Burston bursts back into fray

LACONIC mining boss Ian Burston is looking over his shoulder, not for knives but for friends.

“I suppose all my friends will want their retirement presents back,” Mr Burston said.

He was responding to his appointment, to take effect in a fortnight, as managing director of Portman Mining.Ltd.

As a 65-year-old who has held some of the most important posts in our mining industry, those friends assumed he would follow a more sedate way of life, after he stood down as head of Aurora Gold, which had gone through hazardous times in Indonesia.

On his departure, most of the mine’s problems appeared to have been solved, and an easier life would have been a reasonable goal, but he took on a new role with Portman after another nominee for the position withdrew at the last minute.

As a director of the company, he was already familiar with Portman’s great potential, and its plans to more than treble iron ore production from Koolyanobbing, near Southern Cross, in the next few years.

But even when the company reaches that target – producing eight million tonnes of iron ore a year – it will be a modest operation compared with those run by Burston in the past.

He launched Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit, one of the biggest productive holes in the ground anywhere in the world, earlier was in control of Hamersley Iron’s vast operations in the Pilbara, which today produce about seven times Portman Mining’s long term target.

Portman’s success can be attributed to “thinking small”, for Koolyanobbing had been abandoned by BHP decades ago; it had been launched in 1960 before the immense Pilbara iron ore deposits had been proved, and fed an unprofitable blast furnace at Kwinana, which was also closed many years ago.

Portman Mining saw an opportunity to reopen the small mine for what would be regarded as petty cash by big miners, six years ago, shipping the ore to Esperance, with significant improvements to the railway and the port making increasing production possible.

Major expansion at Esperance enable ore carriers of up to 150,000 tonnes to call, a vital development as buyers’ ports, particularly in China, are modernised.

Mr Burston could be described as a polymath, a mining man more rounded than most. His hobby is buying and restoring MG sports cars, he has a degree in aeronautical engineering, and a great love of travel.

He sees his appointment spanning at least two or three years in a role which reminds him of his early days in the Pilbara mining industry.

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