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Frank Mihajlowits "The Crocoite King" of Dundas

Last Updated: 27th Jan 2020

By Peter Andersen

Frank Mihajlowits "The Crocoite King" of Dundas
By Peter Andersen

For over a period of 40 years there was one personality on the Tasmanian West coast that every mineral collector whoever ventured there was sure to come across.That personality was Frank Mihajlowits.
I first met Frank in late 1973 when I lived in Zeehan and worked in the mill of the Renison Tin mine for 3 months from December to the end of February as part of my work experience for my Bachelor of Science geology degree. In those days Frank was specimen mining full time and also ran the local caravan park (and as everyone who knew Frank, would guess correctly, the caravan park, named the Crocoite Caravan Park, was actually run by his wife Valerie) for the tourists who had started visiting the wild Tasmanian West coast since the main Murchison highway had been completed between Burnley and Queenstown. By then Frank had visited just about every old mine on the Tasmanian West Coast in search of mineral specimens for his own collection and also for sale to the collecting public that visited Zeehan in the search for crocoite specimens.

Frank was a heavy smoker and only smoked the Marlboro brand of cigarettes and he was also a heavy drinker of Victoria Bitter lager, but only from the small brown stubbies. In my numerous travels around the rugged Tasmanian west coast, I often found both of these reminders at a number of old mines that Frank had visited during those times that proved that he had already been there.

Frank was born in Futo on the Austrian Hungarian border on the 7th of February 1933 (Kissling, 2006). Frank's birthplace has also been mentioned as being in Starijutok (Kemp et al, 2000)but according to one of his daughters Frank spent his early years living in Lockenhaus which is a town in the district of Oberpullendorf in the Austrian state of Burgenland. (Kovacic pers. comm. 2010) In 1956 Frank decided to try his fortune in a different country after having lost much of his family in the Second World War and decided to emigrate to Australia. He left Austria on the 18 of January 1956 and arrived in Melbourne that same year on the Arosa Kulm which was a ship that was used to transport migrants from Europe to Australia. When he arrived in Melbourne he spent a short time at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre before travelling to Tasmania and and settling in Zeehan which then was a small town on the rugged west coast of Tasmania.

Mining had always been in Frank’s blood and the reason for this may be because this region of Austria has a 1,000 year history of mining and more than likely a number of Frank’s ancestors may have worked in the local mines. Upon arriving at Zeehan, Frank soon found employment in the local sawmill. The work there was not to his liking and he soon left the sawmill to work in the lead silver mines that were still operating near Zeehan.

Frank signed on with the Western Silver Mining Company that was operating the Montana and Oceana mines. In these mines, Frank soon encountered the large crystals of galena that were present in the orebodies. When the Montana mine closed in 1958 Frank was transferred to the Oceana Mine where he worked as a miner until its closure in June 1960. At this stage of his life his collecting instincts had kicked in so Frank collected a few of the large crystals whenever he encountered them. He remembered well the big crystals of galena in the southern end of the lode in sink holes in the Oceana mine (Kemp et al, 2000).

Being unemployed, Frank left Tasmania in July 1960 for a brief time to work in a South Australian uranium mine, that was the Radium Hill mine, as this mine was still operating in the early 1960’s. The closure of this mine forced Frank to return to Tasmania once more in 1961, whereby he picked up work as a miner in the main Rosebery mine located at Mount Black. Frank soon had had enough of mining lead and zinc and found employment in the Renison Tin mine as a hard rock miner where he eventually rose to the position of shift boss. It was whilst working in these mines that Frank’s collecting instinct kicked back in and he started to collect the crystallised specimens that his mining crew encountered in their daily work. These specimens included nice examples of calcite, fluorite, pyrite and quartz.

As far as Frank Mihajlowits’ personal life goes I know that Frank’s first wife's name was Valerie Mary Ledger and that they were married in 1960. Their union resulted in five children: Franz Josef (born in 1960), Tamara (born in 1961), Marina (born in 1965), Dominic (born in 1967) and Penelope (born in 1978). Unfortunately both Tamara and Dominic suffered from cystic fibrous with Dominic passing on in 1975 and Tamara in 1984. They both grew up in Zeehan and never left the district. At the time of Tamara's death on 18 October 1984, she was recorded as being single and living in Hurst Street, Zeehan (Kovacic pers. comm. 2010).

When I last saw Frank in January 1994 he had separated from Valerie which occurred in 1990, disposed of the Crocoite Caravan Park, which was sold in 1989 and was living entirely off his proceeds from the sale of mineral specimens produced by his mining operations in the Adelaide mine. Their oldest daughter, Marina and husband Andrew Farrelly, who helped Frank in the early 1990’s at the Adelaide Mine, were also living in Zeehan. According to the late Cyril Kovacic, Frank had a further two daughters from a woman, Colleen Martin that he was in a relationship with after the separation from his first wife. These daughters were Jesse Martin (born in 1993) and Cassie Martin (born in 1994)(Kovacic pers. comm. 2010).

Like a lot of rockhounds in the 1950’s and 60’s, Frank began collecting, polishing and tumbling lapidary materials (and I also travelled this road to collecting minerals) “but of course everyone was doing it and you couldn’t give it away” (Mihajlowits pers comm in Kemp 2000). Because of this Frank, like me, came to concentrate solely on collecting the well crystallised minerals that the Tasmanian West coast is so richly endowed with. Once Frank became interested in collecting the local mineral specimens he started prospecting around the district and this included the region of Dundas that was now well and truly an abandoned settlement. Frank concentrated his collecting activities on the Red Lead mine and this was the start of his crocoite specimen mining and collecting that was to play such an instrumental part for the remainder of his life.

A number of locals had by then already pegged some of the local mines and one of the lesees was Derek Murray who held the lease of the Adelaide Proprietary Mine having pegged it in 1966. In the very early 1970’s a three way partnership was organised whereby Frank Mihajlowits and Ken Bugg would pay all mining costs to operate the Adelaide Proprietary mine and do all the hard mining work to find the mineral specimens and Derek Murray would receive one third of all significant finds. The mining in the Adelaide gossan was tough and because of shift schedules, both Frank and Ken could not be together all the time. This was the situation one weekend when Frank was mining on his own when he slipped over in one of the old stopes and in the resultant fall, broke his arm. They breed them tough on the Tasmanian West Coast and Frank went home and never told anyone, including his wife, what had happened. He bore the pain of the broken arm without a murmur until he could get underground at the Renison Tin mine where he staged an accident so that he could be on worker’s compensation until the break had healed. The Adelaide Proprietary Mine operation had no insurance and with a family to support Frank could not afford to be laid off work without pay whilst the broken arm healed. The story of this incident was related by Frank to me over a campfire we had one night on a week’s touring that we did together of the old mines of Western Tasmania in late 1973 that included visits to the Magnet and Lord Brassey mines, neither of which Frank had ever visited. I showed Frank how to get into both of these mines because I had been taken to them the year before by the late Keith Lancaster. On this trip Frank left behind many empty red cigarette packets and brown stubby bottles.

The mining of the Adelaide Proprietary mine had been slowly proceeding as only Frank could work the mine on a somewhat full time basis as Frank had made a decision to go specimen mining full time and he had left his position as shift boss with the Renison Tin mine. Ken Bugg was still holding his full time mining job with Renison and could only get out to Dundas in his spare time after work and on weekends to help Frank with his mining of the Adelaide mine. Mining is always a dangerous affair and this is more so when working alone. One of the dangers that Frank encountered whilst working on his own in the Adelaide mine was breaking into a cavity in the gossan that was filled with a noxious gas. As Frank told it: “I blacked out and fell, but luckily landed near a ventilation shaft. Later when I was able to move, I dragged myself to the creek and lay in the water. It was quite unforseen, but I’m always wary of similar gas pockets now” (Kovac, 1978). Another danger that Frank had to be wary of in the Adelaide mine was tiger snakes as these highly aggressive and venomous reptiles would come into the mine to get out of the heat of the hot summer days (Kovac, 1978).

In July of 1971 the jackpot was hit in the Adelaide mine when the great 6 foot high, 8 foot long and 4.5 foot wide crocoite pocket was breached by Frank, thus justifying all the effort that these three men had put into the mining operation of the Adelaide mine. It took Frank, Ken and Derek three days of non-stop effort to remove the contents of this pocket (Kovac, 1978).

The following description of the 1971 crocoite pocket discovered by Frank and Ken, is taken from page 111 of Albert Chapman’s article “On a spectacular find of crocoite in the Adelaide Mine, Dundas, Tasmania” in the 1972 May/June issue of The Mineralogical Record:

… "one day in July, while working alone Frank broke into a large cavity some eight feet long, six feet high, and four feet six inches wide. Enlarging the hole big enough to hold his light an arm’s length into the cavity, Frank was spell bound by a scene of sparkling beauty, such as few men have ever witnessed. The roof, walls and even the floor were completely covered with crocoite crystals of all sizes, from the dimensions of pins to a few that exceeded 3 inches in length. All were terminated and of the finest colour. Not since the heyday of the mine had anything like it been seen! And the possibility that such a sight will ever be seen there again is extremely remote.

Due to the obvious need for secrecy, it is regretted that no photographic record of this remarkable find was possible. The arrival of professional photographer, with all the necessary trappings, would undoubtedly have stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest. There now remained the slow, tedious task of removing these most delicate specimens. Even though the greatest care was exercised, a care that is attested in the great perfection of many of the specimens, and for which Frank and Ken deserve the greatest praise, it has been estimated that nearly eighty percent of the specimens were lost from various causes. The principle cause of loss was the extremely earthy conditions of the limonitic matrix to which the crystals were attached, as well as the awkward position of the vug high up in the back of the old stope. All in all approximately 1000 specimens of all sizes to a couple of choice specimens 18 x 15 x 8 inches were taken out unharmed. The quality of many was superb and in no small measure these help to restore crocoite to its rightful place in the forefront of the world’s most beautiful minerals” (Chapman, 1972).
The contents of this pocket were split three ways with each member of the trifecta getting a third.

During the period of subleasing the Adelaide Mine Frank also made a minor discovery of the rather rare mineral, dundasite. This particular pocket of dundasite was located in the roof of a new drive that he and Ken had put in and it was so close to the surface that roots of the local button grass had grown into this pocket. In all there were approximately 150 specimens of dundasite extracted from this pocket which ranged in size from 2.5 cm x 2.5 cm up to 37.5 cm x 20 cm. Other discoveries made by both Frank and Ken, and also by Derek on his periodic visits to the mine, were some very nice specimens of anglesite and cerussite.

In early 1972 the partnership was broken up and Derek took on, as his new sub leaser of the Adelaide mine a Melbourne mineral dealer by the name of Gerald Pauley. Frank took over the lease of the Anderson mine in 1972 as an interim mining venture after he had walked away from operating the Adelaide Mine under Derek Murray. Over the next few years the Anderson mine was worked sporadically by Frank for its oxidised minerals, the main being crocoite. In fact the Anderson mine did not contain much in the way of good oxidised minerals and not even the crocoite that came from this mine was outstanding by current measurement of crystal size and quality.

Finding that the Anderson mine had very little in the way of saleable crocoite, Frank re-pegged the Red Lead mine in 1973 and controlled this lease for the next five years and did very well out of it. One of the reasons that Frank took on the lease of the Red Lead Mine was that it was located right next door to the Adelaide Mine and so Frank, whilst he was working the Red Lead Mine for its crocoite and other mineral specimens, could keep a good lookout on the operations of the Murray-Pauley partnership and how frequently they visited this mine and actually worked it and he recorded these movements in a diary. This would stand him in good stead when in 1974 he re-pegged the Adelaide mine and successfully challenged Derek Murray’s hold of the lease on the Adelaide Mine in the Mining Court in early 1974 on the grounds that the Adelaide Mine had not been worked for the specified time period required for Derek to keep the mining lease on this property and won the control of this lease. During the five years that Frank held the lease on the Red Lead mine he had erected a hut near the summit of the hill, which he used as living quarters when he stayed over at the mine. Because a lot of the crocoite in the Red Lead mine occurred as compact masses in seams, Frank instigated a new method of mining crocoite specimens by utilising a backhoe to trench into the hillside. He also drove three new adits, each about 30m in length, into the hillside to probe the existing parallel lodes for the presence of collectable mineral specimens (Lancaster, 1980). It was during this period of operation that Frank came across a number of specimens of massive crocoite that contained unusual massive whitish to yellowish green encrustations that were originally identified as being weilerite, gorceixite and hidalgoite (Lanacaster, 1980). These minerals were all later shown to be the new species phillipsbornite, with the Red Lead mine being the type locality for this species (Bottrill et al, 2006). A local collector, by the name of Frank Phillips, took over the lease of the Red Lead Mine in October of 1978 after Frank had decided that he only wanted to work the one lease for specimen minerals, and that lease was going to be the Adelaide Mine.

As mentioned above, in early 1974 Frank pegged the lease of Adelaide Mine and contested the Murray held lease in the mining courts on the grounds that the Adelaide Mine had not been worked for the specified time period required for Derek Murray to keep the mining lease on this property; and Frank won his case. He managed to do this by keeping accurate diaries of when people visited the mine for the purpose of working the lease, which was accepted by the Mining Court. Now that the Mining Court had nullified the lease on the Adelaide Mine that Derek had held for almost 8 years and given the lease to Frank and he had sole control over the Adelaide Mine property, he could now mine it systematically for its specimen minerals on his own terms.

Frank proceeded to do this for the next 30 years, ably helped by his son in law, Andrew Farrelly. Between 1975 and 1993 the two of them made a number of minor finds of anglesite, cerussite, dundasite, crocoite etc. and it was just enough to warrant keeping the mine operating. In 1993 another major pocket of crocoite was struck by Frank and Andrew that was up to 1 m wide, 14 m long and 10 m deep (Kissling, 1993). Access to this pocket was very difficult from the adit that they were currently using so another one was started below this one in order to access the pocket. The crocoite from this pocket was in crystals up to 15 cm in length but many of them were coated with gibbsite and a black amorphous manganese oxide. Most of the contents of this pocket were sold to the Hobart mineral dealer, Ambrose Kissling. There was also a very small pocket of dundasite hit near this crocoite pocket that yielded around 35 specimens and I purchased these in early 1994. In 1999 Frank and Andrew extracted a very large specimen of crocoite with good lustre, colour and terminated crystals that overall was 85 x 45 cm in size. This specimen, that they called the ‘Big One’, was donated by Frank and Andrew to the West Coast Pioneers’ Memorial Museum in Zeehan in 2000 and it was valued at $127,500 under the Tax Incentive for the Arts Scheme (Kemp et al, 2000).

In 2004 Frank decided to quit the business of mining the Adelaide mine for its specimen minerals and sold the lease that he had held for over thirty years to the Adelaide Mining Company Pty Ltd headed by Adam Wright, Richard Wolfe and Robert Reid. I know that Frank was really pleased to finally have unloaded the lease of the Adelaide mine to someone else as one of the things that he was worried about was the cost of rehabilitating the ugly scars left over from the Pauley-Murray partnership when they tried to use a large D8 bulldozer, which created these scars, as one of their mining tools (Mihajlowits pers com. 1973).

Frank enjoyed very much the simple lifestyle of living in the rugged Tasmanian West Coast environment. As he once told Cyril and Patricia Kovac in 1978 “I love the country here. Especially at night I like to come out to the mine. It’s so peaceful, and I have one or two half tame possums who visit me” (Kovac, 1978).

Frank built up a respectable mineral collection containing around 2,300 specimens as a result of his prospecting and mining activities and he was quite willing to show it to anyone that was interested. It was kept in the lounge room of the home he and Valerie had at the Crocoite Caravan Park. The highlight of the collection was a large crocoite specimen, 34 x 13 cm in size, completely encrusted with needles of crocoite up to 5 cm in length that was one of the three best specimens from the 1971 pocket. (The other two top specimens from this pocket are now ensconced in institutional mineral collections on the American east coast). Other Dundas specimens in this collection included a number of other fine crocoites specimens as well as yellow cerussite and dundasite specimens. As is to be expected, this collection was especially strong in the minerals from the Adelaide mine, but there were also nice specimens from the other West Coast mines in it such as plates of axinite-(Fe) from the Colebrook mine and yellow cerussite from the Magnet mine. As well, there were also included in the collection a few specimens that he had personally collected from the Renison Tin mine when he was working there as a mining crew shift boss.

The collection also held a number of very fine specimens of cassiterite with crystals to 8 cm from the Storey’s Creek Mine at Rossarden that Frank had purchased as a parcel from a miner who had collected them. There were also a few non Tasmanian specimens in the collection such as a large plate of lustrous cassiterite from Elsmore, New South Wales and a large 65 cm plate of Apophyllite-(KF) crystals from Broken Hill. This mineral collection was valued at $90,000 under the Tax Incentive for the Arts Scheme (Kemp et al, 2000).

In 1981 Renison Limited purchased the bulk of Frank's mineral collection and presented it to the Pioneer Memorial Museum in Zeehan in 1982. The company also donated the funds to expand the exhibition area of the museum and so this collection is now on display in this museum in its own room that is now known as the Renison Collection display. When I saw this display in 1994 there were a number of problems that included specimens with wrong labels and a large number of specimens without any labels at all. Hopefully these problems have now been rectified as this collection could be the display highlight of the West Coast Pioneers’ Memorial Museum in Zeehan.

Having disposed of the mining lease that he had held for the last 30 years Frank moved to Granville Harbour where he built his dream home overlooking the Great Southern Ocean. He was also thinking of re-opening the Comet Maestries mine and to this purpose his son in law, Andrew Farrelly, had re-pegged the lease of this mine. Unfortunately the plan of reopening the Comet Maestries mine in the search for the fabulous specimens of anglesite and straw cerussite that surely must still exist there, was never to come to fruition as Frank died of a heart attack in early December 2007, a couple of months short of his 75th birthday, at the home he had built at Granville Harbour. Frank had built up a second mineral collection which was consequently disposed of by the trustees of his estate along with the house he had built at Granville Harbour. Frank's remains were subsequently cremated and his ashes spread over the mining lease that he had worked for all of those years in his quest for that really big crocoite vug. Unfortunately he never lived to see the big one that the new owners found and was named the Red River Floodway as it was so big.

With the passing of Frank Mihajlowits the West Coast of Tasmania lost the last one of its truly fine iconic characters.


I am very grateful to the late Cyril Kovacic for providing information that verified a number of points about Frank’s personal life that the author suspected but did not know for sure. His help was greatly appreciated as he was in contact with one of Frank's children (I think it was Marina) and was able to obtain a lot of information about Frank's early life. I am also grateful to Keith Compton for taking the time to edit this article and pick up the mistakes that all authors miss when they write something of this length.

Bottrill, R.S., Williams, P.A., Dohnt, S., Sorrell, S., Kemp, N.R. (2006) Crocoite & associated minerals from Dundas & other locations in Tasmania. Australian Journal of Mineralogy, 12, 59- 90.

Chapman, A.H. (1972) On a spectacular find of crocoite in the Adelaide Mine, Dundas, Tasmania. The Mineralogical Record, 3(3), 111-113.

Kemp, N.R., Bottrill, R.S. (2000) The mineralogical collections of the Tasmanian Museum, Hobart and the West Coast Pioneers’ Memorial Museum, Zeehan. Australian Journal of Mineralogy, 6, 75-82.

Kissling, A. (1996) Letter to the Editor. The Mineralogical Record 27(1), 67-68.

Kissling, A. (2006) Frank Mihajlowits: the “Crocoite King” of Tasmania. Australian Journal of Mineralogy 12, 91.

Kovac, P. (1978) The man and his mine. Australian Gems and Crafts Magazine, 26, 230-232.

Lancaster, K. (1980) New Finds at the Red lead Mine. Australian Gems and Crafts Magazine, 43, 105-106.

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Discuss this Article

23rd Jan 2020 10:12 UTCRalph Bottrill Manager

He was a wonderful character, I still always miss him when I visit Zeehan, even though the first thing he always did was put a beer in your hand, anytime of day!

23rd Jan 2020 22:05 UTCBen Grguric Expert

Excellent piece of work Peter. This is the sort of thing that needs to be done more often. I have a vague childhood recollection of a Leyland Brothers  TV episode including crocoite from the Zeehan district in the 1970's. Perhaps it featured Frank?

24th Jan 2020 06:57 UTCGreg Dainty

Thank you Peter, fascinating and well written article, much appreciated.

24th Jan 2020 10:42 UTCAndrew Tuma Expert

Thanks Peter for refreshing many memories of the old fella.

I came to Franz's world late in his life. My work with the local government authority required two days of each week to be spent on the West coast, spending a couple of nights in Zeehan. We had a regular arrangement where I would spend a few hours enjoying the warmth of his fire and the taste of good Tassie ale after I had finished my days work traveling and inspecting building works in the area.

I had the enjoyment of many tales and stories, most now lost in my hazy brain, (and too much amber liquid), but I  remember the warmth and honesty he always provided.  He had become a little grumpy and irritable by then, mainly due to the pain he carried in his worn-out body.  He asked one night why I kept coming after he had made a few very cutting remarks the previous visit, I laughed, noting he reminded me of my mother, also a person born in the mountains of Austria. He stopped and laughed, then muttering a few well chosen words in the old language, then looking at me and noting quietly, "that is good,  I like you,  you don't ask me for bloody rocks every time you come to see me".

We spent many hours discussing his planned new house on his allotment at Granville Harbour.  We finally did a handshake deal that I would draw the house plans in exchange for a nice crocoite.

He knew of my love of Tassie minerals, but a certain disinterest in orange ones, so to him the deal was always a bit of humour at my poor choice of the deal. He also well knew that the rock was not of much interest, I would have done the drawings for no cost because this is what good mates do, his friendship meant more than a orange spiky rock.

On one trip, one of the last to see how the house was going, he stuffed a small box of minerals in my 4WD, grumbling that as I had little appreciation for crocoite, he would provide a little something else from my enjoyment. "Bloody embolite's" he growled, "gone grey, not worth keeping", was his excuse for giving me the specimens, almost to excuse himself for offering a gift.

No I never got the crocoite, not that I cared and still don't, I was well rewarded meeting one of the great characters that had crossed my pathway of life.

As for the "embolite's", you can see them on my list, now they were a worthy gift and wonderful reminder ever time I check on them in their white boxes.

Rest well old mate.


24th Jan 2020 11:36 UTCRalph Bottrill Manager

Good memories too Andrew! I couldn’t help but drool over his crocoites and I don’t think he minded that as long as you didn’t try to haggle and buy everything for nothing. I would often photograph things for him and bring bus loads of mineralogists etc to the mine, never expecting anything back but he rarely neglected to hand me an interesting specimen or two. He had a good heart.

24th Jan 2020 16:46 UTCTony L. Potucek Expert

Thanks for a great read, Peter.  I often heard about Frank when I was working at the Red Lead in 2013.  I have no doubt that he was one tough hombre after learning a lot about the Tasmanian environs.  I loved my time there, too, briefly meeting you,  Ralph,  and was impressed by your geologic knowledge of Tasmania.  I also enjoyed the Tasmanian single malt whiskey while there!  Thank you!

27th Jan 2020 11:05 UTCRalph Bottrill Manager

Thanks Tony, it was good to meet you too.

27th Jan 2020 08:52 UTCPeter Andersen

Dear Readers of my article.
I have upgraded my article to incorporate the information the late Cyril Kovacic passed on to me in 2010 as a result of him contacting one of Frank's daughters (I think it was Marina) from his first marriage and answering some queries I had. I had not realized that this information had not been included until today. This information clarifies a number of points that were just guesses and also makes it a lot more accurate as far as time lines go. I was hoping to have this article on Frank published in the Mineralogical Record but an issue with Dr Wilson has resulted in me never submitting an article to that magazine ever again. I actually sent a full article on the Dundas Mineral Field as part of a whole group of articles finished and sent to that magazine. They wanted to publish this as a really rush job when the big crocoite strike was found and I refused. I am glad I did as the number of incorrect photos that resulted in that issue was quite large, including the cover. I also am not aware had this article was published as Keith is still helping with the editing, though I think most of it has been done by now. I owe him a big thank you for taking the time to find the mistakes and there were quite a few and let me know of them.
Peter Andersen

27th Jan 2020 09:00 UTCPeter Andersen

Dear Mindat Readers
Some of the other personality articles completed include one on the late Bill Harvey, Sir Maurice Mawby and the Edward Aldridge mineral collection. Unfortunately all of these will not include illustrations such as photos, etc. so may have to be added if anyone has any  that can be post publication.
By the way Ralph what did you think of my article on the ABH Consols mine that I sent to you.

27th Jan 2020 10:50 UTCRalph Bottrill Manager

Hi Peter
I didn’t get an article from you on the Consols AFAIK? Can you please send again? I did get an email from you on 18/1 that just said “Possible articles for AJM” but nothing else, meant to ask more?
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