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Clark, Sir Gordon Colvin Lindesay (1896–1986)

by Gilbert M. Ralph

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Sir Gordon Colvin Lindesay Clark (1896-1986), mining engineer and company director, was born on 7 January 1896 in South Melbourne, eldest of six children of Victorian-born parents Lindesay Colvin Clark, civil engineer, and his wife Jessie Taylor, née Meekison. Young Lindesay spent most of his childhood in northern Tasmania, where he had a governess until he was 12. He then attended Launceston Church Grammar School and the University of Tasmania (B.Sc., 1916). On 2 February 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. While serving (1917-18) on the Western Front with the 2nd Field Company, Australian Engineers, he was commissioned and promoted to lieutenant. He won the Military Cross for skilful and courageous work near Rosières, France, on the night of 2223 August 1918.

Back in Australia, Clark was demobilised on 9 May 1919. He studied at the University of Melbourne (BME, 1921; MME, 1923) and gained experience at the Sulphide Corporation Ltd’s lead smelter near Newcastle, New South Wales. In 1922 he returned to Melbourne to work with his father, who was then a consulting mining engineer. On 5 April that year in Hobart he married with Congregational forms Barbara Jane Crosby Walch. For the next decade he lectured part time at the University of Melbourne and during this period set up his own consultancy. He examined mining properties in remote parts of Central Australia, Queensland, Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.

Clark’s 1930 report on a gold prospect in Tasmania impressed William Robinson, who offered him a job as a mining engineer with Gold Mines of Australia Ltd. Thus began Clark’s forty-eight-year association with the Collins House group of companies. He was appointed manager of GMA in 1931 and technical managing director of Western Mining Corporation Ltd on its formation in 1933. He was later to chair a number of GMA’s and WMC’s subsidiaries. Working for Robinson, Sir Colin Fraser and Sir Arthur Robinson, and subsequently for Sir Walter Massy-Greene, Clark recalled that `to have come under the influence of these men, as well as my father, was a very fortunate thing for a young man’.

The GMA-WMC group acquired and redeveloped numerous gold mines in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Clark’s enthusiasm for scientific exploration was evident in WMC’s decisions to engage eminent geologists from Harvard University, Massachusetts, United States of America, and to conduct an aerial survey of the eastern goldfields of Western Australia. In World War II he was the Commonwealth’s deputy-controller of minerals production, responsible for the supply of strategic minerals. His initiatives resulted in new mining ventures, including one to extract scheelite on King Island. He joined the boards of Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd, Broken Hill South Ltd and North Broken Hill Ltd in 1944. After the war, he directed the expansion of the WMC group’s gold-mining operations at Kalgoorlie, Norseman, Bullfinch, Reedy and Coolgardie, Western Australia, and at Newstead and Woods Point, Victoria.

Appointed chairman of WMC in 1952, Clark initiated a program of diversification that led to the proving in 1958 of bauxite deposits in the Darling Range, Western Australia, the formation of Alcoa of Australia Pty Ltd in 1961 (chairman 1961-70), and the establishment of an integrated aluminium industry; the exploitation of an iron ore deposit in the Koolanooka Hills, and the signing of the first long-term contract for the export, beginning in 1966, of iron ore to Japan; the discovery that year of nickel deposits at Kambalda, and the development of an integrated nickel industry; the finding of uranium at Yeelirrie in 1972; and the discovery of an extensive copper-uranium-gold mineralisation at Roxby Downs, South Australia, in 1975. As chairman of BH South from 1956, he advocated that this company should also diversify; it began mining phosphate near Duchess, Queensland, and copper at Cobar, New South Wales, and Kanmantoo, South Australia.

Clark was president (1956-58) of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, a councillor of the chambers of Mines of Western Australia and Victoria, a councillor of the Australian Mineral Industries Research Association, a member (1967-73) of the executive committee of the Australian Mining Industry Council and a foundation fellow (1975) of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences. His achievements gained him an honorary doctorate of engineering (1961) and the W. C. Kernot medal (1964) from the University of Melbourne, and an honorary doctorate of laws (1975) from Monash University. He was a councillor and president (1959) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, which awarded him its medal (1962) and honorary membership (1973). The Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (London) also recognised him with honorary membership (1971). He was appointed CMG (1961), KBE (1968) and AC (1975).

Sir Lindesay insisted on the use of the best available technology. He encouraged innovative thinking and inspired people to bring out the best in themselves. When required, he had the courage to make difficult and unpopular decisions. His enthusiasm was inspirational. Above all, he showed a deep interest in the welfare of others, particularly those in remote mining areas, whose problems and hopes were always of concern to him. The WMC-Lindesay Clark Trust Fund was established (1979) to benefit communities in areas where WMC operates. Clark was generous with his advice and liberal with his praise. Although quietly spoken he was persuasive without being dominant, and he commanded attention through good leadership rather than position. He had a lasting influence on the metallurgical industry and on the lives and attitudes of many of its subsequent leaders.

In 1974, at the age of 78, Clark stepped down from a number of directorships and from the chairmanship of BH South and WMC. He remained on the board of the latter company for a further four years, during which he wrote Built on Gold: Recollections of Western Mining (1983). For the most part, his life was his work and his work his life. He played tennis with enthusiasm and golf more for exercise than competition. He was skilful at billiards and enjoyed walking. Classical music gave him much pleasure and few people knew of his talent for painting. His gift (1971) to Monash University of the Lindesay Clark window by Leonard French in the Robert Blackwood Hall was one indication of his generosity and love of the visual arts.

Survived by his wife and their two daughters and son, Clark died on 3 January 1986 in his home at Kooyong, Melbourne, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $1,037,595. A bequest to his old school enabled it to build an administration centre. Alcoa holds a portrait of him (1973) by Clifton Pugh.

Select Bibliography

  • G. M. Ralph, `Sir Lindesay Clark: An Appreci­ation’, in Technology in Australia 1788-1988 (1988)
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Supplement to the Bulletin, no 254 (1963) and no 375 (1974)
  • A. Hodgart, taped interview with Sir Lindesay Clark (1974, National Library of Australia)
  • J. A. L. Matheson, citation for Sir Lindesay Clark’s honorary doctorate of laws, 1975 (Monash University Archives)
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy records, Melbourne
  • Western Mining Corp Ltd archives, Melbourne
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gilbert M. Ralph, 'Clark, Sir Gordon Colvin Lindesay (1896–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-sir-gordon-colvin-lindesay-12324/text22139, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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