Black gold, a royal visit and air tragedy on the river


And it is here, in this industrial wilderness at the Bulwer Island peninsula, that a little park appears. It has a rather impressive stone with a brass plaque.

The plaque on Bulwer Island.

The plaque on Bulwer Island.Credit:Brismania

There is little sign of the pageantry that must have accompanied a visit from the Queen in 1963. In fact, the only sign is the stone and accompanying plaque which reads:

“Her Majesty Queensland Elizabeth II unveiled this stone to commemorate the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Australia and the construction of a pipeline from the Moonie field to the port of Brisbane, 6th March, 1963.”

It turns out it was the site of the first major oil or gas pipeline to be built in Australia and holds Queensland pipeline licence No. 1.

Exciting times.

Work on laying 190 miles (305 kilometres) of 10-inch (25-centimetre) diameter pipeline from Moonie in the Surat Basin west of Toowoomba to the Lytton terminal in Brisbane started in June 1963 and was completed 59 days ahead of schedule on October 4, although the “black gold” didn’t officially flow until May 1964.

Dawn, a monthly magazine produced by “the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board”, reported in June, 1963: “On her tour of Queensland in March the Queen unveiled a plaque on Bulwer Island, at the mouth of the Brisbane River, to commemorate the nation’s first commercial oil strike at Moonie.

“The plaque commemorates also the construction of a pipeline to carry oil 200 miles from Moonie to a refinery on Bulwer, a reclaimed mangrove swamp which was transformed for the occasion to a tropical garden.

“Queen Elizabeth said, ‘after years of tireless and sometimes frustrating exploration you have made this highly important discovery and it gives me great pleasure to unveil a stone to commemorate it’.

“The Moonie oil discovery is one of the most profoundly significant events in Australia’s 175-year history of settlement.

“According to Lindsay Campbell, writing in Currency, it is ‘certainly more important to the nation than the goldrush decade of the 1850s’.”

Then-premier of Queensland, Frank Nicklin, at the official ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the refinery on Bulwer Island in 1964.

Then-premier of Queensland, Frank Nicklin, at the official ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the refinery on Bulwer Island in 1964.Credit:File image

The first discovery well at Moonie flowed at a daily rate of 1765 barrels in December 1961 and the “big oil companies of the world have moved in from USA, Canada, Germany, France and the UK”.

Bulwer Island, as it turns out, is 120 hectares, much of it reclaimed from tidal mangroves to attach it to the north bank of the Brisbane River near its mouth and create the peninsula.

It was named after Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the British Colonial Secretary at the time Queensland separated from NSW in 1859 and who appointed Sir George Bowen as first governor.

There was a lighthouse on the island from 1912 to 1983, which can now be seen at the Queensland Maritime Museum at South Bank.

Its other big event was in May 1961, when a TAA DC-4 airliner crashed on the island while coming in to land at Brisbane airport.

A policeman, trousers wet to his thighs, inspects the aircraft wreckage at Bulwer Island, in which two crew members died.

A policeman, trousers wet to his thighs, inspects the aircraft wreckage at Bulwer Island, in which two crew members died.Credit:File image

The pilot had a heart attack and slumped over the controls so the co-pilot couldn’t get to it in time to stop it hitting the mud on the island.

The reclamation and construction of the refinery was carried out by Amoco in 1963-65. It was the largest in Queensland and was bought by BP in 1984.

At one time it was producing about 102,000 barrels a day for petrol, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel, heating oil and LPG.

Those days are now officially over.

Santos formally advised the Queensland government in April 2008 that it would not seek to reopen the Moonie-to-Brisbane oil pipeline closed in July 2007 after springing leaks.

BP stopped refining operations in 2015.

And the only reminder of this part of Queensland history is an elaborate plaque in the middle of seemingly nowhere.

brismania.com is a blog devoted to discovering the inspirational, quirky, exciting or just plain interesting on the streets of Brisbane.

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