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'Argyle: The Impossible Story of Australian Diamonds' by Professor Stuart Kells details the fascinating tale of Australia's iconic diamond mine.
'Argyle: The Impossible Story of Australian Diamonds' by Professor Stuart Kells details the fascinating tale of Australia's iconic diamond mine.

Melbourne jewellery store to host book launch of new Argyle Mine history

A new book exploring the complex history of the Argyle diamond mine is set to be launched with an exclusive invitation-only author signing at Holloway Diamonds, in Melbourne’s Canterbury, on 12 March.

Argyle: The Impossible Story of Australian Diamonds – penned by historian Professor Stuart Kells of La Trobe University – explores the mine’s origins and development, from a “shoestring” geology expedition to a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

Prof Stuart Kells - Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University and author of Argyle The Impossible Story of Australian Diamonds
Prof Stuart Kells - Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University and author of Argyle The Impossible Story of Australian Diamonds
"To actually see the mine come to fruition as first a shoestring operation and then what might be the largest diamond mine in the world – that's a pretty satisfying journey!"
Professor Stuart Kells, author

Prof Kells told Jeweller, “There were so many different aspects of the story that appealed to me – the business side, the Australian history aspect, the global diamond industry, and all sorts of intrigues, including scandals and thefts.

“It's been a privilege to tell the story as it has all those different elements, and fundamentally, it's an exciting story!”

Garry Holloway, director of Holloway Diamonds, said, “The story is full of intrigue, skulduggery and complex deals to find the diamonds, negotiate with governments, investors and the traditional Indigenous owners – including the first-ever stake in a mining agreement with an Aboriginal community.

"The deal predated the Mabo decision at a time when Indigenous peoples were considered to have no legal claim to land or the minerals therein.

“Plus, staking a claim to 200,000 square-km of the Kimberely region was not possible and so the entire prospecting search – for more than a decade – was conducted in secrecy!”

Prof Kells told Jeweller that the anchor of the story is geologist Ewen Tyler AO, who led the initial “speculative” search for Australian diamonds.

Tyler’s own account of the Argyle Mine story, ‘Mines and tribulations’, was published by Jeweller in 2016.

“I was looking at the story through Ewen’s eyes, from his idea, to this pain-staking search, through all the twists and turns where it was quite possible at any one stage that the mine wouldn't go ahead,” Prof Kells said.

“To actually see the mine come to fruition as first a shoestring operation and then what might be the largest diamond mine in the world – for an entrepreneur and a geologist, that's a pretty satisfying journey!”

Tyler will be present at the launch party, alongside Bill Leslie – legal representative for the joint-venture in the early years of the project, who conducted many high-level negotiations – and Professor Geoffrey Blainey, one of Australia's most eminent historians and academics, who wrote the foreword to the book.

Holloway said, “Ewen has been a friend and customer of Holloway Diamonds for three decades, and many will have met him at various functions in our Canterbury store. He and Bill Leslie were primary sources of information about the Argyle Mine for Prof Kells.”

Garry Holloway, Holloway Diamonds
Garry Holloway, Holloway Diamonds
"The story is full of intrigue, skulduggery and complex deals to find the diamonds, negotiate with governments, investors and the traditional Indigenous owners"
Garry Holloway, Holloway Diamonds

As a historian, Prof Kells has previously written an award-winning profile of Penguin Books and co-authored a history of Australia’s ‘Big Four’ accounting firms, among many others.

He was approached to pen the Argyle tome by former members of the Ashton Joint Venture, which operated the mine before being acquired by Rio Tinto in 2000.

“While I was not commissioned to write the book – it was my own project – I had access to the Ashton archive and a lot of the key people involved, as well as visiting the Kimberley and the mine,” Prof Kells explained.

“There were so many things that were unprecedented in this story.

“One of them was the scale of the deposit. At the time, it was equivalent in scale to all of the other major diamond mines combined. It effectively doubled world output. In order to handle that quantity of diamonds at one site, they had to build all sorts of new processing plants and approaches.

“There were a few mistakes early on and they missed quite a few of the diamonds. There were all sorts of stories about diamonds being thrown out, or used to make the road and the airstrip!” he added.

Another challenge was negotiating diamond sales with Johannesburg-based De Beers during the Apartheid era.

Kells also recalled an entertaining anecdote about employees attempting to sell diamonds in Antwerp with no experience: “These guys were wheeling trolleys and suitcases full of diamonds through the streets! Needless to say, some of those early buyers did very well.”

Argyle: The Impossible Story of Australia Diamonds is available to buy now in paperback and digital formats. It is published by Melbourne University Press.

 

More reading:
Mines and tribulations: Searching for Aussie diamond mines
New collection of prestigious Argyle pink diamonds released in Australia
Rio Tinto’s diamond output shrinks as it exits Australia
Argyle Tender breaks records during pandemic following pink diamond mine closure
End of an era: Argyle Mine officially closed
 











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