Winds of change at Mt Kare

Business, Normal

The National, Thursday 01st December 2011

THERE is a breath of fresh air and winds of change blowing up the Mt Kare valley – where it attracted one of the biggest modern-day gold rushes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
New developer Indochine Mining Ltd, yesterday told the mining and petroleum conference in Port Moresby that Mt Kare was expected to be the next big gold mine in PNG.
One of the biggest hurdles in working the prospect was the constant landowner disputes between the Paelans in Enga province and the Hulis of the new Hela province over the mountain area, which was once a no-man’s land until CRA Minerals geologists led by John Batram walked in, set up camp and in the process of digging a latrine, unearthed pure gold nuggets.
The word leaked out and the rest was history.
CRA pulled out after its camp was raided by Engan hooligans financed by certain politicians and since then various companies like Madison went it, drilled some holes and left because of constant landowner hassles.
Now, there is hope in what is dubbed  the “Melanesian Way” through the engagement of a Fijian mining engineer George Niumataiwalu, who was recently appointed the Mt Kare project director by Indochine.
This man is credited for managing the Hidden Valley project in its early days and was the key player in addressing landowner issues and setting up the basic social and technical infrastructure that Harmony Gold of South Africa and Newcrest were riding on.
“What we are doing is different from the past … I am taking the Melanesian approach to resolve conflicts,” he said of Mt Kare where about a million ounces of gold nuggets were taken out during the alluvial rush.
When the company went in recently, it set up camp away from the former Madison camp as a tribal fight was taking place there and eventually worked their way through “wanbel” discussions with the locals.
“We must be friends to all the parties,” and not deal only with selected few landowners, he told The National on the conference sideline.
There area had no road connection although it is 15km south of Porgera gold mine and the logistics of getting supplies in were tough.
He said helicopters were refusing to fly in because landowners were threatening to shoot them down.
Even Papua New Guinean workers refused to go and work there and the weather, compared to his sunshine islands, “its brutally cold”.
He said there were now changing perceptions in the area with “winds of change”, with the people welcoming a project that’s been on and off for many years.
The people feel they wanted the project  because of the PNG LNG project in Hela and the Porgera mine in the north, Niumataiwalu said.
“They feel it’s their opportunity now to get their project going.”
Niumataiwalu said Mt Kare presented to PNG the possibility of the next big gold mine.
He said they were lucky to also recruit a few geologists from other companies to work there, although it was initially difficult.
He spoke about Mt Kare after a brief introduction by his boss, the Indochine chief executive John Promnitz, who prefaced their presentation with “Developing the next world-class gold mine”.
They said the prefeasibility study was underway and was expected to be completed by the middle of next year.
While they worked on a estimated two million ounce deposit of gold and silver, they strongly believed that the drilling programmes would prove up more reserves as Mt Kare had the same ore body and geology as Porgera mine which had 30 million ounces of gold and was producing up to 1.5moz  per year for the next 20 years.
There was significant upside to their drilling.
Past drilling results included 34.5m at 7.2grams/tonne of gold, 139g/t of silver and 16.5m at 11.8g/t of gold and 19g/t of silver.
Indochine was now repeating the drilling programmes to ascertain the deposit  size and said it was looking positive.
They said it was a challenging environment in a “boom time”.
 Mt Kare was managed by an experienced team, which developed projects in the past in PNG with Niumataiwalu as the leader who has “done this before in PNG” where he took the Hidden Valley project  from feasibility study to permitting, and successfully signed on landowner agreements – using the “Melanesian way”.