Is this the last gasp of the Melbourne Mining Club – that informal group of Collins St and St Kilda Rd players who have moved the chess pieces around in the great Aussie game of dirt digging for the past 165 years since the first great gold rush of the 1850s.

It certainly looks like it as the world’s biggest miner tries to get even bigger by taking over the next biggest Australian mining house. It is telling that both outfits are based in Melbourne and the ties do go way back.

Remember when BHP had a gap in their succession planning in the early 1990s? In a very clubby move they borrowed Sir Arvi Parbo from WMC for three years to be BHP chairman.

The veteran former BHP finance director Graeme McGregor will also find himself negotiating with his old colleagues as he now sits on the WMC Resources board.

Similarly, one of the spindoctors listed for the media by BHP this morning was former Kennett press secretary Tania Price. Her previous job was running the spin at WMC.

Don’t get too many delusions about this being a battle between two Australian-controlled companies. BHP-Billiton and WMC have the same largest shareholder in common – the Capital Group of the US, which speaks for 13 per cent of WMC and 8 per cent BHP – a passive investment of some $10 billion in total.

Former WMC CEO Hugh Morgan has been running around town bagging Xstrata for months. When his mate Peter Costello declined to use the Foreign Investment Review Board to do the patriotic thing, the next plan of attack was to find a white knight and Hugh’s fellow Liberal Party mate Don “Don’t Argue” Argus, the chairman of BHP-Billiton, has happily come to the party.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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