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Proven ex­pe­ri­ence in mine de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion tech­niques, com­bined with cut­ting-edge knowl­edge in oc­cu­pa­tion health and safety, equip­ment man­age­ment and main­te­nance, pur­chas­ing and con­tract ad­min­is­tra­tion mean that Byrne­cut de­liv­ers a more ef­fi­cient, safer mine and a bet­ter bot­tom line.

Ex­treme flood­ing from tor­ren­tial rain as­so­ci­ated with Cy­clone Ita, had put a stop to most op­er­a­tions in the re­gion and St Bar­bara was no dif­fer­ent. The mine was also over­run by hun­dreds of il­le­gal min­ers.

“It was con­sum­ing cash and although the com­pany had tried for some time, it had not been pos­si­ble to de­liver a way for­ward in the short to medium term that would work for the com­pany, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and the Solomon Is­land govern­ment,” Vassie says.

“Fol­low­ing ap­pro­pri­ate due dili­gence, the Gold Ridge mine was di­vested in May 2015 to a Solomon Is­lands com­pany as­so­ci­ated with lo­cal landown­ers, and we are con­fi­dent it was the right de­ci­sion for ev­ery­one in­volved,” he says.

Next on the agenda was St Bar­bara’s Sim­beri mine in Pa­pua New Guinea.

The Sim­beri mine and plant was part way through an ex­pan­sion when it was ac­quired by St Bar­bara, but the ex­pan­sion took longer and cost more than an­tic­i­pated, and it had never achieved its planned pro­duc­tion rate of 100,000 ounces of gold per an­num. As a re­sult this op­er­a­tion was con­sum­ing rather than gen­er­at­ing cash.

Vassie spent a lot of time in PNG (and still does). He set about de­liv­er­ing new re­sources to the lo­cal team to give them the sup­port and back­ing they needed to bring their plan to­gether.

“This team thrived un­der the in­creased fo­cus and know­ing how im­por­tant it was to the over­all com­pany that this project start mak­ing money.”

It took un­til the end of the March 2015 quar­ter to achieve its planned rate of 100,000 ounces of gold per an­num. The plant has been op­er­at­ing at that rate or above ever since and pro­duced 107,553 ounces of gold in cal­en­dar 2015.

Sim­beri has been one of St Bar­bara’s suc­cess sto­ries. It was los­ing money but started to make cash in De­cem­ber 2014 and St Bar­bara is now work­ing on a study look­ing at ex­tend­ing the mine life.

One thing of note in the turn­around in per­for­mance of these mines is the com­pany’s en­vi­ron­men­tal record. It works hard to steer a clean ship and as such has been awarded two en­vi­ron­men­tal awards: Golden Gecko Award and Wa­ter Wise busi­ness award.

What has also had an im­pact is Vassie’s com­mit­ment to work­place diver­sity. He is one of 32 CEO Am­bas­sadors of the Work­place Gen­der Equal­ity Agency pay eq­uity cam­paign and St Bar­bara was cer­ti­fied by WGEA as an Em­ployer of Choice for Gen­der Equal­ity in 2014 and 2015, only one of 3 min­ing com­pa­nies to gain that cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Fi­nally, the St Bar­bara turn­around was due in part to a con­sid­ered cost re­duc­tion pro­gram.

Vassie’s ex­pe­ri­ence with Rio Tinto, with whom he spent over 18 years in var­i­ous ex­ec­u­tive man­age­ment roles had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact in St Bar­bara. These roles put him in a strong po­si­tion to tackle the prob­lems St Bar­bara faced and en­sured that the com­pany moved in a for­ward di­rec­tion from the on­set of his ten­ure – which was vi­tal to its sur­vival.

In FY15 cor­po­rate costs were re­duced by $6m, or 24% on the prior year. At the same time, ex­plo­ration ex­pen­di­ture was halved from $16m in FY14 to $8m in FY15.

“We have flat­tened our cor­po­rate struc­ture and given peo­ple more re­spon­si­bil­ity. This has re­duced cor­po­rate staff num­bers by just over 50%. We had to let a lot of tal­ented peo­ple go, but it’s given the peo­ple who re­main room to grow.”

Some­times in busi­ness hard de­ci­sions have to be made, but Vassie has the ex­pe­ri­ence to man­age ‘right-siz­ing’, while gal­vanis­ing those who re­main. By giv­ing peo­ple re­spon­si­bil­ity and own­er­ship of their roles and by mak­ing them ac­count­able, fu­ture suc­cess be­comes more of a set propo­si­tion than a pipedream.

The price of gold has also played its part. Vassie says gold is gen­er­ally viewed as a ‘safe haven in a time of cri­sis’. How­ever, like the price of any com­mod­ity it fluc­tu­ates mean­ing you have to build in safe­guards.

Gold prices in­creased for 10

straight years from 2001-2011 and peaked at US$1882 per ounce on 2 Septem­ber 2011 in the lead up to its crash to US$1200 per ounce late in 2013.

The blow was soft­ened by the Aus­tralian dol­lar.

Last year the de­clin­ing dol­lar helped pro­tect the Aus­tralian gold price, and it is cur­rently sit­ting at around A$1600 per ounce.

That’s good news for gold min­ers such as St Bar­bara, who are prov­ing that there is life yet in the Aus­tralian min­ing sec­tor.

Im­prov­ing prices and strong man­age­ment make the world of dif­fer­ence.

St Bar­bara’s stocks have risen sharply since 7 cents in late 2014 – it posted the largest share price gain of its peers on the ASX in 2015, ris­ing over 1200%. St Bar­bara had fallen out of the ASX all or­di­nar­ies in­dex in March 2015, but was re­turned to the ASX 300 in Septem­ber 2015, and ad­mit­ted to the ASX 200 in March 2016.

And its strong re­sults have con­tin­ued.

“The com­pany has had a strong half year re­sult with record pro-

duc­tion from both the Gwalia mine and Sim­beri mine,” Vassie says.

“Pro­duc­tion fore­casts have been up­graded for the full year to 354,000 to 379,000 ounces.

“Costs are un­der con­trol and the com­pany is con­tin­u­ing to pay down debt.”

Mean­while Vassie has an eye on the fu­ture.

St Bar­bara aims to ex­tend the Gwalia mine deeper. This is a mine with a rich his­tory. It was dis­cov­ered in 1896 and over the course of time has pro­duced over 5 mil­lion ounces of gold, mak­ing it the largest pro­duc­ing mine in Western Aus­tralian his­tory out­side of the Golden Mile.

“Cur­rent ore re­serves ex­tend down to 1800 me­tres be­low sur­face and in­di­cate that we can mine for at least the next seven years,” Vassie says.

“Ex­plo­ration drilling shows that we still haven’t reached the bot­tom of the ore body.”

That means ex­cit­ing times ahead for St Bar­bara as fur­ther drilling will in­crease the un­der­stand­ing of the ore body as it gets deeper to add more ounces into re­serves and ex­tend the mine life.

“We un­der­stand that we are cur­rently the deep­est truck­ing gold mine in Aus­tralia and pos­si­bly the world (i.e. to use trucks to haul ore up to the sur­face from an un­der­ground de­cline road).”

Gwalia is also one of the most cost ef­fec­tive gold mines in Aus­tralia.

“The cur­rent fo­cus is on get­ting more in­for­ma­tion about the ore body at depth through more drilling to as­sess the most cost ef­fec­tive min­ing method go­ing for­ward. Op­tions in­clude con­tin­u­ing to truck the ore up, or in­stalling some kind of sys­tem to process the ore un­der­ground be­fore it is lifted through some form of shaft or even a slurry pipe. We ex­pect to be able to make a de­ci­sion on the best way for­ward be­fore the end of the cal­en­dar year and we ex­pect many more years of pro­duc­tion from the Gwalia mine.”

Fur­ther­more St Bar­bara is also ex­plor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­tend the mine life at Sim­beri.

Cur­rent min­ing is fo­cused on the ox­ide re­source, which sits over the top of a sig­nif­i­cant sul­phide de­posit. The study ex­plores the eco­nomic fea­si­bil­ity of min­ing the sul­phide de­posit which could add sig­nif­i­cantly to the mine life of this op­er­a­tion also.

“We have ex­plo­ration op­por­tu­ni­ties around the Gwalia mine and in PNG that we are con­tin­u­ing to work on.”

There is no rest for St Bar­bara. With Vassie on board, the com­pany turned a big cor­ner in 2015 and it is now ex­pected to cap­i­talise on all of its hard work.

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