MNN Awards: Saverimutto keen to develop Sulphur Springs

VETERAN mining engineer and accountant AJ Saverimutto started off studying at the Western Australian School of Mines with Northern Star Resources’ Bill Beament and Stuart Tonkin, even sharing a house in the early days, and says those formative experiences led him into a career as a mine developer as managing director of Venturex Resources.
MNN Awards: Saverimutto keen to develop Sulphur Springs MNN Awards: Saverimutto keen to develop Sulphur Springs MNN Awards: Saverimutto keen to develop Sulphur Springs MNN Awards: Saverimutto keen to develop Sulphur Springs MNN Awards: Saverimutto keen to develop Sulphur Springs

AJ Saverimutto.

Haydn Black

Reporter

He was initially attracted to the practical offering at WASM, and says the bonds developed there have influenced his career, working at one of the world's biggest mines, and now chasing the cash to develop the Sulphur Springs copper-zinc mine that could unlock a new VMS district in WA's Pilbara region.

After leaving WASM Saverimutto cut his teeth working at mines such as Jundee and Bronzewing, before finding himself spending almost a decade in Indonesia.

Eventually he rose to become the mine manager at Grasberg, the world's biggest gold mine, and second largest copper mine, operated by Freeport McMoRan, the world's sixth-largest mining house.

"It's massive. There's a huge workforce, and It's a great mine. It has so much technology, and they do something like 50-60km of development a year and about 250,000 tonnes a day," he said.

"I loved working there it was great, but I ended up coming back to Perth to work on the Leinster Perseverance Deeps project, but metal prices fell and there wasn't the money to develop that nickel mine."

Eventually, junior Cortona Resources came knocking. 

"I'd worked for big companies - Newmont/Normandy, Freeport and BHP - and I wanted to cut my teeth in a smaller company," Saverimutto said.

He worked on getting the Dargues Reef gold mine permitted, the first new mine to get the okay in almost a decade.

He left Cortona after a takeover by Unity Mining, which moved the head office to Melbourne.

"You trust the other guys. Yes, we are in competition with each other, but there is plenty to go around and you do it for the betterment of the resources sector."

Saverimutto wanted to stay in Perth, so with three others he founded Salt Lake Mining, bought the old Beta Hunt mine, and brought it out of care and maintenance and back into production.

It was hard graft, and where the inevitable issues cropped up, help from another WASM graduate was often just a phone call away. 

"We were having issues, so I called up Stuey [Tonkin], explained, and he put me onto a guy he knew, and as soon as he was on site things changed around," he said. 

"You trust the other guys. Yes, we are in competition with each other, but there is plenty to go around and you do it for the betterment of the resources sector."

Canada's RNC came and took over Salt Lake, eventually uncovering the spectacularly-rich Father's Day vein deep within the mine.

"We always knew there was nuggetty gold there. We found it ourselves, but when we hit it we put it straight into the mill and got the revenue for it," he said.

After the takeover Saverimutto was precluded from working in the gold space for a period, so casting his name about the opportunity to take charge at Venturex came up.

He spent about three months doing due diligence on the company, and liked what he saw.

"I like the commodity, I like where copper is going with electric vehicles, renewable energy, and there are few new copper mines coming," he said. 

"Because the markets have been down for a number of years, there hasn't been the money coming into exploration, so the ASX has very few companies that are Australian copper producers".

Work at Sulphur Springs has advanced to the point where funding is being sought to start mine development. 

"We've put together a great team here. I'm the front man, telling the story, but there's a whole team doing the real work, but we call do what we have to do, because it's mining and there are always problems. That was how I was bought up at Freeport… anyone can get in and get things done," Saverimutto said.

He told MNN coming to work each day is fun and challenging, because he wants to develop the mine "the right way".

He says part of his inspiration is Beament, who has "become a bit of a mentor" because of his trajectory from fellow graduate to a mover behind a WA gold giant.

"He's taken that company from 4c to $12. It's great for the industry to see a success like that."

Northern Star obviously shares the enthusiasm for copper, as a major shareholder in Venturex.

Sulphur Springs is a Golden Grove analogue, It's a high grade copper-zinc project that be developed with an open pit and underground that could recover some 740,000 tonnes of zinc and 230,000t of copper.

The mine alone has "excellent economics" and had plenty of upside as there is 27km of potential VMS deposits along the Panorama trend, where there has been little exploration.

"We're aiming to put a plant at Sulphur Springs, and eventually drill the mine below 400m. There are also 10 other areas we want to drill nearby, and if six come in then we have a centralised mill, and because you have your sunk costs the other deposits are more profitable," he said.

AJ Saverimutto has been nominated as New and/or Emerging Leader of the Year in the 2019 MNN Awards.