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Jul 2013 - Broken Hill

Symposium's Broken Hill 2013 Conference

Following the Sydney RIU Conference we again attended Symposium's resource conference in Broken Hill. Though like most recent resource conferences attendance was lower than last year, the Symposium Conference still managed to achieve its "buzz" of delegates discussing aspects of companies in booths and its renowned camel races.

You do have to go out of your way to get to Broken Hill. We took the usual Rex flight from Sydney to Broken Hill, though some travelled on Connie, and quite a few drove either individually (especially from Adelaide) or took the 2-day bus journey from Sydney (with an overnight stop in Cobar).

The Symposium Conference atmosphere is possibly achieved because like Diggers, the delegates are "locked in" to the conference and are unable to go back to their offices.

The Symposium Broken Hill Conference is also very different to most resource conferences (apart from being relatively low cost to attend) as the Keynote opening speaker was Dick Smith talking about his food chain, how and why he has been successful in business, and his perception of the Australian economy.  Dr John Hewson also spoke about the Australian and major world economies and his experiences.

There were many anecdotes such as Dick Smith recalling trying to find the way to Balmoral in Scotland by hovering over an intersection and using a road map while flying his mini-helicopter (more simpler now with an app and an i-phone). Or Dr John Hewson recalling a post election conversation with Paul Keating in which Paul stated the he didn't  mean those things he said about John, simply that "politics is a game, and he (Paul) would do or say anything to win it".

There was also Hugh Wallace Smith's "tale of the frog" (basically that a talking frog was more valuable than a stockbroker who could lose money, so the frog stayed as a frog). While WH Ireland Stockbrokers out of the UK gave a presentation on the benefits of dual listing on the AIM market with a surprisingly long list of Australian companies on it and their trading volumes.

And the SME of Canada showed the challenges facing the mining industry and the increasing use of contractors on mines, with comparative cost differences such as $50/hour in Australia compared to $40/hour in Canada and, only $25/hour in the US.

In addition to the listed ASX company presentations, there were a number of variations such as the privately held CBH who were contemplating an IPO. Their presentation had Peel's Mallee Bull prospect firmly marked on its plans, possibly inferring that its Endeavour personnel could transfer over and develop  Mallee Bull as Endeavour closed over the next 4 years.

CBH also had visits to their new Rasp operation and their recently opened plant with tailings going into an adjacent pit as shown in Figure 1a. The site visit passed some of the CBH's Heritage items that have to be preserved including a "slag dump" as shown inset in Figure 1a. Also on the subject of zinc was a presentation by India's Hindustan Zinc.

Given the demand for gold and silver (despite what the prices are trading at), it was a surprise that apart from Garry Hall (GAAP) selling his various nuggets at the RIU conference, that no bullion dealer was selling gold  or silver coins or bars  at either conference. Quite unlike China where at the China Mining Conference both gold and silver are on display and for sale. In November 2012, there was even gold jewellery (chains/necklaces and ear-rings) for sale by a Chinese gold producer.

One of the most interesting presentations was by Mark Bennett giving the "warts 'n all" story of the discovery of Nova by Sirius in July 2012.

Mark covered the history of the discovery including the search for Canadian type orebodies on craton margins in the late 1960s by a JV comprised of Newmont, WMC and Anglo America. They discovered nickel south of the Eyre Highway, whereas Nova lies north of the Eyre Highway. In the early 2000's INCO and Falconbridge were applying the same theory and searching for nickel orebodies in the Fraser Range, but were themselves taken over.

There was a picture of Mark Creasy sitting on a fuel tank as one of the pieces of Skylab that he collected when it broke up over the Fraser Range in 1979, and hence attracted him to the region. There are apparently bits of Skylab in museums in Broken Hill too.

However, what really unlocked Nova (apart from coincident nickel anomalies) was the release of the GSWA (Govt of WA) aeromag (to encourage exploration) in 2009 and it showed the "eye", as there are negligible indications of an "eye" on surface. The area is an almost featureless, fairly flat plain consisting of classic WA red mud/clay that is well irrigated in the wet season and covered with relatively dense variegated bush (when we visited the site in early June 2013).

In January 2011, a geochem anomaly was identified over the "eye" and in August 2011 the WA Govt co-funded a drillhole to determine the geology of the eye". However, the drillhole failed to reach the target depth due to insufficient water for the drill rig, compounded by the water truck getting bogged on the way to site (due to excess rainfall).

In early 2012 the EM, RC and reconnaissance exploration were giving mixed results, so in June 2012 Sirius decided to drill an "all or nothing" drillhole with its remaining funds on a too good to be true target. In July 2012 rain again stopped play, and the rig was on standby as funds were running lower.

 On 19 July, Mark lodged SIR's June Quarterly with the ASX and then went to site. The ASX queried SIR's ability to continue as a going concern, but Mark was unaware and couldn't respond as he was out of email range. On Friday 20 July at 2pm the hole was 52m down, and at 7pm in rapidly fading light it was 181m down with possibly sulphides in the bottom of the hole, as darkness prevented further drilling.

On Saturday 21 July at 9am and 191m downhole, the discovery of Nova occurred in a classic "rags to riches" story. On Monday 23 July SIR went into a trading halt, and announced its discovery (after check assays) of 4m @ 3.8%Ni & 1.42%Cu on 26 July 2012 (and the 0.05c SIR shares began their run to $5.00 per share).

Mark made a few observational comments describing greenfields exploration as verging on masochism and reality. It needed courage, persistence, belief and grim determination, but could be done. It combines art, science, instinct and was not easily quantified. It also needed lateral non-conformist thinking, making it unsuited to majors.  In Mark's opinion, junior exploration was all about backing yourself against the odds and putting money in the ground, not a fancy office.

(SIR's office is in fact a warehouse in Balcatta with all the drillcore available there and at ~one-third of the rental of West Perth. If SIR had not been renting a warehouse, they would have run out of money earlier, before the discovery hole for Nova had been drilled).

On 27 August SIR received its first diamond drillcore showing the garnets and massive sulphide and a different type of nickel mineralisation with the assayed drillcore returning exceptional results from a ~19.6m zone ~150m down-dip, and on 1 October released an intersection of 36.6m @ 3.47%Ni, 1.44%Cu & 0.1%Co from 293m that included 15.4m @ 4.7%Ni (which in turn included 6.7m @ 6.1%Ni, 2.1%Cu & 0.19%Co).

And the rest of Sirius is becoming a rapidly evolving history.

Disclosure and Disclaimer : This article has been written by Keith Goode, the Managing Director of Eagle Research Advisory Pty Ltd, (an independent research company) who is a Financial Services Representative with Taylor Collison Ltd.

Figure 1. The opening of Broken Hill's 2013 Resource Conference

  • Written by: Keith Goode
  • Monday, 01 July 2013