The 26th Annual Kenneth Finlay Memorial Lecture at UNSW School of Minerals and Resources Engineering witnessed an inspiring address by Rowena Smith, the CEO of Australian Strategic Materials (ASM). Rowena shared her journey through the mining and minerals processing sector, emphasizing sustainability and safety as core values in the industry.

“The Kenneth Finlay Memorial Lecture was established in 1995 in recognition of Ken’s pioneering work and leadership in improving safety. And to this day, Australia is seen as a leader in mining safety,” said Professor Ian Gibson, Deputy Dean Industry Engagement, Innovation and Research at UNSW Engineering in his opening remarks.

The annual lecture has become a platform for industry leaders to share their insights and experiences in order to extend this sense of pioneering safety to the next generation of mining.

In her address titled "Redefining the Rare Earths and Critical Mineral Supply Chain," Rowena shed light on her three-decade-long career in the mining industry. She highlighted her early aspirations to lead change within an industry that was essential to her community but faced challenges aligning with community values.

Rowena started her career as a commerce graduate at CRA’s (now Rio Tinto) Boyne Island aluminium smelter in the early 1990s. She took the opportunity to become crew leader, a role not normally offered to commerce graduates. In this role, she learned the importance of building trust and demonstrating to your team that safety is your top priority.

One poignant moment in her career that Rowena shared was the tragic story of two young men who lost their lives due to a workplace incident. This experience underscored the significance of preserving stories and lessons learned to improve safety in the mining industry.

As Rowena progressed in her career, she delved into the evolving landscape of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards in the mining sector. Initially met with resistance, ESG principles eventually gained acceptance as an opportunity rather than a threat to the industry.

Rowena's career culminated in her role as CEO of ASM, a company that focuses on rare earths and critical minerals essential for clean energy technologies.  

“Reaching net zero will require more use of geological resources, not less, to provide the materials needed for renewable technologies. There will be more mining, not less, as the world decarbonizes," said Rowena, quoting Madeline King.

“That's precisely what Australian Strategic Materials is leaning into. We're building a rare earth and critical minerals business, providing high-tech metals necessary for the clean energy transition. We've committed to covering the entire process, from mining to metal.”

Under Rowena’s guidance, ASM has commissioned its first metals production facility in Ochang, Korea and is currently moving towards final investment decision on the Dubbo Project – a unique rare earths and critical minerals orebody in NSW.

Rowena discussed the challenge and opportunity for the ASM team to not just to build a safe, sustainable, successful business from the ground up but to ethically redefine the rare earths and critical minerals global supply chain – working collaboratively across jurisdictions to help deliver the materials that will support new growth industries, advanced technologies and sustainable energy solutions.

In closing, Rowena encouraged the younger generation of industry professionals to dream big and shape the next 30 years of the mining industry. She expressed her pride in the industry's progress and optimism for the future.

The lecture was widely attended by students, staff, alumni and industry, and was followed by a networking reception.