Shaun MurphyFrom his birth in Springs in 1957 to the present, mines and mining towns have provided the backdrop to Shaun Murphy's adventures and achievements. He shares some of these for you to read here.

Springs, Stilfontein and Klerksdorp were the towns where Shaun spent his schooldays as a swimming addict, representing Western Transvaal on numerous occasions. He credits his swimming coach with teaching him about perseverance, blood, sweat and tears on the road to success.

Like the rest of his generation of white South African men, he then headed off to do his military service, which provided him with an experience he will never forget.

"Visiting a water hole in the Caprivi Strip, we got out of our vehicle to find a good hiding place," Shaun relates. "One of the guys said, 'Here's a lion print... Oh! Look how the water is still running into it. The lion must be close by.' Just then, the lion roared. We were all suddenly back in the vehicle and racing away as fast as possible. I didn't realise until that moment that you can make a diesel truck move like a sports car."

Steady climb

Shaun then worked for Anglo American Corporation (AAC) from 1977 to 1985 as a Learner Official and a Shift Overseer. He gained a National Mining Diploma from Wits Technikon in 1984.He was retrenched, which prompted him to move to Buffelsfontein gold mine and start his rock engineering career. Rock engineering attracted him because he had formed an interest in computer science.

It was also during his time at Buffelsfontein that Shaun joined Sanire, which he has found to provide an environment in which he can socialise and discuss work issues with his peers.

Shaun didn't see Buffelsfontein gold mine as likely to have a long-term life, so he moved to Impala Platinum, where he gained his Rock Mechanics Certificate from the Chamber of Mines in 1993. However, the potential for promotion was low, so he left to join AAC again. There, he gained an AAC advanced Rock Engineering Certificate and a Graduate Diploma in Mining Engineering– and he was indeed promoted, to Senior Rock Engineering Officer.

After two years, Shaun was transferred, with promotion, to the position of Rock Engineering Manager at Tautona Mine. During this time he obtained a Graduate diploma in Business Practice. After 11 years at Tautona, he accepted a secondment to Integrated Seismic Systems International (ISSI), where he worked as a rock engineering consultant.

He then returned to AngloGold Ashanti as a Manager, Rock Engineering Research and Design. In 2010, he was promoted to Vice-President, Geotechnical.

"What I enjoy most about my current job is the contact I have with rock engineering personnel. I admire their ability to overcome obstacles and win in the end," says Shaun.

His career has provided its share of dangers, the most dramatic of which resulted from a seismic event. "I was lying on my back in a stope studying the hanging wall, when movement of the footwall lifted me about 15 cm into the air," Shaun says.

As for the future, he reckons he has probably reached one of the top rock engineering positions in the mining industry and is likely to move into consulting.

Current concerns

Shaun sees the shortage of rock engineering staff, which we discuss elsewhere in this issue of Rock Talk, as one of the major issues affecting the present and future of rock engineering in South Africa.

He says: "The number of qualified rock engineers has decreased because of a lack of interest in a mining career among the youngsters of today, people retiring and the attraction of emigrating to Australia. In addition to a reduction in the recruitment of young people in the late 90s and early 2000s, we have lost a generation of talent (the 30 to 45 age group)."

He also pinpoints the increase in the average depth in mining and the technology needed to mine at such depths as a major issue for the rock engineering industry.

Family and future

Shaun is married to Louise and they have two children, Roxanne (26), who is a qualified doctor, and Shane (23), who is a fifth-year medical student. In his characteristic wry tone, Shaun says: "When my children were younger I always insisted that a matric was not good enough and they must do a BSc after matric. They then decided "What does Dad know? We'll do medicine!"

At least he can comfort himself in the knowledge that his dream of ensuring that his children can look after themselves in the future is well on the way to realisation. Then he can concentrate on his next life goal: growing old disgracefully.

In pursuit of this, he is obsessively collecting water features to put in the garden Louise so avidly tends, watching motor sports, going to gym, going off-road with a 4x4, walking the dogs and spending time with his family and friends.

He also rides his motorcycle, despite having come close to death in a motorcycle accident. "It made me rethink how important it is to enjoy every day and appreciate the world that God has given to us," he says.

Maybe that is what led to him articulating his philosophy in life: "To have fun and to remember that if I'm not having fun, then it's my fault, because I'm letting it be so."