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diggers2018

Awards paint the picture of Diggers & Dealers 2018

And in what felt like a blink of an eye, Diggers & Dealers 2018 is done and dusted again.

A near-record crowd of about 2300 delegates – miners, explorers, financiers, investors, media and service providers – did the annual pilgrimage to the Goldfields Arts Centre in Kalgoorlie-Boulder for this outstanding and world-class mining investment forum.

So what did we learn?

Exploration and growth stories were popular though investors made clear that their interest was not matched by a willingness – at the moment – to part with cash. The Trump Trade Wars are to blame.

And another year has passed without the much-hyped consolidation among the gold stocks. Next year?

In many ways the awards handed out at Wednesday night’s Diggers & Dealers gala dinner were a fair reflection of what the market is chasing – and rewarding – and spent much of the time discussing.

A true doyen of Australia’s mining industry, Roy Woodall AO, was inducted into the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Walk of Fame. Woodall, a regular attendee at Diggers with his wife Barbara, is credited with playing a key role in the discovery of the Kambalda nickel fields, uranium at Yeelirrie, the massive Olympic Dam copper-gold-uranium project and the East Spar oil-condensate field.

Apart from his professional achievements as a scientist and outstanding geologist, he mentored two generations of geologists at WMC.

Woodall’s excellent acceptance speech included this gem: Never forget to use the best science available.

 

Talking Point 1: Explore, explore

Perhaps more pertinently, where is the systematic exploration and backing from head office to find new fields? Exploration budgets may be soaring but most of the money is going into brownfields work. The frontier efforts are few and far between, as can be seen by the dearth of new discoveries coming to market. Talk about fostering the cyclical nature of the mining sector.

Kirkland Lake Gold was named Digger of the Year for its remarkable turnaround of the performance of the Fosterville gold mine in Victoria. In the past quarter, Kirkland pulled 77,462 ounces out of Fosterville at an average grade of 20.6 grams per tonne. Just as impressively, Fosterville’s performance has breathed life into the Victorian gold mining industry.

 

Talking Point 2: Mine more

There was no shortage of grumbling from other miners who felt their “digging” performance was also worthy of recognition.But it is hard to fault Kirkland’s performance at Fosterville. It also needs to be remembered that there has been a shortage of new mines entering the system – the three WA gold newbies Dacian Gold (first gold in April), Gascoyne Resources (May) and Gold Road Resources (early in 2019) were just outside the awards window as were the lithium start-ups – though Independence Group’s Nova would have been a contender. But where are the next generation of nickel, copper and zinc mines?

There are several hard-rock lithium mines coming on-stream but it was a lithium JV that was recognised with the Dealer of the Year award. It went to Kidman Resources for the deal it struck last September with Chilean giant SQM to develop the Mt Holland lithium mine and build an associated refinery. Tellingly, Kidman followed in the footsteps of 2017 Dealer Gold Road Resources, which was recognised for its deal with Gold Fields to develop the $621 million Gruyere gold mine in joint venture.

 

Talking Point 3: Better together

It’s the age-old question – do I go it alone or do I get a more experienced partner in to share the risk but also the reward? Today’s investors are increasingly risk averse and want the comfort of a bigger partner in the development of large-scale resources projects. The key is for the junior partner, which usually is also the party that brings the mineral discovery to the JV table, to ensure it is not taken for granted and disadvantaged by the bigger new entrant.

The Emerging Company award went to Metro Mining, a fledgling bauxite producer from the Cape York area in northern Queensland. Talk about an unusually diverse geographic and commodities mix of Diggers & Dealers winners – gold in Victoria, lithium and now bauxite in Queensland. The winner is chosen by veteran resources journalists Ross Louthean and Trevor Sykes.

 

Talking Point 4: Get on with it

The winner of this award hasn’t always followed up with a strong performance for shareholders. And we are not just talking about last year’s winner, Kin Mining. What this award proves is that the skill set required to excite the market with your promise is not always the same as the one needed to deliver sustained shareholder wealth. And of course some of the previous winners may not have been as promising as they told us.

Diggers & Dealers attracts one of the strongest and most diverse media packs at any resources conference in the world. The 40 to 50 operatives, who spent most of the conference in the newly named John Langford Media Centre, are spread across mainstream and trade press; print, radio and TV; and local, metropolitan, national and international. This is really important because it ensures Diggers & Dealers and its delegates attract headlines globally. As always, reporting fearlessly yet fairly doesn’t guarantee audience happiness, but that comes with the territory. This year’s Media Award went to Stuart McKinnon of The West Australian.

 

Talking Point 5: Headline seeking

A few years ago, Diggers & Dealers partnered with the Kalgoorlie School of Mines Scholarship Trust to present the Ray Finlayson Medal for Leadership and Academic Excellence to a stand-out WASM student. This year’s gong went to Victoria Arrowsmith, a graduate metallurgist who now works for Novo Resources Corp. Her acceptance speech included the gem that she was excited about working in the mining industry. They were words we don’t hear all that often.

 

Talking Point 6: Welcome

Kate Stokes, widow of Diggers & Dealers founder Geoffrey Stokes, was on hand to present the GJ Stokes Memorial Award to an industry leader who has contributed greatly over a long period of time. Ausdrill’s just-retired leader Ron Sayers was a popular choice, not least because he is one of Kalgoorlie’s most successful sons who desperation as a young kid to leave school and work in the mining industry led to his creation of one of Australia’s greatest mining services brand names.

 

Talking Point 7: Leadership

The roll call of GJ Stokes Memorial Award winners is an impressive line-up featuring some of the biggest, most successful and inspirational leaders Australian mining has seen. It is time for the next generation to step up. Times have changed and some of the entrepreneurial achievements of yesteryear are difficult to replicate in today’s more constrained regulatory and operating environment. But what the roll call says loud and clear is that a successful Australian mining industry needs leaders whose remit goes behind individual and company success.

 

Get cracking. Diggers & Dealers 2019 will fast approach.

With more than 20 years’ experience in finance and resources journalism and strategic communications, Peter Klinger is an expert on media strategy, crisis communications, and media training and engagement. Contact Peter.