Andrew Paterson: on Great Boulder, Side Well, and everything gold

Lebanese-born American investment banker, financier, activist, and author Ziad Abdelnour said it best — “The odds will always favour the man with a plan.”

There is an ounce of truth behind the fact that behind every great project, there was an even better person pulling the strings. For what is a multi-million-ounce gold deposit without the human brains necessary to mine it? How would that deposit have been found and developed without the unique skills of an expert or team of skilled individuals? 

In a market where the median Australian share portfolio is worth $170,000, one must be aware of what — or who — they’re putting their money behind. 

Who then is Andrew Paterson? Managing Director of Great Boulder Resources (ASX:GBR) — sure. However, to end the examination there is to conclude the description of a man who has been instrumental in the company’s dealings throughout 2023. 

A man with a plan

Paterson is a man who does not give up lightly. Beginning his executive career in 2006, Paterson has spent the past 17 years honing his skills in the corporate world. 

However, it was not the glamorous start one would imagine. As with most things in life, Paterson’s beginnings in the hot seat of a mining company — in this case via the initial public offering (IPO) of Mount Magnet South — started as an up-hill climb.

“To go back in time to 2006, I got offered a MD role in an IPO gold company called Mount Magnet South, Paterson says.

“I knew nothing about the corporate world. It took me about 18 months to realise that I knew nothing about what was happening and it was a bit of a disaster. That’s a blow to the ego to sort of fail in your first corporate role.”

However, Paterson saw his first opportunity as a mining executive as a time to reflect and learn. 

“But it taught me more than I could have ever learned if I had succeeded or if it had been easy.”

Since then, he has gone on to secure several seats on 2 different ASX-listed companies, one being Cosmo Metals (ASX:CMO) and the other being Great Boulder Resources, where he provides his career expertise as a geologist to advance exploration across a suite of gold and base metal projects. 

“I saw this opportunity and approached Great Boulder and I said, ‘I noticed that your MD has left, I’d like to put my hat in the ring’.” 

Getting the ball rolling

Great Boulder began its journey in the resources sector as a nickel-focused organisation, however, over recent years it has established itself as a gold-focused company operating in the Yilgarn Province and Earaheedy Basin of Western Australia.

As Paterson puts it: “I was able to come in with a fairly firm set of ideas about how to run an exploration company and what to do, and one of those was never put all your eggs in one basket.”

Jumping on board in July 2019, his expertise were perfectly compatible with the company’s focus on nickel, however, the MD saw a golden future for the West Perth-headquartered explorer.    

I was able to come in with a fairly firm set of ideas about how to run an exploration company and what to do, and one of those was never put all your eggs in one basket

Coupled with a stagnant base metals market, Great Boulder changed course and began its venture into the gold space.   

“No one was taking much interest in the nickel story, so I spent a couple of months doing homework on gold opportunities and then went up to Kalgoorlie with a bit of a shopping list and came back with the Whiteheads project. That was a stepping stone to recapitalise the company, get some interest in gold, and start to pivot away from nickel.

Add a resurgence of gold into the mix and voilà, the perfect pathway into the gold market was revealed for Paterson. 

“Gold at the time was the place to be and is also my happy place because I spent more time in gold than anything else. In 2019, things were getting a bit stagnant and the market wasn’t that interested in base metals. There was a bit of a resurgence at that point in the gold space.”

Despite having a key role as a strategic long-term investment and a mainstay allocation in a well-diversified portfolio, as per the World Gold Council, Paterson notes not everyone was comfortable with the company’s voyage into gold. 

“The shareholders at Great Boulder were, by and large, real nickel fans”, he says. 

“So they got pretty pissed off with me pivoting the direction of the company into gold.”

Moving forward to a year later, the company’s expansion into gold began to bear fruit. 

“It took the best part of a year to slow down activity on the nickel stuff and speed up activity on the gold. We raised some money, we made some small discoveries near Kalgoorlie in 2020, took an option on the Side Well joint venture and started drilling that in the second half of the year.”

Of particular note was Great Boulder securing an interest in the Side Well Gold Project near the township of Meekatharra. 

Greenfield exploration play in brownfield area

When asked what the project represents, Paterson says, “Side Well is a greenfields exploration play in a brownfield area.” 

Great Boulder exercised the option to acquire an initial 75% interest in Side Well back in July 2021, forming a joint venture (JV) with private base metals company Zebina Minerals.   

The execution of the option followed the posting of ‘exceptional’ drill results in May 2021, demonstrating to the company what sort of project it had its hands on.  

“In May 2021, we had the first high-grade hit there and things just went ‘bang’. It was really exciting. That was the first evidence that we’d started to understand Side Well and that was at [the] Mulga Bill [prospect]. We then hit the ground pretty hard and started drilling as fast as we could.”

Fast forward to 2023 and the company is well on its way to establishing a true company-making opportunity in Side Well.

When asked what the company’s strategy is for Side Well, Paterson half-jokes, “Yeah, find a lot of gold.”

“The strategy has been focused on doing the homework to understand the project so that we can then explore as efficiently as possible. We’re here to find gold, that’s what we do. We’re pretty good at it, and we’re a pretty technical company

“The strategy has been focused on doing the homework to understand the project so that we can then explore as efficiently as possible. We’re here to find gold, that’s what we do. We’re pretty good at it, and we’re a pretty technical company.” 

More recently, Great Boulder ushered in an updated Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) for Side Well of 668,000 ounces (oz) gold @ 2.8 grams per tonne (g/t), with 51% of ounces now in the indicated JORC category, as reported in November.

What’s more, Paterson disclosed to this news service shortly after the aforementioned resource increase the company is seeking to divest its Whiteheads Gold Project as it looks to ramp-up works across Side Well. 

At the same time, a heads of agreement was signed between both Great Boulder and fellow ASX-listed company Castle Minerals (ASX:CDT) for the former to acquire a 75% interest in the Polella and Wanganui gold projects at Meekatharra. 

In turn, the deal would effectively double Great Boulder’s footprint in Meekatharra to 348km-square.  

Further, both projects sit immediately south and southwest of Side Well, respectively, in a similar geological and structural setting.   

Speaking to Mining.com.au earlier this year, Paterson explained he and the team at Great Boulder want to have a one-million-ounce resource at Side Well within the next 18 months. 

He reiterates, supported by the company’s newsflow over the past month, nothing has changed. 

“We’ve set a target for the whole project of a million ounces by the end of next year. We’ve got over half a million ounces just at Mulga Bill alone, that’s bloody awesome. And it is still open, there’s more work to do.”

What Paterson is alluding to is the drilling of prospective targets across the plus-14km Ironbark Corridor in hopes of growing the recently expanded resource further, as well as follow-up drilling at the Mulga Bill North prospect for inclusion in future MRE updates. 

In November, Great Boulder tapped investors for $4.5 million through a placement to achieve this feat, which Paterson said demonstrated the ‘strong’ validation of the project and the company’s strategy.

Weathering the storm

However, as is the case with the majority of instances in the mining industry, projects with robust resources, high-grade intercepts, and prospective targets (such as Side Well) always find themselves in the line of sight of other interested third parties.

Great Boulder watched on earlier this year as a wave of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) with the likes of Newmont Mining and Newcrest Mining, St Barbara’s (ASX:SBM) Gwalia gold mine, a back and forth between Genesis Minerals (ASX:GMD) and Silver Lake Resources (ASX:SLR), and Westgold Resources (ASX:WGX) and Musgrave Minerals (ASX:MGV), swept across the market. 

The company made it clear to this news service that it was not looking to be prey and Paterson once again reiterates that the company will look to stand on its own 2 feet. 

“One of the challenges is just to survive as an independent entity, and we’ve got a really good relationship with Westgold [Resources], but they’ve just raised another $100 million facility, so they’re sitting on over $300 million in cold, hard cash at the moment… that’s a bit scary. 

That’s almost ten times our market cap, so we want to keep them at bay for as long as we can.”

The current climate  

The preceding works mentioned by Paterson are being planned amid a downturn in the gold market, as gold continues to lose its shine compared to its battery metal counterparts, which are all desired for a ‘green’ energy future.

Despite gold prices eclipsing A$3,000 per ounce earlier this year, “All the gold juniors, more or less, are undervalued at the moment’, says Paterson.   

“I’ve been in the industry for nearly 30 years and this is the first time I’ve been in a downturn where the gold price is really good, and that’s pretty weird

“I’ve been in the industry for nearly 30 years and this is the first time I’ve been in a downturn where the gold price is really good, and that’s pretty weird. Mining companies are making good cash, but there’s a downturn in the sector more generally, and it doesn’t make sense.”

That was until the gold market recorded a new all-time record of A$3,173 per ounce (plus US$2,100) according to the ABC Bullion’s live forecast over the previous weekend (2 December).  

This achievement has been made off the back of global geopolitical tension, more significantly the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas which began at the beginning of October.

Other factors include the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, as well as a Cold War-esque tension between the West and the East.  

Almost as if he has a sixth sense, Paterson flagged with Mining.com.au prior to the aforementioned price increases that “it won’t take much to really trigger a spike in the gold price in US dollar terms.” 

2024: gold’s golden year

The MD forecasts 2024 to be the golden year for the gold market as a result of the prior factors and a steady decline in lithium, a key metal used for the manufacture of electric vehicles (EVs), which is touted to continue through 2024 as prices continue to slump. 

In turn, that means a big year for Great Boulder. 

“By and large, I think next year is going to be the year for gold. Some of the other things that are on the boil now, like lithium, which might start to wane a little bit. So I’m hoping 2024 is going to be a bloody big year for GBR.”

While exploration is ongoing at Side Well, the company is well on its way to establishing a one-million-ounce resource at the project, and Paterson has firm views about what the next steps are for Great Boulder.

“In six months, I hope we’ve got all our team together and we’re out there drilling and have early indications of the first 2 or 3 new discoveries. I think we should be able to do that for sure.”

Write to Adam Drought at Mining.com.au

Images: Great Boulder Resources & Mining.com.au

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Written By Adam Drought
Born and raised in the UK, Adam is a sports fanatic with an interest in Rugby League and UFC/MMA. When not training in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Adam attends Griffith University where he is completing his final year of a Communication & Journalism degree.