Miners, mugs, Mr Asia – and bat droppings – by Trevor Sykes (Australian Financial Review – July 2, 2015)


Pierpont’s favourite drinking companions are geologists. Their first qualification is that they’re always thirsty, having spent their formative years chipping at rocks in the arid outback of Australia, where the nearest pub is usually 100 miles or more away.

Their second qualification is that they’re literally a down-to-earth bunch. They are quite skilled scientists, but the science of geology inevitably entails plodding around a lot of harsh landscape, so they rarely become academically out of touch with the real world.

Finally – and best of all – any geologist who’s been in the profession for a few decades has an excellent knowledge of which ore deposits are likely to be profitable and which aren’t: a characteristic which has saved your correspondent from many an investment disaster.

So Pierpont was overjoyed when he heard that John Gaskell had written his memoirs, because John is a boy who has been around. He started life in Wigan but now lives in Australia after a career that has taken him through Malawi, Malaysia, Tennessee and a few other places. As there are rocks all around our planet, most geologists have worked in the backblocks of more than one country, which gives them a good perspective on the world.

One of John’s most memorable journeys began in Singapore in 1976 when he arrived to do a consulting job. He was met by a tall, handsome, affable Kiwi called Martin who was driving a primrose Jaguar XJ6. John’s job was to assess a guano deposit in Malaysia. Guano is a great and valuable source of fertiliser for the world’s crops. It is also one of the more repulsive materials a geologist can assess.

John’s job was to map guano that had been created by the droppings of bats in six caves below a hill named Kota Tongkat in the middle of a Malaysian jungle. Drilling proved there was hard phosphate rock at the bottom of the deposit, but droppings at the top, where John and his assistants had to wade around, were soft and fresh.

Pierpont does not know what the worst job is that a geologist can have, but assessing guano in a bat cave must be a strong contender. Bats are nocturnal creatures, leaving their caves at night to catch insects and returning before dawn to hang upside down from the roof and digest.

When their routine is disturbed in daytime by geologists and drillers, the bats become nervous and excited and start flying around the cave and dropping more droppings. John said the droppings “like the quality of mercy, were not strained but droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath, which in this case was me”. Next day he bought a hat.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.afr.com/business/mining/miners-mugs-mr-asia–and-bat-droppings-20150702-gi3c0z