Real Stories


Andrew is 69 years old and graduated with BSc(Hons) as a geologist from Adelaide University in 1972. He has been continuously involved in the mining industry since then in the fields of mineral and energy exploration, feasibility and development, gold mining, and company foundation and management. He was primarily responsible for the ASX listing of Westonia Mines Ltd and Minemakers Ltd, was involved in other floats and has been a director and or manager of numerous companies.
Minemakers was credited with being the top performing company on any listed stock exchange in the world in the GFC year of 2008. His overseas experiences are in New Zealand, Russia, the Philippines, China, Namibia, and several other African countries.

I was a non-executive director of ASX-listed Westgold Resources Ltd for several years beginning about 2000. By 2003, the company had pretty much exhausted the potential of its existing portfolio of mineral projects, which were all in Australia. With significant cash in hand, it was on the hunt for quality new projects, preferably gold-related.

A private syndicate led by geologist Murray Rogers met with the Westgold chairman, Michael Atkins, around that time and introduced an intriguing new gold exploration concept in the Republic of Djibouti. Djibouti lies on the North African coast and west of the Horn of Africa. Its geological setting was similar to that which hosts numerous very large gold deposits in areas of current tectonic and volcanic activity. As I was the director with technical experience, Michael asked me to accompany him to that country so we could appraise the practicality and advisability of an investment. It had only gained independence within the last quarter-century, and had subsequently experienced some political upheavals.

Some background to the country: formerly French Somaliland, Djibouti juts northerly from the rest of Africa, where it forms a choke point with the Red Sea to its north-west and the Gulf of Aden to the east. The Suez Canal lies at the far end of the Red Sea, and was historically controlled by Britain and France. Djibouti was strategic for France, as was Aden on the northern or Yemeni side of the Gulf for Britain, as they jointly controlled eastern approaches to the Red Sea and ultimately to Suez. Bunkering facilities were sited in each country to refuel ships during those times.

Although about 95% of the population is Sunni Muslim, there are two distinct tribes. About two-thirds of the population are Somalis, and the rest are Afar people. For some time after independence, periodic disturbances were caused by the minority Afar, who considered they were not getting a fair go from the Somali-dominated government, and this culminated in an attempted coup in 1991 – only a dozen years before we went there. Although we were advised beforehand that Djibouti citizens are now a big, happy family, there were still some tensions, which will become evident later in this story.

Djibouti is surrounded by tourist non-hotspots, such as Eritrea to the north-west, Ethiopia to the south and Somalia to the south-east, so a visit to the country was likely to be interesting. With an average of only 130 mm of rain per year and situated about 12° north of the equator, it is both hot and arid.
The easiest access to Djibouti from Perth is via Dubai, which is the route which Michael and I took. We arrived in the latter very early in the morning and went by taxi to our hotel for some sleep before we set out to see the sights. Being the last day of Ramadan, our planned visit to the gold souk was a little shorter than intended: most of the gold shops were closed. Nonetheless, we saw sufficient in the shop windows to gain an appreciation of how gold is still prevalent in the Arab and Indian world as a store of wealth, as well as ornamentation. Recent visitors to Dubai may have seen gold for sale on display at the new airport,

which will illustrate the same idea. In 2003, that new airport had not yet been built and the gold exchange was then more extensive and spectacular. At that time at the airport, one could still buy the rather antiquated long-barrelled muzzle loading rifles, with very ornately worked stocks, which most readers have probably seen on old adventure movies set in the Arab world. How airports have changed post-9/11!

After a siesta at the hotel, we ventured back to the gold souk in the late afternoon for an enlarged visual feast of gold displays, which brought up images of Midas and Croesus. After all, if we were going to commit shareholders’ funds towards gold exploration, it was appropriate to update ourselves on a sector of the end market.
Our pedestrian wanderings led us to an end of Ramadan celebration event – Dubai style anyway. A packed gathering of men in a plaza who were all dressed in white, full length, Arabic attire and just were smoking and talking to each other. No women or children, no music or dancing, and definitely no alcohol. This initial exposure to the Arab world, beyond the artificiality of an airport, suggested that we should not expect Australian-style social gatherings or entertainment as we set off for Djibouti.
The flight from Dubai to Djibouti departed early in the morning, but not before some on-board drama. We were sitting in the pointy part of the plane so almost all of the other passengers had to pass us as they headed for their seats. We were amused to see that several carried a hooded hunting falcon, all of which were armed with useful looking talons and beaks. A leg of each falcon was attached by a leather thong to its handler’s arm. They made their way to the back rows of seats and, when we turned around and looked backwards, we saw a rather odd array of raptors all facing us. We wondered what mayhem might arise on the plane if one or more of the falcons broke loose and flew around the cabin in terror.

The same thought apparently occurred to the captain of the plane when he boarded and looked around. A new Russian pilot on a contract, this was apparently the first time that he had control of a plane with an array of live raptors in the cabin. A rather lively and heated debate took place between him and ground management staff in a mix of Arabic, English and Russian. A summary translation would be something like this:
Captain: “There is no way I am allowing live birds of prey in the passenger cabin of my plane!”
Management: “These birds are very valuable and important and, traditionally, are permitted to fly in the cabins of our planes”
Captain: “No!”
At this point a well-dressed gentleman sitting next to us advised in excellent English that a very important regional falcon hunting competition recently had been held in Dubai involving the birds of extremely wealthy sheikhs. These most valuable falcons were being returned to their homes and, being worth more than their handlers, would be treated accordingly. He advised that the captain would not win this argument and he would either be flying the plane, or walking home jobless.
Management: “Fly the plane or be sacked!”
Captain: (Swearing in Russian, followed by entry into the cockpit and slamming of the door).

We duly arrived in Djibouti late morning and were pleased to note that the falcons behaved beautifully throughout.  As we walked across the tarmac to the terminal, an American fighter jet took off flying away from us. My first time seeing a modern jet fighter take off at full power, it was amazing how it rose almost vertically in the sky from our vantage spot and so quickly decreased in size to a vanishing point. The US maintains an air force base in an enclave of Djibouti to exert its influence over the western part of the Indian Ocean and of the Red Sea. We were advised that the Americans lived in a compound and were not allowed to enter into downtown Djibouti City. While there were undoubtedly sound reasons for this, it was hardly likely to lead to a progressive understanding and breaking down of barriers between the Americans and the locals.

Anyway, to allow the base, that was the deal between the two countries, and we then saw no Americans on our visit. We gathered that the Afar sector of the population was less happy with American involvement than was the Somali-dominated government.
Murray organised accommodation for us in an older hotel of French vintage. He advised that there was a Marriot with better facilities in the city but, as it was the site of a bombing a year or so earlier, it was smarter for us to stay in a French rather than an American hotel. No arguments from Michael or myself there.
Murray brought us up to date with what he had been doing and advised that meetings were arranged with the appropriate government officials at the highest levels. An item of concern was that there was a lack of mineral drilling rigs in the country. The nearest rigs which could test our gold project could be sourced from Kenya, but the cost of mobilisation and demobilisation alone, let alone the actual drilling, far exceeded our budget for a first-pass test program. This was an item to raise with the government when we met.

With some spare time that afternoon, we wandered around the markets to get a feel for the place. They markets were in the middle of a small downtown area, which certainly could not be called a CBD. While we were objects of curiosity to many, we did not gain any impression that we were unwanted, which was a good start. In the marketplace, women were all dressed in black, and the full hijab concealed their eyes behind quite thick mesh. All we could see of them, beyond the confines of their clothing, were their hands and sandalled feet. Apart from not knowing any of the local language, it did not seem a smart idea to try to converse with them in English or French, so we didn’t. However, the almost universal female desire to look and feel attractive is hard to suppress. Exposed skin was ornamented in fantastic designs in brown henna: some sort of hybrid between a paisley pattern and a Middle Eastern carpet. Perhaps on a whimsical note, it did seem that there was often some effort to ensure that the back of a hand passed across our field of vision.

Business began the next day, with initial priority being a visit to a corporate lawyer of French extraction. We gained sufficient assurances from him that the country had sound legal fundamentals for undertaking business, applying for and holding mineral tenements, a reasonable taxation system and a banking system which allowed for investment and repatriation of funds. We also wanted to gain an independent understanding of the government’s attitude to foreign mineral investment and to know how safe from expropriation our mineral tenements would be if we succeeded in finding a gold deposit.
From bitter industry experience, the last point is important. A few years after we were in Djibouti, another ASX-listed company, then named South Boulder Mines, enjoyed strong exploration and market success in delineating a very large potash deposit in neighbouring Eritrea. That was based, on no insignificant part, on their 100% equity in the project. For a junior company as it was, these can be dangerous times. Management has to put its best promotional foot forward to drive the share price so as to enhance its ability to raise the capital needed to develop an operation based on the numbers derived from a bankable feasibility study; and at the best possible price, so as to minimise disadvantage to existing shareholders. When that company announced that it had a very financially attractive deposit, based on all those studies, the Eritrean government peremptorily seized 50% equity of the project, and the market capital of the company, and reputation of its management, were trashed. The company had to change its name to try to acquire a new image. The project has yet to be brought into production so, to date, there are no winners, including particularly the government and people of Eritrea. Government interference cannot have made it easier to raise international capital.
The afternoon stop was to meet the President of Djibouti, the Minister of Mines, and other officials whose positions might be relevant to our intentions. The gentleman on the plane from Dubai, who had accurately forecast the outcome of the fight between the captain of it and management of the airline, materialised as actually being a government minister. Maybe he overheard something between Michael and me on the plane which favourably disposed him towards us prior to the meeting – who knows? As we were escorted towards the President’s office, on occasion we passed outside air-conditioning units set in the walls. I previously mentioned that the country was very arid, and it seemed incumbent upon anybody, of whatever rank, that when the mandatory bucket or tin can positioned below the drainage spout of each air-conditioning unit was near full, it was carried to a nearby plant or tree and emptied on it to keep it alive and hopefully to flourish.

The meeting went well. From their side, we were heartily welcomed. We explained the background to our company, Westgold, and our respective professional experiences, and gave a non-technical overview of why we considered that Djibouti may have some potential for gold mineralisation. We also sought ratification of our tenements so that we could justify drill testing our targets.
We then moved on to the topic of the difficulty in obtaining suitable mineral drilling rigs and asked whether the government might be able to offer some sort of assistance in this regard. They readily came to the party, advising that the UN had provided to the country a water drilling rig which they were willing to rent to us at a reasonable rate. We could adapt it to take reasonable mineral samples which would at least provide a first pass idea of whether there was any gold present in the system we wanted to test. The offer was accepted with alacrity. The government also promised that, in order that our work not be impeded by any local rebellious tribal factions, a degree of security would be provided.

The meeting was completed in a most cordial fashion, and we retired to our hotel for dinner. Unfortunately, there was not an opportunity to travel to the project site and so, the next day, Michael and I set off for Perth, again via Dubai, feeling quite confident that we had done a good job and that all was in reasonable order in that country.
In due course, Murray managed to access the rig, adapt it appropriately, and he carried out the field drilling and sampling program. Unfortunately, no gold was found in subsequent assays and that essentially killed off the project, as is so often the way in exploration. The rotary lie detector, as it is often wryly called in the industry, had indicated the exploration concept’s true worth after all.

Westgold undertook no further involvement in Djibouti and the government, true to its word, provided security during the drilling by delivering an airborne message to any rebellious or potentially avaricious locals that our program was carried out under government patronage: it arranged periodic overflights of the drilling rig by a Djibouti Air Force MiG fighter at no cost to us!

As far as we were aware, Australia was the first overseas company to undertake any mineral exploration in Djibouti. Based on our experience, we were only too happy to recommend further mineral investigation involvement there by any other companies which may have also derived an exploration target, although that did not actually eventuate as far as we were aware.

Westgold moved on to bigger and better things back in Australia in due course, as I did separately


Phil Fillis graduated in geology from London University in 1972 and with a Masters in Mineral Exploration from Leicester University in 1974. He started his geological career initially on base metals in Canada, iron ore in Australia and uranium in South Africa before migrating to Australia in 1980. Based in Perth he has extensive experience mainly in gold exploration in Australasia; South East, Central and Far West Asia; West Africa, Europe, and South America.

By way of contrast to my efforts in the jungles of Guyana a few years earlier, in mid-2006 I embarked upon a four-year exploration programme for gold and base metals in Mauritania. That nation – where the Sahara meets the sea – is mostly desert apart from a strip of savannah along the Senegal River which marks the southern boundary of the country. Abiding impressions of the capital, Nouakchott, are of drifting sand continually encroaching on buildings, and mountains of rubbish everywhere – I’ve never seen so much rubbish. It’s probably one of the untidiest capital cities I’ve been to. To our way of thinking we would find it strange that, although the city is close to the Atlantic Ocean, there are no developments along the coast, with locals looking inland rather than out to sea. On weekends for recreation, the locals head to the desert, happy to share a tent with the flies rather than sit on a beach (with the flies).

Most of the projects we worked on were very isolated but, operating in such areas certainly taught us foreigners to respect the locals who live in harmony with their desert environment. As easily as we would find our way around a city, so too do the local goat and camel herders read the topography and sand types in what seems to us an endless sand desert. When I first arrived in the country, we were working on a project in the far northeast close to the border with Algeria. I’m still amazed that our guides could take us to exactly where we wanted to go, travelling off-piste, without the benefit of a GPS. What to us are the merest undulations in a featureless landscape seem to be distinctive mountains to the local guides. Their prowess in crossing the mighty Azeffal and Akchar dunes – 500 kms long, 35 kilometers kms wide and up to 200 metres in height – in 4WD vehicles never failed to impress me. I couldn’t tell the difference, but there were many different sand types and they very rarely got bogged.

Another thing I couldn’t get my head around was how quickly news and information can travel in the desert. You think you’re in an isolated environment but drop in on the local goatherder and they know exactly when you arrived on site and where you’ve been. As with country people in most places, the local herders of goats and camels are a gentle and friendly folk. These are the poorest of the poor – for they never own the beasts they’re tending – yet they’re as generous as they can be. I was always touched that, in visiting these people, who have nothing but the products of the animals in their care, they would always offer us whatever food or drink they had – invariably camel milk. In this case it’s always wise to have a team member on hand who can accept the gift on your behalf – as anyone who’s ever had camel milk will attest.

While I very much enjoyed working with our local staff and the Mauritanian people in general, there is no doubt that personal safety and security put a bit of a dampener on things. Places like Georgetown in Guyana are dangerous for sure – but at least there it’s good honest thuggery inflicted as opportunistic crime. In Mauritania, particularly from 2007 on, when AQIM (Al Qaeda of the Mahgreb) became more active, Westerners specifically were targeted for kidnapping as ransom demands were AQIM’s main
source of funding. Even before then, the locals were wary when travelling around the desert. It was strange to observe that if another vehicle appeared in the middle of nowhere, both parties changed direction to avoid meeting. If the vehicle kept coming towards you, expect trouble. When bedding down for the night, no-one liked to sleep out in the open opting, where they could, to seek the apparent safety and shelter of the nearest barkhan sand dune. The situation changed significantly for the worse in late 2009 when three Spanish aid workers were kidnapped from the last of a 12-vehicle convoy. The kidnappers, suspected to be AQIM, drove right past our camp and disappeared with their captives into the desert towards Mali. The official advice was that AQIM was targeting expatriate mine workers so, in response, we let go all our expatriate employees. Thereafter I made only very brief unannounced trips to the country, but my presence in the field made everyone very jittery – they certainly weren’t very happy about bedding down for the night in the desert with a potential kidnap victim.

Despite the security issues, we did manage to carry out a successful exploration programme and I look back fondly at my four years in the country and the very good friends I made there.



John Nethery was born in 1946 and raised in country New South Wales, before attending UNSW in Sydney to graduate in Science (Geology) and with a Diploma in Education in 1969. He joined AIG Corporation, rising to General Manager – Minerals of AOG Minerals Ltd, exploring throughout Australia, Oceania and west Africa for gold, base metals, uranium and diamonds. Since 1997, as a consultant, he has explored, mainly for gold, throughout Australia and elsewhere in Oceania, South-East Asia, the Mediterranean region and briefly in western USA. In 1993, after 16 years living in Sydney, he moved to Chillagoe, North Queensland, and is still exploring for gold and base metals at this time.

It was 1976. West Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea. Gold had been freed for trading as a commodity on the international market, so the price had risen. AOG Minerals was quietly building a portfolio of potential gold and uranium targets with three geologists: Don Berkman in the lead; Barry Boyd, getting on a bit as well; and me, the young pup at thirty years of age. We were thinking bulk tonnage-low grade porphyry systems. Ah! I must digress! That reminds me of the true story my friend and colleague Adrian Day told about sidling up to the bar in the Irvinebank pub in the mid-1970s. A wizened old prospector nodded and said “Geologist eh? Suppose you’d be chasing one of them large tonnage low grade deposits?” “Well yes actually”, was the educated response with a hopeful look. “Well I’ve gort just the one for you I am sure. It’s just out the road a bit. It’s awfully big aaaaaand it’s awfully low grade. Just up your alley.” Chuckles all around.

Don Berkman still had the PNG ‘tiger by the tail’, having mounted a serious effort in the early 1970s that was stymied by the 1973 Oil Crisis. He was intrigued by the many reports of locals producing alluvial gold from the inland West Sepik Province. It was time for a foray to try to locate sources. Contractor Kingsley Burlinson and I set out to cover an area of about 1000 square kilometres between Amanab and Green River and across to the Irian Jaya border over a ten-week tropical holiday. I jest about the holiday, as those with experience of the place know PNG, in general, is no holiday; and West Sepik inland topography was still a pretty wild place, and perhaps, as the story goes, only a generation on from cannibalism. It was a good place to smile and be polite.

Don had organised things pretty well through the local Patrol Officer, or Kiap, a young, enthusiastic, friendly oddball, Ray Lanaghan, originally a rural lad from Biloela in central Queensland. He was one of those different characters you meet in places like that. He had previously spent a season in Antarctica, so had volunteered for a change of climate. A big, strapping, curly red-head with an out of control beard, he was kiap, magistrate, bank manager and pretty much ran the Amanab primary school, where all the kids from far and wide would stay during the week days. He obviously was obsessed with the comic-strip character The Phantom because he had painted a life-size likeness of his hero pointing a pistol at you on every internal door of his house.

We had flown into Amanab from Vanimo on the coast with all our gear and tinned bully beef, fish and rice; and twist tobacco to barter for vegetables. A sheet of marine plywood was the star attraction from which I proceeded to build a small sluice box, a lá Ion Idriess. Ray had broadcast our presence far and wide, so we were to be met at each tribal boundary by a local team of carriers, like a large-scale relay race of passing the baton. Kingsley and I planned to separate, each with an individual group of about half a dozen men, including a young high-school educated man who had a modicum of English, Pidgin and a local dialect or two: enough to hold four-way conversations. The plan was to do approximate 10-day looping traverses using Amanab as base camp.

On the second day in Amanab, a youngish gentleman stumbled into the village with a spear through his back with the barbed head protruding out of his stomach. On enquiring we were given a gentle reminder, not that it was needed, that extramarital sex was off the agenda. He had made the special effort to get to the Kiap so as to be locked up to save his own skin. He was urgently flown out for medical attention. That’s the last I heard of him.

The tribal boundaries were commonly fast-flowing creeks and the changeover of carrier crews from one tribe to the next did not always work smoothly. There was the issue of No-man’s-land, or should I say ‘No-man’s-water’, to consider. On several occasions I found myself stumbling to and fro through waist-deep water with packs on my head or shoulders, much to the quiet amusement of the assembled audiences on either side. In hindsight, I thought it analogous to a crowded Manchester versus Liverpool football match with me the star player in the middle.

Their gold recovery methods were intriguing, as the principle of gravity did not seem to have caught on. A soft centred log split in half and hollowed out was the main implement used and that would be placed in a creek section which had a reasonable flow and some potential for a damming diversion. The gold-dirt would be shoveled in the upstream end and as the larger pieces of gold became visible with the water erosion they would be snatched and put in the mouth for safety. The same method was used with deep rimmed dishes. It was all visual. They didn’t seem to bother about fine gold recovery. The dirt was just loaded, and then water flow used to unearth the gold chunks. I think they paid about the equivalent of six dollars per annum for council fees so low recovery was not an issue. It was a source of great merriment, and I assume Newtonian awakening, when they saw how my flat-bottomed marine-ply sluice box worked with the coarse and fine gold sinking to the bottom and being caught behind the removable riffles. I trust I improved their production methods by leaving them my high-tech device at the end of the trip.

Our prospecting methods were not dissimilar. Check every creek for mineralised rock floaters. Pan a dish to check for visible gold, then follow-up, if successful, with the sluice box. Collect a fine fraction silt sample to take back to a laboratory to analyse for indicator elements such as arsenic, copper, lead and zinc. If the panning and rock float examination were successful, then try to trace the trail back to a source area.

Navigation was still quite difficult back then before the advent of satellite imagery and GPS. Border sensitivity was another issue given the recent takeover of West Papua by Indonesia. I had a good 1:100,000 scale topographic map with a big RESTRICTED emblazoned in red across the top (for those unfamiliar, the scale was 1 centimetre = 1 kilometre) and a set of black and white aerial photographs that were also restricted. I still have them in my treasure trove. There was one embarrassing incident during a loop westward from Kamberatoro village. I had been playing Follow The Leader for several hours under the closed jungle canopy and we arrived at a major creek junction that determined our location. “Whoa fellas! We are in Indonesian territory.” The response was adamant: “This is our tribal land. Indonesia? Something nothing!” I considered it wise to back-track a couple of kilometres.

I greatly admired their skill at catching fish. When we came to a quieter pool in a creek, they would down tools and poise along the bank. As an unsuspecting fish swam past, they would dive in with skillful adjustment for refraction in the water and never miss catching the prey with one hand. Fascinating.
The other fascinating hunting skill was their sense of hearing a beast nearby (or was it sense of smell?). The whole group would down tools and disappear into the bush, yodeling and yelling. I would just sit under a tree and contemplate the universe or recent tectonics of the Torricelli Mountains, sometimes for an hour or more. They rarely missed their prey and they always came back eventually. I was amused that the head man of any group would often be carrying a shotgun, but without ammunition. I learnt later that ammunition had been banned to protect, to some extent, the dwindling wildlife.

Accommodation was a combination of tent-fly camping and staying in villages. I was greatly impressed at how rapidly the men could construct a pole-bed with my canvas sleeve base. Sheer luxury! One night, while fly-camping about five kilometres from a village, half a dozen young women emerged out of the jungle in the pouring rain bearing food for their men. After a while it became apparent that the women were prepared to stay for the night and were going to sit out in the pouring rain all night. I hastily urged the men to bring them in from the weather. So, there we were thirteen people under a five by five metre tent fly. Cosy. They were very particular to keep the women on the far side away from the white man.

One thing that did surprise me, considering their tribal insularity, was their friendliness towards me. I suppose I was a novelty to them, as their only other interaction with Europeans would be the very occasional visit from the Kiap and their own visits to Amanab or Green River. I was always made to feel welcome, given the use of a guest hut and invited to join them to share food. On the issue of food, I never had a worry. If it was meat it was always fresh, and the vegetables were picked daily. They certainly appreciated my rice and tinned fish. They caught me out once with bird’s-eye chilies.

At one village the head man urged me to come to see his hut. He was obviously proud of his collection of arrows. I was informed about the use for each. This for bird. This for fish. This for quoll. There was one particularly nasty piece of work, with an intricate head fashioned from carved hardwood but with horrible rows of barbed vine fastened with some sort of congealed tree sap. When I gestured towards it, a big smile lit up his face. His head tilted back, and eyebrows lifted. Nothing was spoken. Didn’t need to be. I got the message.

I met that same old man on a later visit to his tribal area. He was coming along a path in the opposite direction. There he was in all his splendour wearing nothing but a penis gourd and carrying a bow and arrows. A bone ornament through his nose. Several wives were floating along behind dressed in the standard lap-lap each with a babe suckling a breast. A bunch of kids tearing about like bees in a bottle, each with their little bow and arrows. We stopped for a four-way conversation. “I was on my way to see you. I need to go back and have a more detailed look around that ridge up the back. Where are you folk going?” The answer epitomizes the huge cultural jumps taking place in PNG. “We are heading into Amanab for a Parents and Citizens meeting at the school”.

Our search, like many, was unsuccessful in defining any large potential sources. The gold seemed to be mainly sourced from small high-grade quartz veins. There is still no significant mine in that area. Not very far away, the huge Frieda River deposits are still in the mine planning stage – more than five decades after discovery, and while I was still at university. And me? I am still involved, 44 years on, in looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in the West Sepik, although not in the same area.


Susan Belford graduated with a BSc Honours from UWA in the late seventies and went on to work for Esso Minerals, Newmont/Newcrest and Aztec Mining (exploring for orogenic gold and volcanic associated base metal deposits), plus a short stint mapping with the GSWA. In 1990 she resigned her job with Aztec and went to Florence in Italy to study paper conservation. Returning to Australia she set up in private practice working as a paper conservator and a consultant geologist. Since then she has
completed two further degrees, an MSc at UWA and a PhD at CODES, UTas and has worked in Australia, Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar, The Solomons, Fiji, S ardegna and Macedonia.
Her consultancy specializes in gaining an understanding of volcanic rock suites, their settings and chemistry to direct exploration efforts for deposits hosted by them.

This short tale is about a ‘ I did on the CSIRO research vessel, the RV Franklin to the Coral Sea, Solomon
Islands in 2002. The formal name for this cruise was Submarine hydrothermal activity and volcanic petrogenesis associated
with the birth of island arcs in the Solomon Islands, but we referred to it as SOLAVENTS 2002.
The stated scientific aims of the cruise were:
1) To study seafloor hydrothermal ore forming activity in order to develop improved methods of exploring for ancient mineral deposits on land that originally formed by similar processes.
2) To extend our research on seafloor hydrothermal ore systems to additional and different tectonic provinces in the western Pacific and, in particular, to nascent volcanic arc environments where there are strong possibilities of
finding gold copper zinc rich massive sulphide deposits associated with calderas.

The Coral Sea Cruise
Our cruise was to depart from Rabaul, PNG, where we were swapping out the scientific crew from the previous cruise. The new science crew all arrived together on the Sunday evening and we spent the night in a hotel right in
the centre of old Rabaul. That town had been temporarily abandoned after the large 1994 eruption covered it with ash up to 75 cm deep and most redevelopment had happened outside the main caldera. The next morning,
we watched as the 56m RV Franklin docked, and we made the official science crew changeover. We also made the time later that day to climb to the summit of Turvur, one of the two active volcanic edifices in the Rabaul caldera. It hadn’t had a juvenile ash eruption since the previous September, but was venting plenty of steam and very smelly sulphur dioxide. We hired a local to take us by boat to the base and climbed to the summit. It was a pretty simple climb except for two very steep portions. We stayed at the summit for a while, standing on the edge of the vent, admiring the views, and recovering our breath and exchanging oxygen for sulphur dioxide. On the way down, one of our party diverted to collect some sulphur from around an extremely active vent and we were surprised to see from his sample that it was actually a small sulphur flow.

We spent our first night on the boat and sailed the next morning after our new dredge arrived and was loaded on board. On our traverse to our first waypoint, we filled in the depth data missing from a swathe map and mapped over a trench (near the Planet Deeps) that was over 5500m to bottom.
The next day we arrived at a point off Bougainville and collected some water samples from bottom and top of the water column and then collected some sediment cores and grab samples from the seabed. We did have other work to do here, but the permitting had not gone to the right source, an d so our stay was curtailed.
I did not enjoy my first two days at sea and spent much of my watch on the second day lying in a beanbag on the floor of the science office.

The science crew comprised ten scientists, three per watch, plus a chemist and two technicians. I stood the 48 watch which meant I started work at 4am in the morning, working until 8am when I went off watch. From then until 4pm in the afternoon I helped out on the other two watches. I then did my next watch and, at 8pm, went to bed, read a little, then got some sleep ready to start all over again the next day. This is how essentially everybody worked their watch except for the electronic and computer technicians, who had 12 hour cross watches from 2am to 2pm.

By Day three at sea I felt 99% human, and we were now into the waters of the Solomon Islands. We completed our first video tow that day over the summit of Kana Kekoi, a seamount that was not currently active, and then we ran a dredge tow to collect some of the recent volcanic products.
The RV Franklin was a small vessel and had fairly basic equipment, and certainly didn’t have a remotely operated vessel ( so, for us to look at what was underneath, we needed to make a video tow. This entailed the ship doing a first pass traverse where we made a detailed depth survey of the seafloor and any edifice we wanted to study. Then we returned to the start of the traverse and lowered a large video camera, encased in a sturdy cage for protection and attached by winch cable, over the stern and sailed back over the traverse pulling the camera along. The video was not streamed live and was pulled blind we watched the videos when the camera returned to surface. This required intense vigilance and concentration by the tow guide who constantly monito red the depth, comparing the reconnaissance traverse data to our current position. There was continual radio communication with the winch operator, with the tow guide directing the operator to raise and lower the camera (sometimes incredibly quickly) depending on the seafloor topography. Small bottom crashes were common, but the rugged cage enclosure did its job and we never lost a tow.

After our transit through Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, where we all got our passports stamped (even though none of us got off the ship); and once we left Guadalcanal in our wake, we were well at sea and only saw glimpses of islands on the horizon. To make up for the absence of land, we saw a lot of flying fish and plenty of spectacular catches of them by seabirds on the fly, and one day we had two whales off our bow plus a very large sea turtle.
It was fortunate that, by the end of that Day 3, I had my sea legs because Days 4 and 5 were rough. By this stage we were out in the Pacific, north of the Vanuatu Arc and a long way from land, and the seas were large. The ‘on board, Don the Director from the Geological Survey of the Solomons, told us that this was the area where all the cyclones around here are seeded and from where they go south to Vanuatu or west towards New Caledonia and elsewhere.

The squalls on those days reached gusts of wind up to 45 knots and were often constant at 20 30 knots for periods of hours. Several times we had had to stop holding station and to point in the optimal direction to ride out the squall. We didn’t lose any of the equipment but, during one of these squalls, we were doing a video tow looking at the summit of a volcano and had to track a completely different path. It was fortunate that we were at the summit r ather than down slope, I guess, in that the camera didn’t get dragged into any cliffs and that we only saw the ‘ crashes into the bottom.

As it turned out this change of line was fortuitous, in that we ended up videoing a vent field, complete with shimmering water and obvious hydrothermal alteration. We probably would have seen this anyway as we suspected its presence, because we had already dredged up very young volcanics and detected a methane plume in the water column. Needless to say, this was al l very exciting as no arc volcanism, let alone vent fields, was known in this area.

We continued to have one seasick member among the scientists, our gas chemist. He had hardly eaten since we boarded, and still looked green around the gills; he slept on t he floor of the chem lab in a bean bag between doing analyses rather than return to his cabin. One day when he was feeling a little better, he actually came to the mess at mealtime whereupon the crew immediately asked him who he was, and if he knew the penalty for stowing away on a ship. In general, they gave the poor man a thorough going over.

We spent a lot of our time in the area around the Santa Cruz islands. On Day 16 at sea the waters turned from glassy to a slight swell with some whitecaps and we were holding station above a 4200m deep basin, collecting a sediment core by dropping a probe into the sediment then hauling it back to the surface. On the horizon we could see the islands of Utupua and Vanikoro. When the probe was winched back to the surface after about two hours, we attempted to correlate the ash layers in this core with those in another core that we collected two days previously in a basin some 50 nautical miles to the north west. Between these two basins we mapped a most unusual volcanic edifice: a multi-summited cone that rose up from the seafloor (≈1300m) to within 750 metres of the surface, and it was comprised dominantly of black glassy vesicular andesite. Also interesting was that, along with pervasively argillized and altered rocks, we also dredged up some samples of quartz diorite. This was most unusual and unexpected. However, the part that was most pleasing was that we also dredged massive sulphide and, in some of the altered rocks, pyrite was quite pervasive. The video tows showed sulphide mounds and shimmering water along with active hydrothermal deposits. We even saw some typical vent fauna – those weird things that live in those places.

Finally, we finished our planned research and started our traverse back to Sydney – a trip of six days, which time saw us all involved in a flurry of synthesizing data and report writing. It was a successful trip in that we discovered three previously unknown, magmatically and hydrothermally active subsea volcanoes. For the geologists, we named one of these edifices Stanton, as he did a lot of early work in the Solomons and then went on to his pioneering work on ore textures, VMS deposits and hydrothermal activity. We called another one Grover, not after the small purple being on Sesame St (that leaps out scaring people), but after the first director of the Geological Survey of the Solomons (this was chosen by Donn Tolia, the current director who was also on the cruise). The third one we called Starfish, because in our video tow over it, it was covered with these really creepy looking, orange, long-armed starfish, all waving their arms about.

We also discovered an unsuspected active spreading centre that is a new back-arc basin – this was a total surprise as we dropped our sediment corer into a 3.5 km deep trough expecting a full sediment core to aid our correlation, and it returned with a horribly dented nose cone and full of shards of fresh volcanic glass. This provoked a flurry of excitement, previously unseen on the afterdeck, when the implications were realised.

This excitement had only been nearly matched during the ‘great rat war’ which was when Neil, the ship’s Master, suspended all operations for an hour while we hove to and participated in a hunt for Basil, aka Ronnie the Rat. Basil came aboard in Rabaul and was first seen by the Master one evening when it casually strolled across the bridge deck. There were more sightings with the Master becoming more and more concerned about catching it – but we had no rat traps so various strategies and traps were devised – all to no avail. So, one fine afternoon we spent an hour trying to corner him, which happened, but one of the able seamen then managed to assist in his escape and he went to ground. Next the Master put out some mogadon-laced food: all eaten, and Basil wasn’t seen for a couple of days and it was assumed he was no more. However, refreshed after a particularly good sleep, Basil then chewed through the 415V power supply to the main winch (and survived) which meant some work to repair it and get it working again. Neil was mortified about the possibility of arriving in Sydney port with a live rat aboard.

As for the weather, the day after leaving the Santa Cruz islands on our way home, we hit some NASTY conditions. We experienced roll, pitch and yaw all at the same time – a kind of curious corkscrewing motion that is most unsettling. Nobody was sick, but most of us retired to our beds for a ‘little lie down’ sometime during that day. The sea was officially ‘moderate to rough’ – huh! With the cessation of the watches we all also finally managed to do something about our sleep deprivation.
We sailed back into Sydney harbour on a weekend; the harbour was full of pleasure and racing yachts and power boats enjoying a day on the water. As we passed through to our berth many pulled up alongside to call to the scientists and crew with all of us on the front deck hanging over the edge watching. The Franklin was obviously recognised by the boating fraternity as we got many cries of “Welcome Home” and “Where have you been this time?”

It was good to be home.

This was the last voyage of the RV Franklin which was then retired. For the next decade (2003-2013) the CSIRO Marine National Facility operated the 66m RV Southern Surveyor until the completion of the 94m purpose-built RV Investigator launched in 2014.