After three years of expanding operations, Ravenswood Gold is geared towards a long-term future in gold mining. We speak to Brett Fletcher, CEO of the company, about celebrating the end of phase one of the project.
A GOLDEN FUTURE
“Now that the project is established, we are looking at steady and stable operations while improving the business and growing mine activities – it is the end of the beginning stage at Ravenswood Gold.”
Gold is a distinctive and precious metal. It is unique in its combination of malleability, boiling point, conductivity and ductility, while also being prized for its evident beauty. Across the world, gold is a very real representation of wealth and, outside of trade and commerce, plays an important part in industry, such as the circuitry of computers, phones, detectors and many more modern pieces of technological hardware.
Australia is home to a huge gold mining industry, one that is embedded in its history and has been pivotal in the development of the nation. In 1851, Queensland saw the first recorded discovery of alluvial gold deposits – gold able to be extracted from water sources such as rivers and streams – at the Darling Downs, leading to a swiftly growing region of industry by the end of the decade. Today, Queensland sees multiple players bringing the region’s deeply rooted legacy of gold to the surface.
Ravenswood Gold is one such company, a gold mining and processing facility located in the town of the same name in North Queensland. Ravenswood town has a long history of mining dating back to 1868, with the modern mine operating continuously since 1987. Ravenswood Gold acquired ownership of the mine in April 2020, including around 160 permanent employees. Since then, the company has expanded its number of permanent staff to support the expanded operations and grow the gold resources.
Ravenswood Gold is a private company owned by EMR Capital (EMR) and SGX-listed Golden Energy and Resources Limited (GEAR). EMR and GEAR established a joint venture to acquire, operate and develop the Ravenswood Gold Mine which is located approximately 130 kilometres (km) south of Townsville and 90km east of Charters Towers in north-east Queensland.
For Brett Fletcher, CEO at Ravenswood Gold, this historic industry has always been familiar.
“I come from a long line of people involved in mining; I was born in New South Wales (NSW) at Broken Hill, a well-known mining town, and my father worked for the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto for 35 years, one of many family members on both sides who worked in the sector,” he tells us.
“Naturally, I went into the industry myself and worked at a variety of mines, from being Mine Manager at Broken Hill and working on the west coast of Tasmania as General Manager of the Rosebery operation, to working the Century Mine in Townsville (Queensland) and managing at a large zinc smelter in Hobart. I have held numerous corporate roles travelling to mines around the Pacific region and have been with the Ravenswood Gold project from day one.”
Now, Fletcher has the privilege of watching Ravenswood Gold move forward with a long and productive future. The company has undertaken significant expansion in recent years to increase production capacity. Initially, investment had been a concern due to its timing alongside the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic which made way for certain challenges in the industry. However, according to Fletcher, Ravenswood Gold’s management team was very effective when it came to pandemic-related challenges.
“Over 95 percent of Ravenswood Gold employees commute from the local region, and we partner with suppliers from North Queensland where possible,” Fletcher explains. “In 2022, over 70 percent of Ravenswood Gold’s procurement expenditure was spent in Queensland, with around 23 percent directly in the local region. This translates to tens of millions of dollars invested back into our local area.
“We were quite lucky in the sense that we have been able to get the project built and operational without major disruption because we have such a local workforce – even our contractors are locals. As for the supply chain, there have been challenges in this area. However, most of our supplies are manufactured in Australia, making transportation at a time of restrictions relatively straightforward.”
Ravenswood Gold is unique in its localisation. According to Fletcher, 95 percent of the company’s employees are locals from the region, with Ravenswood Gold’s entire employee count standing at 420 – with an additional 240 permanent contractors – where in 2020 it was 160 – proof of the mine’s expansive and productively sustainable operations.
Similarly, it is also the use of localised contractors that is helping shape Ravenswood Gold’s success. On top of major growth in its own workforce, Ravenswood Gold has seen an increase in business partnerships, which are key for the company and have been supporting its growth since its establishment.
“Our relationships provide critical support for the project in the present and into the future, and include Cater Care, who run our village for us and the catering on site; Roc Drill, who has the production drilling contract in the pit; Orica, who support us with blasting and explosive services; Pensar, who have undertaken the civil earthwork for our Tailings Storage Facility; and SimmCo, our local earth moving contractor,” Fletcher elaborates.
“Thanks to our collective partnerships, our workforce reaches approximately 660 permanent long-term employees, and at times we have seen an additional 1,500-2,000 contractors come in to help build the project.”
Ravenswood Gold boasts productive business relationships with the likes of AUSENCO, the company’s engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) contractor, a partner who has helped design, engineer and manage the expansion project. On top of this, the company has multiple construction partners based in the Queensland area; this localisation has given Ravenswood Gold an advantage in overcoming the challenges caused by the COVID-19 period. Additionally, Ravenswood Gold’s incorporation of the latest technology has helped the company establish itself in the field, especially during a period of global challenges.
“We have this Chrysos PhotonAssay™ machine which is a pretty unique piece of technology that helps us analyse our gold content, owned and operated by Chrysos Corporation,” Fletcher says. “All of our drill results, metallurgical samples, tests and more are now run through the high-tech machine which rapidly analyses and determines the grade of gold that’s in the pit or being processed.”
The advantage of such technology is multifaceted, including providing more accurate test results faster, and improving the overall profitability of gold mining operations through streamlining gold analysis.
ESTABLISHING A LEGACY
Further proof of Ravenswood Gold’s success is embodied by its milestones. With the Olympics coming to Brisbane in 2032, there are exciting prospects on the horizon for the company. For example, Ravenswood Gold is proud to have commenced discussions with the Queensland government about an opportunity to provide gold for medals at the Olympics.
“Although we are currently working through this process and it may take some time, we see this as a recognition opportunity for the Birriah people, the traditional owners of the land on which we operate, who are very supportive of this as well,” Fletcher explains.
There is no doubt that there are exciting times ahead at Ravenswood Gold. While the Olympics remains a plan for the future, the company’s current activities include the opening of the expanded processing plant and new tailings storage facility expansion. This opening will showcase the company’s completion and full operation of the Buck Reef West pit mine, the completion of the process plan expansion, and the fully functional tailings storage facility.
“We are very proud to be opening our doors to some of the many people that have helped us execute the various aspects of the Ravenswood Expansion Project since 2020,” Fletcher says. “The official opening ceremony is a way for us to thank everyone that has played a part, from our owners to our business partners, government representatives, local community and, of course, our hard-working employees.”
This marks a milestone and shows that Ravenswood Gold is a company of opportunity, supported by employees, partners and the wider community who have been paramount to the project’s success over the past three years. The ceremony will see state and federal politicians of various departments, foreign ambassadors and representatives from over 30 supplier groups gather to celebrate the completion and future prospects of the Ravenswood Gold project.
For Fletcher, the next six to 12 months will revolve around ensuring a steady and stable operation, making sure that the project is delivering on what is promised, and looking for ways to improve the business.
“We are definitely at a turning point at Ravenswood Gold,” Fletcher concludes. “We originally picked up the asset and had a very clear strategy on what needed to be built to transform the business into a long-life, low-cost, large-scale operation, looking at a production rate of around 200,000 to 250,000 ounces a year.
“There was a lot of project work to be done, but as I sit here three years later it’s fair to say we have finished that construction phase and are ramping the plant up to its new full capacity. We are going to focus on improvement: how can we achieve more production? How do we reduce costs? How can we increase the life of the mine? That is very much our medium-term focus, with the long-term being consistency and growth.”