Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Donald (Don) King (1926–1989)

by Peter W. Goscombe

This article was published:

Donald (Don) King (1926-1989), geologist, was born on 3 June 1926 at Rose Park, Adelaide, third child of English-born parents Charles William King, cabinet-maker, and his wife Daisy Maud Evelyn, née Canhan. Don was educated at Adelaide High School and the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1948; M.Sc., 1950), where Professor Sir Douglas Mawson steered him towards a career in geology. On 2 September 1950 at St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, he married with Anglican rites Joyce Hamp Walker, daughter of Hurtle Walker. Joining the Geological Survey of South Australia, King developed his geological mapping and mineral exploration skills under the tutelage of some of the country’s most able geologists. Seconded to the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics in 1951, he took part in a geological survey of northern Pakistan conducted under the auspices of the Colombo Plan. After returning he made a wide-ranging contribution to the survey’s activities, especially the search for uranium in the Olary province. He also discovered a phosphate mineral known as `Kingite’. When the government geologist (Sir) Samuel Benson Dickinson resigned in 1956 to become director of exploration with Rio Tinto Mining Co. of Australia Ltd, he took King with him and appointed him manager of Rio’s Tasmanian exploration activities.

In 1961 King joined Utah Development Co. and moved to Queensland with a brief to explore the Bowen Basin for deposits of coking coal amenable to low-cost open-cut mining. The coal potential of the Bowen Basin had hitherto attracted little attention. He noted the orderly progression in rank of the coal northwards along the Dawson Valley to a geologically complex structural belt, and set about examining the wider possibilities of this relationship. Assembling evidence that suggested seams present in the largely concealed Permian sediments along the central-western edge of the Bowen Basin were likely to contain medium-and low-volatile coking coals, he convinced Utah that it should explore the area, despite their reluctance to consider mining so far from the coast.

Drilling in the Blackwater district south of the Mackenzie River in 1962 resulted in the discovery of huge deposits of medium- and low-volatile coking coal. A year later much more extensive deposits of similar high quality coking coal were discovered north of the river. They later supported several very large open-cut mines, as well as towns, railways, ports and other export-related infrastructure. By 2000 they were producing fifty million tonnes of coking coal annually. The discovery of this rich coking coal province is regarded as one of the great achievements of modern mineral exploration.

Promoted in 1964 to the position of UDC’s chief geologist in Australia, King was transferred to its head office in Melbourne. The move south did not suit him and led to his resignation in 1965 to become an associate-director of Brisbane-based Mines Administration Pty Ltd, which managed a group of Australian oil companies keen to extend their exploration activities to minerals and coal. At a time when others believed there were no new fields to be found in the Bowen Basin, Minad made several noteworthy discoveries that led to its takeover by CSR Ltd in 1977. King chose this time to establish his own geological consultancy, Energy Minerals Pty Ltd, which he operated successfully in Brisbane until his death.

King was the author of forty-seven papers on a wide range of geological subjects. He was a foundation member (1952) of the Geological Society of Australia and chairman of its Queensland division in 1964, and a member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, for which he co-edited a highly acclaimed monograph on coal (1975), the second in its Economic Geology of Australia and Papua New Guinea series. In 1987 he was appointed AO. An outstanding exploration geologist and recognised authority on coal in Queensland, King had a robust constitution, and boundless energy and enthusiasm for field investigations. His magnetic personality enabled him to exert an influence for good on young geologists and colleagues. He died on 3 August 1989 at his home at The Gap and was cremated. His wife and their three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Trengove, Discovery (1979)
  • B. Galligan, Utah and Queensland Coal (1989)
  • P. Goscombe, `Donald King AO, MSc’, AusIMM Bulletin and Proceedings, Oct 1989, p 34
  • P. Goscombe, `Donald King A.O., M.Sc.’, Bowen Basin Symposium 1990 (1990), p 3
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Peter W. Goscombe, 'King, Donald (Don) (1926–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 June, 1926
Rose Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


3 August, 1989 (aged 63)
The Gap, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.