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Remote mining plan

Thursday, 6th June, 2019

Gordon Toll (left) and Robert Williamson.PICTURE: Michael Murphy Gordon Toll (left) and Robert Williamson.PICTURE: Michael Murphy

By Michael Murphy

A mining company currently drilling just over the South Australian border hopes to set up a “remote operating centre” in Broken Hill once production begins, possibly in the second half of 2022.

Workers would go to the centre and use remote controls to operate trucks and equipment at the iron ore mining site - called Olary Flats - about 40 kilometres south east of Olary.

Gordon Toll, who’s best known as the founding chairman of the hugely successful Fortescue Metals Group, heads up Toll Resources, the company behind the project.

He travelled to Broken Hill this week along with Robert Williamson, a former electrical apprentice at Broken Hill’s Zinc Mine, who is now Toll Resources Chief Operating Officer.

The pair briefed Broken Hill’s mayor and local business this week, and intend to travel to Port Pirie today to meet with the mayor there.

Both men told the BDT yesterday they were keen to develop a workforce inclusive of disadvantaged groups, such as Aboriginal people, people with a disability, and people that just needed a second chance.

“For too long, too many people in our community have been ignored, out of sight, out of mind,” Mr Toll said.

“Even people who have fallen off the rails, give them a way back ... you have to be pretty draconian if they don’t behave, if they don’t perform, but don’t make them prisoners of their past forever.”

Mr Williamson, who is also the vice chairman of the Autism Academy in Western Australia, said it’s good business to provide for an inclusive workforce.

“When it comes to this mining project, people that have disabilities, people who are indigenous, even people that have fallen on hard times - the community is only so big - we are going to need them, so we should provide to make them useful.”

Robert grew up in Broken Hill and took an apprenticeship on the Zinc Mine instead leaving the city for university. His mother had fallen sick at the time, so he decided to help his father look after the family.

He’s now a chartered engineer, and the director of several mining companies.

“I came about that by getting good chances, and I think that people that are a victim of different circumstances in Broken Hill could be helped to get in and make a career.”

Robert tapped into his local contacts for the current drilling operation at Olary, supporting Broken Hill workers and businesses.

A team of ten are currently drilling at the site to better define geological models of the orebody, and the results are all positive.

“We’re already seeing the potential for an open pit over seven-and-a-half kilometres long,” Mr Toll said.

“Just this neighbourhood could support 50 million tonnes a year for 50 years ... and then we would move on to the next one.”

Olary Flats is part of what’s called the Braemar Formation, a region that stretches from south of Broken Hill to Yunta in South Australia.

Toll Resources wants to start “small” in Olary, using existing rail infrastructure to cart ore to ships in Port Pirie.

“We have got the philosophy of start small, expand rapidly,” Mr Toll said.  Expanding rapidly would include projects such as a slurry pipe to carry concentrate to an offshore port, decreasing production costs and making the end product more lucrative.

A major challenge for the project is a lack of water at the site, but new technology such as “dry magnetic separation” is showing promise.

The company is sending 20 tonnes of sample ore to a “very inventive gentleman” in South Australia to test the process. 

The next major stage of the project is developing a feasibly study, which  details the “nuts and bolts” of the project to satisfy potential investors.

Mr Williamson will be calling on his Broken Hill contacts to help develop this detailed plan, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

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