West Coast mining identity John Taylor is at a turning point in his long and varied international career.
After leaving his role as project investigations manager for Solid Energy in June, Taylor is currently working as an independent consulting geologist and mine engineer while considering a “number of full time and contract options”.
His roles as chairman of the organising committee for the AusIMM Conference and organiser of the recent JORC Roadshow add to an already busy life.
“I’ve also got a major renovation underway at my house in Reefton and am travelling overseas in August, so have given myself until the end of the month to make any decisions about my future.”
Taylor was born in Cornwall but did most of his schooling in Derbyshire – both regions with strong mining links.
“As far as I know I have no mining heritage but spent a lot of my school days tramping, climbing and exploring caves and old mines. I soon realised that mines had minerals which I found interesting to collect.”
At the end of his schooling, Taylor’s interest in mining and minerals led to a career in the industry.
“I wanted an active career so enrolled in the three-year mine engineering course at the Royal School of Mines, which was part of the Imperial College at the University of London. The school had its own copper mine in Cornwall where we did the underground surveying part of the course. It was the highlight of my studies.”
Stints with Cyprus Mines Corporation and Rio Tinto (in Spain, UK, Ireland, and Iran) followed.
“In Iran I was an evaluation engineer at a lead zinc mine 10,000 feet up a mountain. I was the only Englishman among 700 Iranians.”
More projects with Rio Tinto in Spain and Zambia followed. It was around this time Taylor decided to return to University to do a PhD, however work kept getting in the way of his studies.
“An English company tempted me to work out of their London office and complete my studies at the same time but this theory didn’t work out. I ended up transferring to their Western Australian operation in the early 1970s instead.”
Taylor worked from Australia for around 20 years, either as an international consultant or with companies such as Pincock Allan and Holt (as its Australian manager); Exploration Computer Systems and Resource Service Group, with mining technology becoming a major focus of his work.
It was during his time with Resource Service Group that Taylor started coming regularly to New Zealand, to consult at Macraes Mining’s Globe Progress Mine at Reefton (now mined by OceanaGold).
“For several years I came down two or three times a year. In the end Macraes Mining said it would be cheaper for them to buy me a computer and software so I could come and join them permanently.”
Taylor was project engineer at the Globe Progress mine from 1993 until 1997 when the project went into care and maintenance.
He went back to Perth with Macraes Mining then rejoined Resource Service Group. He had residence and work permits lined up for a stint in Santiago, Chile, however falling copper prices put paid to this contract.
“I still had a home in Reefton, so decided to come back, even though I had no job at the time,” he says.
During the next three years he did contract work for Solid Energy as well as full time forestry and underground coal mining courses.
He eventually secured a permanent role with Solid Energy as an underground investigation manager.
This role saw him spend nearly three years crawling through old coal mine workings using high-tech laser scanners to scan and model 3D voids in the ground.
When this practice became unacceptable in terms of risk, Taylor became sub surface investigations manager instead, using the same laser technology lowered down drill holes to scan underground from the surface instead.
This led to “very high tech surface geophysics” which allowed Taylor and his team to see what area of the old coal mines had totally collapsed and where tunnels were still intact and could be drilled.
At the time, Solid Energy was the biggest down-hole laser scanning company in the world, and Taylor’s expertise in these practices was highly recognised.
He was called to Pike River to scan the mine from the surface after the first explosion in November 2010 and was within a few metres of the main ventilation shaft with others when the second explosion happened.
“We could hear it coming. There was a fraction of a second when we realised what was happening. Fortunately we were all safe afterwards. However the helicopters couldn’t fly in to rescue us because of the risk of another explosion, so we had to carry all our heavy equipment out through heavy vegetation and get out under our own steam.”
Although at the forefront of new technologies, Taylor also has a passion “at the other end of the scale”.
“I’ve spent nearly 20 years going through the archives in New Zealand to find the location of all the old mining plans and reports. This archival research can help us better understand some of these old abandoned mines, telling us how much coal came out and how much might still be there.”
Taylor is part of the “very active” AusIMM discussion group in Nelson and is currently helping Ruby Bay identity Harry McQuillan organise a geological, heritage, cultural and archaeological trip to Iran for the group.
“Harry worked in Iran for many years as an oil geologist and university professor. He retired back in New Zealand and now runs a small orchard holding. We are both looking forward to going back to Iran.”
Taylor also presents to several conferences and discussion groups each year, and in 2012 took the New Zealand team to the open division championship at the Mining Games in Australia.
His family lives in Christchurch where his wife looks after her elderly mother, and their children aged 14 and 10 are schooled.
“The downside of the job is that I’m away from my family a lot but the travelling aspect of the job doesn’t worry me. Mining has given me the opportunity to visit some fantastic places. I still travel extensively to keep up with the latest and greatest technology around the world.”
Taylor says New Zealand is a great place to live but it’s important to keep up with the rest of the mining world, and not simply “slide back into the way things have always been done”.
“Some people might get into a job and think, ‘that’s it’. However I’m a great believer that you never stop learning till the end of your days.”