Metallurgical Engineer to Institution Founder and Mining Industry Innovator – Don McKee

Don McKee

“I was always going to be an engineer, I knew that,” says Yeronga resident Don McKee, former metallurgical engineer and institution founder. But perhaps his younger self never expected to create such an astonishing legacy.

Don’s career journey began as a broke university student with a scholarship and a dream. Like many students, he started to lose passion during his studies. It wasn’t until the final year of his degree when an inspirational character in the form of a lecturer (and year later colleague) came along to change his mind. Don finished up with his degree and jumped into a post-graduate position where the same lecturer became his supervisor.

“When I finished my post-graduate PhD, my wife and I moved to Mt Isa and I worked there in the process plants and underground.” Then it was onto a mine in Colorado followed by another mine in Goulburn before he would finally return to Brisbane. Once Don touched back down, he joined his former lecturer in a research position at an institution called Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre located in The University of Queensland. It was here where he conducted research that was directly important to the Australian and international mining industry.

“A few years later, we established a commercial entity called JK Tech in 1985. By that stage, a lot of the research was producing commercial products in the form of software. We figured we could establish a company that could sell software and provide consulting services worldwide.” And that is precisely what they did.

“Setting up this company was a bit of a novel thing at the time,” says Don. But the fact it still exists today proves just how remarkable it is. As time went on, Don became the head of Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre and later developed the Sustainable Minerals Institute within UQ – this group also flourishes on today. Despite heading up not one, but two, impressive businesses, Don says his biggest career accomplishment is nothing to do with these. Rather it dates back to his time in Mt Isa. It was here that he developed a computer system to control trains underground.

“It was the best bit of professional work I ever did,” says Don.

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