Home Articles Silent boom: Mining minds out west

    Silent boom: Mining minds out west

    You have a life decision to make. You could settle in a small town with well-tended lawns, BBQ suppers and life on a human scale. Or you could truck it to the big smoke, with all the din and dog-eat-dog lunacy, and make the big bucks. It’s your choice. Congestion, crime and job opportunities. Or life-balance, clean air and a heavily eroded paycheck. Or perhaps you want the best of both worlds. And why not! Anthill Editor-in-Chief James C. Tuckerman goes ‘frontier thinking’ and discovers why the West is winning… on both fronts.
    I’m one of those lucky eastern seaboard folk who get to visit Western Australia reasonably frequently. I like the wine. I love the beaches. And I really get off on the buzz.
    That’s right. You heard me correctly. I said it. The ‘buzz’. It’s a secret selling point that few Sydney-siders, Melbournites, Brisbadonnas and other Australian capital city dwellers rarely get to see and, if I’m to be brutally honest, barely ever seem to comprehend.
    Why? Because in the eyes of many people east of the great divide, Western Australia and its capital city Perth are too often unfairly dismissed as ‘frontier land’ (forged on mining, exploration and the hard-yakka of the State’s early pioneers).
    But lest we forget that frontiers inevitably inspire ‘frontier thinking’.
    Add a resource boom, some heady government investment in innovation infrastructure, a splash of entrepreneurial spirit, and you get excitement, a sense of commercial possibility, something intangible, yet palpable… like… like… the ‘buzz’.

    Western Australia achieved population growth of 17 percent between June 1996 and June 2006. This was higher than the national average of 13 percent, second only to Queensland among the states and territories with highest population growth.

    It’s easy to typecast a city or State. As humans, we like to categorise things. It’s the way our brains are wired. For example, try this word association test. I say, ‘Dog’. You say, ‘Cat’. I say, ‘Western Australia’. You say… ‘Mining’.


    The two are synonymous to most Australians. And while many might also associate the connection with ominous predictions about our national economy and its over-reliance on (you guessed it) the export of resources, the most cursory tour of Perth and its surrounding suburbs suggests that this sort of ‘doom-saying’ would have the capacity to turn even Chicken Little into an optimist.

    For example (prepare yourself), located just six kilometres south of Perth’s Central Business District is one of the world’s largest monuments to innovation, Bentley Technology Park. About the size of a small suburb, it’s home to more than 90 innovative organisations and has been ranked as one of the top 10 technology/science parks in the world. Within the Park is the iVEC, a high performance computing and visualisation centre that is mixing 3D technologies with touch and sound to create truly life-like training environments, for surgeons, mining companies and other industry groups.
    Walk the distance of a stone’s throw and you will find the ARRC, WA’s $37 million Australian Resources Research Centre. Developed by the State Government, the CSIRO and Curtin University of Technology, the ARRC is making sure that WA profits from its mining R&D. As a result, over 60 percent of overseas mining companies use Australian information technology in one form or another.
    You get the picture. Put simply, you cannot be a world leader in anything, even primary resources, without leading-edge R&D, ICT infrastructure and a robust innovation economy. And the West Australian Government is the first to acknowledge that capitalising on this innovation is the surest way to position its economy post-mining boom (a lesson that many other Australian governments could undoubtedly learn from).
    It seems only yesterday that I heard WA’s former State Development Minister Clive Brown address a group of nearly 600 entrepreneurs and innovation enthusiasts with the remark, “Technologies that add value to the world over the coming century are what will make Western Australia prosper.” This sentiment, shared at the launch of the Bentley Technology Park Innovation Centre in late 2004, holds as true now as it did then.
    In fact, at the most recent Western Australian state election the innovation portfolio shifted to the State Premier, the Hon. Alan Carpenter MLA, who in addition to holding the top job now also wears the hat of Minister for Science and Innovation. In his own words (the Premier made the following statement in July), initiatives that support innovation “fit into the State Government’s vision to diversify the economy beyond the current resources boom and are making a noticeable impact on the State’s economy.”
    The landscape and scenery of WA is incredibly diverse with towering forests, an ocean teeming with marine life and coral reefs, a coastline that is sometimes rugged but often icing-sugar-white, mysterious land formations and ancient gorges, superb food and wine, and lush fields of wildflowers. Of course, it sounds appealing and this abundance is not lost on the powers that be.
    Earlier this year, the State Government committed more than $50 million to marine research, with the establishment of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, or WAMSI as it’s commonly known. Almost in the same breath, research into all things small received a big boost, with the State Government putting money forward for the establishment of a Nanoscale Characterisation Centre (NCC-WA), at the University of Western Australia. At the same time, WA’s world-class cluster, the Australian Marine Complex (AMC), has received approval for yet another extension, with the addition of its own Innovation Centre (to compliment the aforementioned original Innovation Centre positioned in Bentley Technology Park).

    For an individual or company seeking to commercially benefit from new technology development, it can be rationally suggested that Western Australia is digging up opportunities faster than it makes new holes in the ground.


    Located on the shores of Cockburn Sound, 23 kilometres south of Perth, is the Australian Marine Complex. The complex clusters together marine, defence and resource industries to develop and enhance commercial opportunities in these sectors.
    Home to the largest marine industry in Australia, the Australian Marine Complex has established international credentials for the repair, maintenance and construction of naval and commercial vessels, as well as infrastructure for the fabrication and assembly of offshore oil and gas modules.
    Cockburn Sound is also home to Australia’s naval defence capability for the Indian Ocean Region, including the Collins class submarine fleet. More than 100 businesses are now located within the Australian Marine Complex across four main precincts – shipbuilding, technology, support and fabrication.


    Western Australia might be the nation’s western frontier, but there is nothing uncivilised about its world-class innovation and commercialisation pedigree.
    When Anthill Magazine was launched in September 2003, the people of WA were the first to catch on. Why did Anthill attract a disproportionate number of Perth subscribers and why were the people of WA so receptive to a magazine about innovation, start-up companies and private equity? The answer is in the region’s history and attitude.

    Like the rest of Australia, WA began as a remote outpost with a modest population and a heavy reliance on natural resources and primary industry. But to thrive in a world where distance and borders mean less with each passing year, you have to be smart, creative and original to get ahead.

    But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, right? Well, here’s food for digestion.
    Between 1999 and 2005, gross expenditure on R&D in Western Australia more than doubled, rising from $844 million to $1,738 million, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The largest part of this growth (70.9 percent) occurred between 2003 and 2005, when WA’s gross expenditure on R&D increased 57.4 percent ($634 million).
    Over the same time, WA’s Gross State Product (GSP) increased 19.5 percent, approximately one third the increase in R&D expenditure described above.

    While the rest of the nation might only fixate on WA’s resource output as being of strategic importance to Australia’s current economic growth, the people of Western Australia are working on a different strategy, finding the right balance between industry, innovation and lifestyle. Great wine, great beaches and… of course… great ‘buzz’.



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    Centre for Applied Organic Geochemistry
    Australian Centre for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy
    Child Health Research
    Comparative Genomics
    Computational Systems Biology
    Data Linkage Australia
    e-Medicine, The International Centre for Health Care Solutions
    Evolutionary Biology
    Exploration Targeting
    High Definition Geophysics
    Institute for Immunology and Infectious Diseases
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    Management of Arid Environments
    MicroPhotonic Systems
    Nanoscale Characterisation Centre of WA
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    Plant Metabolomics
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    WA Centre for Semiconductor Optoelectronics and Microsystems
    WA Centre in Industrial Optimisation
    WA Nanochemistry Research Institute
    WA Petroleum Research Centre
    WA Telecommunications Research Institute
    Australian Biosecurity for Emerging and Infectious Diseases
    Australian Sheep Industry
    Biological Control of Pest Animals
    Coal in Sustainable Development
    Desert Knowledge
    Parker Centre for Integrated Hydrometallurgy Solutions
    Plant-based Management of Dry Land Salinity
    Predictive Mineral Discovery
    Spatial Information
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    Nanostructural Analysis Network Organisation
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