Taking the plunge Down Under: Canadian miners and suppliers look to Australian market
A rich and storied mining tradition connects Canada and Australia. Both share vast mineral resources, abundant infrastructure, effective regulatory regimes and mining codes, and supportive legislation.
While the influx of Australian miners to Canada has been underway for some time (including Evolution Mining, Newcrest Mining, and St Barbara), the Canadian miners and mining supply and service companies that are forging a path in Australia are less well documented.
The birthplace of some of the world’s biggest miners such as BHP and Rio Tinto, Australia offers an attractive and potentially lucrative opportunity for Canadian companies looking to establish a presence or to expand current operations there. That applies to both miners attracted by its geology and mining history, and mining supply and service companies that are looking to tap a new market.
According to the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, mining and quarrying was the top sector for foreign direct investment (FDI) in Australia from 2018-2020. These investments reached A$360.4 million ($331 million) in 2020, accounting for over one-third (35.1%) of total FDI into Australia that year. In 2021, the mining sector ranked first for gross value added (GVA), with an 11.7% share of the country’s total GVA.
Below is a selection of Canadian companies that have recently started operating in Australia.
Karora Resources has two producing mines in Western Australia: the Beta Hunt underground gold and nickel mine, about 600 km east of Perth, and the Higginsville gold mine, 75 km south of Beta Hunt.
The company also owns the Spargos Reward gold project, approximately 20 km west of Higginsville, which began feeding the mill at Higginsville earlier this year.
Oliver Turner, Karora’s vice-president of corporate development, says the experience of operating assets in Australia has been “absolutely fantastic.”
“Working in Western Australia has been wonderful,” he said. “There have certainly been challenges with the bush fires in 2019 and 2020 and restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the culture and the quality of the miners there have shone through despite these challenges.”
Karora acquired Beta Hunt in 2016 (under its former name RNC Minerals) and Higginsville in 2019.
The company’s mines, he added, are fly-in-fly-out operations, and “there were numerous occasions where our miners stayed for a double shift, both during the bushfires and Covid-19, to make sure that operations didn’t get interrupted. So not only are they a highly-
skilled workforce, but they are a dedicated one too.”
Turner noted that the way Australian miners work is slightly different from their North American counterparts, which he said is primarily driven by the nature of the orebodies.
“In Australia, they have large-tonnage, shallow-
plunging orebodies with a lot of tonnes underground,” he explained. “Whereas, in North America, most operations are of lower tonnage and higher grade. So, there was some adjustment to operating in a lower-grade, higher-tonnage environment that we learned from our experience in Australia.”
Other notable Canadian miners with assets in Australia include Kirkland Lake Gold, which owns the Fosterville gold mine in Victoria; Laramide Resources, which owns two uranium projects, Westmoreland in northwest Queensland and Murphy in the Northern Territory; and Mandalay Resources, which operates the Costerfield gold-antimony mine in Victoria.
Headquartered in Collingwood, Ont., MacLean Engineering is Canada’s largest mobile equipment manufacturer for underground mining operations, says Patrick Marshall, MacLean’s vice-president of technology.
“We’ve been an innovator in mining equipment safety and efficiency for almost 50 years,” he said.” We have branches across Canada and in the U.S., Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and now Australia.”
The company provides a range of products and services, including shotcrete and utility vehicles, explosives-loading vehicles, and mobile rock breakers and scalers, and in the last five years has developed advanced vehicle technologies such as remote-controlled vehicles and autonomous equipment.
According to Marshall, the market for underground mining equipment in Australia is roughly the same size as that in Canada. “So, it makes sense to have a presence in one of the largest markets in the world,” he said.
While the company initially opened a branch about 10 years ago in Perth, Western Australia, he said most of its customers are now located on the east coast of Australia.
“We’ve seen a lot more penetration into the owner-operator mining space through a branch in New South Wales,” explained Marshall.
The company, he said, is now providing vehicles and equipment to miners in Mt. Isa in Queensland and Broken Hill in New South Wales, as well as BHP’s Olympic Dam and Oz Minerals’ Carrapateena mines in South Australia.
Maclean is now in the process of opening a second branch in Orange, New South Wales, which Marshall said ideally positions the company to serve existing customers as well as being is close to several significant underground mining operations it is targeting. These include Newcrest Mining’s Cadia gold and copper mine and China Molybdenum’s Northparkes copper and gold mine, in New South Wales.
Sudbury-headquartered Hard-Line Solutions supplies automation, teleoperation, and remote-control technologies for surface and underground mining operations. Established in 1996, Hard-Line has been selling products to Australian miners since 2005. The company has offices in the U.S., Chile, and Peru and has a worldwide network of distributors.
As one of the world’s largest exporters of mineral resources, Hard-Line had been paying close attention to the Australian markets for quite some time, said Phil Pelland, Hard-Lines’ vice-president of sales. “(We) realized there was a need for our products in Australia. So, it was important for us to find the perfect partner to sell our products there. We found it in Murray Engineering.” The two companies established a partnership in 2018.
With headquarters in Pinjarra, Western Australia, Murray Engineering specializes in the maintenance, refurbishment, automation, manufacture, and assembly of a wide range of mechanical and electrical equipment.
“We were introduced to Murray Engineering at a PDAC event in 2018,” explained Pelland. “Since then, it has been distributing our RRC Radio Remote Controls, TeleOperated Remote Control Systems, FarSight Video Systems, and LP401 Low-Profile Loader products to mining companies in Australia.”
Pelland says that the partnership with Murray has allowed it to work with more mines and different types of technology in Australia.
The company plans to increase its presence in Australia, with two big projects on the horizon that it hopes to share some of the details about soon, said Pelland.
Founded in 2008, Sudbury-based Symboticware develops and manufactures real-time data management systems for mobile mining equipment to improve operational efficiency and safety.
Ash Agarwal, Symboticware’s president and CEO, says the company has been working in the mining industry for 13 years and “provides solutions to address the connectivity issues for equipment like remote drill rigs that allow companies to gain meaningful insights into their operation.”
In August, the company secured $2.8 million in seed funding. The funds “have allowed us to scale up our operations beyond Canada and pursue opportunities in Australia, New Zealand, Asia Pacific, and the U.S.,” Agarwal said.
Symbioticware is currently working with partners in Australia on two opportunities in the country, he added. “The first is for an equipment financing company that provides heavy machinery for mining operations. The other is for (an unnamed) mining company that is looking to better manage their mobile fleet.”
He added that “at some point, we will have a local presence in Australia because we know that Australians are very specific around whom they do business with … they want to deal with local people and local companies.”
Commenting on his experience working in Australia, he noted that Australians were “very progressive and stuck with finding solutions longer (than other countries).”
The mining sector in Australia is a “large part of their economy and is more centralized there than in other countries, so the return on investment is higher than other markets,” Agarwal said. “This is another reason why we’d like to expand our presence there.”
Carl Williams is a former senior staff writer with The Northern Miner.