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    A pint with: Peter McNeil

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    Friday, 22 October 2010

    WITH an involvement in Papua New Guinea dating back three generations, Frontier Resources managing director and Coppermoly chairman Peter McNeil is now described as an expert on the country, a fair title given his 27 years of operating experience in the island nation. Journalist Tania Winter recently spoke to McNeil about his time in PNG and plans going forward, particularly following the companys joint venture with Ok Tedi Mining, unveiled in May.

    TW: What does the immediate future hold in store for Frontier?

    PM: We are in for a busy 12 months, particularly following the JV with Ok Tedi. They have already undertaken aeromagnetic surveys on the Bulago and Leonard Shultz tenements and started building camps and ground evaluations. They were the natural partners for us as they have logistics in the area, can undertake exploration and are hungry for a new deposit.

    I suspect we will be looking at drill targets from the Likuranga property [on New Britain Island] at some stage next year. We have also been producing some really compelling chargeability anomalies at Andewa-Komsen [also on New Britain Island] and some majors have expressed an interest in forming a JV, but we will just have to wait and see what we do. We also have our Tasmanian projects and recently recruited a Tasmanian exploration manager, so will be gearing up several work programs.

    TW: What is it like working in PNG?

    PM: PNG can be difficult. It is an expensive country, but I have been there for 27 years now and have a really good crew, which makes a big difference. Some of them have been with me from the beginning.

    TW: Can you walk me through your career to date?

    PM: I have a masters degree in geochemistry from the university of Houston and started work in PNG in 1985, but I have also worked in Arizona, Newfoundland [Canada], the Eastern Goldfields and the Kimberley of Western Australia. I was a consulting supervisory geologist when the discovery holes were drilled for both the Nimary and Sunrise Dam deposits in 1992 and 1993, and also worked at Lihir. After Nimary, I then stepped straight into Macmin, which was listed by my father [Robert] and Denis ONeil in December 1993. Frontier [formerly called TasGold] we [Peter and his wife Paige] listed in April 2003 and it was formed as a JV with Macmin. Gold has been my primary career focus, but more recently I have worked with porphyry coppers and massive sulfide deposits. I guess you could say I am a bit of an epithermal, come porphyry person.

    TW: What have been some of the challenges and issues?

    PM: Mineral exploration in PNG is about as challenging as it gets. Infrastructure is virtually always limited or nonexistent. Financing used to be hard, but it [PNG] is now a destination of choice. Obviously we are also constrained by the landscape and terrain and Bulago for instance, is the steepest place I have ever worked. It is not easy to run gridlines through a 45-degree slope covered in dense rain forest. However, my biggest challenge wasnt geological but political, when we obtained and drilled the Kodu copper deposit next to the Kokoda track. We delineated a 272 million tonne orebody, but the tenement was expropriated in 2008 by the PNG government at the request of Kevin Rudd and the Australian government.

    TW: How did you become interested in geology?

    PM: I guess I always had rocks around in some form through my fathers work as an exploration geologist. I thought his job looked exciting. You got to go out and do some good, adrenalin man stuff in the bush. Exploration geology is effectively working a jigsaw puzzle in the earth and I like jigsaw puzzles, so that suited me. My father is still active in PNG and we now have three generations working in PNG. My son Alex (24) operates a fixed wing aircraft.

    TW: What have been some of the highlights along the way?

    PM: I have enjoyed working with many small companies and being involved in the development work at Lihir and the discoveries of Nimary and Sunrise Dam. Obtaining the JV with OK Tedi was also a highlight because I think that is going to create great value for Frontier shareholders.

    We havent found the mother lode, but we have a lot of hot irons in the fire.

    TW: Have you any words of advice for new recruits entering the sector?

    PM: For exploration geologists I would have to say persistence, because it can get a bit disheartening when you spend weeks on end in the bush.

    TW: What are your interests outside of mining?

    PM: I have a great family [wife Paige, eldest son Alex, daughter Paris and son Logan], so spending time with them makes me happy. Because I have worked in several different environments, mainly in the tropics, we tend to go to the snow on holidays, so skiing and snowboarding, but we also scuba dive. I also have a road bike and we have 17 acres at Stoneville, so gardening and landscaping.

    TW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

    PM: I am also chairman of Coppermoly, so I would like to see myself adding value to different companies in that type of role.

    TW: What has been your most interesting experience?

    PM: I dont like to say that PNG is a violent place but it has its moments. I have only been physically accosted twice. Once was by a loony ex policeman and the other involved a group that was trying to get direct equity in a project from a company I was consulting with. I was the front man at the Wardens Court hearings, and of course the landowners were hostile. I remember three little guys jumped up from 2 metres away and pointed their 1-metre long bows at me for about five minutes. That was interesting.

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