Premier Mark McGowan says “it’s time to bet big on Western Australia”, Northern Star Resources’ empire builder Bill Beament says “it’s time to bet bigger” on his company’s merger with Saracen Mineral Holdings yet the biggest bet was that there would never be a hotter Diggers & Dealers.
With temperatures on Day 1 of the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum nudging 30C – and warmer in some parts of the exhibition marquee and certainly hotter on the Goldfields Arts Centre’s paved courtyard – shade was all of a sudden a more sought-after commodity than a cashed-up takeover suitor.
The mercury is headed to 35C before this extraordinary rendition of Diggers & Dealers says its farewell tomorrow night, a side effect of the organisers’ well-taken decision to push this year’s conference from the usual early August date to mid-October.
The fact that up to 1900 miners, dealers, investors, media and support crew are even able to congregate in Kalgoorlie-Boulder for this three-day talkfest during the COVID-19 pandemic is a modern miracle – and pounced on by the architect of WA’s hard-border closure, Premier Mark McGowan, in his key-note opening day address yesterday.
The fact a sitting politician delivered Diggers & Dealers’ keynote address is also a modern miracle. COVID-19 has a lot to answer for.
But yesterday was always going to be about the super deal to bring together the Super Pit.
In another break with tradition, Northern Star and Saracen’s top brass shared the Diggers & Dealers podium for an hour to provide an insight into the driver of their $16 billion merger via a scheme of arrangement.
“Geology has been our number one gateway to merger and acquisitions activity,” Beament told delegates before emphasising there was “total alignment on culture” with Saracen and that staff at KCGM, the Super Pit operating company, were embracing a merger that is designed to unlock up to $2 billion in synergies.
All the talk in the marquee is now on who is next in the gold consolidation game.
And there is no shortage of speculation.
London-listed Greatland Gold, discoverer of the Havieron copper-gold discovery – hits include 128m at 7.4gpt and 0.93% – in the Paterson region in northern WA, made its Diggers & Dealers debut yesterday afternoon. A maiden resource is due this quarter.
Havieron is shaping as seriously impressive, which is why Newcrest Mining farmed into the project last year. Ore from Havieron is expected to be processed in the hungry mill at Newcrest’s sole WA asset, Telfer.
Several hundred kilometres west of Telfer (and just south of Port Hedland) are De Grey Mining’s large Mallina and Helmi gold discoveries – big enough to be developed as a stand-alone operation.
A lot of attention is focusing on De Grey because new discoveries are hard to come by.
Just look at the wealth Gold Road Resources has delivered for its shareholders from the discovery and then development – in 50-50 joint venture with Gold Fields – of the world-class, long-life Gruyere project in the north-eastern Goldfields.
De Grey’s presentation tomorrow will be watched closely by delegates – no doubt also by Newcrest – to hear more about what will be one of WA’s next new gold mines.
Like De Grey, Bellevue Gold is dividing delegates’ opinions on whether it will make it to the start line as a WA gold producer or be acquired pre-development by an established player.
Silver Lake Resources, a notable absentee from Diggers & Dealers, is the oft-mooted acquirer for Bellevue – a rumour laughed off as expected by all involved.
Which will remind some of Beament’s insistence at last year’s Diggers that his purported interest in the Super Pit was market speculation only.
Delegates will also be keenly awaiting insights from Independence Group boss Peter Bradford on what his plans are for the 30% stake in the AngloGold Ashanti-run Tropicana gold mine.
Everyone will look to Gold Road, given its CEO Duncan Gibbs developed Tropicana while at AngloGold and therefore knows the mine better than most.
And flying under the radar is one of the quiet high achievers of the WA gold scene, Ramelius Resources, which has without much fanfare and on the back of some well-timed acquisitions and good operatorship built a $1.8 billion company with a 260,000ozpa production profile.
A side note from the Northern Star-Saracen merger is the influence of the WA School of Mines.
Of the proposed leadership team at the post-merger Northern Star, Beament, managing director Raleigh Finlayson, CEO Stuart Tonkin and chief operating officer Simon Jessop are all WASM alumni and passionate about this educational institution located around the corner from the Diggers & Dealers marquee.
The future of this Curtin University offshoot – and importance to the Kalgoorlie-Boulder community – has long been debated as course structures chopped and changed and students were able to complete their WASM studies in Perth, rather than in the heart of the Goldfields.
The tide seems to be shifting back in favour of WASM-based education, which can only be a positive for the next generation of industry leaders in geology, mining engineering, metallurgy and so on – and for Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
It wouldn’t surprise if WASM’s future growth becomes a topic in the State election next March, given the McGowan Government clearly believes it has a chance to wrest the seat of Kalgoorlie back from the Liberal Party.
Mark McGowan’s time in Kalgoorlie-Boulder was well and visibly spent – at the Super Pit function on Sunday night, Diggers & Dealers yesterday as well as for the announcement of the Goldfields-Esperance Business Register with the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA.
Mines Minister Bill Johnston is expected in Kalgoorlie-Boulder today and will no doubt lend further Government support to Labor candidate Ali Keant, who will be taking on Kalgoorlie MLA Kyran O’Donnell in March.
Following the official Clarke Energy Cocktail Party in the marquee last night, delegates were spreading themselves across the myriad financial services companies putting on cocktail parties on and off Hannan Street.
An early winner in the Diggers & Dealers Has Talent contest was Westgold Resources boss Peter Cook for his Bon Scott impersonation.
Not surprisingly, there are some sore heads baking in the October sun today.