Frank Espie

“Frank Espie is coming in today.”

Frank Espie, a Conzinc Riotinto corporate-level executive, was to take charge of the Bougainville project.  It was his first trip to the site.

I happened to be down at the coast at the time, staying for a couple of nights at the Kieta Hotel.

That evening, as usual, some of us had gathered in the hotel lounge.  Somehow we had started singing some Australian ballads, I suppose because some of the blokes were a little homesick.

Anyway, it was getting late, so I headed for my room.  As I entered the double room, humming rather loudly, I heard someone stirring in the other bed.  I was rather surprised, because the bed had been unoccupied.

Well, it was Frank Espie.  The hotel was full, so they had placed him in the room with me.

The next morning:  “Look, I’m sorry about being loud last night.  I didn’t know that someone else was in the room.”

Frank gave me his easy smile.  “Oh, don’t worry about it.  No problem.”

So it was that I met the man who was to direct the world’s largest mining project.

Frank was one of the easiest people to get along with, that I have ever met.  I suspect that he walked over most of the Panguna-Barapinang prospect area during that and later trips. I know that at least he had walked around Panguna Antap, because I met him up there one day after I had finished a magnetic traverse.

Later on, he acknowledged to several of us (over a beer) that he lay awake nights thinking about how to resolve the great cultural differences between the Bougainvilleans, other New Guineans, and us expatriates.

He had a tough job.

In 1968 he became the executive director of Bougainville Copper Ltd., and chairman of the company in 1971.

(When I wrote this, I googled his name and discovered that later on he was knighted.

(Sir Frank died in 2004.  To see his eulogy, click on this line.)

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