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Eric Aroha Rudd (1910–1999)

by Michael Davey

This article was published online in 2023

Eric Rudd, 1949

Eric Rudd, 1949

University of Adelaide Library

Eric Aroha Rudd (1910–1999), geologist, educator and businessman, was born on 4 February 1910 at Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand, son of Alfred Reuben Rudd, insurance agent (and sometime miner), and his wife Margaret, née Worthington, both Australian-born. The family had travelled to New Zealand seeking work, and returned to Australia when Eric was about six, settling in Adelaide. After attending Adelaide High School, he studied at the University of Adelaide (BSc, 1930) where he benefited from the tutelage of Cecil Madigan, (Sir) Douglas Mawson, and (Sir) Kerr Grant. During this period he also attended Adelaide Teachers’ College and was bonded to the South Australian Education Department. Geology, though, was his real interest, and after graduating he worked as a field geologist with Oil Search Ltd in remote locations over much of the Australian continent and New Zealand for the next four years.

In 1934 Rudd studied economic geology at Harvard University in the United States of America (MA, 1935), where he was inspired by the calibre of his teachers: ‘We had half a dozen of the top people in the world heading it,’ he later recalled. ‘It was like sitting at the feet of God!’(Cockburn 1999, 15). Returning to Australia, he resumed his work for Oil Search Ltd, then in 1936 joined Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd (BHP) as a geologist prospecting for minerals and natural gas. He married New South Wales-born Margaret Tait at her local Presbyterian church at Neutral Bay, Sydney, on 30 March 1937. On 14 December 1942 he began full-time duty in World War II with the Royal Australian Engineers, Citizen Military Forces. Commissioned as a lieutenant that month, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in March 1943. He served with the 2/2nd Railway Construction Company, RAE, in the Northern Territory (1943–44) and at Balikpapan, Borneo (June–September 1945), before joining the staff of the Advanced Allied Land Forces Headquarters and spending two further months in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), on Morotai and Ambon islands. In Sydney on 15 December 1945, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

After the war Rudd returned to BHP, and in 1948 was appointed chief geologist, but soon left the company, in part because—despite his urging—senior managers ‘would not take any interest in oil and gas’ (Aust. Senate 1971). In 1949 he took up the chair of economic and mining geology at the University of Adelaide, a position funded by a group of Broken Hill mining companies. Although for most of his tenure he was the only academic member of his department, he taught hundreds of students who were later keenly sought by industry. He also built close ties with mining and petroleum companies and established contacts with overseas institutions, including the Colorado School of Mines and the University of California, Berkeley, so as to enhance his courses with the best contemporary research. Drawing on his expertise and firm belief in Australia’s oil and gas potential, he advised mineral explorers and government authorities, including the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, Australian Oil & Gas Corp. Ltd, the South Australian Department of Mines, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In 1964 he consulted for the silver-lead-zinc miners Broken Hill North Ltd and South Broken Hill Ltd on the prospects of Beach Petroleum, which led the companies to diversify, and gave Beach the necessary financial backing to become a successful oil and gas exporter.

Rudd retired from his professorship in 1970 and joined the boards of several resource companies including Santos Ltd, Kathleen Investments (Australia) Ltd, Australian Oil & Gas Corp. Ltd, and Western Collieries Pty Ltd. Perhaps the most controversial of these was Poseidon Ltd. In the aftermath of the speculative boom surrounding the nickel miner (1969–71), he became chairman in 1972 and brought the company back from receivership, diversifying the enterprise and restoring its standing as a profitable business. His continuing commitment to technical development in the minerals industry led him, with others, to establish the Australian Mineral Foundation in 1972, to provide advanced training for mining professionals.

After nearly forty years advocating for oil and gas exploration in Australia, Rudd accumulated numerous honours. He received the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s highest honour, the Institute medal, in 1968, and in 1988 became an honorary fellow. In 1976 he was elected as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technical Scientists and Engineers. He was appointed AC in 1984. A quietly spoken and self-effacing man, with an enduring confidence in Australia's capacity to draw on its oil and gas reserves, he was widely respected as a vital point of intersection between industry, academia, and government in his single-minded pursuit of that goal. Rudd died on New Year’s Day 1999, survived by Margaret, and their children Douglas, Richard, Miriam, and Melissa. A memorial service was held at the University of Adelaide. He had always been embarrassed by his middle name—a Māori word meaning love—but in 2020 the South Australian mining development company Aroha Resources Pty Ltd was named in his honour.

Research edited by Peter Woodley

Select Bibliography

  • Cockburn, Stewart. ‘Geologist Gave Miners the Good Oil.’ Australian, 8 January 1999, 15
  • Australia. Senate. Report from the Senate Select Committee on Off-Shore Petroleum Resources. Vol. 2, Minutes of Evidence, Part 1, Parliamentary Paper No. 201, 1971
  • Greenhalgh, Stewart. ‘Eric Aroha Rudd: An Oil Search Pioneer.’ Adelaidean (University of Adelaide), 8 March 1999, 7
  • Greenhalgh, Stewart A. ‘Rudd and Economic Geology 1940–70.’ In Records and Reminiscences: Geosciences at the University of Adelaide 1875–2000, compiled by John A. Cooper, 57–69. Adelaide: University of Adelaide, 2001
  • Wilkinson, Rick. ‘Frontier for True Believers Only.’ Australian Business, 9 May 1990, 89
  • Wilkinson, Rick. Twists in the Sand: 50 years in the Turbulent Life of Beach Energy. Hamilton, Qld: Media Dynamics, 2011

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Citation details

Michael Davey, 'Rudd, Eric Aroha (1910–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 15 July 2024.

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