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Australian Academy of Science
Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows

Originally prepared for publication as part of Bright Sparcs by the Australian Science Archives Project.

Maurice Alan Edgar Mawby 1904-1977

By I. W. Wark and E. G. Ellis

Sir Maurice Mawby was a memorable figure in the Australian minerals industry - an Australian proud of his country and of what mining had done to make it strong. He was one of a handful of professional mining executives who set in motion the greatest upsurge in mineral exploration, discovery, and development ever seen in the country's history. Well known and highly regarded, he inspired international confidence in the people who worked with him.

There can be no better introduction than Professor Geoffrey Blainey's tribute at Sir Maurice's funeral service on 8 August 1977:

Maurice Alan Edgar Mawby...was intensely proud of the mining field and its people. His formal education was entirely in Broken Hill but he was mainly his own teacher; no formal syllabus could have given him the sheer range and depth of knowledge which he acquired; nor the wisdom.
At the Pinnacles mine, at the old Junction North, and at the Zinc Corporation he learned the practical skills of the mining industry. He learned them so well that by the age of thirty-three he was said to be the only Australian simultaneously to possess a mine manager's certificate, the proven capacity to run a big metallurgical operation, and a wide knowledge of geology.
When directing the search for minerals, he combined the intoxicating optimism of the bush prospector and the sobering caution of the rational geologist. He was prominent in the rediscovery of scheelite at King Island, and in three world-class finds in the 1950s and 1960s: the bauxite at Weipa, the iron ore at Tom Price, and the copper at Bougainville.
No new nation in the third world probably owes as much, to a single economic event, as Papua New Guinea owes to the opening up of Bougainville Copper.
Sir Maurice Mawby's success in opening new mining fields was remarkable, but then he was a remarkable man.
He believed that every human being deserved a place in the sun. Thousands of working people at Broken Hill and elsewhere took pride in his achievements because he took a personal pride in theirs. He was both an extraordinary man and an ordinary man. His powerful wide-ranging mind was guided by humility and warmheartedness and tolerance. In the deepest sense of the word he was a democrat.
He was a nature conservationist thirty years before the phrase came into vogue. He backed the botanist, Albert Morris, in the pioneering plan to stabilize the drifting sand around Broken Hill and curb the dust storms that almost suffocated the city. At weekends in the late 1930s he himself did much of the digging of holes, the filling of tins with soil, and the planting of native shrubs.
He loved this country-I need hardly say it in this gathering. He had a deep affection for the terrain, the rocks and the soils, the native plants on which he was an authority, the native animals, and the racehorse and the Aberdeen Angus...

In recognition of his conspicuous service to the cause of science, Sir Maurice was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in l969.


Maurice Mawby was born on 31 August 1904 in 'The Silver City' of Broken Hill, New South Wales, the second of three sons of Charles and Alice Mawby. Charles Mawby, born in Cheshire, had been brought to Australia as a child; his wife-and her parents too-were born in the mining district of Burra in South Australia. Mawby's parents moved to Broken Hill, where Charles owned a grocer's shop. A kindly and generous man, Charles was said to be too liberal with credit for the family ever to become prosperous. The eldest son, Victor, died in infancy before Maurice was born; the youngest, Jack, still lives in Broken Hill.

The mining companies at that time did little for the dusty, isolated town. There were few social services, and there was no promise of work ahead. The houses were built of mud and stone. The railroad to Adelaide was the main link with the outside world; the line to Sydney came much later. Water was scarce, and Saturday's bath had to serve 'mum, dad, and the kids' before the precious water was used to grow a tree. But there was colour and charm. The Afghan hawkers on their camels traded everything from clothing to house-hold equipment and tools. Travel north was by camel. Wool from the Darling River stations was transported by boat to Goolwa in South Australia.

As a boy and young man Maurice would cycle to the outskirts of the town, shooting rabbits, collecting minerals, identifying and pressing botanical specimens, and observing the fauna of the area. He became an ardent naturalist-everything within the earth, or growing on it, or living from it, remained a passionate interest throughout his life. His knowledge of botany was as impressive as his knowledge of minerals, and he could name practically every species of eucalypt. He was a member of the Ornithological and Field Naturalists Societies.

In 1929, at the age of 25, Maurice Mawby married Lena White, a Broken Hill girl; her family had been friendly with the Mawbys for many years. Both families had moved from the Burra district to Broken Hill; both were retailers. Mawby's son, Colin, was born in 1932. He accompanied his father on many prospecting and shooting expeditions, and strong and lasting bonds of friendship and respect were forged between father and son. In due course Mawby derived enormous pleasure from his five grandchildren, visiting them frequently and watching their development with great interest.

An unusually active and successful career was no impediment to a good family life. Except when travelling, work was so ordered that Mawby could be home by six o'clock each evening. In 1945 came a move to Melbourne, where he was thereafter based. An unostentatious man, the home he acquired in 1946 in Mont Albert Road, Canterbury, served him for the rest of his life, and Lady Mawby still lives there.

Warmth and concern were not confined to the family circle. Old friendships were renewed on frequent visits to Broken Hill, and an exceptional memory meant that Mawby never forgot a person or a name. He read the Broken Hill papers and would write a letter of congratulation, encouragement, or sympathy when there was a personal item concerning a former schoolmate or colleague.


Mawby realised early the importance of education, and for him it remained a life-long process. Attendance at the Broken Hill High School followed from the North Broken Hill Primary School. School reports, though not outstanding, showed aptitude for mathematics, economics, and chemistry; he topped the class in chemistry. Mawby decided on a mining career, and proceeded on a leaving scholarship to the Broken Hill Technical College (a branch of the Sydney Technical College) to do a diploma course in chemistry. The scholarship would have entitled him to attend the Sydney campus of the college, but the family was in no position to subsidise living away from home (Sydney was a three-day train journey from Broken Hill in those days), and Mawby was too independent to accept the offer of one of the masters at the college (Albert Noellat) to finance him through a university course.

He successively gained diplomas in metallurgy (with credit) and geology (with honours), the latter carrying with it the Bronze Medal of the Sydney Technical College. Several years later he secured first place in the New South Wales State Examination for the Mine Manager's Certificate. The qualifications in mining, metallurgy, and geology were obtained while gaining practical experience in a no. of facets of the mining industry.

In 1929, at the age of 24 and while still attending evening courses at the college, Mawby himself became a part-time lecturer in geology and metallurgy. Eight years later, no longer able to devote sufficient time to lecturing, he became a member of the Advisory Committee of the college, serving in this capacity until his departure from Broken Hill in 1945. He was proud that so small an institution produced so many mine managers and senior technicians, not only for the local mines but also for other mining fields in Australia and abroad.

When a knighthood was conferred upon him in 1963, Mawby chose for his coat of arms, in which are incorporated a wooden poppet-head, a mallee fowl, and the Sturt desert pea, the motto of the Broken Hill High School - palma non sine pulvere - which may be freely translated as 'no prize is won without effort'.

Early Professional Experience

Employment opportunities were scarce when Mawby left school at the age of sixteen during a protracted miners' strike. His first job was growing seedlings in a local nursery at 10 shillings a week. In 1921 when the New South Wales Government set up a Technical Health Commission, headed by Professor H. G. Chapman, to inquire into industrial diseases at Broken Hill, he became a laboratory assistant analysing human organs to ascertain where lead accumulated. In 1922, when the Commission completed its investigations, Chapman urged Mawby to study biochemistry, but he was already committed to mining.

Mawby's long association with mining began in 1922 as an assayer and analyst with the Junction North Company which, in addition to the Junction North mine, operated the smaller White Leads, Pinnacles, Mayflower, and Allendale mines. The company, though small, had introduced cascade flotation and other innovative practices. From the beginning he was in a stimulating and sympathetic work environment.

Mawby's duties at the Junction North mine were diverse. He operated a mill for treating crude ore, he ran a flotation plant for treating sulphide slimes, and he treated a furnace product that was the reformed sulphide from the reduced wastes of the oxidised slimes. Later, at the Pinnacles mine, he was in charge of the concentrator, which treated five tons of ore an hour by tabling and flotation to produce a high-grade silver-lead concentrate.

At the early age of 20, Mawby was company metallurgist in charge of some 80 men - a remarkable accomplishment and an early indication of his potential as a leader. But the company was soon to cease operating because it could not meet the compensation commitments recommended by the Chapman Commission. However the manager of the Pinnacles mine, W. J. Turner, then undertook a final geological survey at the Junction North and surrounding mines, and although a position was available with another mine, Mawby stayed on as Turner's assistant for six months.

By now Mawby had obtained his metallurgy diploma and had completed most of the subjects for mining engineering, so he sought to enlarge his experience in a big mine with modern survey equipment. Good positions were offering in several mines but, having set his sights on The Zinc Corporation Limited, Mawby accepted a lesser post with this company because it had good prospects, was ahead in its technical operations, and seemed to offer the best opportunity for varied experience. The Zinc Corporation was a London-based company with international connections, and its Australian mine was managed by Bewick Moreing and Company, who also managed mines in Western Australia and Queensland.

In 1928 Mawby was engaged by the Zinc Corporation as a timberman at the princely sum of £4.7s.6d. a week, but on reporting for duty on 12 March he was made a surveyor's assistant on a ventilation survey. Neither the company nor Mawby could have realised what a significant appointment this was, for the history of the company and that of Maurice Mawby became inextricably connected. Consequently some company background is needed.

The Zinc Corporation was registered in Melbourne in 1905 to treat the zinc-bearing tailings at Broken Hill. In 1911 the company, having decided to acquire a producing mine, secured the leases of Broken Hill South blocks, and the Zinc Corporation was reconstituted with its head office in London: later other leases were acquired. In 1915 the Zinc Corporation joined with Broken Hill South Limited and North Broken Hill Limited to acquire a controlling interest in the Port Pirie smelters of The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP), leading to the formation of Broken Hill Associated Smelters Proprietary Limited. (In 1925 BHP sold its remaining interest, and by 1945 the Zinc Corporation's interest had increased to 50 per cent.)

After only three months on the ventilation survey, Mawby took part in an investigation of the ore reserves, at that time under water, of the Lake George Mine at Captain's Flat, New South Wales. The survey occupied some six months, after which he worked on a metallurgical treatment of the ore at the Minerals Separation Company in Melbourne, the aim being to produce, by flotation, separate concentrates of lead, iron, and zinc.

On completion of this assignment, Mawby returned to the Zinc Corporation at Broken Hill as a junior surveyor. He referred to this as 'one of the most stimulating positions that I have ever held', and 'a wonderful experience with wonderful associates, and a fme body of men'. G. R. Fisher (now Sir George Fisher) was chief surveyor, and S. M. Moline and C. W. Kayser (later manager of the Emperor Mine in Fiji) were also junior surveyors. In those days surveyors were responsible not only for preparing plans and overall surveying, but also for calculating contract rates, designing underground timbering, ore chutes, and rail layouts, and conducting ventilation surveys-in fact the whole gamut of mining engineering. This range of experience was to serve Mawby well.

In 1935 he became assistant mill foreman. In 1936 the Zinc Corporation took over the management and direction of its Australian operations from Bewick Moreing. The prices of lead and zinc were very low, hovering around £10 a ton; staff changes were impending, and Mawby seriously considered whether he should leave Broken Hill to seek experience elsewhere. He was persuaded to stay, to become mill foreman with a view to succeeding J. C. Lyster as mill superintendent within 12 months.

The Zinc Corporation was keen to develop an 'all-flotation' plant to replace the efficient but complicated system of jigs and tables followed by flotation. Mawby welcomed the challenge of all-flotation, which had defeated the Broken Hill companies. After preliminary work an all-flotation plant with a capacity of 30 tons an hour was built adjacent to the main mill, with provision for returning the products of the experimental plant for further treatment. On the basis of the results obtained, a new all-flotation mill was designed and built, and was commissioned in August 1939.

This was Mawby's most significant direct contribution to metallurgical innovation at Broken Hill. It is described in his thesis on the evolution of the all-flotation process at the Zinc Corporation, for which he was awarded the Fellowship of the Sydney Technical College in 1937. A paper describing it was published in the Proceedingsofthe Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

The decision to scrap the Zinc Corporation's large and costly gravity-based concentration plant was strongly supported by the experimental evidence. Mawby stated, 'We had operated the all-flotation plant in parallel with the gravity-flotation plant for several years and were in a position to assess the economics of both processes'. He then listed ten advantages of all-flotation, not least of which was that 'the direct milling costs due to lower labour, power, and maintenance charges would be about one shilling (1941 currency!) per ton lower in the all-flotation plant'.

It was about 1935 that Mawby first met W. S. Robinson, the dynamic mining industry figure of the 1930s and the war years. As managing director of the Zinc Corporation, Robinson had come to Broken Hill on a fact-finding and policy-determining mission. After many years of close association, Mawby said, 'W. S. Robinson was one of the very, very great Australians, a man of real humanity, real appreciation of the role of the working man in industry, and I always regarded myself as being probably more influenced by him than any other man'.

Robinson was keen to investigate the ore potential south of the mine. The original geological work in the district was done in 1910 by the members of the defunct Geological Sub-Committee of the Scientific Society of Broken Hill. This was followed by E. C. Andrews and associates (1920-22), W.I. Turner (already mentioned, 1926-27), and E. J. Kenny (1928-32). Until 1934 no geologists were employed by any of the companies in Broken Hill, and geological mapping was carried out by the surveyors. However, the mining engineers of the day had successfully developed the mine orebodies by systematic exploration and drilling. Robinson thought that the situation justified the application of all available geological knowledge, experience, and expertise in the search for more ore. Geophysical work indicated that there was a good chance of the main lode continuing for a considerable distance, so the leases for some two miles south were acquired. When drilling penetrated the zinc lode and proved the continuance of the lead lode, the outlook was so promising that a subsidiary, New Broken Hill Consolidated Limited, was formed in 1936. (Mawby was to become its first manager, in 1944.)

Mawby's first overseas visit came in 1937-38, when he accompanied George Fisher on a world tour that lasted some ten months. Their reports on mining and metallurgical operations in North America, Europe, and Africa did much to help the subsequent design of the Zinc Corporation's underground and metallurgical operations.

Concern for the Employee

The expansion of the Zinc Corporation and the birth of New Broken Hill in the mid-1930s had a favourable impact on the lives of the miners and the townspeople of Broken Hill. Ore reserves sufficient for half a century gave a sense of security and confidence.

In his book If I Remember Rightly, Robinson(1) describes the situation in which Mawby grew up:

When I entered industry in 1914 I was struck by the care devoted to inanimate power and the carelessness displayed to man power. The machine was carefully selected on expert advice, submitted to severe tests and splendidly housed. It had an army of attendants to feed it, to keep it in constant repair, and to polish it...No attention was paid to housing, or to transport to and from work, or to feeding or hospitalisation, or educational facilities for a man's children or amenities for his wife. The contrast shocked me. As soon as possible I introduced the slogan, 'At least as much care for the man as for the machine...
The directors of Zinc Corporation were the first to recognise that Broken Hill was not just another mining camp but was rather the heart of a great group of industrial enterprises. From the mid-1930's working and living conditions were steadily transformed. In some projects we worked alone but in others we enlisted the co-operation of other big mining, companies...
Broken Hill came to provide a model of industrialism for all to see. But it is fair to point out that great things are only possible when the foundations of a mining industry rest on great reserves of profitable ore. They are also possible only when the men recognise that without the help of much capital and skilled management there can be no regular employment and few if any amenities, and when the directors and management realise that all the ore on the field is not worth a pinch of salt unless the men can be got to work efficiently.

Mawby had wagged school during the big strike and had seen baton charges and mounted police herding people in the streets. He understood the problems of the miners and the reasons for the bitterness that persisted, and when he entered management he consciously adopted Robinson's philosophy that the prosperity of the mines was inextricably bound to the prosperity of the miners.

People mattered to Mawby, and not just as producers. Good working conditions and safety were important, but so too were living conditions and leisure facilities. Whole families were essential for stability and permanence in remote areas, so the welfare of wives and children was as important as that of the men themselves. Housing equalled city standards, swimming pools and like amenities were built, fare subsidies were provided for secondary school students, and seaside holidays were encouraged. Mt Tom Price, Dampier, and Bougainville set high standards, but in negotiating industrial agreements Mawby recognised a responsibility not to set precedents that others could not afford to match.

Mawby maintained contact with a wide range of friends around the world. One of the things that attracted him to mining was its international outlook. 'People', he said, 'are the basis of the mining industry: the technical part is secondary.... Mining engineers don't worry so much about politics and nationalities, mining transcends all boundaries.'

Wartime Activities

At the start of World War II the Allies were short of metals. Australia, which feared it could be cut off from overseas supplies, had lead and zinc but was short of copper and aluminium. In 1940 the Commonwealth Government set up the Copper and Bauxite Committee. Mawby, as its technical secretary, visited many mineralised areas to assess their potential. Copper had to be 'scrounged' (Mawby's word), and mines like Captain's Flat in New South Wales and Rosebery in Tasmania, which produced lead and zinc concentrates containing copper, were soon producing copper concentrate. Mt Isa was producing lead and zinc but, although traces of copper had been found, no one suspected that Mt Isa would become one of the great copper mines of the world.

There was drilling for bauxite in Tasmania and New England. The great deposits at Weipa were not discovered until later; because the Japanese were in Port Moresby, northern Australia was excluded from exploration activity. However, during the war the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments jointly agreed to establish an aluminium works in Tasmania was the opportunity to familiarise himself with the final treatment stage of lead concentrates. The appointment, based in Melbourne, involved visits to smelters throughout the world. However, it was not long before Robinson realised that a company having but one mine must seek new mineral deposits, and he invited Mawby to return to the Zinc Corporation as director of exploration and research. With the blessing of BHAS, who regarded him as 'a W. S. man', he accepted.

Thus Mawby rejoined the Zinc Corporation in 1946 and 'went looking for mines' - a job after his own heart. Exploration has always been the main challenge of mining, for without new ore there can be no continuity. General exploration was at a low ebb, so this was a unique opportunity, and it ushered in the most productive period of Mawby's life. The Zinc Corporation was not seeking small deposits; its new mines had to be of national significance, mines that would catalyse the opening up of new areas of Australia.

The first steps were to assess the known mineralised areas, to consult state departments of mines and geological surveys, and even to examine mineral collections in the hope that somewhere there would be encouraging signs for real exploration work. Many of the old areas such as the Cloncurry field, the New England areas, Mount Morgan and its environs, the Victorian mineralised areas, and the Flinders Ranges were re-investigated.

This assignment proved extremely rewarding, both to Mawby and to the Zinc Corporation. Over the next 20 years world-scale deposits of bauxite, copper, and iron were discovered, and the company's future no longer depended solely on the silver/lead/zinc reserves at Broken Hill. Development of the new mines required massive capital and a great deal of planning. Later promoted to leadership of the Australian operation, Mawby used his technical and organisational skillls to bring them into production.

There were other less important projects, some of which are still in existence and some of which have been discarded. The beach-sands industry was then in its infancy. Mawby was responsible for the investigation and subsequent mining of the Stradbroke Island deposits, and in 1948 Titanium and Zirconium Industries Proprietary Limited was formed to develop them. However, his overseas colleagues were unconvinced that the industry had a great future, either for its minerals or for the metals made from them, and in 1969 the company's interest was sold.

It is seldom appreciated that Mawby was a pioneer in oil exploration. In 1946 the Zinc Corporation joined with two experienced' overseas oil companies, D'Arcy Exploration Company Limited (later British Petroleum) and the Vacuum Oil Company (later Mobil Australia), to search for natural gas and oil, first in the southwestern corner of the Great Artesian Basin and later in the Otway Basin of Victoria. (At the time most overseas petroleum experts were firm in the view that oil and gas were unlikely to be found in Australia in commercial quantities, and only one other company - Oil Search - was operating here.) The three companies became equal partners in the exploration company, Frome-Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited, in 1947. Oil exploration is an activity in which good fortune is imperative for success, and it was one of Mawby's major disappointments that, despite some early encouragement, his company failed to discover a commercial field. However, his optimism for Australia has been vindicated by later discoveries of commercial oil and gas fields.

There was an unexpected bonus as a by-product of the search for oil. A memorandum that Mawby wrote in June 1953 stated: 'Please issue instructions to all field geologists that, apart from the search for base metals, they should keep an eye open for possible deposits of other minerals, particularly bauxite and phosphate, which may occur in many places in the Northern Territory and possibly Cape York Peninsula...' Though oil was the prime objective of the Cape York Peninsila survey, the big breakthrough came in 1955 with the discovery of the Weipa bauxite deposit, which itself pointed the way to several other significant bauxite discoveries, such as that at Gove.

Australia could not provide the necessary development finance. Mawby said: 'Mining in those days was a dirty word. you could not get the sort of money you wanted even if you went around the world with a hat in your hand.' Nevertheless, that is precisely what he did. At first he received a polite 'no' from many of the world's major mining and metallurgical companies. Following a three-year association with the British Aluminium Company, in 1960 a firm partnership was established with the Kaiser Aluminium and Chemical Corporation of the United States. This paved the way for the rapid development of Comalco Industries Proprietary Limited as an integrated aluminium complex, based on Weipa, Bell Bay, Yennora and Gladstone, and expanding overseas with interests in an alumina refinery in Sardinia, an aluminium fabrication plant in Hong Kong, and an aluminium smelter at Bluff in New Zealand.

Mawby always had a special identification with Weipa. Not only had he explicitly reminded his staff of the possibility of bauxite in northern Australia, but after the discovery he also supported and guided its development, stage by stage, into one of the world's largest bauxite/alumina/aluminium enterprises.

Haddon F. King, a close associate from 1946 until Mawby's death, believed they were fortunate to belong to an organization in which exploration was seen not merely as the key to growth and profit, but also as a duty. A geological staff of world standard was built up from zero in 1946 to 40 in 1960, and it was during those years that CRA developed the activities, the skills, the investigational curiosity, and the geological concepts that led to the successes of the 1950s and 1960s. Mawby's long-range view made disappointments easier to accept; an abortive test was not a waste of money, it was merely part of the cost of developing mineral resources. Optimism and judgment at first, and experience later, provided justification; and poor times were no excuse for cutting back the effort.

King, looking back after nine years of retirement from CRA, said, 'There are two things that I specially like to remember about Maurie's part in exploration-that during the 1950s, when I as Chief Geologist and another senior geologist were developing unorthodox geological ideas which were regarded by the eminent as mistaken and even deplorable, I never felt any pressure to conform; and that, even when Sir Maurice was Chairman of CRA, a visiting field geologist could have an hour of his time on almost any day.'

In 1949 there began a series of management changes that were to influence Mawby's career. A merger in Britain of the Zinc Corporation and the Imperial Smelting Corporation resulted in the formation of the Consolidated Zinc Corporation Limited (CZC) and an Australian subsidiary, Consolidated Zinc Proprietary Limited (CZP). In 1950 Sir Norman Mighell (former High Commissioner in London) became chairman of CZP, and in 1951 the management of the Zinc Corporation, New Broken Hill Consolidated, and some other Australian interests were transferred from London to Australia. Mawby was appointed vice-chairman of CZP in 1955, and in 1956 was made a director of CZC. In 1956 L. B. Robinson (W. S. Robinson's son) became chairman of CZC and at the same time, following Mighell's death while still in office, took over chairmanship of CZP. On the death of L. B. Robinson, in July 1961, Mawby succeeded him as chairman of CZP.

The year 1962 was a crucial one for Mawby, then in his late fifties. CZC merged with the powerful Rio Tinto Company Limited of London, a company with worldwide ramifications, to form The Rio Tinto-Zinc Corporation Limited (RTZ). Alfred Baer, recalled from retirement on the death of L. B. Robinson to become chairman of CZC, became chairman of the new company; Val Duncan of Rio Tinto became managing director, and Mawby became a director. At the same time Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia Limited (CRA) was formed by merging the large CZP with the smaller Rio Tinto Mining Company of Australia Limited, a publicly listed company whose main asset at that time was a majority shareholding in Mary Kathleen Uranium Limited. In Mawby's picturesque language, CZC 'had lots of deposits, lots of work ahead, lots of development and limited money, and they [Rio Tinto] had lots of money and no projects'. RTZ regarded CRA as an operating company concerned with the technical problems of mining and exploration. Mawby, the undoubted technical leader of CZP, had long been in the mainstream of development, and had the ideal background for his appointment as Chairman of CRA.

'Sir Maurice had a rare grasp of technical subjects and pursued matters in which he was interested with the dedication and curiosity of the true scientist', said Sir Roderick Carnegie, who succeeded Mawby as Chairman of CRA in 1974. Throughout a lifelong association with mining, Mawby demonstrated his faith in exploration and research, actively supporting both and backing promising ideas wherever they originated. His receptive attitude encouraged a stream of innovative studies by CRA, including the DAVCRA flotation cell, the WORCRA continuous smelting methods, various forms of ore sorters, and the successful Imperial Smelting process for lead and zinc. Such is the nature of research that not every one of these studies proved rewarding.

Mergers are not without difficulties, but by 1964 the whole organisation cemented into place and the individuals were becoming welded into a well-integrated and effective team. At the outset CRA had to rely heavily on the business experience, financial acumen, and marketing ability of RTZ to supplement the technical expertise, exploration skill, and enterprise of the Australian group. Nevertheless Mawby hoped that CRA would eventually play a bigger part in defining the overall policies and in making important development decisions.

After the establishment of Comalco in l960, the next two major areas of expansion were in iron and copper. Rio Tinto Mining had been investigating iron ore in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in 1961 and, following the amalgamation with CZP, continuing exploration resulted in the discovery of a massive iron orebody at Mt Tom Price in 1962. Hamersley Holdings Limited was formed in association with the Kaiser Steel Corporation of the United States, and only recently (in August 1979) has CRA acquired the Kaiser shareholding. A huge open-cut mine was established with mechanical mining and loading facilities, and a railway was constructed to Dampier, 290 kilometres northwest of Mt Tom Price, where a port and loading facilities were provided. Townships were built at the mine and at the port (and later at Paraburdoo,100 kilometres south of Mt Tom Price). This was a tremendous achievement requiring close co-ordination. The first shipments were made in 1966, and 23 million tons were produced during 1971. The mine at Paraburdoo began producing in 1973.

In 1964 CRA began exploring a large low-grade copper/gold orebody on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, and in the early stages Mawby was determined that exploration should be kept going. Bougainville Copper Proprietary Limited was incorporated in Papua New Guinea in 1967. Progress thereafter was fast and spectacular, and by 1972 the first concentrates were shipped. The island population has been integrated into the project, and the Government of Papua New Guinea has been substantially dependent on the royalties and dividends received.

The Hamersley iron and Bougainville copper stories are so well known that it is unnecessary to deal with them at length. There were other, less publicised, projects, during Mawby's chairmanship-commissioning of new slag-fuming and electrolytic zinc plants at BHAS in Port Pirie, establishment of Dampier Salt on the northwest coast, and studies of the open-cut coal prospect at Blair Athol in Queensland. There have been substantial reorganisations and rationalizations between CRA and other companies with respect to copper smelting, coal and coke production, and zinc and lead smelting. Further, in 1974 the decision was made to re-open the Mary Kathleen uranium mine.

Mawby had a sense of urgency, even impatience, and the unprecedented speed with which major projects were brought into production almost simultaneously testifies to his drive and organising ability. From his twenties onwards he had been a good manager with a belief in delegation and in sharing credit. He had the gift of being able to choose the right person for a particular job, and his colleagues say that, having chosen, he provided encouragement without interference. He did not suffer fools gladly. He was impatient with accounts and administrative procedures and long erudite discussions; these were not his style. His principle 'back-stop' was Arthur Rew - the administrator and finance man - who also spent many years in Broken Hill and held the positions of general manager of CZP and later managing director of CRA. They formed a truly great team and worked together very harmoniously for almost thirty years.

When Mawby retired in 1974, CRA had become second only to BHP among Australian companies. Exploration was proceeding apace, and there was momentum enough for an exciting future. It had 23,000 employees, its sales revenue was $833.5 million, and its dividends ($36.1 million) took less than a quarter of the money paid to governments in royalties and taxation ($166.9 million). Yet Mawby took pride not so much in the size of the company as in the multiplicity of its contributions to the development of Australia. Looking back, one can only marvel at his courage and enterprise; he might have chosen to play safe. Though he had risen dramatically from the lowly days of boyhood in Broken Hill, Mawby remained an unassuming man.

Sir Roderick Carnegie said: 'One of Sir Maurice's greatest attributes was his ability to lead and to be well liked in the process. He generated enthusiasm in others in leading them towards common objectives, instilling a team spirit in those whom he led.'

Mawby, the Mineralogist

Mawby was a noted mineralogist whose prowess first became apparent at the Junction North mine. A keen observer and a skilful analyst, he identified for the first time a remarkable no. of the rarer minerals among the 150 species known to exist in the silver/lead/zinc lodes in Broken Hill. The minerals he first identified are alabandite, native antimony, apophyllite, augelite, bustamite, coronadite, inesite, jarosite, manganocolumbite, meneghinite, microlite, palygorskite, purpurite, pyroxmangite, sturtite, and tetrahedrite. A fine personal collection, part of which adorned his office, included many lead and silver specimens from the unique oxidised section of the great Broken Hill orebody.

In collaboration with mineralogists in Australia and overseas, Mawby characterised and described many other minerals in the Broken Hill lode and surrounding host rocks. He worked closely with such eminent Australian mineralogists as George Smith and T. Hodge-Smith, Drs A. B. Edwards, John McAndrews, E. S. Simpson, and F. L. Stillwell, and Professors L. J. Lawrence and R. L. Stanton. He also worked with overseas greats like Foshag, Schaller, and Mason at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Professor Ramdohr of Heidelberg, Germany, and Professors Berman, Frondel, and Palache at Harvard University.

Mawby has not been commemorated in the name of any mineral - colleagues say because of his modesty. He loved minerals, but he shunned the limelight. For this reason there was little publicity when he donated his world-class collection of minerals to the National Museum of Victoria.

He was patron of the Mineralogical Society of Victoria, and in 1978 Dr Peter Bancroft, director of the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society in California, delivered the first Sir Maurice Mawby Memorial Lecture, entitled 'The World's Finest Minerals and Crystals', in Melbourne.

Australian Mining and Smelting Limited is commissioning a memorial vol. to Mawby, provisionally entitled The Minerals of Broken Hill, with Dr Howard K. Worner and Professor John F. Lovering as joint editors.

Contributions to the Mining and Minerals Industries

Mawby felt an obligation to support and advance his profession by active participation in the various associations of the mining and minerals industries. In particular he made important contributions to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Australian Mineral Industries Research Association Limited, and the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories.

The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1923 notified Mawby of his election as a student member and asked for 'a postal note for l0s 6d as annual subscription'. Thus began an association that lasted for more than half a century. A member of the Institute's council in 1948, Mawby was vice-president 1950-1952, president in 1953-54, vice-president again from 1953-63, and president once more in 1968. He did a great deal during his terms of office to motivate the institute and to set high standards. Two presidential addresses-'The Torch we Hold' (1954) and 'The Standards we Inherit' (1968) were notable.

The highest award of the Institute, its Bronze Medal, was made to Mawby in 1955. He was delighted and proud that the presentation was made at Broken Hill during the 1956 annual conference by the president, A. R. West, a classmate at Broken Hill Technical College. West was able to say of him, 'Equally at home in the fields of mining, metallurgy, geology, exploration, research, education and Government, Mr Mawby has been able to provide a liaison and stimulus whose value to the Institute and Industry can hardly be overstated. At the age of fifty-one his career is far from closed, but the Council of the Institute unanimously feels that it is time now to recognise Mr Mawby's already eminent services to mining and metallurgy.'

In 1976 the Institute conferred honorary membership on Mawby 'in recognition of his valuable services to science and industry'. The address by the president, C. H. Martin, and Mawby's reply reveal his great love for Broken Hill, his high regard for his colleagues, and the extraordinary versatility and breadth of interests that enabled him to play such a significant part in the affairs of the Institute.

Mawby was a member of the organising committee and chairman of the publications committee of the Fifth Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress which was held in Australia in 1953, and during the latter part of the congress he was acting president. He was president of the Eighth Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress, which was held in Australia and New Zealand in 1965. For each of these congresses an authoritative volume, Geology of Australian Ore Deposits, was published by the Institute; Mawby was closely associated with both.

The exploration programs of the 1 960s had greatly expanded geological knowledge, and Mawby saw in the imminent retirement of C. L. Knight from CRA an opportunity to have the earlier volumes updated and to extend their scope to include Papua New Guinea. A committee was set up in 1972, with Mawby as chairman and Knight as editor-in-chief, to compile a third edition-the fourth-vol. Economic Geology of Australia and Papua New Guinea, published by the Institute in 1975. These volumes are a memorial to Mawby's vision and energy. But the Institute has yet another tribute to pay. It is in the process of preparing a memorial volume, provisionally entitled Mining and Metallurgical Practices in Australia, to which G. B. O'Malley will contribute a chapter on Mawby's technical career.

In the 1950s there was no appropriate body to back research for the mineral industry. This situation was rectified in 1959 by the formation of the Australian Mineral Industries Research;Association Limited (AMIRA) after meetings between the Australian Instltute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments to consider the offer of the South Australian Premier, Sir Thomas Playford, to hand over the Technical Services Section of his Department of Mines for the joint use of the industry, the Commonwealth and the State. It was decided that the section should be reconstituted as the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories (AMDEL) to provide a comprehensive contract research service for the benefit of the mining industry. Mawby was elected first president of AMIRA, a momentous decision. He was also elected to the AMDEL council.

The first task of AMIRA was, in association with the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments, to underwrite the operation of AMDEL. Mawby's personal approaches won guarantees of work or cash to the value of £45,000 a year for five years. Always a champion of AMDEL, Mawby arranged for it to carry out much of his own company's metallurgical work.

The objectives of AMIRA are very broad, and once the AMDEL guarantee system was successfully launched, AMIRA extended its activities by disseminating technical information and sponsoring within the universities and the CSIRO research projects of general interest to the industry. AMIRA's first annual report in 1960 mentions three such projects-geobiological research into ore genesis, non-destructive testing of mine hoisting ropes, and the application of XRF spectrography to the analysis of ores. Twenty companies and several state mines departments had joined in the sponsorship of these projects. Mawby did not favour a levy on members for general support of research; he fostered a system whereby each member decided whether or not to support a particular proposal.

Amdel had a remarkable growth rate during the 1960s, and in 1968 Mawby was instrumental in raising $220,000 from AMIRA members for new buildings. His sincerity and his belief in the value of research greatly stimulated support from the minerals industry. By 1969 membership numbered 53, and included exploration, cement, and chemical companies in addition to mining and smelting companies.

At the annual conference of The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1969, Mawby presented an impressive address entitled 'The Australian Mineral Industries Research Association-A Decade of Progress', in which he reviewed the projects undertaken and acknowledged the great satisfaction that he had derived from helping to sponsor co-operative research within the mineral industry. Academic research, he thought, was handsomely supported by the mining companies through the taxes they paid. Excerpts define his broad philosophy regarding industrial research:

Little or no research is conducted in industry in general and the minerals industry in particular which does not have a chance of improving the profitability of operations, or providing an economic gain in one form or another, directly or indirectly, short-term or long-term. I do not apologise for this, just as I do not apologise for the fact that the primary objective of industry as a whole is profit in its widest sense. Persons, companies and Governments must at least balance their budget some time and it is only through the surpluses that credit ratings can be assessed. These in turn determine the potential capital or loan raisings without which progress is halted and stagnation intervenes. In other words, the profit incentive defines the broad environment in which industrial Research and Development has to work...but I do not want you to think that profit is the only incentive. There are many others, which will become apparent as I describe some of AMIRA's activities...There are a no. of areas of concern to mining companies where the human problems heavily outweigh all other considerations. Projects of this type in which AMIRA is involved are the safety of mine hoisting, underground ventilation and the conditions in communities of which a mine is the focal point.

AMIRA prospered under Mawby's leadership, and he was persuaded to continue as president until 1972-a term of thirteen years. AMIRA was then a most successful organization with a modus operandi unique in Australia. It had become accepted by government, by universities, and by industry as the Coordinating body and spokesman for minerals research in Australia. The Mineral Industry Research Organization in the United Kingdom, and the Australian Engineering and Building Industries Research Association both used AMIRA as a pattern.

When CRA became a prime target for criticism as one of the largest 'foreign' companies, Mawby was forced into the postition of spokesman for the entire industry. He was no apologist. Although he was a dedicated Australian, he was convinced that a very large amount of overseas capital was needed to develop world-scale deposits of lead/zinc, copper, bauxite, and iron ore. 'We have to set about fitting them into the world pattern of markets and usage, because no foreseeable growth in domestic markets would alone have provided an adequate base for developing such large resources.' Foreign money, he said, was just as important in mining as it had been in constructing railways and building up manufacturing industries. He told the Federal Government that he would accept 'anybody's money' because it would develop Australia, and unless the north were developed we wouldn't hold it. However, he envisaged less dependence in the long term, and his company practised what he preached; the Australian public's equity in CRA has steadily increased. Expatriated profits, Mawby pointed out, were a minor matter compared with the gains that accrue. Australia's limited technical manpower and the time needed to develop new technology frequently made it economical to import know-how. With overseas capital comes overseas expertise, but by research and good operating practice Australia could make improvements, and indeed had contributed to the international pool of knowledge from which it had drawn.

In Optima (September 1971) Mawby set out his vision of 'The Way Ahead for Australian Mining'. Australia's growth had been closely linked to the development of its mineral resources; the winning of metals had taken an increasingly important part in national life and had influenced politics, unions, laws, and racial policies. Not only had mining been Australia's greatest force for decentralization, but in industrial centres business had been stimulated and employment had been stabilised. The effect of mining fanned out into all sectors.

Mawby was highly critical of Britain's entry into the Common Market, and the progressive weakening of the links between Australia and Britain. Within Australia, he opposed government control in the mining industry, and the policies of the Whitlam Government were an anathema to him. He felt that Australia lost its way in the early 1970s, but if he were here today he would find that some of the principles he espoused are returning to favour.

In his Optima article, reacting to what he considered was unfair criticism of the mining industry, Mawby wrote, 'The mineral industry should adopt a policy of optimising processing, maximising local equity participation, and minimising pollution.... The mining industry aims to establish and maintain the right balance between preservation and development and does not seek blanket approval to conduct uncontrolled operations. The decision, however, on whether or not ecological and environmental considerations should take precedence over natural resource development is one that society must soon make...The problems are more than just technological...The solutions must be technically sound and they must be socially, economically, and politically feasible.'

Mawby, always intensely interested in conservation, was one of the founders of the Australian Conservation Foundation. However, he was keenly disappointed when, in his words, it 'became more interested in generating controversy than in encouraging better environmental practices'.

Other Activities

The key to Mawby's life was Broken Hill. There he first met George Fisher when the latter was gaining underground experience and Mawby was 'a very bright young star' at the technical college. From 1928 they worked in close association for many years and they became lifelong friends. Fisher has said, 'In our young days we spent much of our leisure time together and every available weekend was spent in the bush prospecting and hunting...we ranged from Tibooburra to Mt Gunson...and thought we were going to make our fortunes, with gold at Tibooburra and copper at Mt Gunson.' They held the Mt. Gunson deposit until wartime requirements necessitated a transfer. They were successful in the development of a sillimanite deposit in the Thackaringa hills that produced a substantial tonnage, and they were very interested in amblygonite, a lithium mineral, at Euriowie. When Mawby received one of the two Gold Medals of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, London, in 1963, the other recipient was Fisher.

As a young man Mawby played competition tennis. He also enjoyed swimming and later adopted it as a regular form of exercise. He was a great reader with catholic tastes; he was also a confirmed diarist and a prolific correspondent. He liked the theatre and played the piano as a hobby (by ear, for he had no formal training). In later life Mawby did not participate in any organised sport. Nevertheless, like many another town-dwelling mining man, he sought relaxation at times at the racecourse; he even owned a race-horse. He continued to follow his interests as a naturalist.

The important contributions to AMIRA, AMDEL, and the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy have been reviewed. A strong supporter of the formation of the Australian Mining Industry Council in 1967, Mawby was a member of its steering committee and a foundation member of the executive committee. He was a life member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and between 1962 and 1972, as a member of the faculty of engineering at the University of Melbourne, rendered valuable assistance behind the scenes. He did much to foster trade and cultural relations with Japan, and sought to improve the understanding between the two nations by encouraging Japanese studies in Australia. He was a life member-the first-of the Australia/Japan Business Co-operation Committee.

For several years from 1956, Mawby was a member of the advisory council of the CSIRO and a member of its Victorian state committee. One of the CSIRO's major successes has been the discovery that trace elements-copper, zinc, molybdenum, and cobalt-could bring prosperity to certain unproductive farming areas. His keen interest in things that grow and knowledge of this research probably influenced his purchase in 1956 of 6,300 acres of virgin mallee scrub near Keith in South Australia for development as a grazing property-Noranda Station. There was no certainty that the venture would be successful, but Mawby accepted the challenge with characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and it turned out well. His son bought an adjoining property in 1967. A notable Aberdeen Angus stud, a Murray Grey stud, and a Merino stud were established. Mawby liked to visit the property at least monthly. It gave a respite from business activities and afforded him plenty of scope to follow his instinct for developing a project from conception to production. And there were financial benefits too.

Mawby was a perfectionist, and his favourite quotation, his son says, was, 'If something is worth doing it's worth doing well.' Family, friends, and colleagues have repeatedly referred to Mawby's great capacity for enjoyment. He did enjoy living-his family, his work, his hobbies; in fact all the pleasures of life.


In 1955 Mawby was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) of the New South Wales University of Technology (now the University of New South Wales). In 1956, as mentioned, he received the Bronze Medal of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy 'in recognition of his contribution to exploration and to non-ferrous metallurgy, and also of his continuous public services in many directions associated with mining and metallurgy'.

Appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1959, four years later he was created a Knight Bachelor 'for services to mining and industry'.

The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers elected him an honorary member in 1963 'for outstanding contributions to the world lead and zinc mining industry and for his able and constructive services in developing the raw material resources of Australia'.

In 1969 Mawby was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. In 1970 he was awarded a Kernot Memorial Medal of the University of Melbourne 'in recognition of his distinguished engineering achievement in exploration, research and development in the mining and metallurgical industry in and beyond the continent of Australia, and also of his interest in education, and his concern for the preservation of the environment'. The Victoria Institute of Colleges, at a special ceremony in 1975, conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Arts and Sciences (Honoris Causa) for 'services to the development of the mining industry in Australia'. Mawby supported the establishment of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, of which he was a foundation member; he was a signatory to its articles of association.

Summing up

For Fellows elected under the provisions of the Academy Bye-Laws (Special Election of Fellows), there will rarely be a long list of personal research papers. Their impact on science will have taken a different course. Let there be no doubt that Mawby had a profound and wide influence, through the use of science and the scientific method, on the operations of a whole group of companies. At a time when control was passing into the hands of financiers, accountants, and powerful shareholders, his performance as a manager demonstrated the benefits of having a technical man at the helm - provided that man is wise enough (as Mawby was) to ensure that among his colleagues there are skills complementary to his own.

Mawby was by nature and inclination an entrepreneur. Once a new venture was achieving cost and production targets it received less of his time and interest. Ahead there was always more exploration, more research, and more development - something more to be added to the already long list of notable achievements - New Broken Hill, Weipa, Gladstone, Mt Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Dampier, Bougainville, Bluff, and others. In all these developments CRA blazed a trail.

We all like to look back occasionally. Who among us could lay claim to more than Mawby, who said, 'I get a tremendous thrill from seeing new harbours, and ports, and towns, and mines growing where none grew before; seeing the establishment of roads, railways, airfields, and integrated communication systems that open up the Australian emptiness...meeting the challenge of doing something that will endure and be of real benefit to Australia.'

Sir Maurice was confident about the future of mining in Australia, and considered himself 'the luckiest man in the world' to have found his true vocation. When he received a certificate of honorary membership of The Australasian Insitute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1976, he said, 'Summing it all up, if I had my life to live again, I would wish no other than that which I have had in the same localities with the same people.'


It is fortunate that Sir Maurice had been interviewed by Mel Pratt for the National Library of Australia regarding major events in his career, and that this was taped. There is another tape, held by CRA, on which he recounted some of his earlier contribution to mining and metallurgy. Reference material used in the preparation of this paper has been deposited with the Academy.

CRA colleagues have given much appreciated assistance. In particular, Sir Roderick Carnegie and Miss Brenda Scougall - Sir Maurice's secretary for twenty-eight years-have been most helpful. Dr J. C. Nixon provided much of the information concerning AMIRA and AMDEL, and Dr H. K. Worner provided the information concerning Sir Maurice's contributions to mineralogy.

There were valuable discussions with Lady Mawby and Mr Colin Mawby, to whom the sympathy of the Academy is extended.


(1) No apology is offered for references to W. S. Robinson (himself a Fellow of the Academy from 1954 until his death in 1963), for without him it is doubtful whether Mawby could have achieved so much.

Sir Ian Wark, CMG, CBE, DSc, FTS was Chief of the CSIRO Division of Industrial Chemistry from 1939 to 1958, a member of the CSIRO Executive from 1961 to 1965, and Chairman of the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Advanced Education from 1965 to 1971. He was elected tothe Academy in 1954, and was Treasurer from 1959 to 1963.

Eleanor Ellis is Sir Ian's assistant at the CSIRO Division of Mineral Chemistry.

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 5, no. 1, Canberra, Australia, 1980.

Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 1995
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (bsparcs@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
© Australian Academy of Science
Prepared by: Victoria Young
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 8 April 1998

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