How Rio Tinto changed Australia – by Andrew Clark (Australian Financial Review – November 19, 2023)

The group’s pioneering role in the Pilbara helped transform the nation through engagement with Asia. A new book reveals the full story for the first time.

Back in the early 50s, Clem Walton, a taxi driver and amateur prospector, set out with three of his sons, a local station hand and a Geiger Counter on a dry creek bed about 50 kilometres east of the Mt Isa copper mine.

As the party trod warily “the counter went off the scale”, indicating rich uranium reserves. The group pegged two mining leases, named the area Mary Kathleen after Walton’s recently deceased wife, and initiated talks with interested mining companies.

Thought they were rebuffed at the start, a little-known English mining group called Rio Tinto parlayed its way to majority ownership, brought a challenging uranium mine into production, built a handsome Mary Kathleen township for its workers, and started generating good profits.

An early ’60s merger with London-listed Consolidated Zinc brought with it significant new Australian mining prospects, plus a remarkable group of Broken Hill-hardened executives led by the legendary Maurie Mawby.

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