George Brinch

Working beyond normal retirement age has enabled George Brinch to enjoy overseas family get-togethers and to mentor others. He says: "I enjoy my work by helping others. I have always said I will work while my health allows it, while I still enjoy it and while I feel I am being compensated enough. In my work I will always strive to improve mining and mine design, as well as mentor as many as I can. I'm a non-conformist, so I question numerous rock engineering principles".

George Brinch started out as a learner official in 1966, but soon moved into rock engineering. He says “I got frustrated with mundane production. I found it to the same thing over and over as a shift boss. I heard about rock mechanics and was interested. It took me a year to obtain a post as a strata control officer at the end of November 1972.” His career has been punctuated by his obtaining qualification after qualification, culminating in a Graduate Diploma in Engineering, Rock Mechanics, through the University of the Witwatersrand in 2001. George returned to production four times during his career to enable him to advance further in the mines, but was always drawn back to rock engineering. “Chasing money and higher positions did not ever pay off for me,” he states. “I am a rock engineer, and a good one.” His involvement in SANIRE goes back to the earliest days and he values being involved in regional committees and meetings. “I enjoy hearing and seeing other mines’ presentations and attending seminars in South Africa. These provide a forum where I can gain experience and knowledge to assist me in providing an improved service; as well as a means to question the norms or principles.”
Picture: George and Pat went on Western Mediterranean cruise in June 2011 and visited the northern most tip of Malorca

Questioning

In fact, achieving and questioning the more rigid rock engineering principles is what George enjoys most about his job as a rock engineering manager at Great Noligwa Mine for AngloGold Ashanti. He particularly enjoys proving some of the principles not quite true. “For instance, there’s the 45 degree over stoping /distressing rule; can you develop immediately ahead of an abutment – yes; can you develop beneath a pillar within the normal critical middling – yes, depending upon the size of the pillar, it varies in each region (West Wits to Vaal River to Free State),” he enthuses. George is concerned that there seem to be “no ‘old timers’ like me left to mentor the ‘younger’ generation”. He feels the new generation is relying on theory and computer modelling too much. “Yes, it is the safe approach, but not always correct and a lot of gold and platinum could be lost as a result.” George senses that our mining industry is slowly shrinking and says: “It is a challenge to ensure that we have enough qualified people. The future may not be in South Africa, as it was in the South African mining industry’s heyday.”

Near disaster

In 1987, George’s rock engineering career was nearly cut short. “A rockburst buried and killed eight labourers and I was initially blamed for it. I was eventually exonerated by SRK Consultants, but immediately after the event a number people from Head Office said my management and the group rock engineer should fire me,” he recounts. Apart from that, he experienced a fall-of-ground incident that caused a few stitches. He jokes: “I could be construed as a bull in a china shop – but a bull that has had no catastrophes that can be placed behind my name!”

Soul mate

George says he takes his hat off to his lovely wife, Pat, and to their three daughters. “They had to bear all my moving form mine to mine and job to job.” He says Pat has remained his soul mate throughout, and he could not love Shelly, Julie and Lyndell more. Shelly is an SAP consultant and lives in Texas with her husband and two daughters, Julie and her two daughters live in Johannesburg and Lyndell lives in Essex with her husband, daughter and twin boys. George and Pat love travelling, in South Africa and overseas. They plan to spend July visiting England and Switzerland and enjoying a Rhine cruise to Amsterdam, and Christmas in the United States. George also enjoys watching sport, particularly rugby and football, which Pat dislikes.