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by Ronald Kitching

It would have been about 1962 that the Mount Isa Junior Chamber of Commerce decided to hold a Mining Exposition. A couple of the members called at my office and asked me if we could support the exposition by exhibiting an exploration drill in action.

John Campbell Miles and Ron Kitching at a Mining Exposition at Spear Creek, Mount Isa in 1962

I told them that it would be a very expensive operation indeed to engage in such a programme and explained a bit about how technology and geology play an important part in the cost of such an operation, not to mention the tremendous cost of diamond bits. However I was enthused by their determination to stage a good show and told them to leave it with me for a few days while I thought over how we could help.

That evening a great idea popped into my head, but it would take the co-operation of senior executives of Mount Isa Mines Ltd.

The idea was to drill a twelve and a quarter inch hole in our allotted area of operation with our water well drill, then fill it with some rich lead and copper oxide and copper sulphide ore, cementing it into place with a sand and cement mixture. Then the idea was to rig up a small mineral exploration drill and core the column over the two days of the show. I was hoping that the sandy cement holding the specimens together would look like a sandy shale as our core drill recovered it.

So I made an appointment with Mr. Jim Foots the General Manager of MIM, and told him what I had in mind. Mr. Foots smiled at hearing the story and asked how he could help. I said that I would need some lead and copper ore crushed to about four inch minus, and would need his co-operation to get it from the mine.

Mr. Foots instructed me to go and see Mr. Malcolm Rose who was at the time the Underground Superintendent of the Mine. “By the time you see him, Malcolm will know what you are after and I’m sure he will help you”, he said.

I was on good terms with Malcolm and when I arrived, he was all smiles at being involved in this conspiracy, to hopefully, have a successful exploration drilling demonstration. Malcolm, a very astute fellow, who enjoyed a bit of fun, did not need to be told that it was a highly “secret” operation.

We had six weeks to organise our plan. I contacted the men from the Junior Chamber of Commerce and explained that we would need to know where our particular exhibition site would be, because we needed to make certain preparations for our exhibition. However, I did not tell them exactly what we were up to, as I thought we would reserve that for them as a pleasant surprise.

It was indeed fortuitous that our water well drill was at that time, about to move from the Barkly Tableland, in the N. T., where it had been drilling some water bores, to the Boulia district, south of Mount Isa, to drill a series of experimental/discovery water wells for the Queensland Irrigation and Water Commission.

So, when the drill arrived back in Mount Isa, one afternoon Kevin Morgan, the drill operator and myself took the drill to the Spear Creek sports oval out next to the aerodrome. We drilled the twelve and a quarter inch hole, sixty feet deep, transported all of the considerable cuttings away and filled the sixty foot hole with our new “ore body”. We had a cement mixer and lots of Fondu cement, and procured a utility load of clean sand from nearby Spear Creek. Fondu cement, by the way, is a quick setting black coloured cement, which I though ideal for the job.

I decided to place twenty feet of lead sulphides on the bottom, followed by twenty feet of copper sulphides and then about twenty feet of copper oxides to the surface. I left the last foot free of “ore” and just used soil for that section, so that the “ore body” would be suitably covered. We drilled another six inch hole about ten feet deep very close to the first hole. I filled it with concrete and a chain to use for an anchor to hold down our little exploration drill when it arrived. I then cleaned up the site, spread a small bag of fertiliser around our site, so that in the coming weeks it would all recover and be nice and green. I made sure it was , as I watered it a couple of times a week during the waiting period.

I was also careful to take bearings from a couple of sighters so that we would not lose our “ore body”. At that time, no more than about five people knew of the impending operation, and of course we all knew how to keep a secret. In the case of drillers, they are forbidden to talk about a client’s prospect in any case, especially after the drilling starts.

However, all of our preparation nearly came to nothing as the men running the show at the last minute, for some critical reason, wanted to move our site to the other side of the ground. They rushed into my office two days before with their new floor plan to show me why they had to move us. They had a great number of eminent mining supply companies displaying their wares, it was going to be a memorable show. Of course I then had to explain to them that our “ore body” which we had planted six weeks ago could not be moved.

Then then asked me if it would be inconvenient to plant a new “ore body”. I explained that that option was impossible. The drill that drilled the hole was now down at Boulia drilling water wells for the State Water Authority. I also explained that I needed the Mindrill site next to me. Mindrill Limited was the principal drilling equipment supply company in those days. I had organised them as a fellow exhibitor, to hopefully add to the exploration drilling flavour of the show.

Mindrill planned to exhibit and operate a small water well percussion machine right next to us. They also exhibited diamond bits and other ancillary equipment. Their proximity was a big advantage as you will see as the story progresses. Their senior salesman Alan Ferguson was adept at demonstrating all equipment and of course, I informed him of our surprise plan.

Curiously, as luck had it, the Saturday night before the exhibition, I was at a social function which was also attended by Mr. George Fisher, the Chairman of Mount Isa Mines. He happened to ask me if we were exhibiting at the up and coming show. I replied in the affirmative and asked him if Mr. Foots had told him of our plans. He replied that he had not heard anything. So I told him in detail what we were up to. He smiled and enthused, “Ronnie m’boy we might have a bit of fun with this”. So I told him “mums the word” which he understood perfectly.

The Junior Chamber invited the State Premier Mr. Frank Nicklin to come and declare the show open. He could not come, but sent his Minister for Transport, then acting Treasurer, Mr. Gordon Chalk.

The day before the show opened, we set up a nice little newly painted hydraulic Mindrill E-1000. We painted the tripod, even painted the U-bolts red. All was ready. On the Friday evening the show was opened. The drill too, was decked out with electric lights it all looked very impressive. Drillers were dressed in white overalls, they all looked very smart indeed. We did not rush the drilling as we knew we had only 60 feet of ore body. As it turned out, once coring commenced, the black cement that held the specimens together fretted away leaving only the cored mineral specimens. It looked for all the world exactly as though we were passing through a rich highly fractured ore body.

The discoverer of Mount Isa, John Campbell-Miles was present as a special guest of honour, hosted by Mount Isa Mines Ltd, he was a grand old man and took a great interest in the drilling, and an even greater interest in the core we were recovering.

Finally the official party led by MIM Chairman Mr. George Fisher arrived. He was accompanied by the eminent Government Minister, Mr. Chalk and other official dignitaries. The core was in the box and the drill was humming along. Mr. Fisher wandered over to look at the core in the box. Then he said in a loud voice to me, “Ronnie, I think you have got some copper here”. Without even looking at the box, I replied, “Oh I don’t think we’ll find any copper out here Mr. Fisher”. The he demanded sternly, “Ronnie, bring that box over here under this light. I want to have a good look at it”. So I did as I was instructed, whereby the Chairman removed a very nice specimen from the box and declared triumphantly, “There, look at that my boy, that’s as good a specimen as you would find anywhere!”

He then went through all of the core and discovered it was copper all the way. I was astonished of course. You should have seen the acting Treasurer, he was beside himself with excitement to be in on the discovery of a great new cow to milk.

They stayed for some time to see the next run of core removed and blow me down if it wasn’t copper all the way too. Mr. Fisher his eyes sparkling with delight at our little joke, gave me a wink and departed with his guests, saying that they would return tomorrow.

So that we would not make a mess of the grounds, I ran the return water from the drilling operation right out of the grounds in a plastic pipe down the bank of Spear Creek. However, I was careful enough to first trap all of the cuttings from our drilling and, at convenient times, took it next door to the Mindrill exhibit and helped my partner in crime there, to mix it thoroughly with the cuttings he was retrieving from the hole he was drilling. I knew the “experts” of all varieties would soon descend upon the site, like bees around a honey pot. In the meantime, the local radio station, 4MI, broadcasting live from the grounds, ( a big deal in those days), announced to one and all that the Glindemann & Kitching drill rig had hit rich copper under the Spear Creek sports ground.

Next day, we slowly drilled on. The drillers were having a picnic. By this time we had just hit the sulphides and only twenty feet from the surface too. The drilling had stopped as we had lots of time ahead of us. The drillers, all smart men as drillers mostly are, were adept at talking to the public and kept them informed about how the operation worked. This they were enjoying doing, when Mr. Chalk arrived again to monitor progress. He demanded from me, like he was already the major share holder, “Why aren’t they drilling?”. I replied that they were doing this as a voluntary effort for the Chamber and that there were no bosses about on an operation like this. I then quietly suggested that if he bought them a few stubbies, and asked them nicely, they may start up the drill and do a couple of runs for him.

He disappeared in a flash and arrived back in no time with a half a dozen cans, offering the men a drink to celebrate their success. In the meantime he talked intimately to them, getting all of the minute details — taking notes all the while too. He then suggested that they might like to do yet another run to show him how it all worked. Drillers love a good Captain, and the acting Treasurer was a beauty. They were of course, very happy to oblige. Not many drillers have had the acting Queensland Treasurer as a Captain, so they made the most of it. He repeated this exercise several times as a running commentary from 4MI kept the public aware of what was going on.

Throughout the day, we had engineers, geologists, the mine drilling superintendent, metallurgists, in fact everybody, who was anybody, made animated visits. Out of them all, only one lone MIM driller, John Ebsbury, woke up to what was going on. After he arrived and had a look around, he came straight up to me and asked “Where did you get the core from Ron?” I replied., “Out of the hole” He snapped back, “Don’t give me that bullshit, I’m going to find out where it is coming from and it is not coming out of that hole.” So as the drillers were about to lower the core barrel into the hole for the next run, he grabbed a steel measuring tape, extended it, and poked it up the little two foot barrel we were using, to make sure it was empty — it was. Then, scarcely blinking, he carefully watched the run and the core removed from the barrel. Still, with the evidence before him, that would hang a man, if it was a capital offence to core drill a formation, he was still not convinced.

He went back to the core box and slowly turned over every piece of core. Adhering to a lone piece, was a smidgen of the black sandy cement. I had deliberately placed it facing down in the box. You should have seen him smile as he pointed to the cement and looked at me. I simply nodded and smiled. He walked away looking as happy as a cat coming out of the dairy. This, better than Rumpole of the Bailey — Sherlock Holmes, had alone, solved the mystery.

Low and behold, late that afternoon, we hit the rich lead sulphide ore body. What a sensation. 4MI went ballistic about the riches that must exist between the sports ground and the mine five miles away. Minister Chalk, by this time, had all of my drillers half blotto. He was having the time of his life. He, celebrating the great discovery with the men, was half blotto too.

Later on Mr. Foots told me that, on the way home, he and a visiting dignitary had visited the RSL club and, at the bar, was standing next to Gordon Brown the local Mobile Oil Agent. Gordon was in the middle of betting some character ten pounds that G&K’s drill had discovered a fabulous new ore body at the Spear Creek oval. Then Gordon, snapped to the doubting Thomas, “Here’s Mr. Foots, he’ll tell you its all true.” Mr Foots told me that he quietly intoned to Gordon, “I wouldn’t bet on it”.

Bill Stretton was the local butcher — a wealthy man too. Bill inspected the core and declared, “Well, if you have it in this hole, they must be getting it out of that one over there”, indicating the Mindrill exhibition next door about 100 feet away. I said “Well I don’t know Bill, why don’t you go over and pan some of his cuttings. Here’s a dish — go and try it out.” This he did and confirmed the discovery, copper all the way in that hole too.

Bill returned, greatly excited, showed me the cuttings and got very confidential. He suggested quietly, “Listen my boy, why don’t we peg this. It could be a bonanza. I can put up all of the expenses.” I replied that we had already filled out the application forms for pegging and that we had included Robert Gordon Menzies, (Australia’s long term Prime Minister), as a partner, as the airport would have to be shifted to make way for the huge open cut that was bound to follow. I said, “Old Bob should have enough influence to have that shifted”. I then produced the application forms in triplicate from my pocket and showed Bill the neatly typed document with my name, Jack Patrick Glindemann and Robert Gordon Menzies as applicants for a 640 acre lease. Anticipating that such offers may evolve, just for a bit of fun, I had my secretary prepare the documents through the previous week. Bill felt a bit let down, but assured me that, “If you need any financial help let me know”.

Finally, Malcolm Rose told me once, that two years after the show, he went on a mine bus tour with a visiting relative from Melbourne. The Bus driver, Reg Waterhouse, drove the party to the top of the hill overlooking the Black Rock Open Cut and after expounding on the rich operation below, declared to the enthralled visiting throng, “And two years ago the local drilling contractors, Glindemann & Kitching Enterprises, drilled, during an exhibition, a hole at Spear Creek oval five miles away, and, discovered that these rich ore bodies extend at least that far away”, pointing to beyond the aerodrome in the distance.

What great fun we all had over that weekend. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Minister Chalk reported his new discovery to the Premier the following week. Like all politically ambitious politicians, I’ll bet he had also made an estimate of the glittering new Royalties to be plundered.

Such an exhibition could never ever occur these days. It would take five years to get the necessary environmental impact statements in place. Even then, what with the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, Native Title complications, and a dark green application for a National Park over the area, I doubt if it could even be contemplated.

The one thing the dark greens can be pleased about is that the Spear Creek ore body will never ever be mined.