Mining has been moving towards large-scale, innovative and efficient mining methods, such as mega-pits with steep slopes and large and deep underground mines using block and panel caving methods. This author has had the good fortune to participate and witness the maturing of the Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in theory and practice in the Australian mining industry through studying and working there since 1986, as a researcher and a practitioner. Geotechnical inputs to both design and operation are critical to the success and efficiency as the materials involved in such undertakings, rock, soil, and water, are ever more complicated and uncertain despite the best effort to characterise them. Today, all Australian mining operations, large or small, have a resident rock mechanics or geotechncial engineer on site; and all mining projects have specialist rock mechanics/geotechnical engineers on staff as an integral part of the overall study team. This paper attempts to discuss the practical aspects of geotechncial engineering in mining project design and operation. Through actual cases, the critical roles played by geotechncial engineering are highlighted for mining operations and projects, in particular the three critical goals in a mining project: feasibility, constructability and operability.
Professor E. T. Brown, the distinguished Lecturer of this Symposium, once defined (Brown 1999) that "Rock engineering is concerned with the investigation, design, construction and performance of engineered structures built on, in or of rock. It involves engineering applications of the science of rock mechanics". He went on to describe the early contributions by the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme during the 1950s and early 1960s to the science of rock mechanics and the contemporary development. The contributions of rock mechanics and geotechnical engineering to the mining industry in efficiency and safety was also recognised in his Symposium Lecture to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering. Generations of scientists and engineers working in both research and practice have developed and refined the science and engineering aspects and have achieved universal recognition in the mining industry world-wide.