WA’s Mines Minister Bill Johnston will officially open a new nickel mine at Kambalda today, more than 50 years after the town was put on the map by the discovery of Australia’s first nickel mine.

Key points:

  • Media and analysts will tour the Cassini nickel mine near Kambalda as part of its official opening today
  • Nickel is traditionally used in stainless-steel but is also a key component in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles
  • Kambalda has not had any nickel mining since the historic Long mine closed in 2018

The Cassini underground mine is Kambalda’s first new nickel development in two decades — since the Miitel mine began production in the year 2000.

More than 200 jobs have been created since September’s decision by Perth-based miner Mincor Resources to green light its $98 million restart plan for Kambalda’s once-booming nickel industry.

The investment decision was long-awaited after a decade-long run of low nickel prices saw Mincor shut its Miitel and Mariners mines in 2016.

Mincor’s managing director David Southam, who took the helm two years ago, said he believed the restart will represent a “third wave” of prosperity for Kambalda.

“To give you some perspective, the nickel price today is nearly three times higher than when Mincor shut down its mines,” Mr Southam said.

“There was always a strategy to come back online in the future once the market conditions had improved.” 

Mincor Resources managing director David Southham speaking at a podium in front of blue metal beams at Diggers and Dealers 2020

Mincor Resources managing director David Southam speaking at last year’s Diggers and Diggers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie-Boulder. (

ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jarrod Lucas

)

Town built on 1960s nickel boom

Australia’s first nickel boom was sparked by the metal’s discovery at Kambalda in 1966, when global demand was on the rise due to the Vietnam War and nickel’s traditional use in stainless-steel markets.

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The discovery was turned into the Silver Lake mine – the first of 23 nickel mines at Kambalda which records show have produced a combined 1.67 million tonnes of nickel in the past 55 years.

Cassini is the 24th and in a nod to Kambalda’s rich past, the underground access portal is being named in honour of one of Australia’s most famous geologists, Dr Roy Woodall, who died last month at age 90.

“We’re naming the Cassini decline the Woodall decline,” Mr Southam said.

“There is no doubt he is the original ‘King of Kambalda’.

“He had a view about the rocks in the area, got a minimal amount of funding to drill it and the rest is history.”

Old mines are new again

Kambalda’s biggest-producing mine was Otter Juan, which was in near-continuous operation from 1970 until its closure in 2014.

Otter Juan produced 317,500 tonnes of nickel – almost one-fifth of all the nickel to come out of the region.

The Long mine, which opened in 1979 and closed in 2018, produced 212,000 tonnes of nickel.

But what was considered old is now new again, with the infrastructure at Otter Juan and Long set to play key roles in the restart at Kambalda.

Mincor is chasing nickel at what is known as the Durkin North deposit, only 1.2 kilometres from the underground infrastructure at Long.

But Mr Southam is clearly most excited by the potential at Cassini, where miners are currently working about 100 metres below the surface.

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The company expects to hit first nickel in August when mining reaches a vertical depth of about 300 metres below the surface.

Cassini is expected to operate for five years initially, but Mr Southam expects the mine reserves to increase significantly once exploration drilling can begin from underground.

“What is exciting about Cassini is the fact this is a brand new mine, a greenfields discovery which has not happened in more than 20 years at Kambalda,” Mr Southam said.

“If you look at the history, pretty much every Kambalda deposit has doubled or tripled in size, so you can make your own judgement if you go on history and statistics.

“It could go on for 20 years.”

Opening of new mine marks start of a new era for historic nickel industry
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