Alice Clark: Osborne, Isa and Alice

Published: 08/03/2013

27 July 2009

By Emily Roberts, HighGrade

ALICE Clark, a geologist for 25 years, has some simple advice for graduates in the field she originally saw as more exciting than marine biology. But it might not be what you’d expect from someone who has spent most of her career in outback Queensland, the past seven running her own geological consultancy out of Mount Isa.

Clark is seemingly tireless.

Apart from running CdeK Geological & Mining Services, she is deputy chair of the Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) and has been a board member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) for 18 months. Both are fulfilling roles that complement her “day job”, she says, and enable her to keep up with industry developments.

“The main challenges [for me] now are to keep abreast of new technologies in the mining and exploration field while based in outback Queensland,” she said. “I try to stay involved in the industry at all levels by training graduates, maintaining networks with colleagues, local, state and federal politicians and attending appropriate conferences and training courses.

“Being on the AusIMM board and my involvement with the JORC committee also helps me to keep abreast of challenges faced by explorers and miners in the industry. The board positions also provide me with the opportunity to meet with industry leaders at board meetings and corporate leaders functions. These people are the driving force behind the Australian mining industry and to hear their ideas for the future of our business motivates me to think of new ways of improving operational efficiencies and providing services to this industry.”

Clark is an advocate for industry causes, pushing the much heralded flow-through share scheme at every opportunity. “This has the ability to stimulate exploration and discovery in this industry at a time when economic stimulus must be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I hope the Australian Government has the foresight and ‘bottle’ to bring this election promise to fruition,” she said.

She is also a strong advocate for women in the resources industry, but says roles must be filled on merit not on a gender basis.

“Women who want to work in the industry need to keep sending a consistent message that says, ‘we want to be in this industry, we can contribute to this industry, we bring new ideas and approaches to this industry, and we are here to stay’,” Clark said. “Groups like AusIMM’s WIMNET provide a valuable forum for women to network and discuss issues, building confidence in people because they come to understand that there are other women in the industry facing the same challenges.

“However, I see the institute advancing all of its members’ careers in the industry. Some of these members are women and their advancement is for the moment a special case so we need WIMNET. I look forward to the day when we don’t need WIMNET and when it is not exceptional to see women working and contributing at all levels in this industry. Whatever part the institute plays in that process I will support. It’s too early to measure the institute’s success in this venture.”

Clark was one of the pioneering female geologists in Australia, graduating from James Cook University in Queensland in the 1980s. “I initially went to JCU to study marine biology, but I got horribly seasick,” she said. “My elective option was geology which was far more interesting.”

While studying, she worked for a Townsville-based engineering firm mapping the Bole Quarry and pre-drilling on the Haughton River channel project. Towards the end of her third year, she had a chance meeting with then CSR Minerals and Exploration regional manager, the late Bob Osborne.

“Not many companies would hire females in exploration or mining roles in those days,” Clark said. “Bob [who would later discover the major Osborne copper-gold deposit in Queensland] gave me an interview and two days later I found myself learning how to drive a 4WD in the Queensland outback. I spent most of the next three years in the bush working on CSR’s Queensland exploration areas. After a takeover of the company in 1988 I moved into Carpentaria Exploration Company (CEC) at the Ravenswood gold mine. CEC was a wholly owned subsidiary of MIM holdings and eventually I convinced the chief geologist at Mount Isa, to transfer me out to the Isa to work in the ‘Big Mine’.”

It was then 1990 and over the next eight years Clark worked in all of the underground operations at Mount Isa, Hilton and George Fisher mines, as well as having a short stint in the exploration division. In 1998 she was appointed chief geologist. During this time she met and married her husband, had a daughter, completed a MSC in economic geology, and was appointed to the JORC.

Clark started her own business in 2002, which “allowed me to continue working in the industry that I am passionate about and provide the flexibility I needed to care for our daughter”. As well as continuing to operate her own business, Clark hopes to “move into directorships on exploration and/or mining company boards” in the next 2-5 years.

She doesn’t nominate an influential mentor – “my mentors change all the time depending on what I’m working on; I look for the most articulate person in that area at that time” – but says Dr Roger Taylor, associate professor of geology at James Cook University, provided early guidance. Clark said she was inspired by people such as geologist, professor and author, Ian Plimer “who has the courage to present ideas that are contrary to the current popular/political agendas, the ability to simplify complex issues so the general population can understand them and the sense to back them up with a sound understanding of science”.

And her key advice to new geology graduates? “Iron your shirts!” But there was more. “Work hard and approach work in a professional manner – the money will follow,” Clark said. “Don’t hop and jump between jobs every 18 months looking for the next best thing. Join a professional organisation. Remember that down-cycles are always followed by up-cycles in our industry [and] if you are sure that you are unfairly being under-paid it is no good grumbling about it in the background, you have to go in and fight or leave.”