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Tenacious optimism at Diggers mining forum

Rebecca Le May

They came. They saw. They pitched and they networked.

The 27th Diggers and Dealers mining conference in the historic West Australian gold mining town of Kalgoorlie has wrapped up, the first run by new owners Sharon Giorgetta, the daughter of event chairman Nick Giorgetta, and Myles Ertzen, who bought the highly profitable forum from the founding Stokes family.

When Diggers started in 1992, just 250 delegates attended, but it soon became a mandatory annual pilgrimage for the industry, with numbers peaking at a record high of 2400 in 2012.

The 2018 turnout of almost 2300 was the best since then - an improvement of about 150 on last year - and reflected the sector's tenacious optimism in all but the most trying circumstances.

The mood was glum in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit, in 2010 amid the spectre of the Resources Super Profits Tax and in 2015 when low commodity prices had the industry in an official downturn.

With sentiment so downbeat that year, Diggers attendance fell to 1760 and Patersons Securities upped sticks, leaving the town without a broking house for the first time in almost 120 years.

This year's event seemed to be largely about networking, with little excitement or news flow coming from the presentations.

Some companies were talking about picking over old gold mines, striving to convince there was life in the project yet.

Others enthused about battery minerals but it was clearly early days for many of those players.

Iron ore was looking strong again, with one of only two female presenters at the conference, Fortescue Metals Group's Elizabeth Gaines, talking about the company's new Pilbara mine development and a pending decision on whether to proceed with another.

There was little takeover talk, but Ms Gaines hinted Fortescue may seek a seat on the now Hancock Prospecting-controlled board of Atlas Iron to reflect its 11.37 per cent stake.

Organising an event as big as Diggers, unsurprisingly, takes a mammoth effort.

Building and setting up the marquee involved about 200 contractors, some flown in from Perth, and the massive tent was among about 300 tonnes of freight brought to Kalgoorlie for the three-day talkfest.

Supplies brought in to feed the horde included:

Beef 1.5 tonnes

Lamb 700kg

Pork 300kg

Veal 500kg

Chicken 1.5 tonnes

Vegetables 2 tonnes

Fruit 2 tonnes

Bread rolls 15,000

Pastries 40,000

Cake slices 20,000

Savouries 20,000

Prawns and oysters 10,000

Coffee/tea serves 20,000

4 semi-trailers of catering equipment

2 large, 20 pallet refrigerated trucks

2000kg ice