Dinosaurs prove valuable hunting ground

Talga Resources managing director Mark Thompson says there is a stock-standard response when he tells new business associates about his former life.

"Wow . . . that's interesting," is the usual reply. It's a simple, yet apt response to sum up an extremely unusual past. Mr Thompson was a dinosaur hunter.

"Some people love it, some people are horrified," he said, sitting in his West Perth office surrounded by various dinosaur models and artefacts. "A lot of people I deal with just want you to be a financial machine with a simple business past.

"Obviously my background is a little different."

It all began in 1999.

The gold price hit rock-bottom, work had dried up. Geologists were packing shelves at Woolworths or lining up in a dole queue. Mr Thompson, then a contract prospector trawling the Pilbara and Goldfields, felt he had lost the ability to be paid to do what he loved.

He said he felt that he needed to find his mojo again. And it came through a most unlikely source.

"I pretty much sold everything I had, rented out my house and hit the road," he said. "Although I didn't know what I was going to do. So I went to the UK and Africa to look around, and then I came across a book about digging up dinosaurs and it gave me an idea: If I could use mineral exploration technology, maybe it would be very successful in finding dinosaurs.

"So I hotfooted it to Seattle to join the dinosaur digging tours."

After completing a three-hour tour of the area, Mr Thompson was finding his own dinosaur bones "by just looking at the geology of the landscape" the next day.

The self-taught geologist said years of solo prospecting had given him powers of observation unique to the palaeontology field.

"I guess I could look at sandstone and predict which way the bone trail was going . . . I think it helped me get in front of the right rocks at the right time."

During his near four-year stint looking for dinosaur bones, Mr Thompson was involved in the world-record breaking Leonardo project - the discovery of the world's best preserved dinosaur - and a form of raptor named the "Julie raptor".

The pull of starting a family - and lack of solid income on the dinosaur hunt - eventually led him back home. Mr Thompson now talks at schools and special events on the process behind dinosaur discoveries, "tricking" schoolchildren into learning about geology by engaging them about dinosaurs.

Reflecting on his time as a dinosaur hunter and how it contributed to his role at Talga , Mr Thompson said he ended up with better communication skills and got exposed to a different but similar geological environment.

"Finding ore bodies is similar to finding dinosaurs," he said. "You spend a lot of time observing rocks and land forms to find the prize, and when you discover a world class dinosaur or ore body the feeling is the same.

"I've become a better speaker and communicator through talking about dinosaurs . . . (and) at the very least it's a talking point."

Of course, his role today is steering graphite hopeful Talga Resources (formerly Talga Gold) through this crucial period.

Talga is seeking investors and offtake or strategic partners for its wholly owned Nunasvaara graphite deposit in northern Sweden.

A pre-feasibility study with a project price tag is expected within months and Mr Thompson is regularly travelling to and from Sweden, inspecting the site and developing infrastructure deals. Now all he needs to do is learn how to say dinosaur in Swedish.

It helped me get in front of the right rocks at the right time."

The West Australian

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