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The Olympic Dam Story

Olympic Dam image courtesy BHP Billiton

It’s easy to think that the sheer size of Olympic Dam made its discovery inevitable. Image courtesy BHP Billiton

By David Upton

The discovery of the Olympic Dam mine is a story of innovative geologists who defied conventional thinking, and the corporate leaders who maintained faith in them.

David Upton is author of The Olympic Dam Story. This is an extract.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Aircraft were an unusual sight on the strip at Roxby Downs pastoral station, more than 500 km north of Adelaide. In fact, the only real flight activity all year was during livestock musters around March and September, when station owner Tom Allison would be up and down several times a day in his single-engined Cessna.

Pastoralists further south scoffed when he built the airstrip and bought a plane after taking over the property in 1968, but Allison discovered that herding livestock from the air was the only way to work Roxby Downs. The scrappy vegetation on a square kilometre of land might feed six sheep each year. Allison had to cover 2000 km2 to muster his 15,000 sheep. Along with this vast range he had to contend with a maze of red sand dunes that stretched west to east across large areas of Roxby Downs. “It would take me a week on a motorbike to round up 300 sheep in the sand dunes. I could do the same job in 3 hours in a light plane,” Allison says.

Outside of mustering season, many weeks could pass without an aircraft engine drowning out the distant sounds of sheep and native pines in the wind. But things would be different after 5 November 1976, when a twin-engined Baron droned in from the south after lifting off from Adelaide Airport about 90 minutes earlier. Aboard were some of Western Mining’s most senior executives, including the director of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.