MELBOURNE: A man from humble beginnings in Cameron Highlands is today Australia's wealthiest Malaysian-born with a fortune of A$950mil (RM3.06bil) made from coal mining.
Sam Chong, 68, has kept a low profile and managed to avoid the limelight until last week when the Business Review Weekly (BRW) named him in its "Rich 200" list.
Publicity-shy Chong, a mining engineer, is rarely mentioned in the Australian media and when Bernama phoned him in Brisbane, where he lives, he was reluctant to talk of his success as one of Australia's biggest coal miners.
He also declined to talk of his dedication and hard work and the many years it had taken him to achieve his ambition.
According to the BRW, Chong's ascent to the ranks of Australia's richest illustrates the rapid rise in the price of coking coal used to produce iron from its ore.
Chong owns a substantial share of Jellinbah Resources, which operates two coal mines and is in the process of developing another.
Production has reached eight million tonnes a year but expansions are expected to boost production to 12 million tonnes a year by 2013.
BRW said Chong also benefited greatly from the quality of the ore in his deposits.
"Coking coal commands much higher prices than coal for power generation and Chinese demand is pushing them even higher," the magazine said.
After growing up in Cameron Highlands, where he still has fond memories of living in one of the shophouses in Tanah Rata's main street, Chong went to Ipoh for his secondary education and then to Taiwan to pursue his studies in engineering, the magazine said.
He moved to Australia in 1973 for post-graduate study in mining engineering at the University of New South Wales.
After graduating, Chong worked for several companies, always following the money trail and finally settling in Queensland's Bowen Basin, a region that produces nearly two-thirds of the world's coking coal.
BRW said Chong's career was given a big boost by working at Queensland Coal Mine Management with former "Rich 200" members Jim Gorman and the late Ken Talbot in the 1980s.
"Chong's contacts were said to be invaluable as the company gained control of mineral deposits and began to develop the Jellinbah East mine," the magazine added.
With Talbot leaving the company and Gorman selling his share to Japanese trader Marubeni Coal, Chong was left with being the only original director of Jellinbah.
These days Chong serves as a non-executive director of Jellinbah which gives him time to spend on other investments. "Not content with building significant wealth from coal, Chong is branching out into iron ore and property," BRW said.
He has a joint venture with Fox Resources to develop an iron ore project in Western Australia's Pilbara region. The plan is to take the ore deposit from exploration to production.
Chong also acquired two office buildings in Brisbane in the past five years and has been granted approval to build a A$70 million, 33-storey hotel in Brisbane's central business district. - Bernama