Hobart’s rock library holds thousands of clues to the mineral riches of the future | Ralph-Lauren

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Inside a nondescript shed in a Hobart suburb sit shelves upon shelves of rocks and core samples that could reveal the mineral riches of the future.

Hands holding a core sample of rock revealing different colours
Drill core samples reveal which minerals are embedded in rocks deep underground.(ABC Rural: Tara De Landgrafft)

This library of drill core samples, that would stretch 770 kilometres if placed end to end, and 70,000 rock samples, forms a geological map of Tasmania’s mineral landscape.

Crucially, it holds clues to the whereabouts of ancient mineral deposits that are essential for modern-day living.

“It’s a huge collection of material,” said Kevin Robinson, director of mines for Mineral Resources Tasmania, who is charged with looking after the invaluable collection.

Some samples at the Mornington Core Library are more than a century old, giving potential mine operators insight into the geology of regions, without ever having to go there — and before spending millions of dollars on exploration.

Library of ‘tremendous’ value

“The value of a rock sample that you can look at in a library is tremendous,” Mr Robinson said.

“It means that you haven’t had to go out into the field to find those rock samples, and some of them could be quite rare but very, very good vectors to finding new mineralisation.”

Mineral Resources Tasmania is about to spend $2.4 million upgrading its laboratories and research facilities to make it easier for stakeholders to access samples.


“This will keep happening especially as technology changes … and the world discovers that it can use or needs different substances, or realises a substance that we previously disregarded actually has useful properties.”

New tech reveals mineral secrets

A woman standing in front of a rock sensing machine
Mirella Terrones checks core samples that could hold the secret to future riches.(ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)

Hyperspectral specialist Mirella Terrones operates the centre’s state-of-the-art automated machine that can analyse the make-up of a rock sample in four minutes — something that would have taken researchers weeks if not months in the past.

The drill core logger takes a deep look at the chemistry of the rock, detecting minerals that are potentially millions of years old, but are now essential for modern-day living.

“Modern machinery, magnets and new computer-aided devices require a whole suite of minerals that we weren’t looking at even five years ago,” Mr Robinson said.

We must keep ‘legacy samples’

core rock samples on a shelf
The library’s drill core samples would stretch 770 kilometres if placed end to end.(Supplied: Mineral Resources Tasmania)

Associate Professor Sebastien Meffre, head of earth sciences at the University of Tasmania, says the library is an extraordinary resource for his geology students.

Some of his honours and PHD students are analysing core samples to see if they contain cobalt, which is becoming increasingly sought after as it is used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars and bicycles.

“It’s really important we keep the legacy samples at the rock library so if mines close down, hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars of costs to drill those samples are not all lost at once — keeping representative sections is fantastic,” Dr Meffre said.

Rock core analysis strikes gold

A miner drives a forklift through an underground tunnel in a mine
Underground at the Henty gold mine on Tasmania’s west coast.(ABC: Selina Bryan)

Mr Robinson says an example of the importance and success of reanalysing rock core is the Henty Gold Mine on Tasmania’s west coast.

“The Henty gold deposit was discovered after a reassessment of drill core previously drilled in the exploration for base metal deposits containing copper, lead and zinc mineralisation,” Mr Robinson said.

Some of that drill core from Henty is now at the Core Library.

“It continues to be reviewed on occasion to apply new ideas and methods to seek new styles of mineralisation that may lead to new mineral discoveries in the future that will extend the life of the mining operations,” Mr Robinson said.


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