The search for hidden treasure

July 30, 1999

Broken Hill, Australia's oldest and most famous mining town, has been producing silver, zinc and lead for more than 100 years.

50,000 jobs rely on Broken Hill's mines, but now the seams are running dry and the hunt is on for more buried treasure.

Industry, universities and CSIRO are all involved in the search, developing new technologies to locate future seams hidden beneath regolith, a thick layer of weathered rock, which covers the area.

They are working together through a Co-operative Research Centre (CRC), an idea first dreamed up by the Australian government in 1990 as a way of bringing together the producers and users of research to maximise the capture of benefits.

Now more than 60 CRCs are up and running across Australia, all with a university partner. They are one of the major interfaces between universities and CSIRO.

Set up to bring together research players and leverage funds from industry, the Australian government has, over the past eight years, put in more than Aus$1.45 billion through its CRC Programme.

The guidelines require participants in each CRC to contribute at least as much as is provided by the programme funding. In reality, participants have contributed on average 2.25 times that level.

According to a CRC spokesman, other benefits of the joint research programmes include bringing together a critical mass of researchers, increasing efficiency through collaboration, offering PhD students a wider range of experience, and strengthening management skills among researchers who have to run the CRCs, each of which is funded for seven years.

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