Australian firms almost tripled their commercial interests in Africa in the past 16 years, according to a survey by the Australian government.

“The growth in Australia’s commercial presence on the continent has been extraordinary, with 48 companies and 143 new projects added in 2010 alone,” said Ann Harrap, Australian high commissioner to South Africa.

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“Australia’s mineral and resources companies have more projects in Africa than in any other region of the world, covering all types of mining projects from exploration to smelters and service company offices, and all the major minerals,” she added.

As the number of low-cost, large-resource projects has declined in Australia in recent years, more and more domestic companies have switched their focus to Africa instead.

It is estimated that there are 220 Australian mining and oil companies operating some 595 projects across 42 countries in Africa. The main hotspots for the country’s minerals firms are South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Africa has been viewed as an ideal frontier to discover new mineral provinces, according Greg Hull, Austrade senior trade commissioner for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr Hull said, “There is a general perception by Australian resource firms that Africa has largely been left unexplored due to issues such as civil war. But it has made good progress on governance issues, which has led to renewed enthusiasm on the part of Australian companies keen to explore and develop projects in the continent.”

Aerial survey company HyVista was one of many Australian firms to secure a deal in the region. It won a major contract to process aerial survey data and produce geological and mineral maps for the Namibian Geological Survey (GSN). The firm had previously secured deals to produced aerial surveys in South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Nigeria and Madagascar.

Many established Australian firms have consolidated their positions on the continent. Mineral processing equipment firm Gekko Systems, which started operating in Africa 10 years ago, reported favourable operating conditions.

“Some of the very first InLine Leach Reactors were installed in South Africa,” said Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, Gekko managing director. “Many still continue to be installed there, mainly due to the benefits of lower operating costs, increased recovery in gravity circuits and improved security."