November 7, 2006

The New Power of the Mining Giants

At the age of 37, the man from Germany's Erzgebirge Mountains who would later call himself Charles Rasp was still searching for happiness and fulfilment. He wasn't allowed to marry the woman he loved, a countess. And he was traumatized by the horrors he'd witnessed as an officer of the Royal Saxon Army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 -- a war in which his best friend died at the front.

Rasp emigrated to the Australian state of New South Wales and earned his living with odd jobs on farms. One September day in 1883, he was riding a horse along the boundary of the farm when he noticed a peculiar cliff near the landmark known as Broken Hill.

The black stone had a dull shimmer to it. Rasp, who thought it was an outcrop of tin, took a chunk of the rock with him and examined it. His sample really did contain tin, but it also contained zinc, lead and silver. As it turned out, the deposit Rasp had discovered was one of the largest of its kind in the world. "I was pretty naïve," Rasp later admitted.

He staked a claim to the territory of 40 hectares, and joined forces with six other farm workers to found a mining company, which they called the Broken Hill Proprietary Company -- BHP in short. Today it is the world's largest resource corporation.

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