Faces of GSN

Robert Selwood

My nascent career in geology started with a lost bet. “I’ll only go to that bloody school if they blow something up”, I declared to my mother as I walked out of my childhood home on the way to a Camborne School of Mines open day. I had been somewhat cajoled and bullied into even considering geology as a viable future and needless to say I was generally of the opinion that only very dull people cared that much about rocks. Besides, Exeter was far too close to home. To this, my mother replied, “if that’s a bet, I’ll take it”. It took less than an afternoon in Camborne’s test mine to be held to my word. Once I emerged, covered in dust and thoroughly entertained, I found myself a reluctant participant of geology 101, sat so far back I was nearly out the door.

It should be noted at this point that in the UK you declare your major before school begins. I’m not sure who came up with that great idea, but for better or worse I was here, I was ostensibly stuck, and bright reflections from shiny rocks was my future. As my undergraduate progressed and I received a very fine and expensive education in drinking, I began to warm to the idea of a life as a geologist. At the end of my Junior year, I trundled off to Ecuador as summer hire to assist a junior exploration company in my limited but enthusiastic way, in their search for gold. In this I saw a glimpse of my future. If someone was willing to pay me to travel to far flung and remote corners of the globe I was in. Besides, the geology wasn’t too bad either. After all who doesn’t love a giant treasure hunt!

In 2010, I graduated and moved back to Ecuador. The Rio Zarza project was in the south east, about 10 miles from the border with Peru. Life was exciting, our exploration ground covered the western half of a basin that already contained a small epithermal deposit called Fruta del Norte. If 13 Moz isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then you’re in the wrong game. There in the Ecuadorian jungle I lived out every childhood fantasy, marching through thick jungle, swinging machetes, wielding great big chainsaws, bashing rocks, and traversing rivers panning for gold. Some are born geologists, some stumble into geology, I was most assuredly pushed, and still I couldn’t have been happier. After a year it began to dawn on me that I hadn’t been paid in quite a few months, half a year to be exact. It seems not all juniors are as well off as they’d have you and the market believe. An offer from an old school friend to join him in Zambia working at First Quantum Minerals Kansanshi copper mine was my ticket out of there.

My first rotation in Zambia was in stark contrast to my idyllic jungle existence. Working as a resource geologist at a large mine was hot, dusty, repetitive work. Zambian culture was a far cry from anything I had experienced before, and to my extreme annoyance I was continually being pulled over by Zambian traffic police for a slew of impressively inventive reasons. During one occasion, I found myself on the side of the road at the pleasure of some glad eyed cop, the charge: overtaking on a hump back bridge. Given the lack of bridge it did seem to be quite a long stretch even for the imaginative minds of the boys in blue, or in this case khaki. Some advice free of charge to those that have read this far, as any good Brit knows a cup of tea is the best weapon in the fight against rampant police corruption. So, I leaned back, poured myself a cup of tea and enjoyed what had become an almost philosophical conversation about whether a speed bump constitutes a hump back bridge. As the phrase goes: ‘the white man’s got the watch, but Africans have got the time’, and most police will not hesitate to perpetuate this adage to their significant advantage when extracting money from your wallet. Once I began to appreciate the infuriating madness, amusing myself with the mantra “it could only happen here”, I was hooked on Africa. With a new appreciation I continued to work at Kansanshi, moving on to establish a pit mapping program there and at the newly built Sentinel mine a few hundred miles down the road. After two years, still at First Quantum, I moved back into exploration as a project geologist working on generative copper projects in Zambia and Namibia. I had the distinct privilege of working with some great geologists on large regional data sets that introduced me to the world of generative exploration and set in motion a love affair with this dark, hand wavy corner of geology.

In Namibia, I met my wife to be, the delightful, effervescent Patricia Capistrant, possibly the fairest geologist to grace this ball of rock. It’s hard to say exactly how I ended up in this position. I had originally sworn never to date a geologist for fear of interminably tedious conversation, and I was certainly never going to date an American of all people, for reasons it’s probably best not to go into here. Let’s just say I was ill informed in my opinions and am now much enlightened. Another lesson not asked for but non-the less taken. Now I live in Reno.

I’m currently undertaking an MSc at UNR under Dr. John Muntean, assessing the potential for Carlin-type gold systems in Northern Nye county using regional stream sediment geochemistry. This time I have willingly walked into my degree, being able to indulge my interests in regional data sets is more than I could have hoped for. If I had known how much true exploration, creativity, and excitement was involved in this industry I may never have fought it to start with, but where is the fun in that?