OHA Australia Wide – Peter Dospisil (OH ’88)

OHA Australia Wide – Celebrating OHA Members outside Melbourne (Peter Dospisil)

The OHA’s South Australian Chapter Ambassador and long-time member of the Big Australian

Years at Haileybury: 1986 to 1988

Current location:  Adelaide

Other locations: Melbourne, Remote WA, Remote NT and Remote SA

In this edition of OHA Australia Wide, we introduce the OHA’s Chapter Ambassador for South Australia: Peter Dospisil.  Peter works for one of the world’s largest businesses in one of Australia’s most important export industries.  You’ve probably come up with a shortlist already.  It’s the Big Australian, BHP.  On top of this, he has also spent much of his career in remote areas of Australia, including the town in which the iconic Australian film, Red Dog, was set.

This very Australian story actually starts in the former Czechoslovakia where Peter was born.  Peter moved to Australia while still young.  He started at Haileybury in 1986 as a year 10 student at the Keysborough campus.  He remembers the completion of the School Chapel as one of the significant developments during his time at the School.  The chapel is modelled on a castle keep, which is the secure, central region of a medieval castle.  The design is not only innovative but powerful and beautiful.  Peter was so impressed by it that he decided to get married there in 1997 with Haileybury legend, the late Ivan Collins, playing the organ.  He fondly remembers legendary Haileybury teacher, Dr Lyndon Wild, who taught him the sciences.  Peter would go on to pursue a career in STEM.

Peter studied a Bachelor of Engineering at Monash University, majoring in chemical engineering.  After finishing university, he worked for Rio Tinto and BHP in remote locations, such as Dampier in the Pilbara (where Red Dog is set) and Groote Elyandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

In 2008, Peter moved to Roxby Downs.  Roxby Downs is a mining town in outback South Australia, 563km north of Adelaide.  Although it has a small and largely transient population of 4,500 people, it’s often referred to as “the most modern town of the outback” due to its many facilities.  Roxby Downs is close to BHP’s Olympic Dam mine, which is one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium.  The mine has over 450km of underground roads and tunnels plus above ground facilities including a copper smelter, a copper refinery, a precious metal extraction system and a uranium extraction system.  It’s a fully integrated operation.  Peter says, “We are the only facility in the World that goes from mine to final metals for 100% of the copper produced.  The copper that leaves Olympic Dam is 99.9999% pure.  Most of it is exported to South East Asia and China but some goes to Port Kembla”.

Peter has held a range of production, maintenance, planning and project roles for BHP. “Over time my roles have varied from research and development, production, maintenance and planning.  Being at Olympic Dam is challenging as well as rewarding.  It is the only place in the world where a mine and plant are on the same site to produce final metal product.  Being an engineer means that I get to see all parts of the plant at work and contribute to implementing multimillion dollar projects.”  When asked what’s the best thing about his role, Peter said, “I get to play with big toys and learn something new every day!”

In addition to his role at BHP, Peter has been a volunteer Ambulance officer for over 12 years. “That’s been rewarding and challenging.  The role throws up complex health and emotional issues”.  Peter has somehow managed to find time to obtain an MBA from the University of South Australia from 2012 to 2015.  “I found the need to manage over hundred employees needed additional skills and knowledge,” says Peter.  “The opportunity arose to enrol in the University of South Australia, which was running an industrial MBA combined with University College London (UCL) where 4 of the subjects were run by UCL here in Adelaide”.

As Peter’s three daughters grew older, it became apparent that Adelaide offered a greater variety of education opportunities than Roxby Downs.  Peter and his family moved to Adelaide in 2016 but Peter was able to continue his long involvement with Olympic Dam through remote working and fly-in-fly-out.  Peter and his family love Adelaide: “it has livability, lifestyle, where we can live on large acreage, 100% off-grid and be less than on hour from the CBD and the airport. After living in places like the Pilbara and the South Australian desert, where 5 minutes out of town is an open space for hundreds of kilometers, we didn’t want to live in the suburbs again”.

Looking back on his time at Haileybury, Peter says, “Haileybury definitely contributed to the person I am today.  The structure, discipline and push to achieve definitely had an impact”.  His advice to younger students is to “look for the challenging roles outside your comfort zone.  More often than not, they’re not close to home but will provide you with rewarding experiences and opportunities”.  As someone who’s found challenging roles hundreds of kilometres from any major city, Peter has certainly taken his own advice!

In short

Have you ever met anyone famous? Many politicians and business people but for now I’ll just mention Peter Garrett and Darren Lehmann.

Do you have a favourite band or performer? Hunters and Collectors, Midnight Oil and U2.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?  A calmer and more predictable year than 2020.  Last year, there was not only COVID-19 but our family house narrowly escaping in the Cuddle Creek fires that burned out most of our property.

If you could meet anyone (dead or alive), who would it be? Thomas Edison.

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