabe is the development of our Indonesian counterparts. It is very rewarding to see my Indonesian colleagues develop their careers. Indonesians are exceptional team workers and very cohesive when aligned, and seeing this has been eye opening for an individualistic Australian geologist.
Culturally Indonesians are gracious, polite and very respectful of hierarchy. A management challenge is to encourage people to speak up when the boss is wrong, and to read the signals when there is a problem – signals which might be more subtle than Australians are used to.
Exploration at Martabe is exciting. Apart from typical exploration work involving helicopter supported drilling in tropical terrain, the exploration group also manages the Resource Development function. We have been involved in refining the geology as the first open pit has been mined, and have learnt about geometallurgy and modelling for ARD, along with many other things explorationists are not often exposed to.
Working overseas is a great experience and approached with an open attitude there is huge opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Dan Michaelsen FAusIMM (CP)
Environment Director, Bayan Airag Exploration LLC
Current location: Mongolia
Previous locations: Australia, Botswana, Ghana, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea
Mongolia is a land of beauty and contrast. Gentle summers follow brutal winters, and nature is stunning any time of year. I first arrived in Mongolia in 2005 and worked here for three years, then, after a four year stint in Ghana, returned in January 2012. For the past three years I have lived in the remote west of the country, developing gold and silver mines, including the first modern mine in Zavkhan province.
With fewer than 25 years since transitioning from being a Soviet satellite, Mongolia is still trying to define itself. Frustrated by a mineral boom that never arrived, Mongolian society is still struggling with capitalist economies.
The capital Ulaanbaatar is dirty, desperate and dangerous. Wealthy ‘New Mongolians’, in luxury cars, ignore the plight of the many homeless. Five coal fired power stations pump smoke into the urban sky.
By contrast, the countryside is vast and the air pure. People are few, and traditional herders follow their animals in patterns dictated by the seasons. Traditional Mongolian hospitality
Working with regulators who have no experience with modern industry is challenging as is the extremely cold winter. The most gratifying aspect of working here is seeing the young people I recruited ten years ago now becoming leaders in our industry.
Flavio Montini MAusIMM(CP)
Technical Services Superintendent, Minera Alumbrera
Current and previous locations: Catamarca, Argentina
I’ve worked in the Alumbrera copper-gold mine since 2000. The mine is located 2500 meters above sea level in the Catamarca province in northern Argentina. The mine is located low enough to avoid puna, or mountain sickness.
I live in Tucumán province, 300 km from the project. I work a 4×3 roster and travel by bus to my house every weekend. The travel from Tucumán to the mine takes almost four-and-a-half hours.
The climate in the mine is nice, not very hot in summer and the winter is very short with occasional snowfall. Throughout the year the rainfall is only 300 mm.
Near here there are three little towns, Santa María, Belén and Andalgalá, each with a population below 20 000 people. Other more important cities are Catamarca (400 000 people) and Tucumán (900 000). Both of these larger cities have lots of amenities as well as universities, hospitals, bilingual schools and vibrant cultures to enjoy.
Prabir Sengupta MAusIMM
Principal Consultant Geologist, Terra Mineral Resources
Current location: India
Previous locations: Australia, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon
In 2013, the projects I was working on in West Africa were shelved indefinitely. But I received a call from a colleague for a consulting job in India which brought me back to the land I had left years ago. I was asked to train their company in diamond exploration.
A week later, I found myself with four young graduates in what looked like two unroadworthy Toyotas, blazing through the highways of central India. After 12 hours of driving we reached a remote village with some grocery shops and a few dingy structures on the roadside which locally pass as hotels. We stacked our field gear and set up a small office in one of them.
We started early next morning. It was summer and the temperature neared 48 degrees. As we huffed and puffed through the fields and over the hills, we were accompanied by curious villagers. They took great interest in our work and offered us home brewed tea and cool water. In Indian culture, the general belief is that offering food and water to people brings prosperity to the family and community.
Working in central India. Photo courtesy of Prabir Sengupta.
Work culture in India is diverse. There are stark differences whether you work for local companies, multinational companies or government jobs. It’s normal to find people working overtime without being compensated for the extra hours, and hierarchies and formality play an important role.
As I worked, memories came rushing back. This is where I had started my career as an exploration geologist. I love the chaos and the lack of rules, which present incessant mental challenges. I feel fortunate to be an exploration geologist working in India, as it has helped me to understand not only the geology and mineral resources of a country, but also its soul.