Peter Milne – Two Australian mining investors want locals to look to nearby and untapped East Timor for their next venture.
Iron Fortune founder and director Mary Thompson said the private company had been seeking iron ore opportunities in South Australia before a 2014 trade delegation trip to East Timor.
"It's incredible to find such a prospective but under-explored province," she said.
In a case of good news travelling slowly the company initiated an Australian Timor-Leste Business Forum that concluded in Melbourne last week to spread the message that Australian miners wanting to go overseas do not have to travel to Africa.
Ms Thompson said money from China, Indonesia and Singapore was already pursuing mining opportunities, especially manganese.
When she started investigating the nation of 1.3 million people the main geological references were two maps produced in the 1930s and 1960s when it was a Portuguese colony.
In the absence of an established mining code, Iron Fortune has operated under licences for scientific research. "We've taken observations and samples from many locations around East Timor, and we're encouraged by what we see," she said.
The Melbourne-based company has applied for six exploration licences in different areas of the half-island nation to chase base and precious metals.
Another Iron Fortune director, Ian Sinclair, said he was optimistic the licences, that were not dependent on a new mining code to be introduced later this year, will be awarded soon.
Iron Fortune plans to use the experience of five years of field work to identify what companies already operating in East Timor can best expand their capabilities to support mining exploration. These included ones that already supported the defence and offshore oil and gas sectors.
In a country unused to mining beyond quarrying, Ms Thompson said Iron Fortune might not be able to drill next year, even if it received required licences.
"You really want to do the community engagement properly before you go and stick a drilling rig in someone's backyard," she said.
Timor-Leste, as the nation prefers to be known, will celebrate 17 years of independence in May, but is just starting as a mining destination.
When a new port near the capital of Dili required large-scale quarrying Iron Fortune introduced Australian explosives-maker Orica to the Government to help develop an explosives code.
Ms Thompson said East Timor was an opportunity for mining companies experienced in exploring in emerging countries. "It's a safe place, and you couldn't say that 10 years ago," she said.