Old Timers’ Legacy

Keep the grey heads near!

My first assignment as a young geologist was to the core yard of a platinum mine on the Bushveld Complex. I was the apprentice and my “master” was one from the old school. He’d been resident on the mine for near on 25 years. His figure under the tin roof of the logging area with head tilted over the core trays, cigarette in hand, in his daily uniform of faded jeans, safety boots and washed-out khaki shirt, represented an era nearing an end. A time when entire drillholes were logged on the back of a Stuyvesant 30 packet, before databases and remote sensing.

I read an article this week which made me think back on the time that I had under my “master”. It quotes a number of older generation geologist, snippets of their opinion of the profession, the value of experience and what they deem important and it recalled my memory of the many invaluable moments I had experienced while spending time in the field  and core yard with the old grey-headed geo.

He kept a notebook and clino-ruler with him wherever he went, meticulously recording every observation. He new the facies variations on the mine better than anyone and instinctively new the expected depth of reef intersection without fail. He could recall from memory intersections from boreholes drilled 10 years ago, their location, the ground conditions and the reef type. He knew the rocks.

Through spending time with him, working, drinking coffee, staring at core in silence and driving around in the field ‘bakkie’ I learnt some of the most valuable insights and observed key skills in action, and hopefully picked some up! Most importantly we started a friendship. One skill that almost certainly separates the old timers is being able to filter through the clutter and data and in an instant identify what is important and essential.

If you are a young geo, go find the old timers around you and follow them around. Have coffee in the morning together, hover over drill core, and be a friend. In a time when our culture increasingly pushes the elderly and the wise to the fringes of our society you will find such a friendship invaluable to both you career and you personhood.