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|Composite rock mass failures involve intact rock material as well as fracture and shear on existing defects. Experiences from open-cut coalmining in the Bowen Basin of central Queensland are that failures of this nature occur suddenly with little warning, and are much more common than classical structurally controlled failures. Geological conditions and mining practices in the Bowen Basin are described. The circumstances of a sample of composite failures are described in detail in the paper. From this experience it appears that several aspects of conventional geotechnical investigation and design practice have not contributed significantly to either predicting or controlling the risks associated with sudden failures. These practices are described as myths for reasons outlined in the paper. On the other hand, the reality seems to be that high initial stresses and stress changes caused by excavation lead by a process of extensional deformation to a critical stress condition within the rock mass, and that sudden collapse follows when that critical stress condition can no longer be sustained. It is concluded that learnings gained from underground excavations in rock may be more applicable to open pit excavations than previously thought, and that the processes of prefailure deformation require more careful study if we are to develop more reliable risk management controls.|