GoldFinder - Volume Three in the Adam Cartwright Trilogy
Adam Cartwright is now an Executive Director of Consolidated Mines of Australia Limited (CMA). But things are not going smoothly. He has to address problems caused by a disenchanted subordinate who is obstructive and disloyal as well as overcoming threats to his career and discrediting unfounded claims of exceeding his authority and insubordination.
At the same time he must resist efforts by a Canadian mining giant, CanGold, to defraud CMA. The stakes are high. CanGold seeks to deprive CMA of its participation in a joint venture to explore and develop a large, multi billion dollar gold mine on the island of Bougainville.
Adam pins his hopes on the development of a software program, called GoldFinder, to analyse radioactivity readings of gold samples and determine in what direction the mother lode might lie. If successful, GoldFinder could revolutionise gold exploration and mining. Cartwright’s final challenge is to defeat his corporate opponents and secure his future in a tense confrontation in London.
GoldFinder is a work of fiction.
But the background to the fiction is fact, or near-fact. The science of searching for metal ores is rapidly evolving. While the GoldFinder hypothesis central to this story is not yet being implemented, it may not be far away. Already exploration companies are using technology that reduces exploration costs to a fraction of traditional techniques. Hand held scanners detecting x-ray fluorescence are now being used to analyse surface soils for concentrations of metals without the need for costly soil sampling and assay processes. A geologist recently reported sampling more than 10,000 locations in one sixth the time and for one sixteenth of the cost of traditional soil sampling and assaying techniques.
The description of environmental and social problems at the Porgera Mine is factual. In the early eighties I was a member of the Porgera Gold Mine joint venture committee during the exploration and metallurgical testing phase. At that time the problems with disposal of the highly toxic tailings were well recognised. Test after test showed that the fish in the river would be wiped out. Nevertheless a deal was ‘negotiated’ with some local politicians for the tailings to be dumped untreated into the river. The reason being that the costs to dispose of the tailings properly would have been prohibitive and endangered the viability of the project.
The references to the civil war in Bougainville are accurate. Lloyd Jones’ book Mr Pip is an interesting story and worth reading. It portrays the impact of the civil war on the local communities.
The fictional Red Rock mine is based on the now-closed Red Dome mine in Far North Queensland. The Red Dome mine was similarly mismanaged and its downfall brought about by bank loans to fund stockpiles of so-called low grade ore allegedly suitable for later processing. The Directors of the Red Dome mine had received bonuses based on profit before the payment of tax and interest. That encouraged the misclassification of the so-called low grade ore which increased the apparent profit even though it had a significantly adverse impact on tax and interest payments. When the banks finally placed the mine in receivership a colleague and I negotiated with a major merchant bank to fund our joint bid to acquire the mine. In my final presentation to the bank I demonstrated that, even with the most conservative assumptions, the mine had an absolute minimum value of $17 million. After the presentation the merchant bank agreed to bank roll our tender for that amount. However, a few days before tenders closed we were told that they had changed their mind and would only support a bid by us for $11 million. Ironically, or perhaps suspiciously, another client of the bank submitted the winning bid of $17 million. They got their purchase price back within twelve months.
The control able to be exerted on major corporations by persons holding less than fifty percent of the corporation’s shares, as in GoldFinder, is not unusual. I worked for fifteen years for a major Australian mining company headquartered in Sydney, Consolidated Gold Fields of Australia Ltd. Known as CGFA, it comprised a group of substantial mines throughout Australia and PNG. CGFA was forty nine percent owned by Consolidated Gold Fields Plc based in London. CGF controlled the appointment, and termination, of senior CGFA executives and thus controlled CGFA. But that was not the end of the story. Forty nine percent of CGF was owned by a British billionaire who ultimately called the shots at CGF. Eventually he decided to dismantle CGF and its worldwide group of mining companies, including CGFA, and sell the various mines individually. So it only took a decision by one man to undo a flourishing worldwide multinational mining group that had been created by Cecil Rhodes more than 100 years earlier. Its apparent permanence had been an illusion.
The relationship between the fictional Peter Andersson and Sven Larsen is not unrealistic. It is modelled on the real-life association between the world’s richest investor, Warren Buffett, and his right hand man, fellow billionaire Charley Munger.