Then and now: Erica Smyth

Smyth is chair of Toro Energy and professional company director.

I experienced my first white Christmas in 1977 when I was 25. I was visiting some friends in Ontario on a break from studying at McGill University in Montreal. It was an interesting time in my life.

Before Montreal, I’d worked at an iron ore mine in Newman [in Western Australia]. I realised I needed to broaden my knowledge base beyond a straight geology degree to advance my career. I’d only studied a little economics at university.

Erica Smyth experiences her first white Christmas.

Erica Smyth experiences her first white Christmas.

I was the first woman to be accepted to study for an Applied Masters in Mineral Exploration at McGill University in the 25 years the course had been running. When I left two and a half years later I was more confident.

I led a number of teams at the university and while consulting in the remote Canadian bush. I organised a two-week field trip for 11 people over 4000 miles [6400km] across the US. I realised people management skills were my real strength, even when dealing with alcohol and gun issues and on the lookout for bears! And, I learned how to manage my diabetes in difficult living conditions.

The mining industry in Australia in the 1970s was in its adolescence. Iron ore development was still getting underway and we were starting to produce nickel and gold. There are no barriers in reality to women working in mining. In theory, if you have good interpersonal skills, there’s no reason you can’t do whatever you want.

Much as I enjoyed geology, I enjoy working with people and the two don’t always go together. But I think it’s important to allow your work and life to change. Recently, I’ve taken up a role with a cooperative research centre which works on deep exploration targeting. They’re looking at new methods of drilling and sample analysis. A lot of techniques haven’t changed for a long time in the hard rock mining industry and we’re going to change that.

If you have good interpersonal skills, there’s no reason you can’t do whatever you want: Smyth

If you have good interpersonal skills, there’s no reason you can’t do whatever you want: Smyth

When the photo at the Great Wall of China was taken I was with [construction technology company] Sitech, accompanying some students to an international science competition. I have one taken 30 years ago as well. It was amazing to see how the country had completely changed since that time. The Beijing I remember was full of pushbikes. These days riding a pushbike there may be a danger to your health!

What would I tell the young woman in that photo?

Trust your gut, and be conscious of how other people see you.

July 2021
July 2021

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