Monday, 21 September 2020

New Book: Miner with a Heart of Gold

When asked by his son to write a foreword for this book, about the life of Frank White, I felt honoured but also a little nervous about it. It is never easy to write about someone you have never personally met, even though I knew who he was, and Frank White died in 1971, just as I was embarking on my long career in the minerals industry. 

However, I am very glad that I took the plunge, as this loving portrayal by his biographer, his son Franklin White, paints a picture of a man who led a relatively brief, but intensely full life, not only as a mining and metallurgical engineer but also as an adventurer and seeker of knowledge for the common good. The book is now available in print and electronic form.

Frank White's career began in Western Australia, where he improved a process in gold refining and earned his underground mine manager certification. He was then recruited by the British Colonial Service to establish what became Fiji’s Department of Mines, during which time he carried out the first geological survey of Viti Levu, the main island of the Fiji archipelago. During the Second World War, he served with the Fiji Military Forces as a platoon commander with duties as a demolition specialist.

Following the close of the Pacific War in 1945, he was posted to the British post-war Military Administration in Malaya as a civilian charged with guiding the rehabilitation of the tin-mining industry, which responded with dramatically restored output. In late 1949, while taking leave in the UK and Australia, he took on what I believe would become his greatest legacy. Early in 1950, he was recruited by the University of Queensland (UQ) to establish its department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering.

He did so brilliantly. His early action to reactivate an abandoned silver mine on the outskirts of Brisbane gave rise to a unique teaching and research resource. The University of Queensland Experimental Mine (UQEM) was a great success, not only in providing a reality-based setting for mineral science and engineering disciplines but also in raising the profile of UQ as a leader in the field. In 1970, the department’s Julius Kruttschnitt Minerals Research Centre, known worldwide as the JKMRC, was launched at the UQEM site. Frank White’s contributions were memorialised; in 1992, a building was named in his honour, and a minecart with memorial plaque was mounted on a rock cairn at UQEM.

Frank White in 1970

In 1965, fifteen years after founding UQ’s department, Frank was invited by Canada’s renowned McGill University in Montreal to rebuild North America’s oldest school of mines, known then as the Department of Mining Engineering and Applied Geophysics. This was yet another task in which he achieved success, with strong support; McGill’s Mining and Materials Engineering Department is now, like UQ, ranked highly internationally. 

Sadly, Frank White died a few years later, at the relatively young age of sixty-two. It is clear that, had he lived longer, he would have achieved even more. Miner with a Heart of Gold is the story of a man probably born out of his time—a visionary in his field. Frank White was passionate about mining and also its sustainability and impact on the environment, which were not considered mainstream issues in the mid-twentieth century. If he were alive today, he would have a mission to educate young people on the crucial role of mining to society. Because mining is one of the world’s greatest consumers of energy and emitters of carbon dioxide, and yet will be essential in supplying the raw materials to construct renewable technologies, he would advocate that how this is done will be critical in the fight against climate change.

This is a book on a remarkable life, which would be of interest to anyone, but should be considered essential reading for young people thinking of entering the world’s minerals industry.



  1. Barry, reading about Prof. White and seeing his photo brought tears into my eyes.
    I wrote about what he did to me to make a career in Mineral engineering sometime back on one of the Blogs related to other subjects.
    It was 1961--Based on a handwritten request and application for admission into Ph.D. programme at U.Q. he immediately offered me a Teaching Fellowship and also admission into Ph.D. Programme. That was thinking "international" even in that era. A Sunday evening he came to airport to see that I settle nicely --That was his kind and GOLDEN HEART-- Head of the Dept doing that-- so much to learn from him .
    It was experimental mine in those days--look at his vision to have a mine for students to learn basics to practice. That unit--though mining, he must have known that mineral engineering is the backbone for mining. He brought Alban to Head the Centre that made Prof. White's dream come true to take mineral engineering into a new orbit.
    I can go on and on -- it is really nice of his son to write that book--my compliments. I am thankful at personal level.
    Even today, J.K. stands out as a unique mineral engineering centre in the world--
    I am sure you are the right person to write the FORWARD-because the profession will never forget what Prof. White dreamt and made sure that it comes true .

  2. A brief note of thanks, deeply felt, to Barry for writing the Foreword to the book about my dad. Also for posting this piece to bring it to the attention of MEI Blog readers. My thanks to TC Rao for his kind comment... he will discover an honourable mention of his own story in the book!

    As stated in the Authors Preface:

    “I think that the life my father lived makes for a damned good story. I do hope you enjoy this book, and find in it a source of inspiration.”

  3. MINER WITH A HEART OF GOLD has just been added to the book list of the Australasian Mining History Association (AMHA)! This brings to 18 the total number of mining history books listed by AMHA. If readers of MEI Blog would like to peruse the list, here is the website:


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