Felicity Repacholi’s father wasn’t expecting to hear the term “gold digger” when he asked his three-year-old daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up.

No, we’re not talking about the kind of “gold digger” Kanye West was rapping about in his Grammy award-winning hit. We’re referring to someone who wants to dig actual physical gold out of the ground.

So, other than the obvious, why was it an unexpected response? Well, it had something to do with the Repacholi family growing up in Western Australia’s farming heartland and there not being a single mining operation in sight.

“My sister’s answer was a nurse, something common for her age, but my reply always stuck out to him,” Repacholi tells Stockhead.

“Coming from the Wheatbelt, with minimal exposure to the mining sector, it always struck him as an interesting answer, and something he wasn’t expecting.”

“So perhaps I had my sights set on the industry at a very early age – plus, I’m sure I didn’t know the other meaning of ‘gold digger’ at that age!”


Repacholi on site at Recharge’s Express lithium project in Quebec. Pic supplied


A place to call home

The young Repacholi would go on to study geology and become an integral part of WA’s mining community, initially with the majors as many graduates do, before finding her feet at the junior end of town.

Repacholi often reflects on her arrival at iron ore junior Cazaly Resources (ASX:CAZ) as one of the defining moments of her career.

“It was when I commenced working within the junior sector that I had that ‘lightbulb’ moment, of feeling like you’d found your home and where I wanted my career to continue,” she says.

“The dynamic nature of a junior, free from the bureaucracy that is present in some larger operations and being able to work autonomously really appealed to me. Since that first memorable role in the junior sector with Cazaly Resources, I’ve remained amongst the juniors and it is has been through my work and the contacts that I’ve made within that my career has progressed.”

Repacholi is now at the helm of lithium explorer Recharge Metals (ASX:REC) where she is leading the search for “white gold” in the James Bay region of Quebec, Canada.

The company’s Express and Wapistan projects are within touching distances of several established resources in the region, including Allkem’s (ASX:AKE) 37.2Mt @ 1.3% Li2O James Bay deposit, Nemaska Lithium’s (TSE:NMX) 36.6Mt @ 1.3% Li2O Whabouchi deposit and Winsome Resources’ (ASX: WR1) Cancet project.


Recharge’s James Bay lithium portfolio. Source: REC


It can be very lonely for a woman in mining

Over her professional career, Repacholi has observed a gradual increase in diversity and inclusiveness within the industry, but admits “meaningful change” for women in mining remains slow.

“The tide is turning, but it is taking time to do,” she says.

“Women still face a lack of career progression opportunities in the mining sector, particularly in executive roles. I’m hopeful that we can continue to attract more women into STEM careers and then into resources – the backbone of WA’s economy – and in turn drive this change at a higher level.”

Repacholi also admits that while women in the resources sector “get used to being outnumbered” by their male counterparts, it can be a pretty lonely space at times – something she experienced during the early years of her career.

“I commenced my working career within an exploration team that had a considerable large portion of females working within the team so was perhaps lulled into a false sense of security, having a larger cohort of female peers than what was industry standard,” she says.

“Following this role, I worked in more heavily male-dominated environments, and during these times had moments of feeling very much in the minority and vulnerable. I’m very thankful for that first role with the exploration team – it provided me with an environment I felt safe in and gave me the confidence to continue in the sector.”


Repacholi with good friend and fellow geologist Kirsty Culver (now exploration manager for Duketon Mining) on site in the Pilbara for BHP in 2005. Pic supplied


Retaining talent in the industry

If Repacholi could wave a magic wand and make one critical change for the better to the industry, it would be flattening out the effects of boom-and-bust cycles, particularly those relating to the retention of skilled workers.

“The booms, whilst providing an abundance of opportunity and good times, are coupled with shortages of staff and expensive programs which are often poorly executed,” Repacholi says.

“During the downtimes, our industry loses a lot of talented people seeking stability elsewhere, which leaves us even more exposed when the next boom cycle arrives.”


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At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Recharge Metals is a Stockhead advertiser, they did not sponsor this article.