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The Olympic Dam Story: An Insight into the Mineral Exploration Genius of WMC Limited.

Samso Insight Episode 98: A discussion why understanding mineral systems is important to exploration discovery

The Discovery of Olympic Dam is the next Exploration Discovery story. The story is about the search for copper and is one of the longest searches for a commodity.

In 1957, Western Mining Corporation Limited (ASX: WMC) initiated a search for Copper which started a sequence of events that led to the discovery of the largest known mineral deposit in 1976. It would take the company another two years before they understood the magnitude of their discovery.

Olympic Dam was the third discovery by WMC in 10 years. The significance of the discovery is that it would be another twenty years before the next big deposit, Prominent Hill was to be discovered. Carrapateena which is the next major discovery in that area was only discovered in 2005 on the western edge of Lake Torrens and only 70km southeast of Olympic Dam.

WMC was created in 1933 and was taken over by BHP in 2002. In 2009, Olympic Dam had a resource of 9.1BT of resource and it was 4.4 times bigger than the initial resource that WMC had announced. It was worth USD863B. In 2017, it was reported that there was 120MT of Cu eq (equivalent) and it would take 500 years to deplete the resource at that time.

The Story of the Olympic Dam was documented in the book "The Olympic Dam Story" by David Upton. I was able to track down David and arranged to meet him to get his view of the discovery and to talk about his book on this episode of Samso Insights.

I hope this episode brings out the essence of the hard work and perseverance of the WMC group to search and discover a once-in-a-lifetime deposit such as Olympic Dam. I am a big believer of mineral exploration. My thoughts are that the low hanging fruits of mineral discovery was a couple of decades ago.

One of the key points to take from this conversation with David and from the book is that discoveries are made from understanding mineral systems. These mineral systems make or break the concept of discovery. In the book, the key aspect of the discovery was that WMC, with their incredible understanding of geoscience looked out for mineral systems that would host copper.

The exploration strategy was to look for these systems that would be "cooking" and hence have the best chance of being mineralised. WMC had a theory that they need to look for a mineral system that had altered basalts. These altered basalts would be the deciding factor that brought about discovery.

The giants to be found are all undercover or in areas that have been misunderstood or neglected such as Tropicana, Nova-Bollinger, Winu, Havieron, Julimar, and Fosterville, just to name a few.

Check out David Upton's website :


00:00 Start

00:20 Introduction

01:36 How it started.

09:21 The journey to look for copper.

12:55 Communicating with shareholders.

15:57 The work culture in Western Mining.

19:35 The search for Mineral Systems.

24:05 Discussion of new technologies and ideas.

27:42 The need for interpretation of data.

30:14 The complexity of the Olympic Dam.

32:52 Political issues of Uranium.

35:06 What drives the exploration?

37:37 The drilling.

39:07 What is David Upton up to these days?

41:04 The vast amount information available.

42:46 Why read the The Olympic Story?

45:51 Summary of the Olympic Dam Story.

49:35 Conclusion


Discover more on our Exploration Discovery series.

About David Upton

Researcher and writer with a deep knowledge of the resources and energy industries. Geology graduate and author of the well-known mining and exploration history, The Olympic Dam Story. Publisher of, Australia's only single source of news and analysis on precompetitive geoscience for mineral exploration.



The information or opinions provided herein do not constitute investment advice, an offer or solicitation to subscribe for, purchase or sell the investment product(s) mentioned herein. It does not take into consideration, nor have any regard to your specific investment objectives, financial situation, risk profile, tax position and particular, or unique needs and constraints. Read full Disclaimer.

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