Sir Frank Espie


Born in Bawdwin, Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1917, Sir Frank’s father F F Espie managed a mine, following Herbert Hoover, in 1908. F F Espie Snr led an evacuation of staff from the mine, into India, ahead of the Japanese invasion in 1942.

Frank Jnr was sent to boarding school in Adelaide at the age of seven in 1924, following his father into mining engineering at the University of Adelaide School of Mines. He enlisted in 1941, and returned from El Alamein in 1946 to complete his degree and undertake his first job at the Zinc Corporation (ZC) in Broken Hill where he rose to become the underground manager.

Following the Rio Tinto merger with the ZC in 1961, Espie became General Manager, Comalco Products, Yennora.  He was then responsible for Cockle Creek Smelter, Herons Creek Timber mills and ER&S in Port Kembla.

Following discovery of the Bougainville copper deposit in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1964, Espie was appointed to manage the design, construction, financing and operation of the world’s largest copper mine.

Ahead of his time, Espie engaged broadly and deeply with anthropologists, the indigenous population and government. PNG independence followed. The successful integration of the project and its company with the interests of the local people was his central purpose.

After two decades of successful operation, internecine and tribal conflict broke out in Bougainville.   Expatriate staff left and the mine closed. This was Espie’s greatest regret.

After appointment as Deputy Chairman of CRA and a Director of Rio Tinto, Espie was appointed to the boards of numerous companies including Westpac, ICI Australia, Westralian Sands Limited, Woodside Petroleum Limited, Herald and Weekly Times and consulted to Dames and Moore.

Espie served as President of AusIMM, the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Academy of Science; and was awarded the Hoover Medal in 1971 prior to his knighthood in 1979 for services to the mining industry.  In 1980, he and F F Snr were the first father and son to be awarded the AusIMM Medal. In 1982 he received the Kernot Medal, Faculty of Engineering, University of Melbourne; in 1983 he received the William Lawrence Saunders gold medal of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers at Atlanta, Georgia and was appointed a distinguished member of the Society for Mining Metallurgy and Exploration.

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