Written by Ron Kitching and received 14 April 2010.
This short story has been available to read at the Tennant Creek (Brisbane) reunions for previous years. Ron was writing a book of memories and offered these short stories. A very enjoyable and memorable read.
We, (Glindemann and Kitching Enterprises), did our first drilling in Tennant Creek about 1954-55 for National Lead. Dick Ellett was the Geologist in Charge.
We drilled the little anomaly that later became the Juno Gold mine. We missed the target and Dick made the remark that if it was that small National Lead was not interested in it.
We later did a hole for the Bureau of Mineral Resources O/AC Peko Wallsend. Then for years we drilled for Australian Development.
We later got lumbered with the contract to drill out the Warrego Gold mine. A few Tennant Creek stories follow about that episode.
RICH GOLD STRIKE AT WARREGO:
I told a previous story about how we got landed with the Underground Warrego diamond core drilling contract. It was a tough job for all of the reasons I explained in that story.
The object of the detailed core drilling is to delineate the extent of the ore horizons in great detail, so that the mine planners can plan the removal of the rich ore without leaving any un-mined. And also, to ensure that the barren wall rock is limited to a minimum to ensure contamination does not adversely affect the economics of the operation.
There is a plat on every level of the mine. And the plat is where the cage or bucket stops to deliver or pickup personnel and equipment. Our final responsibility was to deliver the core to the plat where it would be loaded into the bucket when there was room, and the plat man would take it to the surface. There it was picked up from the plat by a company worker and delivered to the geologists who had a core shed not far away. There, with a diamond saw, they sawed the core in half, sent half for assay and stored the rest. The detailed assays are recorded on section and it is from this information that the final plan of the mine stopes and the mine itself, can be made by the geologists, engineers and metallurgists working on the project. Also detailed projections can be made with regard to profitability. All going well, good work realises fascinatingly accurate projections with regard to the size and grade of the ore body, and hence, planned production and profitability.
One particular morning my foreman, Don Stevenson told me that the drillers on 10 level had not delivered the core to the plat as it was loaded with rich gold. They were afraid other underground workers may pilfer the extremely rich core.
So I hopped into the bucket at first opportunity and traveled to 10 level where the discovery had been made. By this time we had four boxes full of core that was an absolutely amazing sight. Very heavy visible gold all of the way. One piece was about 5 inches long had a solid gold bar, about half an inch thick cork-screwed around its entire length.
I had the drillers help me take the boxes to the plat where I waited for the bucket. After a long wait I took the core to the surface. I put the boxes into our workshop near the plat and locked the door. I then informed the geologists, Grieve Brown and John Goulivich that we had hit heavy gold on 10 level. Goulivich laughed uproariously and said, “Yes, yes, Ron, and I suppose it is a yellow colour is it?” I replied, “As a matter of fact it is”. More laughter from the geologists. They thought that what we have encountered was a rich section of chalcopyrite, (rich copper sulphide ore). Apparently drillers were not supposed to know the difference between gold and chalcopyrite. Gentlemen geologists, they were, accustomed to finishing work at 4pm; they then motored back to town without as much as a glance at the core.
I then went and got Mine Manager Ken Foots and Mine Superintendent Brian Speechly. I took the boxes out of the shed, opened them and ran a wet paintbrush over the core so that they could plainly see the gold in the fast fading daylight. They were both amazed, as initial surface exploration drilling had not revealed anything like this.
I told Ken Foots and Speech about my encounter with the geologists and Foots said, “I’ll deal with them in the morning. For now, put those boxes back in your shed and keep the door locked. In any case, Terrible Ted will be here early tomorrow morning, we’ll give him a look at this, I’m sure he will be very interested.”
Unfortunately, as I had to visit the nearby Gecko mine, I was not present when Ted arrived but I asked Ken Foots about Ted’s reaction. He replied that Ted used a couple of unprintable expressions, but apart from that, for once, Terrible Ted was speechless. “I could not get an argument with him all day,” he said.
As the drilling proceeded it was obvious that an unexpected massive gold strike had indeed been made. The fan of five holes we drilled on section from that drill cuddy all encountered extremely rich gold. Soon after we moved out to the next cuddy, Brian Speechly ran in a crosscut and sampled it. The entire 50 metre crosscut averaged over 2,000 grams, (about 65.5 ounces), to the tonne. For security reasons it was locked off.
Above this intersection on 9 level they later mined 120,000 tonnes averaging 35 grams. About 135,000 ounces in 4 months.
A senior company accountant visiting from Sydney button-holed Speech one day and complained, “You should have told us you were going to mine all of this rich gold”. Speech replied, “Well, we may have too if we’d have known about it”.
Much later on when I was visiting, I remember when the bank’s security car took a load of gold to the bank for transmission to the Perth Mint. I seem to remember it was an old green Holden station sedan. There was so much gold aboard, it was stacked on the floor in front, on the floor at the back and in the boot. The driver and his offsider hopped in and drove off. The tyres were bulging and the back almost dragged on the ground as it seemed to totter off to town. There was something like 25,000 ounces aboard.
Brain Speechly wrote a letter to the bank manager complaining about the poor transport and lack of security transporting the Company’s gold to town. The next week the two very happy bank officers arrived in a brand-new Holden Station sedan and accompanied by two policemen armed with double barrelled shotguns and pistols.
Long before the mine shut down Ted Davies, after having irreconcilable differences with the board over technical and management matters, left to manage a coalmine in NSW. Ken Foots left to take a bigger job in Queensland and Brian Speechly, who ended up being Area Manager for a while, left to manage Shay Gap, a huge iron ore mine in the North West of WA.
But the mine produced about 1,300,000 odd ounces of gold, as well as quite a substantial tonnage of copper and bismuth.
When Speechly was there, he planned a stope filling operation, much the same as they did in Mount Isa, but of course on a much smaller scale. As the stope empties, it is filled with sized gravel and cement. This sets like concrete and allows the gold rich pillars to be safely mined later on. Brian had the plant ordered and built and it was about to go into operation as he left to go to manage the Shay Gap iron ore mine. Some dill from senior management in Sydney decided to send the stope filling equipment to King Island where they maintained it was needed more urgently than at Warrego mine.
The eventual result was that Warrego stopes were never ever filled before the pillars started to be removed. Of course the entire mine collapsed. Luckily it was about 2pm and nobody was in the mine.
After the unfortunate failed smelter fiasco at Tennant Creek, which cost Peko $130 million, the Management of Peko Wallsend and board lost their jobs. The entire Peko-Wallsend operations in Tennant Creek were eventually taken over by Normandy Mining for $15 million. Normandy decided to re-treat the Warrego tailings. Out of that alone they extracted gold and bismuth worth around $80 million.
Brian Speechly has estimated that today’s in-ground value of the entire copper, gold, bismuth ore of the Warrego ore body would be worth over 3 billion dollars.
No doubt the gold left in the mine, after it collapsed, plus the gold, not to mention the bismuth and magnetite left in the tailings dumps would be worth a tidy fortune today too.