Saturday, August 17, 2013


Barrick Porgera JV is an open pit and underground gold mine located in the Enga Province of Papua New Guinea's Western Highlands. The mine sits towards the top of the Porgera Valley at about 2300m above sea level and receives approximately 3.4m of rain a year (a little less than the Ok Tedi mine at about 10m a year).

To get to site requires a trip from Perth to Cairns, where after a few hours sleep (I blame the cricket and the people on various balconies outside my room) an early check in awaits. From Cairns to Mt Hagen takes you over some of the reefs of northern Queensland and over the flat lands tributaries and then some of the mountains of Papua New Guinea. This was done in a brand new plane, less than 2 weeks old. It would seem the flight crew and the passengers were all happy to have a new toy with better facilities. Upon arrival at Mt Hagen a short disembarkation allows you to go through customs and immigration before hopping on to a twin-otter or a helicopter for the short flight (over and between mountain ranges) up to the Porgera airport.

Due to the rugged nature of the area, the airport (next to Mt Paiam) has a short landing strip which resembles a ski jump to allow the planes "enough" space to gather up enough speed to take off, or drop enough speed to stop upon landing. It's certainly a fun experience, especially for take off when you look through the front window of the plane and see the end of the runway and only air beyond. I guess it beats seeing a cliff at the end of the runway though.

Between the airport and the mine and camp is about 20 minutes of rough roads. This takes you through a couple of villages and past the original airstrip which is now a bustling marketplace. The bus ride does take in some amazing scenery, it's just unfortunate that circumstances dictate that you can't really take advantage of them. Due to some of the local conflicts, the mine vehicles all have a mesh covering to help protect the windows from being broken care of misplaced flying objects.

So around midday we have been checked in to our camp rooms before going off to complete the basic site induction for visitors. This made an opportune time to let the office know I had arrived on site and all was going well. 2 minutes after sending that email of course my laptop packed it in. Not what you want before even reaching the office where you will be spending the next 8 days trying to help update systems and run training. It would appear that Sony laptops are allergic to me :(

The better part of the afternoon is then spent reintegrating with the open pit mine geology group and the process used to update the model from the drilling that takes place. Once reintegration has taken place, it was time for dinner, some light reading and an early night to make up for the lack of sleep in Cairns.
Monday was the first real real day of working then and this involved going through the "errors" that were being generated by various steps within the process I was on site to help out with. So by the end of the day the "errors" were pretty much resolved and it was more into improving other parts of the process and the supporting tasks. Testing and improving also involves training those that are the site champions of these processes. This proved to be a very successful part of the trip, with new skills being taken in by those who were there to learn.

Looking over the bottom half of the camp. The mine is back across to the left.

The evenings were spent either watching tv, at the gym, walking up and down the camp (about 50m height difference between the bottom and top of camp, with about 450m each direction), or reading. But when laying in bed there is half a chance of hearing the "thump thump thump" of the tear gas canisters being let off against the illegal miners who abound in this part of the world. Of course, firing of tear gas means the guard dogs are barking (which sets of the town dogs behind the camp), the illegals are yelling and screaming, and all in all it makes sleep a little more interesting to come by. But it's all part of the adventure and certainly isn't the first time I've heard it here. Nor was it the last for the trip.
And just for fun on the Thursday morning, some tear gas was dispensed on the hill above the office, so 10 minutes later (because no one thought to shut the windows) everyone starts getting cleared noses and itchy eyes. And for some reason it seems to give the same sensation as eating a couple of chilies. Funny that. Add it to the experience list.

As the trip went on, the other outcomes required were achieved. New model data imported to relevant projects, new models created, updates made and training carried out. Thursday brought about a new influx of workers into the mining office. This meant I had some contact time with the main person responsible for bringing me to site. This allowed for final details and queries to be sorted out so the weekend would be as productive as possible.

This is the view from just outside the mining office looking up the stairway to heaven. This is part of a multi million dollar fence that surrounds the mine and the camp. It is supposed to keep the illegal miners out, but isn't as effective as it's supposed to be. Due to the high nugget effect of the gold mine, some of the "new" locals are pretty ingenious when it comes to ways to make it into the mining area.

The rest of the week had the systems sorted out and new ideas put into the process. Plus a little bit of time spent with some of the other users on site in order to help them with the newer features of the software. 
Due to the earlier mentioned nuggety orebody, there is a very significant security presence on site. This means that you have a good chance each day of having a random search. As you go through checkpoints you swipe and the colourful lights tell you whether you get to go into a side room and get patted down, or just continue out the gate. I was averaging a search a day until the last day where for some reason the lights were kind and no search needed. 

So Monday rocks around and all is finalised with what I need to do on site. The morning is beautiful fly out weather, clear blue skies for the first time in my swing on site. Unfortunately by the time we were approaching the airstrip the drizzle had set in and the chances of leaving were looking slim. Thankfully after checking in we had the clouds clear out enough for the planes to take off and we made it to Mt Hagen and then to Cairns. So in Cairns there was time for a quick run, curry, some cricket (when I last looked the Aussies were only one down) a short sleep and then the early flight home via Brisbane. Unfortunately my bags took an extra 8 hours to make it back to Perth as the 40 minute changeover in Brisbane was a little short for the ground staff. Usually they do alright. 

Anyway, back home so time for a run and to go for a drive :)
And some sunshine would be nice too.

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