Today Australia’s gold sector stands tall, delivering $23 billion contributions to the economy, making the precious yellow metal, not just beautifully fashioned jewellery but forming part of the country’s future prosperity as the world’s most prolific gold producer.
So what’s the problem?
“Economically and financially, there is no real reason we need to mine gold,” says Allan Trench.
“People have been saying the gold industry is crazy because we just dig it up and bury it again.”
Trench has been grappling with the rationale of gold mining since arriving in the country and immersing himself in the industry more than three decades earlier.
The mineral economist, geophysicist, and business management consultant puts it like this:
“If you found yourself on a desert island, wouldn’t you rather a potato in your hand than an ounce of gold?”
Theatre aside, he contends its initial uses beyond the gold standard were limited.
“Apart from scant use in electronics, dentistry, and jewellery, it was never going to be an industrial metal, and the ‘barbarous relic’ of the standard was at its death knell.”
But the undeniable allure of gold hangs on through thick and thin – those luminous eyes holding a small piece in their hand explain a lot.
“We are just mining money,” Trench contributes.
“Humans have been infatuated with gold for thousands of years, and it is hard to see that or its industry going away anytime soon.”
“As long as we cover our environmental costs –mining it for six and selling it for 10 is good business.”
According to Gold Industry Group, there is a lot to get excited about. For starters, Australia has the largest known share of gold resources globally.
This is a handy mantle as investors pour money into exploration, new mines and existing mine expansions boosting the nation’s fifth-largest export commodity to 305 tonnes in 2022-2023.
“The industry can absorb rising costs to a point, but we must get more thoughtful about the way we extract it from the earth.
“The rising number of junior explorers are finding plenty of gold ‘left in them hills’, and their ultimate success is inextricably tied to modern methods, skills, and yes, emotion!”
Trench is exploring what he says are the underexplored human factors contributing to success or failure in Australia’s gold mining sector.
Based on a collaborative industry study commissioned by Rio Tinto (then Conzinc Riotinto of Australia) – his research uses testimony from exploration managers to grasp the psychological decision-making on exploration.
“It’s very fertile ground, but unfortunately, I don’t think we have massively advanced in that field in the last 30-40 years.
“Where we have advanced is understanding the distribution of deposits in particular fields, that feeds into the decision making now.
“The potential resource maps that feed into decision-making are better, but the actual decision making has not been studied that much.”
“And there is always the factor nobody wants to hear, whether digging for gold or the bounce of a footy – plain old lady luck.”