The golden touch

Son pays tribute to UQ mining pioneer Professor Frank White with new book

An image of a hand holding a piece of gold.

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

UQ alumnus Dr Franklin White’s childhood was a bit different to most. When Franklin recalls his youth, he remembers visits to UQ’s experimental mine at Indooroopilly with his father and lively discussions about geology and minerals around the family dinner table.

White’s father, Professor Frank White, was the founding professor of mining and metallurgical engineering at UQ, and throughout his career, brought his family with him to posts in the Australian goldfields, colonial Fiji, New Zealand, post-war Malay and Canada. 

Franklin has paid tribute to his father with his new book, Miner with a Heart of Gold, released in September this year. It tells the story of a man who wore many hats: engineer, geologist, magistrate, educator, visionary and father.

An image of the cover of the book, 'Miner with a Heart of Gold'.

Miner with a Heart of Gold, by Franklin White.

Miner with a Heart of Gold, by Franklin White.

Franklin describes his father’s life as one of advocacy, adventure and insight – often lived against the backdrop of social and economic turbulence, within complex and diverse cultures around the world.

It was a journey he shared with his wife, Tess, through a kaleidoscope of times, places and people. But it was a journey not without hardship; with Frank’s job, the family moved often, packing up their lives to start again in new and unfamiliar places across the globe.

Before arriving at UQ in 1950, Frank worked in isolated Western Australian goldfields, and later in colonial Fiji and war-torn Malay, where he conducted geological surveys and wrote mining law.

Professor Frank TM White, UQ's founding professor of mining and metallurgical engineering.

When appointed as the founding professor of mining and metallurgical engineering at UQ on 20 February 1950, Frank brought with him a spirit of internationalism and equality that drove much of the activity under his leadership.

The first faculty member he appointed to his fledgling department in 1951 was a woman, who was to work with him as a metallurgist. He also encouraged a niece to study metallurgy, who became the first female to graduate in this field at UQ in 1957. For a male-dominated profession, these developments were groundbreaking at the time. 

He was also a strong advocate for international students and was a major force in establishing International House, which remains a vibrant hub of diversity and cross-culture learning at UQ’s St Lucia Campus.

Frank’s principal legacy was the momentous impact he had on establishing mining and metallurgical engineering at UQ. The Frank White building was the home of mining and metallurgy at UQ for more than 25 years. The building has since made way for the construction of the new Andrew N. Liveris Building, which will be UQ's hub for chemical engineering, but his work and legacy will live on within the precinct.

Another one of Frank's legacies was the experimental mine for teaching and research at Indooroopilly, which has become the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre – the largest Australian research centre of its kind. As a teenager, Franklin would accompany his father on visits to the mine, where he would explore the labyrinth on Finney’s Hill to learn about rock pressure, drainage, groundwater, ventilation and illumination.

UQ alumnus Dr Franklin White, who studied biomedical sciences at UQ from 1964 to 1965. Franklin was also a member of the UQ track and field team that won the Australian Universities Championship in Sydney in 1965, and represented Queensland that year at the Australian Championships in Hobart.

In 1965, Frank was sought out to rebuild North America's oldest school of mines at McGill University in Canada, and the family relocated to Montreal. There Franklin undertook medical studies at McGill University – after spending two years studying biomedical sciences at UQ – and worked his summers as a first-aid attendant in Ontario mines and smelters, where he began to develop his interests in environmental and occupational health.

Franklin subsequently became a recognised expert in public health, and has been well-published in the health sciences for his work in disease control and capacity building for public health education, research policy and program development. During his career, he received a Breakthrough Award for Creativity from the Academy for Educational Development, as well as a Medal of Honor from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

An image of Professor Frank TM White, UQ's founding professor of mining and metallurgical engineering.

Professor Frank TM White, UQ's founding professor of mining and metallurgical engineering.

Professor Frank TM White, UQ's founding professor of mining and metallurgical engineering.

An image of UQ alumnus Dr Franklin White.

UQ alumnus Dr Franklin White, who studied biomedical sciences at UQ from 1964 to 1965. Franklin was also a member of the UQ track and field team that won the Australian Universities Championship in Sydney in 1965, and represented Queensland that year at the Australian Championships in Hobart.

UQ alumnus Dr Franklin White, who studied biomedical sciences at UQ from 1964 to 1965. Franklin was also a member of the UQ track and field team that won the Australian Universities Championship in Sydney in 1965, and represented Queensland that year at the Australian Championships in Hobart.

In Miner with a Heart of Gold, Franklin diverges from the health sciences to recognise and celebrate the life and career of his father. He describes him as a “good human being with a spirit of inquiry; people trusted Frank to get things done.” For Frank, mining was not simply about extracting the ore, but the way it affected virtually everything and everyone around it. He was an inspiration for all those whose lives he touched, and as Franklin states in his author’s preface:

“I think that the life my father lived makes for a damned good story. I do hope you enjoy this book, and find in it a source of inspiration.”

Watch the promotional video about Miner with a Heart of Gold.

The book is dedicated to students of mineral sciences and engineering anywhere in the world, and especially those from UQ and McGill University.

A foreword written by Barry Wills of Minerals Engineering International (MEI), Falmouth, Cornwall, states:

“This is a book on a remarkable life, which would be of interest to anyone, but should be considered essential reading for young people thinking of entering the world’s minerals industry.”

Share your memories

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