It's a wrap: Diggers & Dealers 2013

IF Diggers & Dealers is considered a barometer of mining industry sentiment, then it was much warmer than expected this week in Kalgoorlie. editor Kristie Batten looks back over the week.
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The Doray team with the first gold bar

Kristie Batten

As usual, there were numerous site visits on the Sunday to kick off proceedings, the biggest again being the Sandfire Resources trip to DeGrussa.

This year marked the official opening, with 160 guests joining Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett under the marquee for a presentation that even included fireworks.

Guests then sipped on Veuve Clicquot champagne and feasted on a three-course meal.

The Palace Hotel was noticeably quieter on Sunday night, but it was clear that delegates were in high spirits.

Many discussed what OZ Minerals might do with its fat bank balance after missing out on Northparkes, as well as Paladin Energy’s discounted raising.

Monday morning kicked off with an entertaining keynote from former Barack Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee.

Also presenting on Monday was Fortescue Metals Group boss Nev Power, whose presentation was followed by a lengthy media conference.

Northern Star Resources timed the announcement of record profits, a dividend and a resource upgrade with the presentation by managing director Bill Beament.

Beament was spotted at the Palace on Sunday night and was slightly husky during his presentation on Monday afternoon.

Traffic around the booths was lower and there were less giveaways by companies, though there seemed to be more people watching the presentations than ever.

Orbis Gold’s booth was busy on Monday after the company announced a maiden 1.8 million ounce resource, while Sirius Resources’ booth, which featured some spectacular core samples from Nova, was always busy.

The National Party’s Barnaby Joyce, Senator Fiona Nash and local candidate Chub Witham held a media conference on Monday.

Joyce was surprised by the turnout, to which one reporter replied that the media were “desperate for a story”

Witham, a geophysicist and long-time attendee of Diggers & Dealers, said the calling of the federal election was a “huge relief” to delegates and on sentiment, said many analysts felt the market had hit the bottom.

“The word of the day – well two words – is green shoots,” he said.

In general, the gold miners were relatively upbeat due to currency movements, with Evolution Mining executive chairman Jake Klein pointing out that the Australian dollar gold price was just 4% down over Diggers last year, in a presentation that was worth sticking around for on Monday afternoon.

There were a number of functions on around town on Monday night, though the bulk of the 60-strong media contingent headed to the laidback Atlas Iron dinner.

Tuesday morning’s early start meant the crowd was slow to build, but numbers increased by the time BC Iron’s Morgan Ball and Regis Resources’ Mark Clark presented late in the first session.

Regis was the only company this year that refused to speak to the media.

Clark apparently said it was “company policy”, leaving journalists gobsmacked.

The World Gold Council presentation by Marcus Grubb was a nice break from the company presentations, while many enjoyed a speech by Atlas’ Ken Brinsden.

There was a media conference by Doray Minerals after the company celebrated its first gold pour.

On Tuesday night, about 350 delegates flocked to the annual Silver Lake Resources party at the Palace.

Silver Lake boss Les Davis said the company had considered calling off the party, but the board decided to pay for it themselves as they felt it was important.

Local businessman and MacPhersons Resources chairman Ashok Parekh addressed the crowd, saying the glass was “half-full”

He added that there was a glass of champagne in his fridge waiting to be drunk once the Coalition won the election next month.

On Wednesday morning, St Barbara chief operating officer Alistair Croll stepped in for CEO Tim Lehany, who, according to Croll, had other things on.

Mincor Resources MD David Moore told MNN after his presentation that the mood of Digger this year wasn't “too bad”

"The miners and explorers are a very resilient bunch."

"Clearly everyone knows that it’s a bit tougher at the moment."

He said he was tempted to say the mood was subdued, but was not really sure if this was the right choice of words.

“It’s perhaps not quite as bubbly as it has been in recent years."

The media room was buzzing with the news that Andrew Forrest would be making an afternoon appearance, with newsflow otherwise a bit slow from this year’s forum.

Forrest and his wife, Nicola, arrived and chatted to delegates out the front before a media conference regarding FMG’s unsuccessful High Court challenge against the mining tax.

Forrest said he was thrilled to be back at Diggers.

“I love it – it’s just great,” he said.

Following the short press conference, Forrest headed into the auditorium, saying he was looking forward to listening in on a presentation by fellow iron ore producer Gindalbie Metals, the final of the forum.

As usual, the WesTrac gala dinner closed the event, with 1350 people attending to witness Forrest win the GJ Stokes Memorial Award.

A touching moment was the standing ovation given to Corporal Daniel Keighran VC, who was given a special award by Vietnam veteran and industry stalwart George Jones.

A humble Keighran, now a drill and blast operator at La Mancha Resources’ Frog’s Leg gold mine near Kalgoorlie, told the crowd he loved the mining industry.

Entertainment for the night came courtesy of comedian Kitty Flanagan, who had the crowd in stitches.

Flanagan stuck around for drinks and mingled with attendees, including Forrest, who complimented her performance.

Those who still had the energy, including the Forrests, spilled over into Kalgoorlie’s pubs for one more night of frivolity.

If there was one message to take away from this year’s event, it would be the resilience of the mining industry.

Both the diggers and the dealers were cautiously optimistic that this time next year, the downturn would be a distant memory.

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