Sir Arvi was knighted in 1978 and in June 1993 was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia. Photo: AusIMM.

Mining legend helped shape WA

Mining icon Sir Arvi Parbo, whose achievements included concurrently chairing three of Australia’s largest companies - BHP, Western Mining Corporation and Alcoa of Australia - has passed away at the age of 93.

Sir Arvi spent most of his working career with Western Mining and during his tenure it grew to become arguably the most important company in WA’s mining sector.

Having been established as a gold miner, Western Mining played a key role in the development of bauxite mining and alumina refining in the South West and led the development of Kambalda as a nickel mining centre.

Sir Arvi was also credited with the discovery and backing of the giant Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine in South Australia, one of the highest quality ore bodies in the world.  

His stature in the national business community was reflected in his election as the inaugural president of the Business Council of Australia, which was formed in 1983 to represent the interests of Australia’s larger companies.

Sir Arvi was knighted in 1978 and in June 1993 was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.

In 2006, prime minister John Howard said of him: “Nobody understands and knows more about the mining industry in this country than Arvi Parbo”.

BHP chairman Andrew Mackenzie said today he was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Sir Arvi and extended deep sympathy to his family. 

“Our industry has lost one of its greatest and Australia has lost a man who worked hard to better himself, the companies he worked for and the people who relied on them,” Mr Mackenzie said.

“He was an advocate for mining investment and for Australia to have trade links in Asia long before it was fashionable and a formidable contributor to debate in Melbourne and Canberra.

“He is remembered for his integrity and humility.”

Alcoa chairman and managing director Michael Parker said Sir Arvi will be remembered not only as pioneer in Alcoa’s history but as a titan in the Australian resources industry.

“He demonstrated exemplary leadership, strength of character, humility and genuine regard for others,” Mr Parker said. 

“We at Alcoa and the many thousands of people who have been associated with our operations in Australia are indebted to his vision and wisdom.”

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said: “Sir Arvi Parbo was not only a lifelong pillar of Australian mining but one of the people who created Australia as a prosperous economy and free society”.

“Australia’s minerals industry is indebted to this pioneer and visionary,” Ms Constable said.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Paul Everingham said Sir Arvi’s passing was sad news and a big loss to the Australian mining industry.

“Sir Arvi was a hero of mining and a champion of innovation,” Mr Everingham said.

“Our thoughts are with his family but he leaves behind a lasting legacy as someone who backed the industry both financially and personally.”

Business Council president Grant King said Sir Arvi will be remembered not just for his monumental achievements in the business world but also for his leadership and integrity.

“In his first annual address to members Sir Arvi said that the council would be ‘committed to the principles of free enterprise and to making free enterprise work for the benefit of all Australians’, a principle which has guided the Business Council since,” Mr King said.

Arvi Parbo was born in the small European country of Estonia, in February 1926.

Along with thousands of his countrymen, he fled from his homeland ahead of the Russian occupation in 1944, ending up in a refugee camp in Germany.

He migrated to Australia in 1949 and held various jobs while he completed engineering studies.

Sir Arvi joined Western Mining Corporation in 1956, with his first role being an underground surveyor in Bullfinch, in Western Australia’s Goldfields.

He rose to become managing director in 1971 and chairman in 1974.

In 1986 Sir Arvi relinquished his managing director position and became the company's executive chairman. In 1990 he retired as an executive but was appointed non-executive chairman and retired from this position in 1999.

Sir Arvi was chairman of Alcoa of Australia from 1978 to 1996 and was a director of its US-based parent Aluminum Company of America from 1980 to 1998.

In 1987, Sir Arvi was appointed a director of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) and was appointed chairman in 1989 until retirement in 1992.

Melbourne-based Western Mining was established in 1933 as a gold miner but grew to become a large and diversified mining house.

In 1957, it started exploring bauxite in the Darling Range and soon after delineated an economic deposit.

Western Mining partnered with the Aluminium Company of America in 1961 to establish bauxite mining and alumina refining in WA.

As part of this process, it took a 20 per cent shareholding (subsequently increased to 44 per cent) in Alcoa of Australia.

In 1962, Western Mining discovered nickel at Kambalda.

In a sign of how much mine development has slowed since that era, Western Mining established a fully operational nickel mine and primary processing plant within 18 months of discovering the deposit.

Western Mining (later WMC Resources) was acquired by BHP in 2005.

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WA export revenue

5th-Gold Corporation$18.90bn
6th↑CBH Group$3.00bn
7th-Alcoa of Australia$4.10bn
8th-Roy Hill Holdings$5.16bn
49 exporters ranked by WA export revenue most recent financial year

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