Day 92: Over the Moonie

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SOMETIMES wandering aimlessly around Brisbane can lead to the most amazing discoveries.

Moonie oil line plaque Brismania
The Moonie oil line plaque

Today’s adventure began with a quest to follow the north bank of the Brisbane River as far as possible, never having ventured further than the Gateway Bridge at the end of Kingsford Smith Drive.

It’s not a wildly attractive area, with the airport on one side and industrial wasteland on the other, but we continued ever onwards, taking the rough roads closest to the river through Pinkenba and towards the Luggage Point Waste Water treatment plant at the river mouth.

With names like Myrtletown Road and Boggy Creek (whoever named Main Beach Road was wildly optimistic), a huge rubber tyre dump and a graveyard for removal houses, it was all rather fascinating.

Bulwer island
Startled Kangaroos take off across the plain as smoke from the flare pit boils into the morning sky – Dawn magazine

By sticking to the waterfront, we diverted from Luggage Point and ended up on a peninsula which I have since discovered is called Bulwer Island. It has the BP oil refinery at its tip.

And it was here, in this God forsaken place, that a little park appeared and in that little park was a rather impressive stone with a brass plaque, a reminder of its glory days.

The inscription in the stone 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 200 miles (320km) of  10inch (25cm) diameter pipeline from Moonie in the Surat Basin west of Toowoomba to 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.

moonie oil line plaque
The little park with the Moonie oil line plaque is all that’s left of the area’s halcyon days.

“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.

Brisbane River mouth on Brismania
Nearby, the mouth of the Brisbane River is a busy port.
The Caltex refinery at Lytton is in the background

“According to Lindsay Campbell, writing in Currency, it is ‘certainly more important to the nation than the goldrush decade of the I 850s’.”

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 120ha, 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 New South Wales 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.

Another pleasant little park is closer to the river. The Caltex refinery at Lytton is on the southern side of the river.
Another pleasant little park is closer to the river.
The Caltex refinery at Lytton is on the southern side of the river.

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. 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 during 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.

Its days are now officially over.

Moonie oil pipeline plaque on Brismania
The Moonie oil pipeline plaque unveiled by the Queen in 1963.

Santos formally advised the Queensland Government in April 2008 that it would not seek to reopen the Moonie to Brisbane oil pipeline which has been closed since July 2007 after springing leaks.

BP has now announced it plans to stop refining operations at the Bulwer Island refinery by mid-2015.

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

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this article. My father, Del Pyle, was one of the engineers working for Union Oil that developed the Moonie field. We lived in Toowoomba from 1960 through 1967. I was very young, but I recall my dad and my brother talking about the visit by the Queen. I recognized the black and white photo of the pit burn and the Kangaroos right away as I’ve sen it many times. I still have a book that commemorates the development of the Moonie oil filed that has that photo and many others. Thank you again for the article.

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