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Tucker leading the new wave

IT IS not easy to spot the difference between mining booms. Share prices go up, come down, and deals are done.

But when the dust settles on the boom currently gripping the stock market there will be one very big, long-lasting, difference.

This time around there is direct Aboriginal involvement which has launched the career of a man who can, if he wants to, claim the title of Australia’s richest Aborigine.

Daniel Tucker recoils in an embarrassed fashion when the question of personal wealth is popped. “I don’t know about that,” said the 40 year-old mining company director. “There’s a lot of footballers out there who must be wealthier.”

No, there aren’t, is the response to Mr Tucker’s attempt to avoid the limelight that should shine on a man who has achieved something that very few Aborigines have done before – built a business and become a role model in a part of the community that has, until now, ostracised Aborigines.

Business, especially mining since the High Court’s 1992 Mabo land rights decision, has painted Aboriginal people as an issue, or a cost, to be managed. They have rarely been invited into the business process.

Mr Tucker saw otherwise. In 1995, with encouragement from his family, he launched his own contracting company, Carey Mining. In its early days, Carey took on small minesite jobs, mainly earthmoving and minesite rehabilitation.

Today, Carey Mining has expanded the scope of its work and has an order book valued at more than $10 million. It employs 70 people (30 of them non-Aboriginal), and owns 7 per cent of a small nickel mining company,

View Resources.

When performance options are exercised Carey will own 15 per cent.

The combination of full ownership of Carey, which could be worth $5 million if sold (assuming a 5 per cent profit margin on turnover and a value of 10-times on profit), plus 15 per cent of View (valued on the stock market at $7.65 million) means that Daniel Tucker has a net worth of more than $12 million – wealth created from his own vision, hard work and the occasional helping hand from corporate Australia, a hand that in one case may have been extended to pay back a past wrong.

In 1980, after Mr Tucker finished year 12 at Kalgoorlie Senior High, he applied for an apprenticeship with WMC. He was one of only two Aborigines to complete high school at Kalgoorlie in that year (the other is now his wife) but WMC turned him down in a way that still stings.

“It was all about the perception of Aboriginal people,” Mr Tucker said.

The company sent him a letter that said, in part, that apprenticeships were being offered to people “more likely to last the distance”.

In other words, the belief was that Mr Tucker would not complete the course.

On his third try, he won an apprenticeship, and went on to win the apprentice of the year award for three consecutive years, good enough to have a four-year training course cut to three. The original rejection letter is now laminated and kept as a reminder of how the world used to work.

From underground work, including time at the legendary Mt Windara nickel mine, Mr Tucker moved on to university, starting a degree in geology. Studies, however, were interrupted by the Mabo decision and recognition by his family that the world for Aborigines had changed.

Carey Mining, named after Lake Carey near Leonora, was the result, a business aimed at working with mining companies, some of which were moving to allocate work to indigenous contractors. The first jobs were with Sons of Gwalia, AngloGold and Thiess Contractors.

Being prepared to mix it with business was nothing new to Mr Tucker’s family.

His grandfather was Sydney “Snowie” Barns, the Aboriginal prospector who, with Peter Thompson, found the legendary Rabbit Warren gold prospect near Leonora in 1980, selling it for $550,000 to Peter Englebrecht, who on-sold it into Cliffminex for $5.4 million, which was then acquired by Alan Bond, by which time the gold had been worked out – in a classic boom-time asset-swapping deal.

Growing Carey has been Mr Tucker’s sole purpose for much of the past nine years.

It was not until last year that the entrepreneurial genes rose to the surface, in time to catch the wave of optimism at Kambalda as WMC stepped up its program of selling small, mothballed, nickel mines.

Mincor was the first to buy one of the old mines, paying $38 million for the Miitel mine and successfully re-opened it in time to catch a surge in the world nickel price, turning a company that attracted minimal attention into a business valued at $170 million. Independence Group was another company to buy a WMC mine, paying $15 million for the Long/Victor mine and rising to a market value of $93 million.

Mr Tucker’s move was on the Carnilya Hill nickel mine, and while he declines to say it colleagues at View make it perfectly clear that he got a bargain which was, in part, a pay back for that stinging 1980 apprenticeship rejection letter.

The price for Carnilya Hill, which was more than mothballed – it had been permanently closed, was $250,000, a fraction of the price paid by other companies for their mines and effectively a gift from WMC to its former apprentice of the year (times three).

Owning a mine, and its 120 square kilometres of surrounding exploration tenement, is one thing. Re-opening and developing the mine is another and not something Carey was qualified to do. Enter Mr Tucker the entrepreneur.

In a series of deft moves, Carnilya Hill was sold into a corporate shell that became View, fresh capital was raised, and a new management team assembled.

Joining Mr Tucker was former senior WMC mine manager Derek Lenartowicz, lawyer and merchant banker Peter Landau and the Junk brothers, Ian and Leigh who, through their company, Donegal Mining, had played a key role in re-opening the Miitel mine for Mincor.

Mining re-started at Carnilya Hill last November and first nickel ore was delivered for processing at WMC’s Kambalda concentrator in January. A second small mine called Zone 29 is just starting production, exploration has outlined hot new targets and cash flow is rising strongly.

From a share price at this time last year of 1 cent, View is now trading at 8 cents, a 700 per cent increase, but down on the 12-month high of 11 cents set late last year when the nickel boom was at its peak.

For Mr Tucker, the Carey and View experience has been exhilarating. However, they are just the start. He is not awed by what he has achieved. He wants more and there is an expectation of more deals to come.

Did Mr Tucker expect to achieve so much so quickly?

“Yes, and no,” is the ambiguous answer he gives in his softly spoken manner.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the sense that I’ve got a good team of people working with me. We’ve got drive, and we’ve got passion to want to do these things.

“But, there is also the main focus of getting Aboriginal people involved in what we do.

“To get where we are now, I’m not totally surprised. It’s all about getting the right mix of people, working together and tackling the challenges as they come. We’ve got plans and visions to take it even further.

“I believe Australia needs companies like Carey Mining. Sizeable Aboriginal companies working in the mainstream.”

It is his vision, determination and obvious talent for business that makes Mr Tucker a role model that, hopefully, other Aborigines will follow.

 

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