Story of the mining clubs


storyDear Mining Clubbers, What is it about the mining clubs that keeps them growing as they do? In my view, it is the transformational innovation and the central value of inclusiveness that have led to the runaway success of the mining clubs.

'Exclusivity' was once synonymous with 'desirability' when it came to clubs. Excluding certain people seemed essential to making others want to belong – ask Groucho Marx. But for modern Australians, and particularly Australians that belong to that wonderful industry clique 'exploration and mining people', there is absolutely no value in excluding anyone.

We all belong to this industry. It's like the modern version of a traditional tribe; if you and your friends think you are an exploration or mining person, you are. So what is the point, we thought, of a club deciding who is in and who is out?

When we set out to create the Sydney Mining Club in March 1997, we weren't looking for a way to create the new model we ended up discovering. We were, in fact, in the most almighty stink with the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), and we thought we had better demonstrate exactly where we saw the high ground of professional and business fraternity lying.

In the lead-up, a group of disaffected Sydney-branch AusIMM activists had created a paper entitled 'Blueprint for the Reform of the AusIMM'. I had better note here that I was the principal author! In my view, sending the blueprint to the AusIMM would have left the rabbit in charge of our very valuable lettuce; so I gave it to a journalist at The Australian newspaper, who gave his article the next day the unforgettable headline 'Institute Gets Dinosaur Warning!'.

I figured that seeing as I didn't work for anyone who could fire me, and as an entrepreneur I didn't depend on the influential for my income, I might as well be the fall guy and speak up. I have never felt so unpopular in all my life; but it was worth it!

Euphemistically, John Ralph, Ian Gould and Dick Carter found this unprecedented affront to the Institute hard to swallow; Dick politely referred to us as 'the pepper group'. So, to remedy the perception that we were simply detractors, we started the Sydney Mining Club and had our first forum on 11 March 1997.

The first presentation was given by Peter Robinson of RGC (remember that name?!), who spoke to a room of 50 people about the bright future for tin – particularly as an environmentally preferred substitute for lead in shotgun cartridges. Bruce Hextall from the Australian Financial Review headlined his article the next day 'Tin a Better Dead than Lead'. We felt very proud that we were in the paper.
As our mates Tim Goldsmith and Peter Benjamin will recall, in the early days we had to beg people to speak – and to come. In 1999, one of our members, Emma Bentton, moved to Melbourne and initiated the first Melbourne Mining Club, with North's Phil Shirvington speaking about Jabiluka on 12 August 1999.

Later, there was much commotion when one of the principals of anti-mining class action specialist Slater & Gordon spoke. An energetic and frothing email from Ross Farden accused her of 'suckering' the Club to the purposes of its speaker. In Sydney, we just took the view that Melbourne was being its crusty old self! Emma only ran about three Melbourne Mining Club meetings before moving on and leaving a hole.

story2In April 2001, Gavan Collery, Ian Howarth and Peter Rudd winkled some pointers out of us about how to run a mining club and built the wonderful Melbourne Mining Club that we enjoy today. The Cutting Edge series was a valuable innovation for smaller-end players.

In December 2002, contact with Pat Hannah and Andrew Vigar led to the formation of the Brisbane Mining Club. On the back of strong awareness of the growing Sydney and Melbourne successes, the Brisbane Mining Club was a barnstormer from the very first forum, with MIM's Vince Gauci.

Disappointingly, the Brisbane Mining Club has effectively been privatised and no longer follows our model. But new clubs in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Ulaanbaatar do.

Both Brisbane and Melbourne adopted the Sydney Mining Club core value of subscription-free membership. And I think they were smart to stay with the bimonthly formula. Sometimes it seems we wildly over-service the Sydney community with the 11 forums we deliver every year; but the speakers keep coming and the number of 'bums on seats' – the only measure of success we use after all these years – continues to grow.

Our 170th forum in August 2012 showcased Fortescue Metals Group's new Chief Executive Officer, Nev Powers, who told the company's story for a record crowd of 470 attendees – and a record media pack. It was our first 'away game' at a larger venue; previously we had been booked out at 330 attendees – restricted by the size of the room at our traditional home, the Tattersalls Club.

Particularly through the mining boom, a lot of big business has been done at the mining clubs. Exploration and mining folk tend to be the strong silent types, and when it comes to seeking out each other's company they can even be wallflowers! But the mining clubs bring them together frequently and in an environment that they 'own' on every level.

Egalitarian values and a sense that 'someone else' isn't running the club is attractive. I remind audiences that my title of Chairman of the Sydney Mining Club is a hangover from the days when we wanted to sound important in order to secure speakers – and also because I do chair most forums.

I have been particularly conscious of the Sydney Mining Club not having a formal constitution – nor an 'electoral mandate' – in recent times, as the Club has stepped tentatively into the role of industry activist. We have opposed the minerals resource rent tax (MRRT) and the carbon tax and just about everything else that the aggressively anti-mining Gillard Government has thrown at the industry.

A recent video message we posted on our website in which Gina Rinehart spoke of the competitive challenges facing Australian bulk commodity producers incited an immediate response from Prime Minister Gillard and Treasurer Swan. It was gratifying to see the Sydney Mining Club logo on ABC News at primetime as Gina's message was reported. I am pleased to note that (with just two qualified exceptions) we have not heard anything but support from our members for the activism that the Sydney Mining Club has become engaged in.

As an epilogue, the blueprint we wrote did lead to the AusIMM polling its members and voting in its first constitutional changes in 102 years. Meanwhile, the mining clubs relieve the Institute of an expectation that I believe it had no chance of fulfilling.

We promise to do our best to ensure your club remains fun, informative, and locked in on current affairs. Thanks for coming along so often.

Lastly, a special thanks to Trevor 'Pierpont' Sykes for being our patron – and, of course, a national treasure.


Kind regards,
Julian Malnic
Sydney Mining Club

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