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Arnold Barham Black (1889–1964)

by D. F. Branagan

This article was published:

Arnold Barham Black (1889-1964), mining engineer, was born on 12 September 1889 at Norwood, Adelaide, son of John McConnell Black, botanist and journalist, and his wife Alice, née Denford. Arnold was a cousin of the artist Dorrit Black. Educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, he gained associate diplomas (in metallurgy, 1910, and mining, 1913) from the School of Mines and Industries, and in 1911 joined Broken Hill Associated Smelters at Port Pirie. Next year he moved to Broken Hill, New South Wales, and in 1914 transferred to Broken Hill South Ltd. Already active in the Old Collegians' Association, on 9 September that year Black married Dulcie Kate Goss in the school chapel; they were to have a son and two daughters.

He published his first paper—on mine dam tailings—in 1925. After observing hydraulic stowage in 1934 at the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd in Tasmania, in 1938 he and Frank Thomas began to pump tailings mixed with water into the mined-out portions of the underground workings; he also used pneumatic means to blow tailings into cavities, but both methods encountered difficulties. An enthusiastic member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Black was to publish technical papers (supported by his competent photography) in its Proceedings between 1941 and 1946; he documented the progress and the ultimate success of his research which resulted in much safer and more economic mining at the South Mine by 1941. His hydraulic stowage process was later to be introduced in other Broken Hill and Australasian mines. Becoming underground manager in 1942, Black was noted for the care and respect that he showed for the workers; he was also particularly helpful to students who trained in the mines. In 1953, with R. Pittman Hooper, he wrote an important paper on mining methods in use in 'Australia and adjacent territories'.

Pondering on the possible origin of the vast Broken Hill ore body, Black was among the first to propose that the minerals had been deposited at the time of the formation of the original, sedimentary layers, an idea that was later taken up enthusiastically by many geologists. Although never a committee-member of the Barrier Field Naturalists' Club (formed in 1920), he acted as lanternist for its lectures for over thirty years and photographed interesting features in the region; he was elected an honorary life member in December 1954. He spent much of his free time exploring the evidence of Aboriginal occupation, and recording sites; in 1945 he published a paper on this work with Charles Fenner. Black also produced elegant pieces of furniture from the readily available 'fracture' boxes, while trees from the seeds he gathered and planted are still flourishing on the South Mine leases.

A member of the Volunteer Defence Corps in 1942-45, Black was acting-manager of the mine for several months in 1951. At the age of 65, he apparently hoped to become manager of the South Mine on Thomas's retirement, but Black's assistant Arthur Lewis was offered the position. Black retired on 31 December 1954 and was presented with a handsome chair by the underground workers—a rare acknowledgement by the 'daily paid' miners to a 'boss'. Lewis resigned in sympathy with him. Both moved to Adelaide.

About 1953 Black had been asked to advise on the development of uranium mining at Radium Hill, South Australia, a controversial operation promoted by the State and Federal governments. He continued in this consultancy for some years, and also advised South Australian Barytes Ltd. He was a member of the South Australian Board of Examiners for mine managers, Royal Society of South Australia (1956), Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian branch) and the Anthropological Society of South Australia. A man with firm ideas and the ability to express them, Black was 'remembered for his surpassing understanding of and affection for human beings as individuals'. Survived by his wife and daughters, he died on 29 August 1964 at his St Georges home and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at £57,972.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • D. A. Cumming and G. C. Moxham, They Built South Australia (Adel, 1986)
  • H. King, The Rocks Speak (Melb, 1989)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 31 Aug 1964
  • W. Hodder, History of the South Mine, 1965 (manuscript, Charles Rasp Library, Broken Hill, New South Wales)
  • Barrier Field Naturalists' Club minutes (Charles Rasp Library, Broken Hill, New South Wales)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'Black, Arnold Barham (1889–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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