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Bob McNeil (BSc Hons 1959, MSc 1981) on a life well-travelled

When alumnus Bob McNeil graduated from his Geology degree and took a job with the Tasmanian Mines Department, he could not have predicted where his 57-year career would take him.

Having married the same year he graduated, Bob and his wife, Rosemary, took a week’s honeymoon ‘overseas’ in Melbourne, believing they would never have the opportunity to leave Tasmania again.

He could not have been more wrong. From Tasmania’s remote North-West to Tennant Creek, Asia, Papua New Guinea, the Americas, Egypt, Greece, Morocco and Siberia, Bob’s career has seen him experience diverse cultures as well as a range of geology and mineral deposits across the world. He pays tribute to the University’s Professor Warren Carey, an early advocate of the theory of continental drift, and John Elliston (BSc Hons 1951) of Peko Mines as mentors.

He tells Alumni and Friends how his career unfolded.

“After graduation I joined the Tasmanian Mines Department on the magnificent salary of 1250 pounds per year ($2500),” Bob said. “I worked from camps with a single assistant on the North-West of Tasmania – fly in by helicopter for three weeks, home for two weeks. These camps were very remote and we had very poor communication in the event of an emergency – however it all went well.

“We encountered many tiger snakes. I had been given a course in injecting tiger snake anti-venom at Royal Hobart Hospital – I don’t know what the patients thought – and we had this anti venom in the camp with us. We did not have to use it.”

Bob has strong recollections too of time with his wife in Central Australia. “Central Australia has fascinating vistas, the endless horizon – we loved it, loved the close community and living and working at Tennant Creek.”

In answer to what are his proudest achievements, Bob said, “I am proud of providing employment to several hundred PNG nationals a year over some 20 years, plus perhaps 30-40 Australians each year with funds raised on the ASX”.

He worked for 25 years for mining/oil companies, a further 31 years for ‘junior’ exploration companies, and participated in the discovery of many previously unknown gold and copper occurrences and deposits.

He also published five technical papers and completed an external MSc through the University of Tasmania while fully employed.

Bob describes the lack of occupational health and safety  regulations early in his career leading to near misses, recalling a lucky escape he had at the Orlando mine in Tennant Creek, “There was no record kept of who went underground so surveyors and geologists were at risk as blasting was carried out at any time … I was approaching a drive face when I smelt cordite – I ran but was still blown over. Luckily there was no other damage, and the incident caused necessary changes.”

In West Sumatra he was held up by two soldiers who demanded a lift. “When my guide demurred, suddenly, he had a rifle in his ribs. We made room,” Bob said.

In terms of what he has learned over his career, Bob highlights the importance of teamwork between geologists, geophysicists and mining engineers, as well as persistence, for success in exploration.

This article featured in the monthly eNews Alumni and Friends. If you are a member of the University of Tasmania community and would like to receive this publication, please provide or update your email address.

Image: Geology 3 excursion, 1958, back row (left to right) Colin Gatehouse, Don Reid, Max Banks (lecturer), Bob Uren, Lynn Hastie, John (Perc) Milne, Emyr Williams (lecturer); front row (left to right) David C Green, Graham Harrington, Graham Fish, Bob McNeil

Published on: 09 Nov 2022 1:49pm